"But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith." Gal 3:23-24
The above verse has often been used to promote the idea that we need to preach the law to unbelievers in order to lead them to Christ. But is that really true? Do the people of the world, especially Gentiles (everyone who isn't a Jew), need the Jewish law to be preached to them to show them their need for the Savior? It's important to know some basic things about the Law (the Old Covenant) and to whom it was given (and why), and since the church has
been mixing the old and new covenants for so long, it really can be confusing
to try to work through things like this.
So I like to back up and take a look at things from the perspective that the
Jews and Gentiles in Bible times would have seen things in (as best as I can)
to clear things up and get a better understanding of this. The Jews would have (obviously) known
that they are the ones who had the law, and they knew the Gentiles of the world
were excluded from it and that they probably had no clue what was written in it.
So when it came to understanding the gospel of Christ, and the need for faith rather than the works of the law, Paul and the other
Jewish apostles could tell the Jews, in essence, "Hey, look at our own
law! Don't you get it? We've tried for hundreds and hundreds of years to keep
it, but we've only ended up falling way short of it! This is why we need
Christ, our Messiah." (See Acts 15:5-11, Rom 3:19, Heb 8:8).
But to the Gentiles they couldn't say that. "Law? What law? How could I
know that I've fallen short of God's law when I didn't even know it existed?" Or,
"How could the law point me to Christ when I was excluded from it and didn't even know what it said?"
The law was never meant to be the measuring stick through which Gentiles
understood their sin or their need for the Savior, because the law wasn't given
to them and was in fact kept from them. The "measuring stick" for the Gentiles is their own conscience. In Romans 2, Paul is telling
the Jews that just because they have the law, it doesn't mean that they are
righteous, because only those who keep the law are righteous (from a law-based
perspective). They (the Jews) are the ones who have the law... but they don't keep it!
Gentiles, on the other hand, could be said to be righteous if they "by
nature" do the things that are in the law, even though they don't even
have the law. Paul says that it's "not the hearers of the law who are just
in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified." (See Rom 2:12-13)
He says all this to show the Jews just how serious the law was, and that they
shouldn't be judgmental and self-righteous just because they have the law. They
are only fooling themselves, because they fall short. In fact, he goes on to
say that "ALL" (both Jew and Gentile) have sinned fall short of the glory
of God (Rom 3:23). So in the end, whether it's the Jew who has the law or the Gentile who
doesn't have the law, they all fall short and can only be saved by grace, through faith.
So how does the Gentile then understand their need for the Savior, if not by
law? Again, it's through their own conscience. Romans 1:19 and beyond says that
what may be known of God has been revealed to everyone. It's all clearly seen
through creation. Everyone has a general idea of "right and wrong," but... they
"suppress the truth in unrighteousness." (Rom 1:18). "Although they
knew God, they did not glorify Him as God..." (Rom 1:21).
we read the list of "ungodly" and "unrighteous" behavior that Paul goes on to write about in the rest of
Romans 1, these are all things that most Gentiles would agree are
"wrong." Internally, people have a sense of right and wrong, even if
not everybody agrees on the specifics, and even if not everybody cares what's right or wrong.
So, while the Jews had a specific set of laws that turned out to be a tutor that would lead them to Christ, I don't think the law was ever meant to show
Gentiles their need for the Savior. Most people would agree that they have
"good" and "bad" in them. What we really need to show them
is that the gospel reveals that their good isn't good enough to make them right
with God and their bad isn't bad enough to keep them out of God's grace shown
to us in Christ Jesus.
Now even with all of that said, in today's world there is enough of a
familiarity, even among Gentile unbelievers, with this thing called God's law or
"the Ten Commandments," that I can see how it would be possible, on rare occasions, to
use it as a "tool" (or a "tutor") - particularly among self-righteous people or
people who somehow think that their good deeds are enough for God - to show them
that even with all their goodness, they still fall short and need the Savior.
But for the most part, it's my feeling that most people 'get' that they've
fallen short somehow, and our job really is to simply tell them the good news of Jesus Christ!