8 But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, 9 knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, 10 for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust. (1 Tim. 1:8-11)
The first letter of Timothy is believed to have been written by Paul to Timothy while Paul was in Macedonia during the mid 60s A.D. Timothy – Paul’s close friend, co-worker, and spiritual son – was the leader of the church in Ephesus which previously had served as the base of Paul’s missions’ activities. The letter includes instructions about preaching, prayer, and church organization.
In the beginning of the letter, Paul warns Timothy of false teachers who ”give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith…desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm” (see 1:3-7).
”Law” in this context refers to the law of Moses, i.e., the five mosaic books of the Old Testament. Not unlike today there was plenty of ministers that preached a legalistic message, focusing on laws, rules, and myths in the form of hidden messages and predictions about the future in the genealogies, commandments, and regulations of the law. These false teachers – just like today – with great confidence preached a legalistic message, instead of using the law the way that we should in the new covenant – to reveal Jesus and His finished work (see Lk. 24:27).
The law, Paul explains, is not for a righteous person! This is a radical statement! What Paul says is that the law is not for born-again believers, that – by grace through faith – have been made the righteousness of God in Christ. As believers in the new covenant, we are not living under the law of Moses. Christ is the end of the law for righteousness for everyone who believes (Rom. 10:4). We who are born-again believers have God’s law of love written in our hearts and have died from the law of Moses (see Rom. 7:4). Those who rely on keeping the law and adhering to works of the law to please God are “under a curse”, Paul emphasizes in Galatians (see Gal. 3:10).
The law of Moses is indeed righteous and good but totally powerless when it comes to producing holiness or lasting change in the depth of our hearts. This can only be accomplished by God; it happens as we receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and become born-again. Our old sin-nature is then removed and instead we are given a new and righteous nature on the inside – ”created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24).
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. 20 Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. (Rom. 3:19-20)
The law of Moses can only give us a diagnose of the problem; it shows us that we are all sinners in desperate need of a Savior – Jesus Christ.
Using the law of Moses to try to accomplish holiness and sanctification among born-again believers is counterproductive. ”The strength of sin is the law”, Paul points out in 1 Corinthians (see 1 Cor. 15:56). The more we preach the law, the more sin will abound, while grace, purity and righteousness will abound the more we preach Christ.
When it comes to the secular world, the law still has the same function today as it has always had: to point to mankind’s sin and unrighteousness so that we all can realize our need of salvation and the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ.
Paul explains that the law of Moses – instead of addressing born-again believers – is made for “the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane…” The law thus serves to point the secular world to what is right and wrong – just like it did for the Jewish people living under the law.
The Jews, during the age of the law, were not born-again, but spiritually dead people – just like all unbelievers today. The new creation could only be a fact after the death and resurrection of Christ. Jesus is called ”the firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:18). In other words: the time when people could become born-again became a reality first after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Just like among the Jewish people during the age of the law – every society needs laws and rules to keep order, stability, and peace. A society without restrictions eventually ends up in chaos and anarchy. If a society’s laws – as well as the police force and other institutions that safeguard its adherence – are removed, it does not take long before the population will run wild loathing the shops and grocery stores. Not long ago we saw plenty of evidence of that in the United States during the so-called ”Black Lives Matter” riots.
In addition to its main task – to show the sinner that he is a sinner – the law of Moses thus has another important function today: To point us to what is morally right and wrong, good and evil, so that our countries’ legislation can be shaped in accordance with its basic principles to establish order, predictability, and the rule of law in our societies.
The law is made for ungodly people and godless societies – but not for God’s church. As the church we are supposed to use the law, as well as all the other holy scriptures of the Bible, with a Christocentric purpose – to progressively discover and unveil Jesus and His finished work.