Uses of the Law in Psalm 119


As New Covenant believers, we are no longer under the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13). Christ’s atoning work on the cross saves us from the burden of keeping the law perfectly (Philippians 3:12-16). However, does that mean we no longer need it? What good is the law for us today?

Below are a few answers to that question from Psalm 119. This by no means is an exhaustive list; the depths of Psalm 119 could not be plumbed in an entire lifetime. Rather, think of this as a starting point for considering the uses and purposes of God’s law.

God’s Law exposes our sin.

God uses the law as a benchmark for holiness. When people wander from His commands, God’s punishment will eventually follow (vs. 21). Those who do live according to the law are contrasted with the insolent (vs. 85), wicked (vs. 95, 110), evildoers (vs. 115), foes (vs. 138-139), and persecutors with an evil purpose (150). God’s law is the standard by which man is currently, and will be ultimately, judged.

God’s Law points us to Christ.

God’s word points us to Christ by making us long for coming salvation (vs. 81). Because the weight of our own inability to keep God’s law is ever before us, we are driven to our knees. We plead for our holy God to bring the promised redeemer who will show us salvation (vs. 81-82, 123, 174). Unlike the wicked ones who know not His statues, we desire to have salvation brought near (vs. 155).

God’s Law guides us in holiness.

As strangers and sojourners in this barren land, we are not left without instructions. Just as the Old Testament Jews had Moses as their guide to the promise land, we too have been given instructions for life as we wait to enter our eternal promise land (vs. 54). God’s law shows us the path we should follow, and illumines our way through the darkness (vs. 101, 105). The law shows us how to become blessed in the Lord (vs. 1). The testimonies of the Lord serve as a guard to keep us from unnecessary afflictions (vs. 67), and they keep us from being put to shame (vs. 6, 46).

God’s Law fuels worship.

When we begin to see what Christ has done for us, how he has perfectly kept all the law of God on our behalf, then we will be driven to praise Him for His righteousness (vs. 62). God’s steadfast love (vs. 64, 159), His great mercy (vs. 156), His perfect righteousness (vs. 142), and His justice (vs. 149), are all reasons listed for praising Him. God’s holy Law helps our souls live and praise Him (vs. 175). Once we have learned His righteous rules, we will begin to praise Him with an upright heart (vs. 7).

God’s Law is a delight to His children.

When believers mature and learn that God has given His law as a blessing to us and not a burden, then His testimonies become a delight to us (vs. 24, 35, 111, 143, 174). We can praise our gracious Father because He loves us enough to keep us from harm. Eventually, just as the psalmist proclaims, we come to love the law of God (vs. 47, 48, 129, 159, 167). We cherish the law more than gold or silver (vs. 72, 127). One who observes the law will know a peace that can only come from above (vs. 165), and will taste a sweetness that can only be known through obedience (vs. 103).

As we have seen, the law of the Lord remains vitally important in the life of believers. As you reflect upon God’s law and it’s role in your life, may you be ever pressed toward Christ, molded into His image, and driven toward increasingly sweet worship of our Triune God.

Jon English Lee
PhD Student, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
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2 Responses to “Uses of the Law in Psalm 119”

  1. Good stuff.

    One slight disagreement on the law as “guide”.

    The law cannot change the heart. Only the gospel can do that. So, for Christians (those who have faith), “Christ is the end of the law…”

    “The law was a tutor until Christ came.” St. Paul

    The law has it’s purpose, that’s for sure. On this plane it helps us to live together as best we can (the civil use of the law)…and for righteousness, it exposes us and drives us to Christ (the theological use).

    Thanks, very much.

  2. Steve,

    “Guide” is not the same as “makes”. In this sense, I believe the author is using the time-honored distinction of the “Didactic use” of the Law, or the “third use of the Law” as some call it.

    One must know *how* to obey God in order to be holy. This use of the Law as a guide serves that purpose.


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