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The Uses Of The Law

By James B. Jordan

In its essence, the law of God is revelation.... The law is a transcript of God’s perfect personal and social character. As such, it is also a transcript of the perfect personal and social character of man, the image of God, It shows us what God is like, what we were created to be like, and what we shall be like through the redeeming blood of Christ the Savior.

Traditionally, the law is seen to work in three ways. These are called the three uses of the law. They are justification (which reveals the justice and judgment of God), sanctification (which reveals the character of God), and dominion (which reveals the purposes of God).

When man was created he was legally right with God, he was morally upright, and he had certain honors and privileges, the chiefs of which were sonship (Luke 3:38) and dominion (Gen, 1:26). Man was created just, holy, and glorious (Ps. 8:5). The rebellion of man made him legally guilty in the sight of God (unjust), morally sinful in his actions (unholy), and lost him his honors and privileges: He was cast out of Eden (dominion) and, while he is still a son of God by creation (Acts 17:29), he is no longer a covenantal son of God, and so must be adopted to be saved. This was his loss of glory. Salvation restores all three aspects of man’s life — legal standing, moral standing, and dominical standing — and the law has a role in each aspect.

First, fallen man is legally guilty before the judgment bar of God’s court. The sentence of condemnation passed upon him is the wrath of God. It is the law of God which man has broken, and which makes him guilty. The first use of the law, then, is to show man his sin. When God uses the law to show man his sin, He always puts pressure on man. This drives men either to hate God more (Rem. 7 :9ff. ), or to flee to God for justification (Rem. 3:19 ff.).

The Lord Jesus Christ earned justification for His people by taking upon Himself the penalty for their sin, as their substitute. When a man places his faith in the sacrificial death of Christ, and in the God Who ordained this death, he experiences justification. The experience of justification has three stages. First, the law drives a man to Christ for initial justification. Second, day by day the law drives the Christian to his knees and to the cross, so that his confidence in God’s justifying act is renewed and matures. This is a progression aspect of justification, for an older Christian should understand more of God’s saving work, and have greater faith and confidence. Third, on the last day, the Day of Judgment, the law once again condemns all men, but God declares his faithful sheep to be justified. This is final justification.

Second, fallen man is also morally sinful in the eyes of God. The law of God shows man what a holy life is like, so the law is the rule of holiness or sanctification. The Lord Jesus Christ earned sanctification or holiness for His people by living a perfect life for them. This perfect life is applied to the saints by the Holy Spirit. When a man places his faith in God, he is renewed and given new life; he is set apart to live a holy and righteous life in the midst of a sinful and corrupt world. This is the initial experience of sanctification: God counts him as morally holy in spite of his sin. The law is the moral rule of that sanctification from its initial inception, through its progressive development, until that final day when the saints are made perfect in righteousness. This is the second use of the law.

Third, fallen man has also forfeited dominion and sonship. Salvation restores men to dominion and to sonship by adoption. The Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, lived a life in one sense devoid of dominion, with no place to lay His head and having no possessions, so that His people might be given the honors and privileges forfeited by sin. This is part of glorification, the bestowal of honors and privileges on the saints. Glorification also has three phases: initial, progressive, and final. The law of God is the rule or guidebook of dominion. The law shows the saints how to exercise dominion, how to rule. Traditionally, this has been called the “civil” use of the law, but all dominion is part of this use or purpose of the law.

The law shows men how to rule the world. It shows fathers how to rule the home. It shows elders how to rule the Church. It shows masters (employers) how to rule servants (employees) properly. It shows the individual how to rule himself. It shows the civil magistrate how to rule the state. These illustrate the third use of the law.

Excerpt from The Law Of The Covenant by James B. Jordan which is available free over the Internet at Free Books.

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