The Law of Moses And The Gospel of Christ (VII): The Purpose of the Law

By Cecil Willis

In our last two lessons we studied the “double-law” distinction of denominationalism, and saw that the Scriptures indicate that the “ceremonial” and Ten Commandment Law (“moral”) are both a part of one and the same system, namely the Old Covenant. Hence when we learn, as we have in previous lessons that the Law was nailed to the cross (cf. Eph. 2:14-16; Col. 2:1416), it is equivalent to saying that we are no longer bound by the Ten Commandment Law, or the Old Testament Law, but are now living under the Law of Jesus Christ, our Savior.

When one turns to the book of Galatians he finds that the Law and the Gospel were quite thoroughly discussed. This theme was likewise developed in the books of Romans and Hebrews. But in Galatians, Paul showed us that it was not God’s eternal plan to redeem man through the Law, but through the Promise revealed to Abraham, and fulfilled in Christ. Notice: “Brethren, I speak after the manner of men: Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet when it hath been confirmed, no one maketh it void, or addeth thereto” (Gal. 3:15). This statement simply means that even in dealing man with man, once a covenant is confirmed, it cannot be set aside or altered. Much more is this true when God makes a covenant with man. In the next verse, Paul said, “Now to Abraham were the promises spoken, and to his seed. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ” (v. 16). After having demonstrated that in dealing man with man, the covenant could not be broken, Paul then declared that God made a covenant with man. If man does not break or change his promises, certainly God does not. God promised Abraham, that through his seed, not seeds (plural), all men would be blessed. Paul plainly stated that this seed through whom all men were to be blessed is Jesus Christ. Man’s blessing of redemption came through Jesus Christ, and not by the Law, for notice Paul’s next statement:

“Now this I say: A covenant confirmed beforehand by God, the law, which came four hundred and thirty years after, doth not disannul, so as to make the promise of non-effect” (v. 17). God promised to save people through the system of salvation revealed in Christ. This promise made to Abraham was given approximately in the year 1921 B. C. As Paul, said, four hundred and thirty years later, 1491 B. C., the Law of Moses was given at Mt. Sinai. These dates are both taken from Usher’s chronology of Bible history, and may vary a few years, but the four hundred and thirty years difference between the time the Promise was made to Abraham, and the Law was given by Moses is a period established by the inspiration of the Apostle Paul. Paul taught that the salvation of mankind came not by the Law, for God had promised hundreds of years before the Law that a plan of salvation would be revealed in Christ. Paul stated this in very clear language. He said, “For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no more of promise: but God hath granted it to Abraham by promise” (Gal. 3:18). After this declaration as to the insignificance of the Law to one’s salvation, the question quite naturally arises, “If the Law had nothing to do with salvation, why was it given to begin with?” This is a logical question, so Paul proposes it, and then answers it. “What then is the law?” (Gal. 3:19). After asking this question, Paul proceeded in the next few verses of Gal. 3 to discuss the purposes of the Law of Moses.

The Law Was Not Given To Save Men

Before we begin the study of the specific answers given by Paul, let us notice one purpose for which the Law was not given. It was not given to save men. There was never a person saved, exclusively, by the Law of Moses. It was essential that after one had done all he could possibly do under the Law, something else had to be done that his salvation might be procured. Jesus Christ had to die for the sins of those people under the Law, just as He died for your sins and mine. “And for this cause he is the mediator of a new covenant, that a death having taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant, they that have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance” (Heb. 9:15). Paul further taught that Christ died that God might be perfectly just in the passing over of sins done aforetime, and also that He might be the justifier of those who would accept God’s plan of salvation (Rom. 3:21-26). Therefore the Law of Moses was not given to save men, independently of the death of Christ. Yet there are thousands of people today who tell us that all one has to do to be saved is to keep the Ten Commandments. Not only was the Law done away, but keeping the Ten Commandments alone would not save if the Law were yet in effect. So the purpose of the Law was not to save.

The Law Defined Sin

Well, then, for what reason was it given? Paul answered the question, and told three reasons why the Law was given. He asks, “What then is the law?” in Gal. 3:19, and answered “It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise hath been made.” The first reason the Law of Moses was given was because of transgression. Remember, God had promised that all men could be saved through the seed of Abraham. It was 430 years later that the Law of Moses was given. During this 430 years, the people of Israel became exceedingly wicked, and therefore the Law of Moses was given to declare to them what they should and should not do. It clearly and adequately defined sin. Not only did it define sin, but there were written statements of what God commanded and what He forbade. The book of Romans has been defined as `a fuller and more complete statement of the truths revealed in Galatians.’ When we turn to Romans, we find Paul taught that the Law declared what was sin. “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Howbeit, I had not known sin, except through the law: for I had not known coveting except the law had said, thou shalt not covet” (Rom. 7:7). It seems that Paul used himself as a representative of mankind and said that by the statements contained in the Law he became aware of what God would have him do and what God would not have him do. Further in the same chapter, Paul said, “But sin, that it might be shown to be sin, by working death to me through that which is good; that through the commandment sin might become exceedingly sinful” (Rom. 7:13). The seed through which all men were to be blessed was to come through the Jews. Consequently due to their weakness to sin, the Law was given to put a restraint on sin within the nation of the Jews, that they might be purely preserved as a lineage through which the Christ was to come.

The Law Condemned

A second reason why the Law of Moses was given was expressed in Gal. 3:22. Paul was yet talking about why the Law was given and he said, “But the scripture shut up all things under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.” The Law was given to shut up all things under sin. This statement is best understood in the light of some other passages. It meant that all the people who were under the Old Testament Law stood condemned by it. There was not redemptive satisfaction it it, or else as Paul said, there would have been no need for another law. Paul also said, “Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could make alive, verily righteousness would have been of the law” (Gal. 3:22). So the Law could not save them. It only shut them up under sin.

Paul explained what this purpose of the Law meant when he said, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under a curse: for it is written, Cursed is everyone who continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law, to do them” (Gal. 3:10). This passage asserts that if an individual under the Law failed to keep one single commandment of the Law, he was under a curse. Why was this true? Does the Bible offer any explanation as to why it is true? The reason why the Law shut up under sin those under it was because none of them kept the Law with perfection. Everyone broke one or more commandments. Paul said, “for all” (meaning Jews and Gentiles) “have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Every person violated some commandment of the Law, and under the Old Testament Law, no provision was made by which transgressions could be forgiven. Paul taught this in the following passage: “For the law having a shadow of the good things to come, not the very image of the things, can never with the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continually, make perfect them that draw nigh. Else would they not have ceased to be offered? Because the worshipers, having been once cleansed, would have had no more consciousness of sin. But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance made of sins year by year. For it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins” (Heb. 10:1-4). Under the Old Law, they only had animal sacrifices, and Paul declared that these cannot take away sins. So everyone violated one or more parts of the Law of Moses; it was impossible for the kind of sacrifices they had to forgive sin; therefore one purpose of the Law, was, as Paul said, to shut up all things under sin.

The Law Brought Men To Christ

A third purpose of the Law was to bring man unto Christ. Paul said, “So that the law is become our tutor to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24). It was the purpose of the Law to direct men unto Christ, that in Him they might be saved. This is very logical, for as Paul had already said, the Law shut them up under sin. But it also told of Him who could remove the sin. So it would be the natural thing for them to be led by that which covered them with sin to Him who could take away sin. It is as though one were hopelessly lost in a great forest, and suddenly he was to come upon a well marked path to safety. The Law declared that they were hopelessly lost in sin unless they permitted themselves to be led to the Messiah who could blot out their sin. Already we have seen that the whole of the Old Testament may be referred to as the Law. In the Old Testament, there are said to be over three hundred prophecies which pointed toward Christ. The Law was their schoolmaster to lead them to Christ.


In conclusion, what is the purpose of the law? (1) It was added because of transgression (Gal. 3:19); (2) It shut up all things under sin (Gal. 3:22); (3) It was a tutor to lead men to the Christ (Gal. 3:24). All of these purposes of the Law indicate that the nature of the law was therefore temporary. Next week we will continue our study of the Law of Moses and the Gospel of Christ, concentrating on “The Duration of the Law.”

Truth Magazine XX:10, p. 3-5
March 4, 1976