Reflecting Sin: The Pedagogical Use of the Law



Ouch!” That first look in the mirror every morning doesn’t get any easier, does it? In fact, I’d rather do without looking in mirrors at all. And I might get away with it — for a few days. Because, although I wouldn’t know my hair was looking like a mohawk, that yesterday’s ketchup was still on my chin, or that last night’s basil was lodged between my front teeth, my wife and children would, and so would my employer and colleagues. And that might well have more painful consequences — socially and even financially — than just looking in the mirror. So, although it is humbling, and sometimes horrifying, I still meet up with my mirror every morning. It sends me to my hairbrush, my shaver, my toothbrush, and my soap.

Similarly, although we may not always enjoy reading or hearing God’s law, we must keep reading and preaching it because it reveals His holy standards, highlights our desperate need (which is humbling and horrifying), and sends us to God’s gracious remedy — the gospel of Jesus Christ.

But imagine that you stumbled into my bathroom one day and saw me scrubbing myself with the mirror or brushing my teeth with a small broken piece of it! Apart from shouting, “Stop! Are you mad?” I hope that you would also quickly convince me that while the mirror shows what needs cleaning, it is dangerous to do the cleaning with it. The attempt is doomed to fail, as it would only produce a bigger mess.

Well, that more or less sums up Paul’s ministry to the Galatian believers. They had been in the tortuous confines of Law Prison (Gal. 3:23), trying to earn release with their works of obedience. The law demanded and commanded, demanded and commanded. They tried and failed, tried and failed. But despite the daily futility and failure, they couldn’t—or wouldn’t—dare stop trying.

Then, one day, the apostle Paul came and preached the gospel of a crucified Christ. He preached a Christ who had obeyed the law for sinners, a Christ who had suffered the penalties of a broken law, and a Christ who had abolished the Old Testament rituals and ceremonies by fulfilling them.

Many Galatians believed in Christ. Their chains fell off and they left the bondage of Law Prison behind to enjoy a new world of freedom and liberty. Who would ever give that up?

Tragically, the Galatians did. Under the influence of Judaizing false teachers, they reverted to salvation by the law. Paul wrote with great urgency to remind them of how Christ set them free by faith (3:1–3). The law had a role, but it was a preparatory role not a final goal. The law was “our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster” (vv. 25–26, KJV).

God commonly shows us ourselves in the mirror of His law before pointing us to the gospel of His grace. The mirror is good and useful, so long as it is used as a mirror and not as soap and water. That’s when mirrors become dangerous. Let’s look at this mirror of God’s law more closely that we might use it rightly.

God’s law is a constant mirror. With the passing of time, some mirrors lose their sharpness and brightness. Others get damaged and cracked. But God’s moral law never changes, never fluctuates, and never “cracks,” no matter how many years pass or how many stones are thrown at it. God’s moral standards are the same today as they were on day one in Eden.

One of the reasons why human law changes so much is because human law is always flawed. It always leaves loopholes that require constant addition and amendment. But God’s law is perfect. It gives us a flawless picture of God’s perfections and of our imperfections. Some mirrors may flatter us. But this mirror gives us a constantly accurate picture of our spiritual state. The law gives us knowledge of our sin (Rom. 3:20).

God’s law is a complete mirror. Most mirrors only show us parts of our bodies. Even full-length mirrors cannot show us our entire backparts. They certainly cannot show us what is inside us. But God’s law can show us everything — inside and outside. It provides an x-ray into our hearts, motives, and aims.

This will not happen, however, without the Holy Spirit’s work alongside the law. Without Him, God’s law can be heard and repeated a thousand times without once reaching our hearts. For example, when Paul the apostle was Saul of Tarsus he regarded himself as an expert in divine law (Phil. 3:6). However, he had been studying it in the dark. One day the Holy Spirit came and “turned on the light,” with a special spotlight on commandment ten. Until then, he said, he had not really known what sin was (Rom. 7:7). He had heard the tenth commandment many times, but not as he heard it that day. By the enlightening power of the Holy Spirit, the law became a mirror that enabled him to see his own lust-filled heart.

God’s law is a condemning mirror. When the Holy Spirit applies God’s law to our consciences we not only feel uncomfortably guilty, we feel utterly condemned and doomed (Rom. 7:9).

As we have noted, Paul described the law as a “schoolmaster” (Gal. 3:24KJV). The ES V translates this as “guardian.” However, none of the English versions convey the original concept fully. The word refers to a specific role given to well-educated slaves by wealthy fathers in the Roman Empire. A father would commission such a slave to make sure that his child went to school, kept away from trouble and danger, and completed his studies. The father gave the slave full disciplinary rights over the child, and as the slave’s own life depended on the success of the student, he was often quite brutal in ensuring the student’s compliance.

It was therefore a huge relief for the student when he reached adulthood and was loosed from the slave to become a fully fledged member of the father’s household. Paul is saying to the Galatians: “You are full members of the Father’s household. Why do you want to go back to the harsh slave and his punishment?”

God’s law is a cross-shaped mirror. God’s moral law comprises more than the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments summarize God’s moral principles, but these principles are also demonstrated and displayed elsewhere: in God’s providential judgments on nations and individuals, in the life and teaching of Christ, and more. But Christ’s cross reveals God’s law in an unprecedented way. Although the law sends us to the cross, the cross also sends us to the law. The old Scottish professor, James Buchanan, put it like this:

Does not the sinner now feel in his inmost soul, that if Sinai be dreadful, Calvary has its terrors too; that if “by the law is the knowledge of sin,” the Gospel adds its sublime and harmonious commentary; that the cross of Christ is the most awful monument of Heaven’s justice, the most solemn memorial of the sinner’s danger … The cross, the cross of a crucified Saviour, is the most powerful, the most impressive demonstration of sin, and righteousness, and judgment.

Buchanan’s point here is that the cross magnifies and amplifies the law and carries home God’s law into the conscience with massive power. At the cross, especially, I see what God thinks of my sin, what God will do with my sin, and what my sin really deserves. But, thankfully, Buchanan does not stop there:

Look once more; for the same cross which wounds will also heal; the same conscience which is pierced by the arrows of conviction may be pacified by the Gospel of peace; and thus all that is terrible in the cross, when combined with the tenderness of God’s mercy, and the amazing, the self-denying, the self-sacrificing love of the Savior, will then only awaken convictions in the conscience, to melt and change them into sweet contrition of heart.

The second use of the law is not to destroy us or to leave us in utter despair. It is to lead us step by step to Christ that we might seek His pardon. Feeling weak and empty-handed, we realize our need for mercy, apply for it, and rest in it. It does not send us to soap, shampoo, and toothpaste, but to the blood of Christ, which alone can cleanse us from sin. Unfortunately, one of the reasons why so many today are reaching for the ineffective soap and toothpaste of their own “good works,” rather than turning to Christ, is that many preachers have hidden God’s holy mirror under a large pile of seeker-sensitive, pew-filling, manpleasing strategies and excuses.

Let’s get God’s mirror out. Let’s polish it. Let’s face it. Let’s be horrified and humbled by what we see in it. And let’s be driven into the welcome embrace of Christ and the blood that washes us whiter than snow.


Has Science Got Rid of God?



Richard Dawkins, based at Oxford University, officially operates under the title of Charles Simonyi Reader and Professor of the Public Understanding of Science. Unofficially, he may be the best-known atheist in the world, partly as the result of his best-selling book The God Delusion, published in 2006. With these credentials, we should expect Dawkins to answer the title of this article with a resounding yes, and he does not disappoint us. In a 1999 BBC Television programme Soul of Britain, he stepped up to the plate and let fly with his trademark panache: “I think science really has fulfilled the need that religion did in the past, of explaining things; why we are here, what is the origin of life, where did the world come from, what life is all about…science has the answers.”

If Dawkins is right, religion is an outdated indulgence and God an irrelevant myth. But is he right? The simplest way to answer that question is to test each of his four claims to see whether they can be substantiated.

Science explains why we are here.

In context, the word why can have one of two meanings: either “How did we get here?” or “What is our purpose in being here?” As the final claim touches on the second of these, let us look at the first — and Dawkins has no doubt as to the answer: “It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is stupid, ignorant, or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).” Having dispatched all opposition with a single sentence, he then endorses the idea that Homo sapiens is the state-of-the-art product of a vast sequence of tightly related species and kinds, beginning with the first living cell and moving on through invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, furry quadrupeds, and ape-like mammals.

All atheists are evolutionists, and this is the default setting for the model they promote. If they are right, we should expect to find our planet teeming with fossils of intermediate life forms — but they are simply not there. Writing about such evolutionary links, Colin Patterson, senior palaeontologist at the British Museum of Natural History says, “I will lay it on the line. There is not one such fossil for which one might make a watertight argument.” On the other hand, if God created fully formed and separate kinds, we should expect to find the remains of countless fully formed specimens, all without any apparent ancestors — and that is exactly what we do find.

In the early chapters of Genesis the creation narrative comes to a climax with the words: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27), a statement that resonates with all we know about our unique and astonishing properties. If the full text of Encyclopædia Britannica had arrived on earth from outer space it would be regarded as unchallenged proof of extra-terrestrial intelligence. As human DNA houses vastly more organized information than the Encyclopædia Britannica, it points powerfully to the truth of Nobel laureate Arthur Compton’s conviction that “a supreme intelligence brought the universe into being and created man.”

Science explains the origin of life.

In what he calls the central argument of The God Delusion, Dawkins claims that while so many things give an appearance of having been designed, the impression is a false one, because it raises an unanswerable question: Who designed the designer? Two things need to be said in response. First, where is the scientific proof that the appearance of design is deceiving us? There is none — and to deny design before discussing the issue is on a par with declaring that miracles are impossible before finding out whether any have taken place. This illogical approach might be expected from someone at grade school, but hardly from an Oxford don. Second, can science prove that the designer must have been designed, in other words, that the ultimate Creator must have been created? Is there any branch of science that can definitively  rule out any possibility of there being a supernatural, uncreated person?

As Ludwig Wittgenstein, the leading analytical philosopher of the twentieth century, said in his monumental Tractatus: “The solution of the riddle of life in space and time lies outside space and time.” This synchronizes precisely with the Bible’s teaching about God being “from everlasting to everlasting” (Ps. 106:48) and its unanimous testimony that this transcendent and eternal Creator “gives life to all things” (1 Tim. 6:13).

Science explains where the world came from.

The origin of the universe has fascinated people ever since they first begin thinking about the subject, and scientists have come up with an endless raft of theories. Yet science can never go any further back than the moment at which the laws on which it leans began to operate. As Edgar Andrews, emeritus professor of materials at the University of London, notes, “Science, even at its most speculative, must stop short of offering any explanation or even description of the actual event of origin.”

This seems pretty obvious, yet there are atheists who try to evade the issue with a flurry of phrases. Peter Atkins, an atheist professor of chemistry at Oxford, claims that the entire universe is “an elaborate and engaging rearrangement of nothing” in which “space-time generates its own dust in the process of its own self-assembly.” Those who hold to this idea, more formally known as the quantum fluctuation hypothesis, were neatly upended in New Scientist: “First there was nothing, then there is something…and before you know it they have pulled a hundred billion galaxies out of their quantum hats.” In A Brief History of Time, the renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, with no religious axe to grind, has a much more reasonable approach. Commenting on the odds against the universe’s incredibly complex and perfectly balanced array of fundamental factors coming into existence by chance, he wrote: “It would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way except as the act of a God who intended to create beings like us.”

Richard Dawkins not only dismisses the biblical account out of hand, but ranks it with the Hindu myth about the world being created in a cosmic butter-churn and the West African notion that the world was created from the excrement of ants, but this hardly qualifies as serious thinking. C.S.Lewis came to a very different conclusion: “No philosophical theory which I have yet come across is a radical improvement on the words of Genesis, that ‘In the beginning God made heaven and earth.’” Claiming that science rules this out is ignorance masquerading as intelligence.

Science explains what life is all about.

It is curious that Dawkins should make such a claim, as he denies that human life has any purpose, describing such an idea as “a nearly universal delusion.” In a 1995 issue of London’s Observernewspaper, he dismissed a question about the purpose of life by saying, “Well there is no purpose, and to ask what it is is a silly question. It has the same status as, ‘What is the color of jealousy?’”

Elsewhere he claims that life is “just bytes and bytes of digital information” and that human beings are “survival machines — robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes,” but this is hopelessly inadequate. It offers no explanation of the fact that as humans we are self-conscious, thinking beings, with an insatiable desire to evaluate data, develop ideas, exercise imagination, and make decisions. Nor does it explain our unique sense of dignity, our aesthetic tastes, our ability to compose and enjoy art, music, and literature, our moral dimension, and our spiritual longings. As the distinguished modern thinker Francis Schaeffer pointed out: “No one has presented an idea, let alone demonstrated it to be feasible, to explain how the impersonal beginning, plus time, plus chance, can give personality.”

Sir John Eccles, a Nobel Prize-winning pioneer in brain research, presses the point home: “Science cannot explain the existence of each of us as a unique self.” Even Steve Jones, a passionate atheist and professor of genetics at University College, London, frankly admits, “Science cannot answer the question: ‘Why are we here?’” The Bible can — and does so in the words of those who cry to God, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God…for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Rev. 4:11).

Science is the ongoing search for truth in the natural world, and we rightly rejoice at the countless benefits that science and technology have brought into our lives. To go beyond that and claim that science has got rid of God is to promote nineteenth-century fantasy to the status of twenty-first