Note: The following is incomplete, with some parts only sketched out. But I offer it in this form to stimulate the thought of those who are interested while I refine, develop, and write down my own thoughts on the subject. Feel free to email me with suggestions or questions.

The Three Uses of the Law
A New Proposal

I think the traditional formulation of the "Three Uses of the Law"--as goad to civil righteousness, as tutor to drive us to Christ, and as rule of life--is unhelpful. For starters, each "use" means something different by the word "Law."

In the first use--the Law as a goad to civil righteousness--the "Law" being referred to is not the Mosaic Law at all. This first use is for the nations as well. Rather, the law in the first use is the law referred to in Rom 2:14,15, the moral code written on men's hearts which alternately excuses or condemns them.

In the second use--the Law as paidagogos or disciplinarian--the "Law" being referred to is the Mosaic Law given as a covenant to the Jews. It's purpose was not to be their final covenantal transaction, but to drive them to that final transaction in Christ. The Law in this sense functions for the Gentile only by way of example. I.e. you can't go back to the pre-lapsarian Adamic arrangement and try to do better this time around. That experiment was tried (typologically) with the nation of Israel and was a resounding failure. And so, in this exemplary sense, the Mosaic Law, given as a covenant to the Jews, functions as a paidagogos to drive even the Gentiles to Christ.

In the third use, the Law as a description of the obedience in which believers should walk, the "Law" no longer functions as a covenant at all. (Legalists--and we all know plenty--would disagree at this point. And I think in our battles in the Reformed church, perhaps the key line of attack is to force them to come out in the open about this and say point blank that the Law functions as a covenant between God and the Church.) Rather, this use considers the Law in the abstract as a delineation of righteous behavior, though not as a covenant by which we will be justified or condemned. This attempt to strip the Law of its covenantal sanctions and use the remainder is fraught with peril. Far better to see the Law fulfilled in Christ and take our example from him. He will not lead us astray. Nor will his example lack anything necessary.

And there's another problem with the current three uses: only one of them is explicitly Christological. There is grave danger in this.

Luther told us rightly that we sinners cannot approach a naked God, but must always approach him in Christ. It ought to be obvious, then, that we also cannot approach a naked Law, but must always approach that in Christ as well.

This is true not merely for our justification, but for our sanctification. But this truth is obscured in most formulations of the "third use of the Law." Those formulations speak of the Law as a guide for the believer directly. They rarely mention the necessity of a Mediator and a better covenant at this point, having covered that necessity in the "second use."

This has unfortunate repercussions. It can lead believers to think that, for their justification, they approach the Law in Christ; but for their sanctification, they approach it directly.

Having begun by the Spirit of Christ, they seek to be perfected by the flesh. Justified in the Spirit, they seek to be sanctified by their own efforts. They approach the Law as though it has been de-fanged and may now be handled directly without harm. They attempt to approach God on their own apart from Christ.

The Law has indeed been "de-fanged" if you will; it's curses have been borne by Christ, and God's wrath has been turned aside. But the conclusion to this is not that we may now approach God or his Law on our own. Rather, the conclusion is that we may approach him and his Law in Christ. And as we do so, we find not an implacable Judge but a loving Father. For the Father loves the Son and all who are in him.

So it is with the Law. We can never approach it as those to whom it has primary reference. Its primary reference is to Christ, in its third use as much as in any other. Any attempt to approach the Law apart from its fulfilment, our Savior, will produce in us either legalism or despair (and may God be gracious and grant that it produce despair).

To put it succinctly, the traditional view can sometimes lead us to behave as though the Law drives us to Christ for our justification and Christ drives us back to the Law for our sanctification. We will prefer to keep the motion always from the Law to Christ, both for justification and sanctification.

The traditional Reformed view expressed in the Heidelberg Catechism is susceptible of this danger, namely divorcing the third use of the Law from Christ. That view suggests that the Law describes the life of gratitude that we are to live in response to God's redemption.

(This view becomes particularly troubling when the prologue to the Ten Commandments--"I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt"--is used to buttress it, as though all we need in order to become good little lawkeepers is a prior act of great redemption on God's part. Such an exegesis entirely misses the point of Israel's failure to keep the Law in spite of God's great redemption, thus causing the people of faith to yearn for a greater redemption, indeed a redemption from the very Law to which they were enslaved at Sinai.)

While it is true that our obedience must and does spring from grateful hearts, the Heidelberg way of putting the matter can suggest that the onus for obedience rests on the believer. God has done his part and has now given us a manual so that we can do our part. The organic connection between the salvation God has provided and the obedience he works out in us can become greatly obscured. This connection is restored when we stubbornly refuse to contemplate the Law except as it points us to Christ. (And if some will deem this a denial of the third use, so be it. We dare not handle the Law apart from the One who has fulfilled its every jot and tittle.)

To repair these defects, I would like to propose a new "Three Uses of the Law." Each of them refers to the Law given as a covenant on Mount Sinai. And each is explicitly Christological. I believe each is explicitly supported by New Testament example. And I am hopeful that every New Testament use of the Mosaic Law may be subsumed under at least one of these three headings.

Those three headings are as follows: 1) Pedagogical. (The Law as it drives us to Christ). 2) Teleological. (The Law fulfilled in and by Christ.) 3. Eschatological. (The Law as it typifies Christ's rule of his kingdom).

1. PEDAGOGICAL (the Law as it drives us to Christ) - Key verses: Galatians 3:24,25 - "The Law was our tutor to drive us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor."

2. TELEOLOGICAL - (the Law fulfilled in and by Christ)

3. ESCHATOLOGICAL - The Law as it typifies Christ's rule of his kingdom


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