A sermon by Dr Donald T. Williams - donaldtwilliams.com

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Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 9/17/2000

1 Timothy 1:3-11, esp. 8-11

The Use Of The Law

We've been seeing Paul's concern that sound teaching survive in the Church after his demise. Therefore in this opening section he contrasts False Teaching, with its different doctrines, perverted intellectualism (either anti- or pseudo-), willful ignorance, and unbalanced dogmatism (vv. 4, 6-7), and Sound Teaching, which derives love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith (v. 5). He now applies this distinction to a specific issue which has often been a watershed between the two: the use of the Law, which appears as a kind of test case or case study of sound versus false teaching.

Paul's thesis is that the Law is good if we use it lawfully, i.e., literally "according to the Law," i.e. in acordance with the Law's true nature, in keeping with the purpose for which it was given. In order to do this we must answer three questions:


Does the Law have relevance for Believers under Grace? Many conclude that it does not. After all, Paul says in v. 9 that it is for the lawless and rebellious, not the righteous. In Gal. 3:25 he says that it is only a Schoolmaster to bring us to Faith, one which we no longer need. In Rom. 6:14 we are no longer under Law but under Grace. And in Gal. 2:16-19 we have died to the Law. Law and Grace are seen as utterly incompatible: Sola Gratia means that there is no longer any Law for Christians. This position is known as "Antinomianism." And, looking at these passages superficially, it seems plausible.

But the whole Bible shows that these verses are part of a larger picture which changes their impact considerably. In 1 Tim. 1:8 Paul says the Law is good if used lawfully. And this letter is addressed to believers; the Law is good for US. How? Rom. 3:31 denies that Paul's polemics against Pharisaic misinterpretations of the Law overturns it; nay, faith establishes the Law. In 2 Tim. 3:16 ALL Scripture--which would include the Law--is not only inspired but profitable for doctrine and training in righteousness. And 1 Tim. 1:9 could be taken to mean, not that the law is not for believers, but that it is for anyone who wrestles with sin. There is then some relevance, some right use, of the Law even for Believers under Grace. Antinomianism is too simple to cover all the facts.


What is the right way to use the Law? It was written to reveal the Redeemer, but not as a substiture for the Savior. Paul teaches us in Rom. 3:21-22 that the Law witnesses precisely to Jesus Christ and the righteousness which is by FAITH. How?

First, by Revealing our Need for a Savior. Paul explains how this works in Rom. 7:7-13. We didn't covet until the Law told us not to, but when we heard the commandment, sin came alive and we died. Is the Law causing the sin? No. It is only revealing it. We have all been here. You head outside to play, and mud isn't even on your mind. But your mother's voice is heard saying, "Stay out of the mud!" And the mud becomes by that very fact all but irresistable. Or you head up to your room actually intending to clean it--but her voice saying, "Clean your room! It's a pig sty!" makes it almost psychologically impossible to clean it now. Is our mother causing us to sin? No. The way the Commandment interacts with our own nature REVEALS that nature as inherently rebellious. Without this experience, we might have convinced ourselves that our sin was just a few isolated acts that happened when we really were under a lot of stress but were not really ourselves. If that were the case, then simply avoiding any repetition of those isolated acts might make us righteous. But now we must, if we are honest, reckon with the fact that turning over a new leaf is actually pretty irrelevant. Sin is not just isolated acts but the very bent of our hearts. The rebelliousness which is at our core is smoked out of hiding by the Law. And so we are driven from our own efforts, the "works of the Law," to the only solution which goes deep enough, the Righteousness of Christ alone.

Second, the Law reveals the Nature of the Savior. Without the Sacrificial System and the Day of Atonement, which are fulfilled in Christ, we would be severely handicapped trying to comprehend what the atonement is all about. If you want to understand Calvary, you must read Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy.

Third, the Law reveals the moral character of God and His will. While the Ceremonial Law was only temporary, becoming obsolete after the Death of Christ (Heb. 9:8-10:18), the Moral Law still shows us the way of life that leads to blessing.


We are not under the Law as a curse, as condemnation, as judgment (Rom. 9:30-32). But its positive functions remain. The Pharisees had misunderstood the purpose of the Law, as if you could be justified by keeping it. In other words, they did not use it lawfully. If we use it as it was intended, it points us to Christ and is therefore good, a blessing. But if we insist on finding our righteousness in the law, on being judged by it, in other words, it becomes a curse and condemns us to eternal judgment. This is Legalism, the opposite error to Antinomianism.

These three answers enable us to use the Law lawfully. But in this context, they lead to a fourth question:


Both Antinomianism and Legalism not only pervert the Law but make our teaching fruitless, precisely in terms of 1 Tim. 1:5. Antinomianism avoids the issue of the pure heart, implying it does not matter as long as we believe; Legalism makes a good conscience impossible either by telling us that we are righteous because we are keeping the Rules or by burdening the conscience with extraneous "ceremonial" Rules we can never keep. But the Sound Teaching of the Law forces the issue of the pure heart and thereby drives us to Christ's, avoids cheap solutions to a good conscience, again driving us to trust in Christ's righteousness alone for that need, and defines the object of a sincere faith, again as Christ alone, not self, not works.


There are two ways to misuse the Law: to ignore its relevance for the Christian life (Antinomianism) or to try to find justification through it (Legalism). But if we avoid these errors, we will find with Paul that the Law is good when we use it lawfully: by learning what it has to teach us, and by depending, not on our efforts to keep it, but on Christ to live it through us. May God help us so to use it, "according tot he Gospel of the glory of he blessed God, with which we have been entrusted." Amen.

Here endeth the lesson. Dr. Donald T. Williams