The danger with truth is that when you push a truth too far it slips into error. That is true when it comes to the belief that Martin Luther reinforced through the Reformation – that faith alone, apart from the law, was necessary for salvation.
During Luther’s time there were those who pushed this truth too far by teaching that the law was unnecessary and all one had to do was believe in Jesus. The way a person lived didn’t matter; it was unnecessary, they said, to hold to any moral law. In response to this, Luther coined the term Antinomianism (taken from the Greek words meaning “against law”).
Now I most certainly believe in salvation by faith alone in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The apostle Paul makes it clear when he says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Even though I believe this truth it doesn’t mean that I hold to antinomianism. I believe that God’s law is vitally important for four reasons:
Firstly, the law gives us knowledge of sin.
Romans 3:20, “…through the law we become conscious of sin.”
If it weren’t for laws we wouldn’t know what was right and what was wrong. If there was no speed limit, for example, we could drive at dangerous speeds that would harm others and us. Having speed laws means that when someone exceeds the speed limit they can be justly punished and hopefully amend their behaviour. Parents want to instil knowledge of right and wrong in their children so they become responsible citizens. God’s law does the same for us.
The second purpose of the law is to declare the whole world guilty.
Romans 3:19, “all the world may become guilty before God.”
Just like the law of the land, the law of God shows us what is pleasing and displeasing to God. If God hadn’t told us that lying, murder, adultery and the like are wrong, we wouldn’t have an understanding of them being wrong and so wouldn’t feel guilty for engaging in behaviour that is not only destructive to ourselves but also to others.
Thirdly, the law gives place to the justice of God.
Romans 4:15, “… law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.”
When we break a law justice says that it is right for the lawbreaker to be punished. When we break God’s laws He is just and righteous in punishing us.
Finally, God’s law is to lead us to Jesus Christ our Saviour
Galatians 3:24-25, “…the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.”
And so, through the law we realize that we are sinners, that we are guilty and that we deserve to be punished. Then comes the good news – Jesus has taken our punishment for us so that we can be free from guilt and shame. The law is like a tutor that brings us to Christ, but once we have been introduced to Jesus we are no longer under the tutor (the law) – it has served its purpose, we are forgiven and free.
The Old Testament has many complex laws; the New Testament simplifies them all into one statement: “The commandments are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:9-10; Galatians 5:14)
Once we have been forgiven by Jesus He calls us to live a life of love – a life that does no harm to its neighbour. That is the purpose and fulfilment of the law.