THE THREEFOLD USE OF THE LAW

Scripture Reading:  Romans 3:19-20

“For by works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:20)

Paul now comes to the conclusion of his discussion on the sinfulness of human beings.  As we have seen, Paul makes it clear that both Jews and Gentiles are sinners before God — “None is righteous, no, not one” (v. 10).  

From our passage today, we discover one of the primary purposes of the law — “since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”  John Calvin wrote on the threefold use of the law.  The first purpose of the law is to be a mirror.  On the one hand it reflects the perfect righteousness of God.  It reveals His nature and character.  On the other hand the law also reveals our sinfulness in light of the perfect righteousness of God.  Augustine said, “The law orders, that we, after attempting to do what is ordered, and so feeling our weakness under the law, may learn to implore the help of grace.”  The law shows us our need for a Savior because it shows us our sin — “Since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”

The second purpose of the law is the restraint of evil.  It provides a moral base for society.  It is meant to warn sinners of the judgment of God.  The third purpose of the law is to reveal what is pleasing to God.  Believers are to delight in obeying the law because it is the Father’s will for our lives.

Look at what Paul writes to the Romans — “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be accountable to God” (v. 19).  All, Jews and Gentiles, will be held accountable to God according to the precepts of the law.  Thus, “every mouth will be stopped.”  There will be no excuses on the day of judgment.

No human being can be justified before God on the basis of their efforts to obey the law.  The law shows us our need for a Savior.  We cannot fully keep the law and earn our salvation — “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight.”  The only means of salvation is through the gracious provision of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.

Lord God, as I read through Your law, I see my sins more clearly.  As I read the Ten Commandments, I know that I am guilty of failing to do them all.  When I read the two greatest commandments, I know that I do not love You with all my heart, soul, mind and strength and I know that I do not love my neighbor as myself.  Forgive me for my sins.  All I can do is to run to Christ for forgiveness.

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