1 Timothy 1:8-9. 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…
The letter of 1 Timothy might also be entitled “How to Be a Pastor.” Young Timothy has been left in Ephesus by Paul to help the church get back on a gospel track when several of her own elders were trying to put the church back under the law. Describing these wayward elders, Paul says, “desiring to be teachers of the law, [they don’t] understand either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.”
And then Paul reminds us of one of the most important truths for Christians to remember – the law is good when used lawfully (correctly), not for the just (those in Christ), but for those who are lawless and disobedient (the unsaved).
The proper use of the law continues to be something that trips up so many Christians. Even many entire churches. What is the proper use of the law? And, if it’s not law, then what is my motivation for obeying Jesus?
Teaching only law, especially God’s own perfect and holy law, will always have the same result – condemnation. The law, used rightly, is meant to expose the sin that resides in hearts, and drive us, in repentance, to the glorious and abounding grace of God in Jesus Christ and his cross.
This is why Paul tells Timothy that the law’s standard, though perfect, is not for the just. Why would those who are already made righteous by the gracious gift of the Spirit, need to return back to a standard that we could never keep in the first place, and still can’t keep? And why on earth would we want to return our brothers and sisters in Christ to the ever accusing, death inducing, standard of the law and turn them away from the ever loving, life bringing, ministry of union with Christ?
But Pastor Timothy’s problem in Ephesus still remains – Christians that insist on putting each other back under the law. Or, even more common, Christians mixing the law and the gospel together into a sweet and salty mix. But this is a tragic backwards move away from faith alone in grace alone.
And let’s just be honest, whenever we mix good news with bad news the bad news always wins out. When someone says ten good things about you and then one bad thing about you, which do you remember forever? Exactly. If someone said to me, “You’re a nice guy but a little annoying at times.” I won’t walk away thinking “Wow, they called me nice.”
The same is true when we tag law on to the gospel. We will always walk away feeling condemned. But in Christ there is no condemnation. In Christ we are already just.
So what does this mixing of the law and the gospel sound like in real life? Here’s a few examples:
- Jesus gave his life for you (gospel), now you owe him your life in return (law).
- You have the Holy Spirit (gospel), now you can keep God’s law (law).
- If Jesus can forgive you (gospel), why can’t you forgive others (law)?
- Jesus is coming back for us (gospel), and he will judge our un-repented sins (law).
- You can commune with God (gospel), and the more you do, the closer you’ll be to him (law).
- You have the Holy Spirit (gospel), and you should be experiencing him this way fill in the blank. (law).
- Now that you’re a Christian (gospel), you must show it by giving up fill in the blank (law).
You may notice that in each of these the gospel is stated first, and then the law is added on at the end. “You are…but you must still…” “Jesus saved you…now try to…” “You have the Spirit…and he will bless you if you…”
But in the Bible it is always the other way around. God’s first word to us – the law – is stated to expose our sin. And then his second word to us – the gospel – is stated, not as an add-on, but as an about-face taking us from condemnation into the compassion and comforts of our Savior. And for those who are in Christ, the word of law isn’t meant to tell us what to do (the Spirit does that), but it should tell us what we once were. “Once you…but then Jesus saved you…” “You who were once dead…God made alive…”
It is this gospel word alone that can ever produce anything good in us. It is grace alone that stirs up the life of Christ in us. His Spirit in us. Never law. Why? Because being told what to do only stirs up sin and resistance. That is unless you have first been told who you are. How loved you are. How accepted you are. How alive you are in Christ. And so now, in Christ, God’s first word to us is always grace. And his second word to us is faith. “I love you…so trust me…” “Christ is alive in you…so to live is Christ.”
Where are you still mixing law and gospel?
You in Christ
How does God’s grace in us free us from the law?
Christ in you
What’s the difference between living from faith and living from law?
Playlist: The Gospel of Grace.
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