“Why Are There Laws?” – Galatians 3:19-24

October 30th, 2016

“Why Are There Laws?”

Message Text: Gal 3:19-24

Call to Worship: Psalm 1

Aux. text: Psalm 19:7-14



Service Orientation: We need to see the Law of God the way the spiritual giants of the faith have always seen the law of God:  perfect, able to revive the soul; trustworthy, making wise the simple; right, giving joy to the heart; radiant, giving light to the eyes; pure, enduring forever; sure; righteous; more precious than gold; sweeter than honey; warning us; and in keeping it there is great reward.


Bible Memory Verse for the Week:   The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.  The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart.  The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes.  — Psalm 19:7-8


Background Information:

  • The most frequently used Hebrew term for law is tôrâ, which occurs some 220 times in the OT. It is apparently derived from a root yrh used in its causative active form to mean “direction, guidance, instruction.”  The primary function of Hebrew law was to serve as a personal and national guide to ethical, moral, social, and spiritual living under the covenant deity.  (Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Internation Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol 3, 76)
  • Torah originally meant “direction” or “guidance.” . . . “teaching, guidance, instruction.” (Merrill C. Tenney, Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible: Vol. 3, 883)
  • In the Gospels “law” always refers to the Mosaic law, although it has differing applications. Mosaic law was threefold:  moral law, as summed up in the Decalogue; ceremonial law, prescribing the ritual; and civil or political law, relating to the people in their national, political life.  The distinctions are not closely observed and generally the whole Mosaic law is meant, although sometimes a certain aspect is emphasized.  (Geoffrey Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, 85)
  • When we see the law as a pointer to the character of God and His holiness, infinite depth is suggested. When we read the law in the context of the whole Bible, we can see that it expresses the righteousness of Jesus Christ Himself.  Since we are to be imitators of Christ and to reflect His righteousness (1 Pt 2:21; 2 Cor 3:18; Rom 8:29), the law is also relevant to us.  (Vern Poythress, Ph.D., The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses, 108-9)


The question to be answered is . . . As we prepare to study the book of Deuteronomy we need to ask, “Why are there laws anyway?”.


Answer:  Even before the Fall God had a law.   Now that we are post-Fall we are more in need of Laws for at least three reasons:  1)- To show us we don’t know how to love.  2)- To show us the true status of our hearts.  3)- And, to show us how to love and be human.  All God-honoring laws will accomplish all three.


The Word for the Day is . . . Law


Evangelist Fred Brown used three images to describe the purpose of the law.  First he likened it to a dentist’s little mirror, which he sticks into the patient’s mouth.  With the mirror he can detect any cavities.  But he doesn’t drill with it or use it to pull teeth.  It can show him the decayed area or other abnormality, but it can’t provide the solution.  Brown then drew another analogy.  He said that the law is also like a flashlight.  If suddenly at night the lights go out, you use it to guide you down the darkened basement stairs to the electrical box.  When you point it toward the fuses, it helps you see the one that is burned out.  But after you’ve removed the bad fuse, you don’t try to insert the flashlight in its place.  You put in a new fuse to restore the electricity.  In his third image, Brown likened the law to a plumb line.  When a builder wants to check his work, he uses a weighted string to see if it’s true to the vertical.  But if he finds that he has made a mistake, he doesn’t use the plumb line to correct it.  He gets out his hammer and saw.  The law points out the problem of sin; it doesn’t provide a solution.


The Three Uses of the Law:

There are three uses of the Law and commandments of God:

  • First—to restrain us from complete selfishness and violence, which would result in anarchy and constant war (1 Tm 1:8-10)
  • Second—to bring us to repentance and faith in Christ, by showing us how we fall short of God’s glory and need His forgiving mercy (Rom 3:19-20; 7:13; see also Dt 27:26; 2 Cor 3:6; Gal 3:10-12)
  • Third—to guide us in the daily life of faith, by showing us what God expects of us as moral creatures (Ps 1; 19:11-14; 119:9-105; Heb 4:11-13). ( Foundations of a Living Faith: The Catechism of the Free Methodist Church, 41-2)


RULE – The Law of God:

R= Reveals (Ps 119:51-52) the way things work and the way things really are in this world.

U= Updates (Ps 7:9) The Law allows us to see ourselves according to God’s standard.

L= Lectures (Gal 3:24) The law brings us to Christ by showing us how far we are from Christ

E =Educates (Ps 119:98-100 ) The Law tells us the way the world works and so if we pay attention to the Law it makes us smarter than pagans. — Steve Brown


Why are there laws?:


I-  To show us how to love.  ( Ps 119:11, 105; Mt 5:17-20; 7:12; Mk 10:5; Rom 4:13-14; 5:13; 7:14; 1 Tm 1:8-9; Jam 2:8-12)


To be lawless is to be loveless (Mt 24:12, NASB).  (Merrill C. Tenney, Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. 3, 894)


The terrifying truth is that we are not morally neutral.  A friend of mine who is a renowned psychologist and Orthodox Jew often makes the point that left to their own devices, with the assurance they would never be caught or held accountable, individuals will more often choose what is wrong than what is right.  We are drawn toward evil; without powerful intervention, we will choose it.  And that sin can be cleansed only by Christ’s shed blood.  (Charles Colson, A Dangerous Grace, 187)


Self-gratification as a key principle of morality is the matching heresy to self-determination as a key principle of theology.  We decide what is right for us to do by an appeal to our feelings, and we decide what is right for us to believe by an appeal to our preferences.  It ought not to be necessary for anyone to have to observe that these are not Christian options.  (Harry Blamires; Recovering the Christian Mind, 130)


This, alas, is the bind we are in:  we want the flower of moral seriousness to blossom, but we have pulled the plant up by its roots. (James Davison Hunter; Death of Character, 13)


Beware of  the high cost of low living


II-  To show us the status of our heart and our need for a changed heart.  (Ps 119:11, 105; Mt 7:12; Mk 10:5; Act 7:53; Rom 2:23-27; 3:19-28; 7:1-25; 8:7; 9:31; Gal 2:16, 21; 3:10-13, 24-25; 4:21; 5:3-4; 1 Tm 1:8-9; Jam 1:25; 1 Jn 3:4)


If we consider soberly what life will become like, were we to have a future of cumulative moral and social derestriction comparable to those which have transformed life the last few decades, we can only foresee a return to the jungle.   (Harry Blamires;  Recovering the Christian Mind, 112)


Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will always find a way around law.  —Plato


We can look at the law of God in both of these ways.  If our hearts are hardened by sin, we will see God’s rules as confining prison cells.  But if our hearts have been renewed by God’s grace, we will view the regulations of Scripture as wonderful guides to dignity.  (Richard L. Pratt, Jr., Designed for Dignity, 107)


The LAW only tells us what not to do.   The LAW in no way equips us to follow it. —Steve Brown


Those who go against the grain of God’s law shouldn’t complain when they get splinters.


“When Mores are sufficient – Laws are unnecessary.  When Mores are insufficient — Laws are unenforceable.  —Emil Durkheim


The level of politics can be little higher than the level of the morality and sense of responsibility of the people.  —Adlai E. Stevenson


Without a moral framework, society disintegrates into warring factions and isolated depraved individuals.  The result is a replay of the violence, perversion, and anarchy described in the book of Judges, which at once diagnoses the moral collapse of ancient Palestine and precisely defines postmodernist ethical theory:  “everyone did what was right in their own eyes” (Jdg 21:25 NKJV).    (Gene Veith Jr., Postmodern Times, 198)


With cable, satellites, and the Internet, more information than ever is coursing through people’s brains, a nonstop distraction.  This is all to the good, the relativists say, because knowledge in and of itself is useful, whatever the source.  That is why relativists (read:  liberals) almost invariably offer “education” in place of “morality” as the solution to the latest disaster created by earlier errors.  The New Age liberal thinks that lack of information is the problem, not lack of morality.  It never seems to dawn on them that pagan Nazi Germany was one of the most well-educated nations in the world in the 1930s.  (Robert Knight; The Age of Consent, 114)


Even the language of the movement mirrors the mood of fascism.  The polocalyptic and hate-filled rhetoric of radical feminists expresses their eagerness to inflict harm.  A radical magazine, using the acronym for the National Organization for Women (NOW), declared on its cover:

NOW is the time to take back control of our lives.  NOW is the time to make reproductive freedom for women of all classes, cultures, ages and sexual orientations a reality.  NOW is not the time to assimilate to bureaucratic puppeteers who want to control, degrade, torture, kill and rape our bodies.  NOW is the time to drop a book heel in the groin of patriarchy.  NOW IS THE TIME TO FIGHT BACK.  NO GOD, NO MASTER, NO LAWS.”  (Robert H. Bork; Slouching Towards Gomorrah, 202)


III-  To show us how to love as those created in God’s likeness and image.  (Ps 119:11, 105; Mt 7:12; 22:35-40; Rom 3:19-21; 13:8-10; Gal 5:14; 6:2; Jam 2:8-12)


To say I am made in the image of God is to say that love is the reason for my existence, for God is love.  —Thomas a Kempis


Why is the Lord, the law-giver, so intent that his law should run throughout the whole life of his people in small matters as well as great, in their hearts and thoughts as well as in relationships and actions?  Because he desires that they should be like him.  The ‘text’ which this whole chapter expounds is announced in Lv 19:2: ‘Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.’  Thus the intention of the law is to make the people like their God, and this, too, is the thread of unity running through the splendid diversity of the whole chapter.  Fifteen times the laws enunciated are driven home by the words ‘I am the LORD/I am the LORD your God’.  Thanks to the translational scruple of representing the divine Name, Yahweh, by the English convention “LORD’, this repeated sanction attached to the laws sounds like an assertion of authority:  you must do this because, as your Lord, I command it.  This is a misunderstanding.  What is asserted fifteen times over is not the authority vested in the deity but the revealed nature of Israel’s God, the ‘I am what I am’ of Ex 3:14-15.  Consequently, we can paraphrase the situation in Lv 19 like this:  ‘You are to obey all these laws, applying the law of the Lord to every detail of life in all its multiplicity, because I am what I am.  It is for this reason that I legislate how you are to treat your parents, the disabled, the elderly, the alien, the poor…because I AM WHAT I AM’.  In a word, the law is the perceptual replica of the divine nature; by obeying the law the Lord’s people become like him.  (Alec Motyer, Look to the Rock, 77)


We are in bondage to the law in order that we may be free.  —Cicero.


God is after a certain quality of life.  He wants us to live in the image of God.  We are to be like God and live like Him.  That is what the Law is all about and that is why we need to have the Law written in our minds and on our hearts (Jer 31:31-34) if we are to be like God and live up to the reason why we were created to begin with. . . . At Sinai – God was beginning to repair the Imago Dei in mankind.  He was showing them what it was going to take for them to become more and more like God and thus conformed more and more into the likeness of himself for which they were originally created.  It is in the Law that a true knowledge of God is presented.  It is also the way that true love is explained.  We need the Law of God in order for us to know what it means for us to be created, designed and now being conformed into the image of God. . . .  Humankind is designed for obedience to what God reveals.  (Alec Motyer, Look to the Rock, 74)


The nature of the Law is summed up in the statement that the Law is the good will of God.  Hence not to be subject to the Law is enmity against God, Rom 8:7.  (Gerhard Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the NT, 1071)


A biblical view of law is one that plays no favorites and shows no partiality.  In Dt 16:19, God tells the ancient Israelites:  “You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show partiality.”

This biblical ideal is what undergirds the rule of law, where the law applies to everyone equally.  James Madison wrote that the great aim of government is to be “neutral between different parts of the Society”–so that the law neither privileges nor penalizes any particular group.   (Charles Colson, A Dangerous Grace, 298)


Worship Point:  Worship the God of the Universe Who loved us so much that He taught us how to love through His Law. (Ps ch 1; 119:11, 105; Mt 22:35-40; Rom 7:12, 16; 8:1-4; 10:4-5; 1 Tm 1:8-9)


American society is awash in relativism.

What is the basis for law if there is no absolute truth?  The basis is whoever has the majority–rule by the 51 percent.  Oliver Wendell Holmes once said that “law is the majority vote of that nation that could lick all others.”  Pure pragmatism.

The inevitable result is tyranny, drawn into the vacuum of moral chaos.  If authority cannot be established among people by their shared assumptions, by their agreement about the meaning of life, then it will be imposed on them from the top.  As William Penn said, “If we are not governed by God, we will be governed by tyrants.”

When truth retreats, tyranny advances.  (Charles Colson, A Dangerous Grace, 292)


  1. S. Lewis pointed out that even people who deny the existence of right and wrong react in ways that belie that belief when someone takes their seat on the bus or treats them unfairly.

Honest postmodernists themselves recognize the dilemma of advocating “justice” while denying that moral absolutes exist.     (Gene Veith Jr.; Postmodern Times, 197)


Gospel Application:  Once you truly understand the Law, you truly understand your inability to keep it perfectly.  Thus, the Law does its job in driving us to Jesus.  (Jn 1:17; Acts 13:39; Rom 3:19-28; 5:20; 7:1-25; 8:1-4, 7; 10:4-5, 7; Gal 2:16, 19, 21; 3:10-13, 23-25; 5:18-23; Phil 3:9; Heb 10:1)


No man has ever appreciated the gospel until the law has first revealed him to himself.   It is only against the inky blackness of night that the stars begin to appear, and it is only against the dark background of sin and judgment that the gospel shines forth.  —John Stott


The law is the mediation of God’s will for fallen man but precisely because of his fallenness he is totally unable to keep it.  (Merrill C. Tenney, Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. 3, 895)


The author of this epistle (Hebrews) argues that though the OT priesthood finds it strength and authority in the law, it cannot bring perfection.  This can be achieved only by the distinguished High Priest, even Christ.  For Paul the law is weak because man does not do it, for the author of Hebrews it is weak because man does it.

Paul and the author of Hebrews agree that the true purpose of the law is to point the sinner to Christ in order that through Him he may find access to God.  It is only through the high-priestly ministry of Jesus that man may approach the Holy God.  (Merrill C. Tenney, Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. 3, 896)


Spiritual Challenge:  Endeavor to know God’s Law like the spiritual giants of the past have known God’s Law so your love, faith and understanding of God’s grace might increase exponentially.  (Ps ch 1; 19:7-14; ch 119)


In the life of obedience, therefore, two things come together:  man in the image of God, and the law in the image of God.  In declaring his law, the Lord declares what he is; in obeying the law we are being fundamentally true to what we are.  Because the law reflects his image, it is the true law of our true nature.  In obedience we are living according to our revealed definition, we are ‘being ourselves’.  The law of the Lord is the ‘Maker’s Handbook’ for the effectuation of a truly human existence and personal human fulfilment.  (Alec Motyer, Look to the Rock, 77-8)


So What?:  We all need to love more and be more human.  We all need to have more faith in Jesus.  We all need to be more aware of His grace.  A study of God’s Law has the potential of accomplishing all three at once.  (2 Tm 3:14-17)


If you are a follower of Christ, then you must have within you a deep desire to want to love and obey God’s Word because that is what drove Jesus.  Constantly, Jesus refers to his actions as being what His father told him to do or Jesus does what he does so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled.   How can you say you follow Christ and contradict the very principle upon which his life was based . . .  To fulfill the Scriptures.  You cannot call yourself a Christian and do less than read, obey and love God’s Word.  Otherwise, to call yourself a Christian and to live contrary to what we have just said, is to make a mockery of Jesus.  (Tim Keller on Acts 3)





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