On Friday, I posted some comments from Dr. Tom Schreiner regarding the tripartite division of the Mosaic Law. While Schreiner expressed the usefulness of an informal description of the Mosaic Law in three categories, he rejected the idea that only parts of the Law have passed away. Instead, all of the Mosaic Law—and not just the civil and ceremonial aspects—has been fulfilled in Christ.
Nevertheless, it is obvious that many of the commands of the Mosaic Law remain relevant for believers today. We left off by asking, if the Mosaic Law is unified and is now obsolete in Christ, how can certain Old Testament commandments be normative for believers today while others are not? I’ll repeat Schreiner’s answer and my final comments before jumping into today’s topic:
“It is perhaps instructive to note that in most instances Paul does not argue that the moral norms from the Old Testament are authoritative on the basis of their appearance in the Old Testament, though in some instances he does cite the Old Testament command (e.g., Rom.13:9; Eph. 6:2–3). … They are not normative merely because they appear in the Mosaic covenant, for that covenant has passed away. It seems that they are normative because they express the character of God. We know that they still express God’s will for believers because they are repeated as moral norms in the New Testament. It is not surprising that in the welter of the laws we find in the Old Testament (613 according to the rabbis) that some of those laws express transcendent moral principles. Still, the mistake we make is trying to carve up neatly the law into moral and nonmoral categories.” (93–94).
Here Schreiner gets to the heart of the matter. The reason that certain Old Testament commandments are normative for believers today is not merely because they show up in the Old Testament. Murder isn’t wrong because it’s in the Law of Moses, because, again, a prohibition of mixing fabrics is also in the Law of Moses, and we don’t argue that that is wrong for believers today. No, the reason that certain Old Testament commandments are normative for believers today while others are not, is because those that are normative express the transcendent, unchanging character of God. They express the “transcendent moral principles” which make up what the New Testament calls “the law of God” (1Cor 9:21), that divine standard of absolute righteousness to which all are universally held accountable.
Not Under the Law of Moses, but Under the Law of God
In fact, 1 Corinthians 9:20–21 is very instructive on this matter.
To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law.
As Paul speaks about becoming all things to all men, he introduces categories of people which shed light on the nature of the law. There is a category of people who are called “under the [Mosaic] Law” (i.e., the Jews) (1Cor 9:20). And there is a category of people who are not under the Mosaic Law, but who are “without law” (i.e., the Gentiles) (1Cor 9:21).
The key is: Paul says that he could become as one not under the Mosaic Law, while at the same time being under the law of God. And the reason he could do that is because he’s under the law of Christ. That means the law of God does not equal the Law of Moses. Instead, the “law of God” is a superordinate category of which the Law of Moses in the Old Testament and the law of Christ in the New Testament are instantiations. The Law of Moses was given to Israel in the Old Testament. The law of Christ is given to Christians in the New Testament. But the law of God is that transcendent, universal standard of absolute moral righteousness to which all are called, which is written on every man’s conscience (Rom 2:11–15), and of which we all fall short (Rom 3:23).
Bringing it Back
So, bringing this down into the context of our recent discussion regarding the use of “law” in evangelism, we see a potential point of clarification. The dear brothers at Way of the Master, as well as other well-meaning brethren who have shared their perspective on the matter, vigorously maintain that Christians ought to use “the law,” or “the law of God,” or “the moral law of God” in evangelism. The problem is: they hear us disagreeing with that, but we don’t. We say, “Amen! Yes indeed! The law exposes sin and the Gospel provides forgiveness!” And so passages of Scripture are quoted (e.g., Rom 3:19–20; 7:7ff; Gal 3:24), along with sermon transcripts, commentary excerpts, and book quotes from John MacArthur and other men who serve alongside us at Grace Church, which all call for the use of God’s moral law in evangelism, as if to show some sort of contradiction or disagreement. But there isn’t any.
The misunderstanding comes from their equating “the (moral) law (of God)” with “the Ten Commandments.” But when we say “the (moral) law (of God),” we’re referring to those transcendent moral principles that express the perfect standard of righteousness rooted in the character of God.
So, will a biblical method of evangelism employ the law of God to convict of sin? Absolutely! Have I departed from biblical evangelism if I do not use the Ten Commandments to convict of sin? No, I haven’t. Because though the Ten Commandments were an expression of the law of God, they do not equal the law of God.
Stated simply: I can use the law of God to bring the sinner to conviction over his personal sin without using the Ten Commandments. I can do this by listening carefully to him, asking probing questions (like, “Why is x so important to you?,” “What would you have done in that situation?,” or “What do you think makes that wrong?”), by understanding his worldview, and then by confronting him with the particular ways he is demeaning the glory of God—the particular ways he is violating the transcendent moral principles which make up the perfect standard of God’s righteousness.
And if I’ve understood his position correctly, that is all Jesse is trying to say; namely, that it is wrong to insist that one has not done biblical evangelism if he hasn’t used the Ten Commandments. In using the law of God to convict the sinner, the evangelist may take the sinner to Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, Matthew 5, or Matthew 22, and not necessarily to Exodus 20 or Deuteronomy 5.