Lawful Use of the Law

Many believe that Law is the opposite of Gospel. This is unfortunate because the Law is part of the Gospel.

Many throw around Paul’s phrase, “Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man” and conclude that Law is opposed to the Gospel or unnecessary.

Getting Greeky on ya, there is no definite article before law (for those of you who read the NIV, the definite article is the word “the”). Therefore, it is referring to law in general, not specifically the Mosaic Law, although that would certainly be included.

In other words: law in general is not for righteous people. Speed limits are not necessary for people who don’t break them. Telling non-murderers not to murder is unnecessary. You don’t punish kids who are quiet but those who are talking, etc.

Furthermore, the context helps us see what Paul is talking about. Is the Law chucked once we are saved? Is it of no further value? If we are made righteous in Christ is the law no longer edifying?

Paul goes on in 1 Timothy 1:9,10 listing various sinners who need the law and he wraps up his list by saying the law is lawfully used “if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine.”

Hmm, wonder what Paul means by “sound doctrine?” Context will let you know (for those of you who read the NIV, “context” means “the next verse”).

1 Timothy 1:10b-11, “if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine; According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.”

Get it?! The law is lawfully used to correct people’s understanding of the Gospel that Paul preaches! The law will point out where you differ from Paul’s Gospel!

The law is part of the Gospel, they are not opposed. They help us understand what all is at stake, just how great the grace of God is. Oh, it’s a thing of beauty.

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Impossible Commands Part 3

So if we can’t do the commands of God, why does He keep commanding us to do stuff? This is an important question.

First, no command can save. “If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.” No flesh has ever been justified by doing commandments.

If this is not understood much error ensues. Not anyone has ever or can ever be saved by doing the Law. Even guys under the Law were saved by faith.

Second, commandments were given to point out what sin is, to reveal the righteousness of God, to keep every mouth quiet in guilt, to help keep humans humble and dependent on the gracious salvation of Jesus Christ.

Third, people are stupid. People miss the point of the law and try to use it as a means to achieve their own righteousness. This will not do.

Fourth, God is not stupid. He’s smart enough to know that man will try to kill himself because that’s what man’s been trying to do since creation. Therefore, God gives commands to help people live. But what was given to help keep people alive, stupid people find to be a means of death. It merely tempts our self-destructive nature.

Fifth, as long as people are in this fallen world they will persist in being stupid, God will persist in being wise. He will persist in telling us to avoid the death traps of sin.

Sixth, God knows our stupidity to the degree that He just went ahead and accomplished everything for our salvation. He even did this before the foundation of the world, which is why the Gospel is eternal.

Seventh, God knows our stupidity so much that He knew the only answer is for us to be made new creations, to be made perfect in Christ. To make us to be the fulfillment of the righteousness of the law.

Eighth, oh but we have amazing powers of stupidity. We retain the characteristics of the old man that was crucified with Christ. We continue to revert to stupidity. But God hasn’t just told us stuff; He’s made us the fulfillment of what He has told us. We are to do what we have been made.

Ninth, oh but that stupidity remains. We forget. We lapse and relapse. We go back to eating our vomit. So God, even apart from the law, continues to tell us what life in Christ looks like.

Tenth, Christianity is not about being and not doing. Christianity is about doing what we be. We forget what we be, so He tells us over and over and over what we be and what that means for what we do.

Impossible Commands Part 2

Although I’m not a fan of beating dead horses, occasionally beating dead cats is fine, so I will beat this one a tad further.

There is a debate about the Gospel and grace and whether commands are consistent with them. Are commands inconsistent with the gospel?

The obvious answer is: no. This obvious “no” is proved by the fact that from beginning to end the Bible is filled with commands and the Bible presents, what John calls, “the everlasting Gospel.” It’s the same Gospel that was revealed to Adam and Eve, the same preached by Noah, the same one preached to Abraham and the same witnessed to by the law and prophets.

It is also obvious that most of these commands are impossible! I say “most” because “let no man lie with an animal” has been kept by quite a few.

The sticking point comes when we use certain commands that sound more impossible than others. Like be perfect or holy as your Father in heaven.

Why is this one a problem but so many others are not? Why do we flip out on these but we seemingly have no problem with: husbands love your wife as Christ loved the church? Isn’t that the same command, or at least the same impossible standard?

Colossians 3, for example, is a chapter filled with commands, all of which are necessary to be stated and none of which contradict any part of the Gospel. All are stated to believers who “have put off the old man” and “have put on the new man,” both stated as past tense, done acts.

Why are commands seen as being opposed to Grace or the Gospel? Why are only a very few commands viewed as impossible? Why are some viewed as more Law than others?

Women and Homosexual Pastors

Here is a conversation I had the other day.

Person: I’m going to this church group and a lot of the women in there keep going on about tongues and I tell them I don’t believe in tongues. They say there’s something wrong with me, I’m not as spiritual. I just don’t get the point of tongues. What do you think about it?

Me: Well, Paul didn’t seem to get the point of tongues either if they aren’t done biblically. He said he’d rather speak five words in a known tongue than a thousand in an unknown tongue.

Person: Yeah, I agree. But they keep saying there’s stuff wrong with me for not doing it.

Me: Well, you could point them to 1 Corinthians 14 and show them that even if tongues are taking place they aren’t supposed to be done by women.

Person: Really? It says that?

Me: Pretty much.

Person: What is up with the Bible saying women aren’t supposed to talk in church? I thought we lived in liberated days?

Me: We do live in liberated days. But the Bible still says women aren’t supposed to take teaching positions over men in the church.

Person. So you don’t think there should be women pastors?

Me: Not according to Scripture.

Person: Well, I don’t know about that. Women are liberated now. It really is hard to find a good church. The one I grew up in is letting the homosexuals in as pastors. I don’t get it. How can they let homosexuals be pastors? Don’t people read their Bibles anymore?

Me: You mean like the part about women not having teaching authority in the church?

Person: (Wry smile)

Me: I’m just saying. If we determine one part is cultural, not applicable to today on a whim, with absolutely no indication that it has changed, why not change any other part? If you open that door a crack pretty soon all manner of error will come in.

Person: OK. I’ll think about that. See you later.

Impossible Commands

There are one of two ways a guy can approach commands like “be holy,” “be perfect” and “be merciful” with God as our example.

1) Legalism. OH, OK, no problem. I’ll get right on that. I’ll memorize Scripture and do everything it says and point out how you don’t. Got it.

2) Licentiousness. Hey, I can’t do that. But I’m under grace, God forgives me so who cares! Whoohoo party time! Let us sin that grace may abound!

Scripture has a problem with both approaches. Surely there is another way.

Illustration: A little league player asks his coach “Coach, what’s the point of being up to bat?” Coach says, “There’s only one reason for batting: get on base.”

When this little league batter strikes out, does the coach kick him off the team? “You’re horrible! Don’t you ever listen to me? I said to get on base!”

Is he giving him an impossible standard that will doom him to eternal cubdom? Should all prospective little leaguers say, “You know, that really doesn’t seem worth it. That coach says I’m supposed to get on base every time, I can’t do that. Never mind.”

Here’s the point: What’s God supposed to say? “Hey guys, I know you’re sinners, nothing I can do about that. Just muddle in mediocrity. Shoot for being slightly better than Judas.”

Trying to do something that is impossible is pretty much life on earth, from little league baseball to making the perfect kitchen table to having the perfect conversation with your wife to spiritual perfection.

We look unto Jesus, He’s who we are being formed into. Our goal, our desire, and our command is to be like Him as much as possible even now. That’s why we’re told to be perfect, to be holy and to be merciful: that’s what Christ is.

It is also what we are becoming through the power of the Holy Spirit and the renewing power of God’s grace if we indeed decide to labor in that direction.

Be Perfect, Be Holy, Be Merciful

A week ago I did a post on “Be holy as God is holy.” Then I did a post on being perfect. The comments I receive upon making these points are typically along the lines of, “God is more holy than we are, I can’t be holy.” Or “Jesus makes us perfect, that’s the only way, so that’s what it means.”

I don’t have much of an argument over that, however, it still says to be holy several times (Romans 6:19,22; 2 Corinthians 7:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:7; 1 Peter 1:15,16; Revelation 22:11). And as pointed out the other day, we are told by NT writers to be perfect as well. Then there’s Paul’s doozy in 2 Corinthians 7:1 that tells us to be “perfecting holiness.” Nice.

What’s interesting is that there is not nearly this level of complaint when we covered “be merciful as your Father in heaven is merciful.” Everyone is for that one. Apparently we think we got that one covered. This is intriguing.

So, if we conclude that we can’t be perfect or holy like God, so we don’t really have to do those, why is it we so readily take on “be merciful?” Perhaps it’s because we don’t think God is all that much more merciful than us? Perhaps being merciful does not sound as hard as being perfect or holy? Perhaps mercy is just more fun to talk about?

Here’s the beauty, check out the context of “be ye perfect” and the context of “be ye merciful.” Oh don’t ya just love the Bible?! It’s the same context! One disciple remembers Jesus saying “be perfect” and one remembers Him saying “be merciful.”

What’s the resolution? Luke had a senior moment? Being perfect requires being merciful and being merciful requires being perfect. You can’t do one without the other. It’s funny we apparently think we can.

Perfection

The Bible has many commands telling us to be perfect (Matthew 5:48; 2 Corinthians 13:11; Hebrews 6:1; James 1:4).

Many explain this to mean that we are to be “mature.” One problem is that if you repeat these verses using the word mature, you have the unfortunate consequence of saying, “be mature as your Father in heaven is mature.”

First, that just sounds off. Second, God is pretty mature, eh, not sure this alleviates any problems.

You can’t say this is impossible because Paul, at one point, addresses some foils as “as many as be perfect

What’s interesting about that passage is that he then proceeds to tell the perfect people what to do!

So, go on unto perfection. Be perfect. What’s that do for ya?