This is something that kind of floored me a little bit when I was first learning about the 3 fold use of the law. Grace? How does grace have anything to do with the law? As I have told you in other posts (I think my New Perspective on Paul one is where I am most explicit here), the last few months, I have been trying to work on loving the law and seeing the benefits of having it, knowing that the real problem is myself and not the law. This second use of the law is a really great way to see the overlooked benefits of the law, so I hope that this is encouraging to you. As we go forward, let’s remember our focus verse for the week, Romans 6:23:

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

So what is the Second use of the Law?

So, how many of you have atheist friends that think adultery is wrong? Now, obviously, this would require you to have non Christians as friends, so if you for whatever reason only know Christians, play along with me anyway.  Have you ever asked them why they think adultery is wrong? One of my closest NYC friends is an atheist and we often talk about morality, each giving our differing perspectives. If I ever ask why she thinks something is wrong, she normally answers that it hurts someone else, so it’s automatically wrong. So, naturally, I ask, “but if it makes the person doing it happy, why should they care if they hurt someone else?” and then she normally responds with some sort of answer about how not everything that makes you happy is good for you, like if you want to eat junk food 24/7, that’s not good for you no matter how happy it makes you.

This is an example of something we call common grace. Common grace is the benefits God gives to humanity regardless of whether or not they are part of the elect. Examples of this are things like intellect, specialized skills that people have and develop over the course of their lives, and the one we’re going to focus on today, the ability to discern right from wrong.

Regardless of whether or not someone is a Christian, there are things that we as a society have deemed as unacceptable behaviors (though that list seems to be ever shrinking in America and a lot of the west, sadly). Many of them are things that could be found in the Moral Law, like murder, stealing, cheating on your spouse, and lying. While we would argue that society is borrowing their morality from Christianity in these instances, oftentimes people have other motives to want to do the right thing, like wanting to be seen as a good person or wanting to avoid the negative outcomes of breaking the law or violating cultural norms.

Yet in all these things, God is glorified. Yes, you read that right. God is glorified when a sinner does not sin. This is the second use of the law, to restrain evil. That is a grace. Does this mean that this means the unregenerate have a way to earn their salvation? Not at all, look back to yesterday’s post on the first use of the law. But if having a law in place and having a conscience is one of the ways that God limits the havoc that evil behavior wreaks throughout humanity, then yes, this is a good thing. John Calvin puts it this way in Book 2, ch 7 of the Institutes:

The second office of the Law is, by means of its fearful denunciations and the consequent dread of punishment, to curb those who, unless forced, have no regard for rectitude and justice. Such persons are curbed not because their mind is inwardly moved and affected, but because, as if a bridle were laid upon them, they refrain their hands from external acts, and internally check the depravity which would otherwise petulantly burst forth. It is true, they are not on this account either better or more righteous in the sight of God. For although restrained by terror or shame, they dare not proceed to what their mind has conceived, nor give full license to their raging lust, their heart is by no means trained to fear and obedience. Nay, the more they restrain themselves, the more they are inflamed, the more they rage and boil, prepared for any act or outbreak whatsoever were it not for the terror of the law. And not only so, but they thoroughly detest the law itself, and execrate the Lawgiver; so that if they could, they would most willingly annihilate him, because they cannot bear either his ordering what is right, or his avenging the despisers of his Majesty. The feeling of all who are not yet regenerate, though in some more, in others less lively, is, that in regard to the observance of the law, they are not led by voluntary submission, but dragged by the force of fear. Nevertheless, this forced and extorted righteousness is necessary for the good of society, its peace being secured by a provision but for which all things would be thrown into tumult and confusion.


The Reformed Catechisms & Confessions address the Law here:

  • The Section of the Heidelberg Catechism on “Grace” falls under Q&A 12-85
  • Savoy Declaration 19, section 5
  • WCF Ch 19, section 5
  • 1689 LBCF 19, section 5

Resources on the Law: