• Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.

How God’s Law is for Sinners

Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. Galatians 3:24NKJ


Question 96 of the Larger Catechism, asks, "What particular use is there of the moral law to unregenerate men?"  It gives the answer, "The moral law is of use to unregenerate men, to awaken their consciences to flee from wrath to come, and to drive them to Christ, or, upon their continuance in the estate and way of sin, to leave them inexcusable, and under the curse thereof." Last time we saw that the moral law is still useful to all mankind, to humble them as they sense their sin and misery and to convince them of their need for Christ. This week we consider in particular those uses that are applicable to unregenerate men.  How should unbelievers benefit from the moral law of God?

Regeneration is the work of God's Spirit whereby a sinner is "born again" so that he repents of his sin and believes in Jesus Christ for salvation. Accordingly, the unregenerate person addressed in this question is by definition an unbeliever. And so the issue we are considering is what good use may God's moral law play in the life of someone who is not a Christian. Thus, this question addresses atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, and everyone else who does not currently believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. In effect it asks, does God's law, the breaking of which has made all men children of God's wrath, have any potential benefit to people who are still under the curse of sin?  Here, in the wonderful grace and goodness of God, we see that even that which is the instrument of man's eternal damnation would infinitely benefit him were he to simply listen to it and merely admit the truth of it.

So the moral law is of use to "awaken" the consciences of sinners so that they would flee from the wrath to come and fly to Christ to escape it. The moral law of God plays a necessary role in the salvation of every sinner. The only way a sinner can be saved is to trust in Christ for salvation, but the only way a sinner can do that is if he first sees that apart from Christ he shall be damned. Accordingly, Jesus taught on several occasions, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance," (Luke 5:31-32). Notice those who are well have no need of a physician. Jesus is the Great Physician. He comes to heal us from the greatest disease that could ever plague man: the disease of sin. But like any illness, if a person will not believe that he has it, he will not humble himself and go to the doctor to be cured.

We've all known people who have clear symptoms of an illness or condition that for one reason or another refuse to go to the doctor. Sometimes this denial doesn't hurt them too terribly because the sickness is not fatal. But other times, if it is the signal of something serious like a stroke or heart attack, the ignoring of it can bring premature death. The moral law of God makes the symptoms of sin and the seriousness of that condition undeniable for all mankind. It loudly and clearly declares to every human being that he is infected with the 100% mortal illness of sin. But rather than humble himself and listen to the law, sinful man tries to silence the testimony of the law in order to not think about the punishment that is coming. For not only does the law show us our sin, but it shows us that there is a righteous and holy God who must come to fully punish sinners. All men know this by nature, even those who have never heard a word of Scripture, for the law is written on the heart of every man (Rom. 2:14-15; 1:32).

Because we sin against the law of God, the law declares that we must be punished by the God of that law. And we know that the punishment is coming. The righteousness of the law teaches us that it must come. As the Bible says it, sinful man seeks to "suppress" the testimony of the law in "unrighteousness," (Rom. 1:18). The law of God simply tells us the truth. In that sense it plays an invaluable service in driving us to Christ. For once a man who has listened to the law and thus knows that he is a sinner and will be punished for his sin hears the salvation offered in Christ, he is driven by that law to Christ!  He is like a man who sees the x-ray, admits the truth of it, and quickly takes the medicine that saves his life! And so the law is useful to sinful men in that it would make them flee to Christ once they hear about Him. However, the sad truth is that apart from the grace of God, no man will heed this testimony of the law. Yet this rejection is not due to any deficiency in the law, but to our love of sin.  Praise God that in the preaching of the gospel He causes this testimony of the law to be savingly heard by His elect!

A member of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)

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