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The last few months or so, I’ve been studying the book of Galatians. I’ve been using a couple different commentaries and one of them being Martin Luther’s. It is quite long, wordy, and its context is obviously in the midst of his dealings with the Catholic Church at that time, so he doesn’t refrain from attacking them constantly. But nonetheless, I have really enjoyed reading it. I’ve especially enjoyed growing in my understanding of the difference between the Law and the Gospel.

From my catechism days in middle school, I remember memorizing “The Law shows us our sin” and “The gospel shows us our Savior”, but beyond that I really didn’t understand it. I never really understood what my position and attitude was supposed to be towards the Law. Should I hate it? Should I disregard it? What should be its role for me today as a Christian? And how could I possibly have the same heart that wrote Psalm 119, that meditates and delights in the Law?

Paul explains the purpose of the Law in Galatians:

Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made. (Galatians 3:19)

But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. (Galatians 3:22)

Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ. (Galatians 3:24)

It should be noted here that other translations, instead of using the word “tutor”, use “guardian” or “schoolmaster”. In any case, it is supposed to describe someone hired to teach and discipline us, sometimes severely, to form us into the person our parents want us to be.

Luther comments on the intent of the Law:

The Law has a twofold purpose. One purpose is civil. God has ordained civil laws to punish crime. Every Law is given to restrain sin.

The second purpose of the Law is spiritual and divine…This is the principle purpose of the Law and its most valuable contribution. As long as a person is not a murderer, adulterer, a thief, he would swear that he is righteous…As long as a person thinks that he is right he is going to be incomprehensibly proud and presumptuous. He is going to hate God, despise His grace and mercy, and ignore the promises of Christ. The Gospel of the free forgiveness of sins through Christ will never appeal to the self-righteous.

This monster of self-righteousness, this stiff-necked beast, needs a big axe. And that is what the Law is, a big axe. Accordingly, the proper use and function of the Law is to threaten until the conscience is scared stiff. (Martin Luther’s Commentary on Galatians, chapter 3)

When we are unsaved and resistant to believing in Jesus Christ, we should utterly hate the Law as it whips us and binds us in chains. But when we trust Christ and confess that He alone is sufficient and supreme, we are able to look back at the Law with admiration, respect, and reverence as we would our schoolmaster who disciplined us into shape in our younger years. The Law was God’s appointed specialist to essentially “grind” us down into a position in which we could turn to no other but Christ.

Therefore, I thank God for His Law and take delight in it. I admire it the same way I would a really tough basketball or football coach. Although I may have hated it at the time, I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without the discipline and hard lessons I was given.

Thanks be to God for both His Law and His Gospel, for they both are wonderful and show His great faithfulness, commitment, love, and mercy to His people.

Although I think I have thoroughly (enough) explained the reasoning for rejoicing/respecting the Law. I don’t believe I’ve answered the question above, “What should be its role for me today as Christian?” Perhaps I’ll resolve that in a future post. For now, what do you think? I know there is a difference between being “under the Law” (Galatians 4:21) as in the time before we were saved, and revering the Law as rejoicing God’s commitment to us, but what role (if any) does the law now play in our lives? In other words, should we continue to ask for “the big axe of the Law” to continue to chop away at our own tree trunk of self-righteousness and self-sufficiency to lead us to a deeper understanding of Christ’s gift to us? Or is the axe no longer of any use to us as children of God?

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