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.

10 thoughts on “Lawful Use of the Law”

  1. St. Paul tells us that the law brings death, and the Spirit brings life.

    The law is the law and the gospel is the gospel.

    We need both. But “no one will be justified in the sight of the law.”

    The law acts as a fence to keep us in check (for the most part) that we might live together without chaos, and then it acts as a hammer to crush us and show us that we have no life in ‘what we do’ (the law)…but that we need a Savior.

    We need both the Law and the Gospel.

    But the Gospel is not the law and the law is not the gospel.

  2. I understand your point. But I think the line of division is too severe. Even in romans 8:2 where the Spirit brings life and the law death, verse 4 says that the Spirit makes believers the fulfillment of the righteousness of the law. The law brings death by itself because no man can do it; but Christ makes us fulfill the Law, which removes the penalty of the law: death. That’s the Gospel. You’d be hard pressed to get that point of the Gospel if law was not part, before and after, of the saving message of the gospel.

  3. Jeff,

    Good points my friend.

    Christ doesn’t make us fulfill the law, He fulfills it for us.

    The law and the gospel are necessary for salvation, that is surely true.

    But if they are not rightly divided in teaching and preaching, then they become a blur and create a sort of Christian schizophrenia.

    “I know I am saved by grace alone…but the preacher says I need to be doing X,Y, and Z”. Then the gospel which was given with the right hand, is taken away with the left.

    So both are neccessary, but I believe they ought be distinguised and rightly divided, otherwise, as Luther said, “you wouldn’t be able to tell a Christian from a Jew”.

  4. Adam, I listened to the link. Not sure I’m in complete agreement. Here’s where my sticking point is.

    I fully agree that no man is justified by the deeds of the law. Can’t argue that and be consistent with Scripture.

    But then he talks about assurance and says you can’t base assurance of salvation on anything we do. Problem with that is the book of 1 John. Doing what God says is sort of a main proof of salvation. It’s not a guarantee but it is a proof.

    Even Paul says there are many who profess to know God but in deeds they deny him. He talks about false brethren who can be seen by watching what they do. Paul has a lot of commands that believers are supposed to do once they are saved. With the flesh I serve the law of sin and death, but with my mind I serve the law of God. It is not until I find Christ that I can rightly interpret what God desires for me and I am empowered to do it.

  5. Jeff,

    I prefer the Gospel of John where Jesus is asked “what is it to do the work of the Father?”

    He answers them, “Believe in the one whom the Father has sent.”

    Deeds are great (for the neighbor), but St. Paul says that we are saved by grace through faith, not of works lest anyman should boast.”

    The problem is motivation. When works (law) is preached, even if only for proof, the motivation (which ought be love) is now shot.

    That’s why Jesus said that many will say “Lord, Lord, we did this and that in your name”, and Jesus said depart from me I never knew you.

    We walk by faith, not by sight. Those good works…the H.S. will produce them and we may not even know it when they are happening.
    It’s probably better that way to keep us off our high (prideful) horses.

    Thanks, Jeff.

  6. Adam,
    Again, not to beat a dead horse, but I can’t help it. I know what verses you prefer but Jesus also said in John “if you love me keep my commandments.” You can’t prefer one verse or another you have to take all that is written and go with it.

    If love is always the motivation, why does Paul say work out your salvation with fear and trembling? Why does he say perfect holiness in the fear of God?

    Works has a part in faith. Romans 2–those who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory, honor, immortality eternal life. Those who do bad get destruction. All judgments are based on works.

    When I stand before the Lord and if He indeed asks why I should get in heaven, my response would be, “Because I believe that Jesus Christ died for my sins, rose again to achieve forgiveness for me and I know my faith was true because it began to transform me from the old man I was. It created what You said it would create.”

  7. I know what verses you prefer but Jesus also said in John “if you love me keep my commandments.”

    Ooops. That verse kind of exposes us…doesn’t it?

  8. These verses, such as “if you love me keep my commandments” are excellent tests. We want to know whether we have the right kind of faith or not, and the law will testify of it.

    When Abraham had the right faith, he had the right son…it may not have been manifest right away, but it was as good as done.

    The last thing we want is an Ishmael when God promises us an Isaac.

    When you have a good tree, it will bring forth good fruit. Of course, we could “fake the fruit” by our own efforts and cultivated manners, but this usually breaks down under pressure…and will not stand to the test of a real spiritual analysis of the inner man.

    On the other hand, we could be satisfied with a superficial faith…”I believe I’m saved, so I must be saved.” But is my faith intelligent…or am I asking God to do things He has never promised? Or am I not asking Him to do what He has actually promised to do? Could it be that I have misunderstood what the Gospel is and how it works?

    We can’t just say, “but everyone else believes this, so it must be true.” That’s what the Jews thought, that’s what the Catholics thought.

    No, we want the scrutiny of the Word, as ministered by the Spirit. We need it now…we don’t want it to happen when Christ returns and we find out that our faith was vain.

    “I was alive without the law once”, I thought I was a Christian and was saved, “but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.” Amen. Let’s have the law search us through and through…and when it finds death in us, then let us have Christ deal with it and put life where there is death.

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