Dying to the Law

Feb 11, 2023 | Articles, by Nick Kennicott, Marrow Ministries Free Content

In John Bunyan’s classic tale, The Pilgrim’s Progress the main character is a man named Christian and he meets many people along his journey. One of the men he meets is a man named Faithful. Faithful recounts to Christian something that happened to him when he found himself at the foot of Hill Difficulty. As faithful stood staring up Hill Difficulty and deciding whether or not he would begin the ascent, or if he would take the easy way around, he met an old man from the Town of Deceit named Adam the First. This man promised to give Faithful all sorts of great pleasures in life, one of which was to marry all three of his daughters named Lust of the Flesh, Lust of the Eyes, and Pride of Life.

At first, Faithful was pleased to hear what was being offered, and was inclined to go with the man; however, wisdom prevailed, and, fighting the good fight, he was able to break free from the temptation of the man and instead climb Hill Difficulty. But, it wasn’t long on the journey until he saw someone running at him, in his words, “Swift as the wind.” This man knocked Faithful out cold with one blow. Eventually, Faithful came to and asked the man why he had treated him so harshly. The man responded that it was because Faithful had a secret inclination towards Adam the First. Then the man hit Faithful hard in the chest and continued to beat him until, Faithful recounts, he was nearly dead at the man’s feet. Once he came to again, Faithful cried out for mercy saying, “O wretched man that I am!” But the man responds, “I do not know how to show mercy.” So once again, he knocks Faithful to the ground. Were it not for another man who came, Faithful would have been beaten to death.

As Faithful is retelling his story, Christian explains to Faithful that the man who was beating him was named Moses and that Moses does not know how to show mercy to those who break his law. Faithful recognizes this to be true right away and acknowledges that he had met Moses once before while still living happily back in the City of Destruction. There, he recalls, Moses threatened to burn his old house down if he remained in it. Then Christian asked, “Who was it that made Moses stop?” And Faithful replied that, while he didn’t know who it was at first, once the man passed by he noticed holes in His hands and side and concluded that it was the Lord.

In this story, Bunyan is portraying the Law of God through Moses, and he illustrates for us the way in which the law works. While once he lived in the City of Destruction, the law functioned in Faithful’s life as that which threatened to burn his house down. It drove him away from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. This is the first of the three uses of God’s law, driving sinners to see their own demise apart from Christ’s righteousness (Galatians 3:24). But what’s interesting in the story is that Faithful rejects the wooing of Adam the First, and yet is still leveled nearly to death by Moses on the Hill Difficulty because he was inclined toward Adam the First. In other words, Faithful was a Christian, but he was tempted to live a life dependent upon Adam, dependent upon the Law, dependent upon the covenant of works instead of living upon the righteousness of the one who eventually came to his rescue—Adam the second, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Prior to becoming Christians, the law of God rules, enslaves, beats, and threatens us because we know nothing else. Our lives are locked into an orientation toward works—the entirety of our lives are lived at that point in an attempt to justify ourselves through law. This is why a man will readily tell you he thinks he’s good—he has justified in his mind that he is because, after all, “Look at all the things I’ve done, and let’s face it, I’ve never killed anybody!” He knows—his conscience tells him he is a sinner because the Law of God is written on his heart. He knows, profoundly, that he is not living up to the perfect standard that God has set. But we are blind in our pre-salvation state. We are completely unable to see and understand our legal-hearted orientation that cannot save.

One of the primary moves in the Christian life as we grow in Christ should be away from our old legal orientation of life toward a life lived more consistently upon our new gracious orientation. Share on X

But more powerful to me, and more to the point for Christians is that in Bunyan’s allegory he illustrates the undeniable reality that even once we are justified by faith, we continue to get beat by the law because of the secret inclinations of our hearts to view and use the law in a wrong way. We have a secret orientation to our former way of life, based upon law instead of grace. One of the primary moves in the Christian life as we grow in Christ should be away from our old legal orientation of life toward a life lived more consistently upon our new gracious orientation. The old man wants to be resurrected to live upon himself, instead of allowing the new man to live upon Christ.

If you are a Christian, you have been justified by grace, through faith, apart from works of the law, and are free in Christ to walk by grace as a new man or woman who need not be justified by works, but instead, by your works, you display the fact that you are justified. A Christian must understand the relationship between the law and the gospel, and to misappropriate either is to deny the power of the gospel and the usefulness of the law.

The law is the very thing that God designed to bring about the death of our old man, which is why Paul said, “Through the law, I died to the law” (Galatians 2:19); however, we must also know that there is no power in the law itself to bring about this death—remember the man who beat up faithful at the hill difficulty? He could only condemn, he could only beat him. All the power that is needed to die to the law is found in the gospel. It is found in the man who comes by with holes in his hands that cause the beating to cease. It is only in Christ that we can die to the law. In other words, the law is not what causes our death—it accuses, it terrifies, it threatens, it beats, it bruises, and it condemns—but it is not the cause of death, it is the occasion of death. We are urged by the law to flee to Christ, who is the only true cause of our death to the law. There is nothing we can do ourselves to fulfill the law or die to the law. Christ has fulfilled the law, and in our lives, he has provided all the necessary power to die to the law for those who are in Him.

Once we die to the law, instead of it beating and threatening us, it becomes something sweet that we love and long for because it is our way of life. Out of thankfulness for what God has given to us in our redemption through Christ, we want to live upon God in obedience, utilizing the means He has provided so that we can live free from sin because we are free from condemnation. In the Christian, the Spirit of God used the law to apply its precepts to our hearts. This is when we finally see that there’s nothing good in us and that we cannot be right before God by keeping the law. We realize by faith what each of us must realize in order to die to the law so that we might live upon Christ’s righteousness. In Romans 10:4, Paul writes, “…Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” It is impossible for us to satisfy the just demands of the moral law in order to be right with God. Christ must satisfy them for us.

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