Many Christian leaders today believe and teach that the laws of God are not applicable to the Christian, nor to society. However, every Christian must determine whether this is true or not. This teaching is relatively new since for most of Christian and Jewish history this was not the accepted belief. Jesus is acknowledged as the sovereign Lord of the universe. All authority in both heaven and earth has been delegated to him by God the Father. (Mathew 28:18-20) As the sovereign ruler of the universe he is King of kings and Lord of lords. It does not make sense that we would not be under his law as our Lord. We need his law to know what is right or wrong and how we are to live under his sovereign rule. His Kingdom would be one of chaos and disorder if there was no law and men were not instructed in God's law.
This view of the law came into our churches with dispensational theology which arose in the mid 1800s with the teachings of John Darby. He originated and systematized this view which was never recognized in previous church history. Darby began teaching this theology in England and eventually brought it to America where it quickly spread with the popularity of the Scofield Study Bible. Today it is the predominant theology among evangelical Christians. Ironically many have no idea of how it originated relatively recently from one man and that it is a new theology which never existed before Darby originated it.
One of the teachings of Darby's theology was that we are no longer under God's law. Darby taught that the Old Testament and much of the New Testament was solely for the Jews. As a result of this new theology many churches began teaching that the law of God only applied to the Jews. According to both Darby and Scofield Christians are now under the law of Christ - however that is defined. This new view regarding God's law undermined the previous historic view held by most conservative Protestant churches. Prior to this they believed and taught we were still under the laws of God for personal ethical norms and for civil government but not for personal salvation. This view is described in the Westminster Confession and known as the three uses of the law which J.I. Packer describes below.
Law in Action - God’s Moral Law Has Three Purposes (J. I. Packer)
I would not have known what sin was except through the Law. Romans 7: 7
Scripture shows that God intends his law to function in three ways, which Calvin crystallized in classic form for the church’s benefit as the Law’s three-fold use.
Its first function is to be a mirror reflecting to us both the perfect righteousness of god and our own sinfulness and shortcomings. Thus, “the law bids us, as we try to fulfill its requirements, and become wearied in our weakness under it, to know how to ask the help of grace” Augustine. The law is meant to give the knowledge of sin (Romans 3: 20; 4: 15; 5: 13; 7: 7-11) and, by showing us our need of pardon and our danger of damnation, to lead us in repentance and faith to Christ (Galatians 3: 19-24).
Its second function is to restrain evil. Though it cannot change the heart, the law can to some extent inhibit lawlessness by its threats of judgment, especially when backed by a civil code that administers present punishment for proven offenses (Deuteronomy 13: 6-11; 19: 16-21; Romans 13: 3-4). Thus it secures some civil order and goes some way to protect the righteous from the unjust.
Its third function is to guide the unregenerate into good works that God has planned for them (Ephesians 2: 10). The law tells God’s children what will please their heavenly Father. It could be called their family code. Christ was speaking of this third use of the law when he said that those who belong his disciples must be taught to keep the law and to all that he had commanded (Mathew 5: 18-20, 28: 20), and that it is obedience to his commandments that will prove the reality of one’s love for him (John 14: 15). The Christian is free from the law as a supposed system of salvation (Romans 6: 14; 7: 4; 6: 1, Corinthians 9: 20; Galatians 2:15-19; 3: 25; Galatians 6: 2).
The three uses of the law has been the historic view among conservative evangelical churches until the mid 1800s with the introduction of dispensational theology. This marks a major break in the historic view of how Christians related to God's law. Ideas have consequences and this shift in theology has had a major impact on the church. As George Barna and other social observers point out, lawlessness runs rampant within many churches today and there is little respect taught for God's law among many churches. Since the culture is a reflection of the religion of the people there are some Christian leaders pointing out that our own leaders started the trend toward lawlessness by teaching their congregations that we are no longer under God's law.
A conservative Reformed biblical worldview holds to the historic tradition found in Christian history regarding the three uses of God's law. God's law led to the development of Western Civilization. Our Common Law system is based on biblical moral and civil laws. When church leaders teach we are no longer are obligated to observe God's laws, they don't realize that they are undermining the foundation of Western law. We hope that this discussion will be of benefit to familiarize the reader with this issue and that they would be encouraged to look further into this topic.
Posted in the section below are books that address this current issue within our churches.