The roles of God's law
The law has a dual role.
- To instruct or educate us concerning how God wants us to live our life.
To convict us of sin (the judicial role) and lead us to conversion through faith in Christ. Once converted this role of the law is no longer needed.
In Galatians Paul tells the church to allow God's law to teach them.
21 Let me ask those of you who want to be subject to the Law: do you not hear what the Law says? (Galatians 4)
By telling the church to pay attention to God's law, the apostle is upholding its role to teach. Paul, however, also recognizes the law's judicial role. After stating Abraham's inheritance was given based on God's promise, Paul says,
19 What, then, was the purpose of the Law? It was added in order to show what wrongdoing is . . . (Galatians 3:19, TEV)
The law of God was "added," meaning that at Mt. Sinai it was given in a codified form, in order to identify sin.
Is the law dead to us?
In the book of Romans Paul uses another analogy to discuss the law's judicial role.
"In the same way, my brethren, you also were made dead to the marriage law of the Old Covenant ("dead to the law" in the KJV Bible) by the body of Christ in order for you to be married to another, Who was raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit to God." (Romans 7:4)
We, according to Paul, died to the law, meaning that its ability to identify us as sinners and demand our life in payment for our sins was fulfilled through the sacrifice of Jesus.
"But now we have been released from the law because we have died to that in which we were held so that we might serve in newness of the spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter." (Romans 7:6)
For those of us who are truly converted and have God spirit, the law can no longer identify and punish us as sinners. That said, the educative role of God's law calls for our obedience, which is fulfilled through the new life in the Spirit. That is what Paul means when he wrote in Romans 6,
"For sin shall not rule over you because you are not under law, but under grace." (Romans 6:14)
The added law
Some think that the law that was added due to sin (Galatians 3:19) concerned strictly the sacrificial system given to ancient Israel and not the Ten Commandments. While this line of reasoning seems plausible it is nonetheless not true. In Paul's writings he usually refers to "the law" in general. His constant reference to "the law" in his epistle greatly weakens the idea of an 'added law.'
Paul is, in fact, teaching that all of God's laws were "added" at Sinai. Although certain proscriptions against adultery, murder and so forth existed before Moses, what was given at Mt. Sinai had not existed in the form God gave it. In other Biblical verses the apostle speaks of the law in its entirety, and not just the sacrifical piece of it (see Romans 5). The temple ceremonies and the sacrifices were a part of the Law of Moses from the start.
Ultimately, the perfect law of God is a wonderful blessing - not a curse! Sin is the curse! Obedience to the laws and commandments results in numerous blessings both now and forever.