4.7 The functions of the law

In general, we understand "law" to mean the binding regulations and rules issued by a superior authority, which apply to all those living within the domain of this authority. It defines both rights and duties.

God, as the highest sovereign, stands above all lawgivers. The unwritten law that applies to every human being is called the "natural and moral law" (Romans 2: 14-15). It makes clear the ethical and moral requirements and standards by which human life should be conducted. In its basic features and obligations, the moral law is unchangeable, irrespective of all historical and social changes. Essential parts of statutory legislation can be derived from general moral law. Important elements of this law come to expression in the Ten Commandments, for example.

Not only is there a law that places obligations on individuals and instructs them on how to act, there is also a law that governs the reality of life. The latter's function is to provide structure and order to biological, social, and political life. It can be experienced in the elementary events of human life, in history, and nature. Birth and death, aging and dying, success and failure, as well as the experience of historical events or natural disasters: these are all facets of how this law can be experienced.

The Old Testament assumes that man is made righteous before God by living in accordance with the Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 6: 25). At that time the Mosaic Law was considered the highest order binding on the Israelites. The gospel, however, states that salvation and the righteousness which is valid before God comes from faith in Christ's sacrifice and resurrection. Divine grace stands above the law.

In his epistle to the Romans in particular, Apostle Paul explores these contradictory notions of righteousness, namely the law and grace. In the early Christian congregations, these two differing approaches led to disputes between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. This gave the Apostle cause to occupy himself with this topic in great detail.

See also