This is the fourth part of a series of posts adapted from a paper I presented at a New Covenant Theology think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.
Despite Paul’s warnings that the law arouses sin, many will point to the law as a prime mover in sanctification, essential to convicting us about our remaining sin and measuring our growth in holiness. In doing so, they will attempt to draw a distinction between being “under the law” and following the law. For example:
This convicting use of the law is also critical for the believer’s sanctification, for it serves to prevent the resurrection of self-righteousness — that ungodly self-righteousness which is always prone to reassert itself even in the holiest of saints. The believer continues to live under the law as a lifelong penitent.
This chastening work of the law does not imply that the believer’s justification is ever diminished or annulled. From the moment of regeneration, his state before God is fixed and irrevocable. He is a new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17). He can never revert to a state of condemnation nor lose his sonship. Nevertheless, the law exposes the ongoing poverty of his sanctification on a daily basis. He learns that there is a law in his members such that when he would do good, evil is present with him (Rom. 7:21). He must repeatedly condemn himself, deplore his wretchedness, and cry daily for fresh applications of the blood of Jesus Christ that cleanses from all sin (Rom. 7:24; 1John 1:7, 9).
Is that really what the Christian walk should be, one of repeated personal condemnation? If there is “now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1), does that now mean the believer must supply his own self-condemnation? What a dismal, rotten and pitiful existence that author describes! What a horrid depiction of a Christian life!
Indeed, that description does reflect a law that “doth bind the believer” (as the Westminster Confession of Faith states) and not a freedom in which believers have been set free (Gal 5:1). And the author (perhaps unwittingly) makes an excellent argument for the man of Romans 7 being a believer by advocating that Christians should be miserable about their sin as they perform their daily “Protestant penance.”
It is the Spirit that sanctifies, not the law in a fleshly exercise of behavior modification. Desperation and more sinfulness are the results of a focus on law for sanctification instead of availing one’s self of the Holy Spirit and beholding with awe the person and work of Jesus Christ.
There’s yet another danger that comes from a sanctification theology that focuses on law. A heavy dose of moralistic preaching from the pulpit at the expense of the gospel can and does lead to the production of a generation of non-evangelized Pharisees. Pastors and parents, we cannot presume that there is a saving knowledge of the gospel among young people, no matter whether they were born to Christian parents or not.
A law-focused pulpit and a gospel-presuming pulpit are a toxic mix.
We might also ask about the phrase “poverty of our sanctification.” By what means do we measure our sanctification and how poor we have progressed? Those who advocate the third use of the law would use the law to measure our progress. Yet that is the very same law that Paul tells us arouses sin.
Therefore, Paul does not tell us to use the law as the measuring stick of our sanctification.
Next: Completed by the Spirit Part 5: We Serve In The Spirit Joel R. Beeke, “The Place of the Third Use of the Law in Reformed Theology” (Concordia Theological Seminary, 2005), 5–6.
 Westminster Confession of Faith, XIX/v.
 Beeke concludes his paper with the argument that binding users under the law actually produces freedom. Perhaps an analogy would be that keeping training wheels on bicycles actually produces Lance Armstrong.