The Three Uses of the Law
As far back as Martin Luther, Reformed theology said there are three uses for the law of God in Scripture. The first use of the law is to show men that they are condemned by it, as in Romans 3:20, the knowledge of sin comes by the law. The second use of the law is to show us how not to behave by condemning sins, as in the Ten Commandments: you shall not, you shall not, you shall not (Exodus 20). The third use of the law and I believe this is the most controversial, and it was only really underscored by certain Puritans like Richard Baxter and then amplified by John Wesley and the early Methodists: the third use of the law is the law that we find in the New Testament, which commands us what we ought to do with our lives: it serves as a moral guide for how we are to conduct ourselves, and is defined by positive commands and directions from Jesus and the apostles. I think that the best place to look for passages of Scripture like this are in the letters of Paul and other apostles, for which Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3 serve as examples.
Lawless Baptistic Dispensationalism!
These are precious truths. They have often come under attack every time a preacher comes into a knowledge of them. Whenever a preacher comes to preach on this, immediately he is criticized by most others as preaching “works salvation.” These New Testament moral laws have often only been preached during times of revival by certain preachers, namely, John Wesley, Charles Finney, Leonard Ravenhill, and others who emphasized a Methodist sense of personal holiness. Popular evangelical theology has always sort of been Baptistic and leaned in the direction of dispensationalist theology. While I would consider a good number of people that are Baptistic Christians to be members of the body of Christ, I am still very uncomfortable with their teachings when it comes to the law of God. With the exception of the 1689 Baptist Confession, Baptists almost always have an antinomian dispensationalist view of the law of God. This is where you find a strong differentiation between the role of the law in the Old Testament and the role of the law in the New Testament, or in other words, they might say there’s a strong difference between the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace, or the law and the gospel, or law and grace: either way, they look at the Bible and they try to separate God’s commandments from the New Testament and the Christian life. They try to distance God’s law from the Christian life, as if it were something that only applied to the past and it does not apply today. Often times they will include the moral law along with the ceremonial law, and throw it all away into the distant past, which is a grave concern to me. They also do the same thing with miracles and spiritual gifts: cessationists always relegate such things to the faraway past, so they don’t have to apply those things to themselves today. So when you have people who are neither zealous for the law, nor for spiritual gifts, you can imagine how you end up with a pretty dead religion.
Dispensationalist antinomianism is probably the most popular form of evangelical Christianity. Most of the Baptist preachers on the radio preach it. Almost all of the leading preachers who are conservative evangelicals, featured in Christianity Today, they preach it. Most of the pastors in Southern Baptist churches preach it. And still also, many Pentecostal preachers preach it. It is truly one of the worst, most deplorable forms of theology that has ever been invented. Mainly because it overthrows the moral authority of the Bible in the Christian’s life without saying so explicitly. It allows people who say that they believe in the authority of Scripture, to turn around and say they don’t have to obey its commands, because that was only for people in the Old Testament days to worry about. Such false dichotomous thinking about the Old Testament versus the New Testament, was first invented by Marcion the gnostic heretic. He conceived that the god of the Old Testament was an evil, almost demonic being, whereas the god of the New Testament was one filled with grace, love, and forgiveness, and had no wrath for sin. Marcionites didn’t even use the Old Testament; they only used the New Testament with their warped interpretations. I think a lot of Baptists today are really Marcionites in spirit.
Modern day Baptistic antinomians hate open-air preaching, the mention of Hell, practical holiness, and anything to do with casting out demons: because they love their demons. They usually are naturalistic in their outlook and their biggest focus is on making friends. They watch the filthiest movies, make the dirtiest jokes, and excuse themselves all the way. They think that evangelism is equivalent to making friends with people who are non-Christians. I recently worked at a company where there were about three or four missionary young people from the Southern Baptist Church: and all of them used cuss words openly and flagrantly, the s-word, the a-word, the d-word, I think even the f-word, and they didn’t think anything was wrong with it. Whenever I hear somebody crying up words about how the law was just for the Old Testament, I want to say shut up! They’re going to have to answer to God for this: at the same time that they are distancing themselves from God, and grieving the Holy Spirit, they’re teaching others to do the same thing. They are teaching others to basically give up the fight against sin and show them Scriptures for why they think they’re right. It must be some kind of delusion, some satanically empowered deception, that makes them think they can allow people to take the Holy Bible, and twist it to such a degree, so they can make their lives anything other than holy. I can only agree with John Wesley when he says that the god of the Calvinism is more monstrous than the devil. The loveliest terms that any Calvinistic dispensationalist Baptist antinomian can use are the words legalism and legalist. They use these words very frequently, to empower themselves against people who see the truth for what it is: that Christians are called to obey the Word of God as it is plainly written. They like to blame them, and call them legalists in order to make themselves feel that they have the true faith. But with Wesley again, I can only agree with him when he says that he cannot find the word “legality” or legalism anywhere in his Bible.
In John Wesley’s sermons on “The Original, Nature, Property, and Use of the Law,” he shows the first, second, and third uses of the law; and essentially explains that the moral law of God continues in the New Testament, in light of the cross of Jesus, in light of justification by faith alone, that the moral law is used for our sanctification, not for our justification, but for our sanctification. The cross brings justification, but the moral law in the New Testament, which is found peppered throughout the letters of Paul, is for our sanctification: this is plainly clear to anyone who knows how to read. The law is holy!
Ephesians 4-5: An Example of the Moral Law
Ephesians 4:25 says that each of us must not use falsehood, but that we should speak truthfully to our neighbors: this is a reinforcement of the commandment not to bear false testimony against your neighbor. Ephesians 4:26 says that we should not let the sun go down while we are still angry, that we should not allow ourselves to become angry and hateful towards other people. Why? Because that could lead to murder, which again takes us back to the Ten Commandments. Ephesians 4:28 says that we should not steal, but we should work, doing something useful with our own hands: again this brings us back to the Ten Commandments, which says thou shalt not covet. Ephesians 4:29 says do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth: so this is definitely a law against profanity, cussing, sexual innuendos, or any sort of dirty joking. Again you could say this brings us back to the Ten Commandments, because it says thou shalt not use the name of the Lord thy God in vain. Ephesians 4:30 implies that people who break such laws grieve the Holy Spirit of God. Ephesians 4:31 takes us further and says that we should get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. I would sure hate to embrace a theology that says you’re not supposed to keep a commandment like that. Ephesians 4:32 says to be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other. How does this not look like a direct positive command for how to get us to live our lives right? These are commands, these are laws, these are orders from the apostle: how can Christians do anything else than obey them as laws? Or at least try to? These are commands from God and they are found in the New Testament. They are laws against stealing, against lying, against profanity, against fighting, against anger, and against malice. I guess the question you have to ask yourself is, if you are an antinomian, and you believe that moral rules are not found in the New Testament, then what is the point of being a Christian? Is it just to be forgiven? If the whole goal of your religion is just to be forgiven, then are you implying that you can just steal, pick fights, and bully people; and still be in the state of salvation? I sure hope not.
Ephesians 5:3 says there should not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or any kind of impurity, or of greed. Ephesians 5:4 says there should be no obscenity, foolish talk, or coarse joking; it also says that there should be thanksgiving. Ephesians 5:5 says there should be no immoral, impure, or greedy person in the church, because such a man is an idolater, and he does not have any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ: in other words, he is not saved. If you are an antinomian, and you think that immoral and greedy backsliders are still saved, then you are deceived. Ephesians 5:18 says not to get drunk on wine, which leads to partying. I think there’s definitely enough food for thought here. Whether or not you consider these Bible verses to be commandments, or laws, or simply moral guidelines, the fact of the matter is, these are imperative commands coming from an apostle that was inspired by God, writing with the authority of Scripture. I can’t stand to listen to the vain talk and sleepy babblings of Moody Church’s Warren Wiersbe, or any Baptistic preacher, who tries to relegate all commandments and laws to the period of the Old Testament. Such people are confused and should not be in a position of teaching others. They speak out of both sides of their mouths. For some amount of time they might say that there is no law of God today, and then later on they might say that there is a law of God today, and then overturn it once again, leaving you all confused. Finally Ephesians 5:6-7 says to let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient: and therefore do not be partners with them. Oh! Give me that old-time Wesleyan Methodism that preached the truth, plain and simple! And away with these confusing and lawless falsehoods! Popularity is no sign of the truth.
Thomas Oden’s John Wesley’s Scriptural Christianity, see p. 373: “Antinomianism”
Fletcher’s Checks to Antinomianism. Ed. Peter Wiseman. Beacon Hill, 1953.
Mark Jones’ Antinomianism
John Gerstner’s Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth: A Critique of Dispensationalism. Wolgemuth & Hyatt Pub, 1991.
Daniel Steele’s A Substitute for Holiness: Antinomianism Revived. Schmul, 1980.
J. I. Packer’s Concise Theology, p. 178.