The law – its purpose and limitations

The law – its purpose and limitations

The Old Covenant law served a purpose and had blessings attached, but does it apply in the New Covenant? How should we look at it today?

5 min ·

The Old Covenant law – the knowledge of sin

“What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made … the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” Galatians 3:21,24.

By the law is the knowledge of sin. Paul testifies that he would not have known sin except through the law, and that that sin through the commandment became exceedingly sinful. (Romans 7:7,13) But it was just this deep acknowledgement of sin that brought him to Christ and the revelation that he was crucified with Christ“For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”  Galatians 2:19-20.

A shadow of things to come

The Old Covenant law could not bring about any inner transformation in a person’s life. It could only deal with the fruit of sin, the sins that were committed, but was powerless against the root of sin, the lusts of the flesh. (Romans 8:3) For example, the law said that we shall not commit adultery (the fruit of sin), but Jesus said, “But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her [the root of sin] has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27,28. This covetousness, or lust, is the root of sin, and giving in to it bears fruit (the act of adultery).

Jesus was speaking about a different kind of righteousness here, where the very root of sin was condemned, not only the fruit of giving in to these sinful lusts. The Old Covenant law also said, “You shall not covet …,” but here the law was powerless, and each year sacrifices had to be brought to atone for transgression of the law, so the people could receive forgiveness for their sins.

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The New Covenant – all of God’s will!

However, when Christ came into the world, He said: “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me … ‘Behold, I have come – In the volume of the book it is written of Me – To do Your will, O God.’” Hebrews 10:5,7. Further we read: “Then He said, ‘Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God.’ He takes away the first that He may establish the second. By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Hebrews 10:9-10. Here we see how Jesus established the new covenant – which is to do all of God’s will! The law was only part of God’s will, just a shadow of things to come, but the substance (the body) is of Christ.

Christ came into the world in a body like ours, and through the power of the eternal Spirit, He presented that body as a living sacrifice to God, to perform all of God’s will. And now all those who have been baptized into the body of Christ can also, through that same Spirit, present their bodies to do all of God’s will. They have power through the Spirit to put the lusts in their flesh to death, just as Jesus did. By denying themselves and taking up their cross and following Jesus, they enter into the sufferings of Christ that bring an end to the very root of sin, and come to a life of victory and inner transformation.

Paul, who despite all his best efforts could not manage to keep the Old Covenant law, but when he “died” so that Christ became his life, then the purpose of the law had been fulfilled in Paul’s life. The law is for transgressors, but now the transgressor had died. Now he had been delivered from the law, having died to what he was held by, so that he should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter (the law). (Romans 7:6) So now it was no longer obedience to the law that counted, but obedience to the laws of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus. These are the commandments of Jesus and His apostles written in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

Earthly promises – and eternal promises

The Old Covenant law had earthly promises. If the people of Israel endeavored to keep the law and offered the prescribed sacrifices for their transgressions of the law, then God promised to bless their earthly circumstances. But all the promises of God have their Yes and Amen in Christ. And all those who are in Him, members of His body, are partakers of these promises. God has promised to take care of all our earthly needs and given us the greatest and most precious promise of becoming partakers of His divine nature, so that we become children and heirs of God, and joint heirs of Christ. When we, like Paul, grasp these promises, then we count all our sufferings as not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (Romans 8:16-18)

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Scripture taken from the New King James Version®, unless otherwise specified. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.