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The Three Purposes of God's Law: Lessons for Missions Today

We're living in a time of history that can be greatly distressing to those with eyes to see and ears to hear. Things are happening all around the world that cause us to think we are living in an epic film of a dystopian nature... Yet amid the worldwide chaos and confusion, for those who are eager to grow and be used by God, we can often find occasions to be stretched, strengthened, and grown in ways we didn't realize were necessary. In today's post, we'll consider briefly the role of the Christian and God's law in response to those who are in authority by God's decree, but using their God-given authority contrary to God's revealed will.

Missions in Italy Moses Statue in Rome

This concept of the uses of God's law has direct implications for the work of missions since we are sent out to disciple the nations and teach them to observe all that King Jesus commands (Mt. 28: 18-20). It has direct implications in our homeland as well where 60+ million babies have been murdered in the womb without any judicial consequences to those doing it. As brother Chris Hume mentioned in his thought-provoking book, 7 Statist Sins,

A midwife who provides pregnant mothers with a service of midwifery has not violated God’s law, has not injured another person, has not broken contract, and has not damaged another person’s property. And yet, this woman can be threatened with criminal charges for delivering babies, while the abortionist acts with impunity at the local Planned Parenthood.

In moments of tyranny and misuse of authority, it becomes imperative for men and women of God to respond faithfully and play their role of the prophetic voice that reminds the world of their responsibilities. The law of God serves as a moral compass, guiding societies and individuals towards righteousness and justice. In this blog post, we will briefly explore the reformed view of the three purposes of God's law - the pedagogical, normative, and civil uses - and how they are relevant in today's world.

The Pedagogical Use:

Teaching and Convicting - The first purpose of God's law is to serve as a pedagogue, a tutor that leads us to Christ. It reveals our sinful nature and convicts us of our need for a Savior. By showing us what is right and wrong, the law points us to the grace and mercy found solely in Jesus Christ. Understanding this pedagogical use of the law helps us grasp the significance of God's standards and the necessity of salvation through faith. The 10 commandments are necessary for helping lost people to understand exactly how they have fallen short of the glory of God and deserve condemnation from a thrice holy God. In light of the bad news, as revealed by this use of the law of God, sinners can have their eyes opened to see their need for the Savior who fulfilled the law of God on our behalf and then took the punishment that we deserve on the cross.

Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. - Galatians 2: 24

The Normative Use:

An Unchanging Standard - The normative use of God's law establishes an unchanging standard of morality that teaches us how to live faithfully and walk humbly before the Lord. Unlike human opinions and feelings, the law provides a clear and independent measure of right and wrong. It limits evil by revealing the character of God and condemning sin. We must recognize that truth emanates from God and His law, and it is His law that enables humanity to flourish and thrive. The law-word of God is a light to our path that teaches us how to live faithful to Christ in God's world. God has not left us in the dark regarding how we are to live. He has graciously given us all that we need in His unchanging word so we can bear fruit for Him. The follower of Christ, because of the new nature now within him/her, loves God's commandments because in this we can know how to please our Lord.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. - Psalm 119: 105
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. - John 14: 15

The Civil Use:

Fostering Order and Justice - The third purpose of God's law is the civil use, wherein the law promotes order and justice in human societies and restrains evil. When rightly applied it acts as a restraint against evil, ensuring stability in families, communities, and nations. By upholding God's law, societies create environments where the Gospel can flourish and bring transformation to individuals and communities. This civil use of God's law is crucial for upholding righteousness and allowing the message of salvation to spread freely. Where God's law is cast aside, like we see it happening currently in the US which was heavily influenced by Christian thought and conviction since its founding, chaos, confusion, death, and disorder abound. When godless tyrants have their way, they often repress free speech. Limited free speech directly impacts the spreading of the Gospel and the advancement of the Kingdom. When the law according to God's standard is not active to refrain evil, evil things will be called good while good things will be called evil. Murdering babies in the womb gets a noble title called "reproductive rights or freedom"...

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! - Isaiah 5: 20

Resisting Tyranny and Misuse of Authority

When those in positions of authority abuse their God-given power and go against the revealed will of God, Christians are called to act. Just as historical figures like John Knox and Martin Luther resisted tyrants, believers today have a responsibility to stand up against those who harm bearers of God's image. Abortion continues to plague our land, sadly, in large part because we have lacked Biblical Christian courage to speak up and proclaim the truth of God's word to those using authority contrary to God's revealed will. It is the duty of Christians to prophetically (proclaiming God's word) confront authorities who misuse their God-given authority, calling them to account for their actions before their Maker. When this is faithfully done, by the grace of God, and even though it may risk the life of the believer, it serves also to evangelize the magistrates and encourages them to repent of their sins and believe (trust) in Jesus Christ to be saved.

To further explore this crucial topic, let me suggest to you two books that I found very insightful: The Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrates by Matthew Trewhella

Closing Thoughts:

In a world that often seeks to eliminate God and undermine His authority, the three purposes of God's law remain crucial. Law and Gospel go together. The law word of God is perfect. The pedagogical, normative, and civil uses of the law equip us with a divine standard, showing us our need for salvation and guiding us toward righteous living. As Christians, we must allow God's law to operate in our hearts (God's law is a form of His grace after all) and, when necessary, to resist tyranny and misuse of authority. By fulfilling these responsibilities, we contribute to the flourishing of humanity and the advancement of God's Kingdom through the Great Commission. Naturally, this impacts every aspect of the work of Biblical missions as well. May we all love, appreciate, and proclaim the whole counsel of God, in word and deed, to a world that desperately needs to hear it! Soli Deo Gloria.

The Law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. 8 The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. 9 The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether. -- Ps. 19: 7-9

I leave you today with a quotation from John Calvin in his beautiful little book, Golden Booklet of the Christian Life, a must-read, in my opinion, for all Christians.

Scripture is the rule of life

I) "The goal of the new life is that God’s children exhibit melody and harmony in their conduct. What melody? The song of God’s justice. What harmony? The harmony between God’s righteousness and our obedience.

Only if we walk in the beauty of God’s law do we become sure of our adoption as children of the Father.

The law of God contains in itself the dynamic of the new life by which his image is fully restored in us; but by nature we are sluggish, and, therefore, we need to be stimulated, aided in our efforts by a guiding principle.

A sincere repentance from the heart does not guarantee that we shall not wander from the straight path and sometimes become bewildered.

Let us then search Scripture to find the root principle for the reformation of our life.” - John Calvin


Written by Jesse Schreck | founder, director, and missionary church planter in Italy with Practical Missions Cohort

A helpful short article by Ligonier on this subject matter:

Note: This blog post is based on a teaching lesson delivered by Jesse to the Italian community. The original message can be found in its entirety here below.


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