What exactly is the purpose of the Law?
For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (Rom 8:3-4)
People often speak of the Law’s purpose as showing us our sin. This is not really the purpose, but the side effect of this holy medicine from heaven. The real purpose of the Law given by God is as St. Paul states above. That purpose is to declare righteousness.
Yes! The purpose of the Law is to show us the image of God in which we were created. The purpose of the Law is to teach us what God has written on the hearts of all men, but from which our sin has blinded us.
The purpose of the Law is to teach unrighteous sinners to recognize that which is holy so that we may recognize the One who is holy.
Unfortunately, people misunderstand the purpose of the Law. People imagine that the Law was given to make us holy. But as St. Paul rightly reminds us, the Law has no power to effect this for us. It only has the power that God has given it, the power to show us where holiness resides. Holiness is found only in God’s image, that is, Christ.
But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. (2 Cor 4:3-4)
That is the truth. Christ is the image of God in which we were created. He is the one that the Law points to so that we might see what kind of people we are supposed to be.
But the Law cannot make us like Christ. It cannot give us the righteousness that abides in Him. All that the Law can do is show us His righteousness.
The effect is that we see the contrast. As soon as we see the righteousness of Christ, we also see that we do not have it. Thus we see our condemnation in our unrighteousness.
The Law does not actually curse us. It merely shows us that we are cursed. The Law does not actually condemn us, but shows us our condemnation. It shows us the One we are to be like. Then we see what by nature we are not and we see that we are without hope, standing under the curse of sin.
Thanks be to God that He has not left us under the Law. Christ, the righteous one, fulfilled all righteousness for us. In Him the curse of the Law is done away with. This is the blessed message of Good Friday. This is what gives meaning to Easter Sunday so that we truly have cause to sing and rejoice!
This righteousness God pours over us to cover us forever in the waters of Baptism. By the power of the name of salvation spoken with the water, God covers us with the robe of righteousness, that is, Christ Jesus. As St. Paul assures the Roman congregation,
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (Rom 8:1)
Again the apostle writes that in the washing of Baptism we are renewed by the Holy Spirit in the image of Christ and His righteousness:
But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)
Now, therefore, as we walk onward in this lenten journey to the cross, we see our sin lifted up and pronounced condemned, once and for all. We see our unrighteousness cursed by God and punished. Yet the punishment that belongs to us, Christ took in our stead. He atoned for our sin by bearing God’s wrath for us. He was rejected so that we would be accepted.
This is what the lenten use of the Law is meant to show us. But it can only point us to the preaching of Christ crucified. It is in the preaching of Jesus Christ and Him crucified that we find the holiness that we seek. There we find God’s Law fulfilled so that in Christ we are raised to serve God in holiness forever. By the resurrection, as St. Peter declares, we see the righteousness given in Baptism as being real, so that we live free of the condemnation of the Law to approach God with a good conscience, the conscience of Christ. (1 Peter 3:21)