In Galatians 3, the apostle Paul explains the purpose for God’s Law, including the 10 commandments. God never meant the Law to be a “blueprint” or a “roadmap” to show us how to reach salvation. First, Paul observes that salvation was promised to Abraham through faith (Genesis 15:6), so all who trust in God are saved with Abraham (Galatians 3:6-9). Then Paul uses the clear words of Scripture to destroy any idea of using the Law as a roadmap to salvation:
“For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all the things which are written in the book of the law, to do them’ [Deuteronomy 27:26]. But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for ‘the just shall live by faith’ [Habakkuk 2:4]. Yet the law is not of faith, but ‘the man who does them shall live by them’ [Leviticus 18:5]. Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’) [Deuteronomy 21:23], that the blessings of Abraham might come upon the nations in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:10-14).BY THE LAW IS THE KNOWLEDGE OF SIN
Paul says it even clearer in Romans 3: “Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:20, 23-24).
So what is the Law for? It is not a list of tasks that we have to do before God will be pleased with us. It shows us our sin, our need for the forgiveness that God gives freely, through Jesus Christ. Again, Paul writes:
“What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made [that means Jesus, the promised “seed of Abraham” by whom all nations would be blessed (Genesis 12:3)]. Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to all who believe. But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:19, 21-25).
THREE USES OF THE LAW
God’s Law, including the Ten Commandments, has a threefold purpose. First, it teaches us the difference between right and wrong, to prevent us from running wild in wickedness. Second, it shows us that we are sinners, falling short of God’s will, in need of forgiveness. Third, it guides us forgiven sinners in giving thanks for God’s forgiveness, by loving Him and our neighbor.
But according to Paul, the main purpose of the Law is the second one: it confines us all under sin, so that we cannot rely on our works – but only on “the promise by faith in Jesus Christ” – to find favor with God. So the Ten Commandments, like the teacher in the picture, are God’s way of disciplining His sinful, imperfect children – often in a painful, frightening, humbling way. But the Ten Commandments do this to remind us, every day, that we depend completely on God's promises, through faith in Jesus Christ!IMAGE: Mulready, William (1786-1863). The Fight Interrupted, 1815-1816. Location: Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Great Britain. Photo Credit: Victoria & Albert Museum, London / Art Resource, NY