God’s Purpose for the Law

8 Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 9 understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. (1 Timothy 1:8-11)

It is hugely important that we take the time to understand what we read from the Bible. If we are going to understand it rightly, then we need to spend time in it, we need to pray for God’s Spirit to enlighten us to its truths. We need to approach it with respect because it is God’s Word to us, it is His communication to us. We don’t need to just casually read it. It is important to understand its main theme and minor themes. We need to gain context to what we are reading. It means what it means, and we should be careful to get what it means through diligent study.

Anytime a moral issue comes to the forefront in our culture and debate follows it, we will most likely see the Bible used. Many times we will see the Bible used on both sides of a moral issue. When the Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage a constitutional right, it was pretty incredible to read arguments on both sides that many people made, trying to use the Bible as support. In many cases it looked like those using the Bible really had no working knowledge of it. There was so much confusion regarding what the Old Testament law was all about, what it was used for, and how it applies today. Jesus’ words were butchered regarding His statements on love and judging, and even marriage. Some seemed in favor of the Bible, for the most part, but would unilaterally declare some parts of it as either no longer relevant or no longer authoritative. 

I see such chaotic use and interpretations of the Bible and I think, if someone knows nothing about the Bible and they read all this commentary on the Bible, wow, would they be confused! Over and over again people point to the Old Testament dietary laws or laws of cleansing that were given to Israel and pick and choose which parts are relevant for Christians today and which are not, I mean arbitrarily pick. We like bacon, so the dietary laws against pork, well, that’s no longer in effect. But we don’t want our kids to have tattoos, so marking of the body is still effective. I’m not endorsing or condemning tattoos, I’m only saying let’s not use Leviticus 19:28 to try and seal our arguments. We have probably all been guilty of trying to enforce some and not others. My point is the Bible has meaning, it has purpose, all of it, but are we taking care to understand it rightly?

Last week we saw Paul getting on to a group of people because of how they were teaching about the Law. The Law here being the Mosaic Law, the Ten Commandments in particular. With Paul’s straight forward and forceful language, people may have thought that the Law was not good, that there was a problem with the laws of God. Here is what he had said in verse 7: “desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.”

So they had teachers who were teaching about the Law who didn’t understand the Law, who didn’t understand the purpose of the Law. Paul says they did not understand what they were saying. They didn’t know what they were saying. They were confident about what they were saying, but they were wrong about it. And if they were wrong about it, then in reality they were teaching not what was from God, but what was from man. While speaking on behalf of God, they were teaching doctrines formulated by man. It was like, “God says,” and then not saying at all what God says, but what they say. It is misrepresenting God.

Woe to the preacher or teacher who opens their mouths claiming to speak on behalf of God when in reality they are pushing their own selfish, corrupt agenda. James warns teachers in James 3:1: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” Teaching one’s own thoughts or agenda and saying it is God’s, or from God, is adding to the Word of God, isn’t it? Isn’t that adding to what God has said, trying to pass off what we believe as God’s Word? We must be careful. Revelation 22:18 warns against adding to God’s Word.

Paul goes on to say in verse 8, “Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully.” Paul does not want anyone to take his admonition of false teachers to mean that the Law is somehow bad or that it no longer has a purpose. And so he comes right out and says, “the law is good.” But with that statement he qualifies it with, “if one uses it lawfully.” The law is good if you use it as God intends it to be used. Again, we can say this of all of God’s Word. God’s Word is good if it is used as God intends it to be used.

What is its purpose, how is it to be understood and used? Verse 9: “understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient.” This is where we get into what Paul is saying, this is why we have the Law today. The Law has a specific purpose. He says it is not for the just, or your Bible might say the righteous. Now who would this be? Who are the just or the righteous? Well, we know Jesus is, right? He is certainly just or righteous. 1 Peter 3:18 says so: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.”

Jesus is the righteous one. His death was for the unrighteous. Because of our sin, our unjustness, we were unable to attain righteousness on our own. We could not undo our sin, the sins that we committed, no matter how badly we may have wanted to. We were unable to delete them from our history. And even if we could delete them, we would, in our flesh and because of our evil desires and our sin nature, we would just do many of them again anyways. We were in a terrible place, enslaved to sin, unable to shake it off, and unable to cover over our sins, which is what was needed to make us righteous. Only Jesus lived with no regrets, only He was without sin – the righteous one.

So when Paul says, “understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient,” where do we as Christians fit in? Is the Law for us, or is it not? As Christians are we in this category that Paul lays out as righteous, or as lawless? Here is the beautiful and amazing thing! Listen to this…

1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1-3)

Do you see where Christ is? What the position of the Christian has become? A Christian is one who is hidden – hidden where? Hidden with Christ. Hidden with the one who is righteous.

20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (Galatians 2:20-21)

Do you see what has happened? We are hidden with Christ, Christ lives in us, and righteousness is ours not through the Law, but through Christ. He is righteous, and we are righteous in Him and only in Him!

4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God…6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code. (Romans 7:4, 6)

What we see and what we know is that the Law is meant to show the lawless their need for a Savior. The Law has never saved anyone. The false teachers were using the Law as a tool for their own purposes, robbing the Law of its convicting power. What is more damning than to teach that following the Law will lead one to heaven? Everyone fails in that endeavor, everyone. If these teachers had used the Law as a means of leading their hearers to Jesus, that would have been using it rightly. 

In saying that the Law was not made for the righteous, Paul is simply describing believers, those who are now righteous through Christ. Believers do not need the Law to propel them to holy living. It does help us to see what holy living is, but true Christians have pleasure in God’s Law and have entered into a life in which the Holy Spirit prompts them to obedience, obedience according to God’s Word.

The lawless then are those who have been unwilling to embrace Christ as Savior, those who are not hidden with Christ, those who have not died to the Law as in Romans 7:4, and have not been released from the law as in Romans 7:6.

The law is good in that in points people to Christ. It is not used rightly when it is taught as a way of earning salvation.

Paul goes on to illustrate the Law, or the Ten Commandments in particular. He lists some sins and they correlate to the Ten Commandments. So Paul is saying, describing the purpose of the Law, who the Law is for, by naming these sins. Again, the purpose of the Law is to show sinners their sin. What are these sins? He names sins against God and against other people.

The first six types of sin are from the first half of the ten commandments – “lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane” The lawless and disobedeint are those who reject all forms of law or standards. Ungodly and sinners live without any regard for God and His ways. Unholy and profane are indifferent to God, they care nothing about God or what He says is right or wrong. Each of these indicate a rebellion against God. These described here need the Law, they need the Law to see their sin, and their need for a savior from their sin.

Paul goes on with sins that come from the second half of the Ten Commandments. Each of these deal with relationships between people – “those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine.” Those who strike their fathers and mothers – this is a violation of the fifth command, which is to honor father and mother. Murdering is a violation of the sixth command, “You shall not murder.” Sexually immoral and men who practice homosexuality is a violation of the sixth command, which forbids sexual activity outside of marriage. An enslaver is a violation of the eighth command, which is not to steal. Being a liar and a perjurer is a violation of the ninth command, which is to not bear false witness against a neighbor. And then Paul adds, “and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine,” or sound teaching. This then catches all other violations of the Law.

So to use the Law lawfully is a good thing; it convicts of sin, it condemns man, it shows us that we cannot keep it faithfully, it directs us, it should direct us to Christ and to Him alone who can save us. All of this, these truths are, according to verse 11, “in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.” In other words, the gospel, meaning the work and result of the person of Christ, is made known, is shown in all of its glory, when the Law is used rightly. 

The message is, “Yes, you are a sinner, because here is the Law that you have not kept. Yes you are destined to hell because of your sins against a holy God. Look at His law, judge for yourself if you have kept it all. No one has, no one has ever kept it all except Jesus Christ. He is the only one who has lived it perfectly. And you as a sinner, you can be made righteous. Not because you are good, not because you will ever be sinless, but because you can hide behind Christ, you can be hidden in Him, you can be released from the obligations of the Law because of Jesus Christ. He will cover you if you will embrace Him, He will make you clean before the Father. He will take your sin away and give you His perfect record.” That is the “gospel of the glory of the blessed God.”

And so stop trying to be good enough. Stop reaching up on your own to simply fail again. Stop trying to impress a perfectly holy God, because you can’t. Simply submit to Him, admit your need, confess your sin and your desire to repent and be made new in Him. 

This is the message that Paul said had been entrusted to Him. This is terrific news, it is the only news that saves people. And this is why Paul was so passionate about encouraging Timothy to do what he can to stop the false teachers from teaching a false narrative that had no power to save, that only condemned but could never save.

We should be encouraged to do the same. To speak truth about the gospel, to stop trying to moralize the world, holding people to standards they cannot keep, but instead to lift up Christ and show Him as good and great and able to save.

Parents, are you, have you led your children to understand the true gospel, that is that they cannot be good enough for God, that they cannot be good on their own, that they will sin and they need a savior? Or are we simply trying to make them follow an impossible standard, maybe leading them to a life of pride instead of a life of humility, depending on another?

Are we doing this with our neighbors, with our spouse, do we just want everyone to act right, to just behave, or do we want them to know Jesus?

The good news of the gospel is this: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). No condemnation for whom? For those who have lived by the Law? No. For those who are currently living out the Law? No. For those who think they may someday live according to all the rules in the Bible? No. The truth is this: there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. This is being hidden in Him. 

Praise be to God for Christ Jesus our Savior.

8 Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 9 understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. (1 Timothy 1:8-11)