Ineffectiveness of the Law

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The law of Moses defined the terms of God’s original covenant with Israel and had four basic purposes, which we examined in a previous article.

  • Make people conscious of their sin by defining it.
  • Mandate punishment for sin, which is the curse of the law.
  • Address fallen human nature’s fundamental problem (self-centeredness) by proving people can’t become righteous by their own effort.
  • Prove that people need a savior.

Although the law included sacrifices to postpone people’s guilt for their sin, those sacrifices could never remove their guilt (Heb. 10:1, 4). As a result, the law continually reminded them of their sin but could never clear their consciences (Heb. 9:9; 10:3).

The law could never give spiritual life or make anyone perfect (Gal. 3:21; Heb. 7:19). Instead, it was a ministry that brought death because it made people guilty and condemned them of sin but couldn’t redeem them from it (2 Cor. 3:7). So everyone who lived under the law was under a curse because they couldn’t do what the law required (Gal. 3:10).

Though the law was good and holy (Rom. 7:12, 16; 1 Tim 1:8) and it did everything God intended, it was weak, useless or ineffective because it made nothing perfect (Heb. 7:18-19). As an external or outward covenant, it couldn’t change a person’s nature and only applied until God introduced a better one (Heb. 9:10). The law of the first covenant was only a shadow or dim preview of the good that would come under the new covenant, not the reality of them (Heb. 10:1). If righteousness had been achievable under the law, then Jesus wouldn’t need to die (Gal. 2:21). However, God couldn’t forgive sin until Jesus became the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world under the new covenant (1 John 2:2). Because the new covenant relies on God’s grace instead of human effort, and because it provides for all of humanity’s needs, not just limited provision for the Jews, God declared the old covenant obsolete (Heb. 8:7, 13).

Consider an analogy. Suppose a very good friend knows you need a house, so he gives you plans for a new house and then builds it for you. The house plans are simply a graphical representation and only suggest what the house will look like. Once you move into the house, it would be foolish to keep reviewing the house plans and trying to imagine what the house is like.

The covenant with Israel, including its law, was a hint, suggestion or dim preview of the new covenant that would replace it. We don’t need the old covenant with its ineffective law and inferior provisions once we enter the new covenant. In fact, relying on the old covenant puts us under its curse (Gal. 3:10) and distracts us from the reality it predicted. The new covenant completely superseded the old.

Find other articles about God’s covenant relationship with Christians

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