One of the perennial theological questions that develops into different camps and schools of thought is the relationship between the law and the gospel. There are more than ten commandments, so what does the Christian do with them? What does obedience look like if Jesus has fulfilled the law?
The Confession continues, Besides this law, commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel ceremonial laws, containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, his graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits; and partly holding forth divers instructions of moral duties, all which ceremonial laws being appointed only to the time of reformation, are, by Jesus Christ the true Messiah and only law-giver, who was furnished with power from the Father for that end abrogated and taken away.
You’ll notice that the Confession mentions more than just a general law—namely, moral and ceremonial law. Later, the Confession will also mention judicial laws. This is not a distinction that the Bible makes, but it can be a helpful distinction in order to better understand them as long as we don’t make it a requirement for belief.
We should, however, shine a light on the continuity of God's moral law in the life of believers. While the ceremonial and civil laws of the Old Testament were specific to Israel and are no longer binding on Christians, the moral law, distilled in the Ten Commandments, remains relevant to all people in all times because we are God’s creation.
The Confession recognizes that the moral law serves a crucial purpose in convicting sinners of their need for a Savior. It acts as a mirror, reflecting God's holiness and revealing our sinfulness. The law shows us the depth of our wickedness and leaves us with a deep sense of our need for redemption. By exposing our spiritual inability, the law prepares our hearts and minds to embrace Jesus Christ as our only mediator before a holy God.
The Confession continues, To them also he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any now by virtue of that institution; their general equity only being of moral use.
Unambiguously, the law was fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ. It emphasizes that Christ perfectly obeyed the Law, fulfilling its righteous demands on behalf of His people. In His life, death, and resurrection, Jesus accomplished what the Law could not—the deliverance of humanity from the penalty and power of sin and death.
The Confession stresses that the Gospel of Jesus Christ supersedes the works of the Law as the means of salvation and eternal life. While the law reveals our desperate need for a Savior, it is only through faith in Christ that we receive forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God. The fulfillment of the Law in Christ's redemptive work brings hope, grace, and eternal life to all who believe in Him.
These paragraphs also shed light on the believer's relationship with the law in light of the gospel. While the Confession recognizes that believers are no longer under the law as a covenant of works (meaning works-righteousness, which we'll discuss more next time), it emphasizes that the law remains a valuable guide for our lives.
One negative charge lobbied against Christians is that we cherrypick which Old Testament laws we want to follow. We condemn homosexuality, which even the most ardent opponent to the Bible and every person of elementary reading ability knows the law of Moses condemns, but we permit people to wear clothes made of multiple kinds of fabrics. This sort of understanding fails to consider what classic Reformed confessions explicitly say. The ten commandments are a pure distillation of the moral law, which continues, but it is the moral law itself that abides. Christians are not cherrypicking the laws that we like to use to hate on people as much as our little hearts desire. Christians are doing the hard work of understanding the difference between the use of the law to a theocratic nation and to a multinational body of exiles.
As recipients of God's saving grace, believers are called to live in obedience to his moral law. The Holy Spirit empowers them to embrace the Law as a rule of life, guiding them in holiness and righteousness. The Confession highlights that the transformed heart of a believer finds delight in God's commands and desires to live in accordance with his will. This is what the Confession means by “general equity”.
General equity has to do with squeezing the principle out of a particular law. For instance, why did God not allow a farmer to muzzle an ox as he treads the grain into the ground? The apostle Paul uses that law as an example of finding the general equity in a fulfilled Old Testament law. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 9:8-10, “Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.’ Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop.”
You do not expect an animal to work without feeding it, so why would a church expect its leaders to work for peanuts?
The Confession emphasizes that the believer's obedience to the Law is not a means of justification but rather a fruit of their faith in Christ. It is through faith alone that believers are justified, but their obedience to the moral law becomes evidence of their transformed lives. The indwelling Holy Spirit enables them to walk in loving obedience to Christ.
The Confession provides profound insights into the continuity and fulfillment found in the gospel message. While the moral law of God continues to convict and guide believers, it is only through faith in Christ that true redemption and salvation are obtained. The Confession reminds us that our relationship with the Law is transformed by the gospel, empowering us to live in obedience and bear witness to Christ's sacrificial love and obedience to his Father.
It would do us to well to end with this reminder from the Confession. The moral law does for ever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof, and that not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator, who gave it; neither does Christ in the Gospel any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation.
Should sin abound that grace should abound all the more? May it never be!
Next time, we’ll take a closer look at the actual ways we apply the law of God to the church and individual Christians.