Thursday, November 6, 2014

What Role Does the Law Play In Our Daily Renewal?

What role does the law play in our being renewed in righteousness and true holiness by the Spirit, i.e our sanctification? To answer that I think it is safest to look primarily to the confessional standards such as:
WLC Q. 97. What special use is there of the moral law to the regenerate? 
A. Although they that are regenerate, and believe in Christ, be delivered from the moral law as a covenant of works, so as thereby they are neither justified nor condemned; yet besides the general uses thereof common to them with all men [see Q. 95 below], it is of special use, to show them how much they are bound to Christ for his fulfilling it, and enduring the curse thereof in their stead, and for their good; and thereby to provoke them to more thankfulness, and to express the same in their greater care to conform themselves thereunto as the rule of their obedience.
WLC Q. 95. Of what use is the moral law to all men?
A. The moral law is of use to all men, to inform them of the holy nature and will of God, and of their duty, binding them to walk accordingly; to convince them of their disability to keep it, and of the sinful pollution of their nature, hearts, and lives: to humble them in the sense of their sin and misery, and thereby help them to a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and of the perfection of his obedience.
So the moral law points the regenerate to Christ and his fulfilling of that law as a covenant of works for us (which we couldn't fulfil and still can't) and that he endured the curse of the law in our place (we are miserable offenders). And all of this he alone accomplished for our good. And it is this good news that increases and provokes more and more thankfulness in us as we grow in the blessedness of God’s grace in which we stand. That thankfulness finds its expression in our grateful duty as we endeavor to walk in conformity to Christ’s moral law, it being the guide or rule of our obedience.

Regarding sanctification, it seems to be more a function of God’s grace than his law:
WSC Q. 35. What is sanctification?
A. Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.
Certainly the law is used by God, through both preaching and His written Word, yet it is Christ himself who has been given to us for both justification and sanctification and, as the earlier quotes make clear, even our whole salvation. John Calvin responding to Sadoleto:
… We deny that good works have any share in justification, but we claim full authority for them in the lives of the righteous. For if he who has obtained justification possesses Christ, and at the same time, Christ never is where His Spirit is not, it is obvious that gratuitous righteousness is necessarily connected with regeneration. Therefore, if you would duly understand how inseparable faith and works are, look to Christ, who, as the Apostle teaches (1 Cor. 1:30) has been given to us for justification and for sanctification.Wherever, therefore, that righteousness of faith, which we maintain to be gratuitous, is, there too Christ is, and where Christ is, there too is the Spirit of holiness, who regenerates [an ongoing process] the soul to newness of life.


  1. Which "moral law" are we talking about? Since God is moral, even God's ceremonial and positive commands. Are you thinking of the law associated with one specific covenant (or as you would say-"administration")? For example, is Christ's command to wash feet a "moral law"? What about Christ's command to not resist in kind but overcome evil with good? What about the new covenant command to eagerly hope for Christ's second coming?

    With your basic point, I am in full agreement. Whatever law we are talking about, no matter if the sinners are Jews or gentiles, if these sinners are elect in Christ, then Christ has fully satisfied "the requirement" (singular, Romans 8:4) of the law.

    I Corinthians 9:19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, in order to win the more; 20 and to the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, in order to win those who are under the law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), in order to win those who are without law

  2. Basically, the moral law as defined in WCF 19, as summed up in the Ten Commandments, although not strictly as given to the Israelites. And I would take some exceptions to how the WLC unpacks those ten commandments. In a word, whatever was required that Christ fulfilled on our behalf, both as to the payment for sin and the fulfilling of all obedience.

  3. Jack, could you explain what you mean by "although not strictly as given to the Israelites"? You also wrote, "That thankfulness finds its expression in our grateful duty as we endeavor to walk in conformity to Christ’s moral law, it being the guide or rule of our obedience." What is Christ's moral law? Is it summarized in the 10 commandments? Or does it include all 10 and more?

  4. Paul, good questions. All I mean by "although not strictly as given to the Israelites" is that the Ten Commandments under the Mosaic covenant were give to the nation of Israel with certain particulars not transferred strictly to the New Covenant believers, Jew and Gentile... For example see Calvin's Institutes on the Sabbath commandment. On the 5th commandment there is no land promise for New Testament believers... see Calvin's commentary Eph. 6:2-3. Additionally, the Ten Commandments as given to the nation of Israel were annexed with conditions: conditional blessings upon the keeping thereof and curses upon failing to perform all the Law. These conditions are not part of the moral law in the New Covenant. Christ has fulfilled the conditions of the Law completely for the elect thereby insuring God's blessings upon his people. And Christ has borne for us the curse for our failing to obey all of the Law. Certainly this was also true for the elect in the nation of Israel, but as a nation (elect and no-elect) it was different in that they all bore the curse of exile due to the nation's continued disobedience under the various kings.

    Yes, the moral law as given by Christ to his church is summarized in the Ten Commandments, especially as unpacked by Jesus in the Gospels, the writers of the Epistles, and as further explained in the Westminster Larger Catechism.

  5. Jack, thank you for the explanation.