In our order of service during the six weeks of the Lenten season, you’ll notice that we are utilizing the 10 commandments. You’ll also notice that the 10 commandments will be placed differently throughout the order of worship so as to highlight different purposes or uses of the law. As you read that, maybe you’re wondering, “The law has different purposes or uses?” Yes, it does—theologians identify at least three primary uses of the law.
First, in the civil sphere, the law plays the role of keeping order by restraining wrongdoing or law breaking. Many times we don’t do something, like speeding, not because we don’t want to but because we don’t want to get caught! That’s the first use of the law. This use of the law keeps things orderly by outlining consequences and sanctions if the law is broken. This is why sometimes it’s called the civic use of the law (see Romans 13:1-7).
Secondly, the law is a reflection of the character of God and thus reveals our sin and our need for a Savior. In Galatians 3:24-26, Paul says that the law is a “schoolmaster” or “tutor” to lead us to Christ. In saying it that way, Paul is highlighting how the law teaches God’s perfect standard and our inability to obey its demands, leading us to conviction of sin and to our need for a Savior. In this sense, the law is used by the Holy Spirit to stir up guilt in the heart and pointing to the answer for that guilt, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thirdly, the law teaches the Christian the way of righteousness. This use of the law John Calvin unfolded during the Reformation. Calvin recognized that following conversion, a believer relates to the law not to be condemned by it, for Christ has removed condemnation (Romans 8:1), but as a guide that teaches him the way to live. For the Christian, the law becomes our delight and meditation (Psalm 1:2, 119:97) for he knows Christ lifted the law’s condemnation and saved him. As a part of that salvation, we are sanctified. We desire to please God with our life. As this happens, keeping the law becomes our happy choice.
As we worship together through Lent, pay attention to the placement of the 10 commandments and how we speak about the law in worship. But even more importantly, pray that you’d grow to love the perfections of God’s law and experience its refreshment as you grow in grace. That we might say with the Psalmist, “How sweet are your words to taste, sweeter than honey!” (Psalm 119:103)