• Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.

Under the Law

Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God; Romans 3:19NKJ


Question 93 of the Larger Catechism, asks, "What is the moral law?" It gives the answer, "The moral law is the declaration of the will of God to mankind, directing and binding everyone to personal, perfect, and perpetual conformity and obedience thereunto, in the frame and disposition of the whole man, soul and body, and in performance of all those duties of holiness and righteousness which he oweth to God and man: promising life upon the fulfilling, and threatening death upon the breach of it." Last time we looked at the various ways in which the Scripture speaks of God's will. This week we consider how God's perceptive will, the moral law, makes every man accountable to God.

A few years ago I remember seeing black and white billboards around the city saying things like "They're NOT the Ten Suggestions," and "What part of 'Thou Shalt Not' don't you understand?" The billboards were trying to make a simple point: God's law is obligatory on man. I'm convinced most professing Christians would affirm that truth theoretically, yet many deny it practically and personally. We must all be constantly alert to carefully guard against the sin-harboring theology of Antinomianism. Antinomianism literally means "against the law." Antinomian exegesis twists passages of Scripture, which in context speak of the Christian's deliverance from the condemnation of the law, in order to advocate the erroneous position that the Christian no longer has an obligation to keep the law. Thus, a passage like Gal. 5:18, "But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law," is wrongly interpreted to teach that the Christian is not under the law in any sense.  Yet the Scripture at the head of this article declares that the Law, speaking "to those who are under the Law," results in "every mouth" being closed and in "all the world" becoming accountable to God.  Now, since all the world is accountable to God, there is clearly a sense in which every human being is still under the law. Accordingly, when the apostle Paul speaks of becoming "as without law" when he is ministering to Gentiles, he is quick to add that he was "not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ," (1 Cor. 9:21). The Christian remains morally obliged to keep God's Law.  The Westminster Confession rightly expounds this teaching of Scripture when it asserts that Christians are "not under the condemnation of the Law as a covenant of works," but they are under the obligation and duty of the law "as a rule of life" (WCF 19.6).

God's will for every man, regenerate and unregenerate, is to keep the whole moral Law. We saw last time that this teaching is particularly referred to as God's perceptive will. Notice how the Catechism affirms that this will of God is for all mankind. It binds and directs everyone. It demands "personal, perfect, and perpetual conformity and obedience." The Law as law knows no mercy. The Law as law contains no grace. The Law commands and that is all it does. That is all it is meant to do. Furthermore, the Law commands not only outward acts but "the frame and disposition of the whole man." Here we recall the teaching of Jesus that to even look at a woman to lust after her with the eye and in the mind, while remaining obedient to the command outwardly in the body, is to break the Law of God.  It is to commit the sin of adultery, (Matt. 5:28). 

The moral law informs and directs all men to their duty of performing righteousness and holiness. This duty Christians owe to God, again, not as in a Covenant of Works, but because they are human beings having been made in the image and likeness of God. Consequently, if Christians, by virtue of being in the Covenant of Grace, are no longer "under the law" in any sense, that is, if they no longer have any duty and obligation to perform holiness and righteousness, then it can only mean that Christians are no longer human, they no longer are made in the image and likeness of God! Thus, the ultimate outcome and necessary consequence of Antinomianism is not to do away with the Law of God, as it hopes to do, but to do away with man as man. Antinomianism, in the end, is not so much anti-Law, but anti-human!

A member of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)

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