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Dr. Paul J. Dean Christian Blog and Commentary

Being Gospel Teachers in Light of the Law

  • Paul Dean

    Dr. Paul Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. He serves as a Regional Mentor with the International Association of Biblical Counselors, speaks at several conferences throughout the year, and provides training for ministers and churches on a regular basis. Paul resides in the Upstate of South Carolina with his wife and three children.

  • 2005 Mar 04
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Discussion abounds today regarding law and gospel; grace and works; repentance and faith, etc. Some claim that repentance is not necessary for salvation while others understand that repentance, like faith, is a gift from God and is indeed necessary for salvation. Some proclaim an incipient works salvation while others understand that salvation is by grace alone. Some see the law as our means and motivation for sanctification while others understand grace and faith to be such. Some are antinomian while others understand we are to reflect the character of Christ through joyful obedience from the heart that He might be glorified. Some say that the issues of sin and law should be downplayed in evangelistic preaching while others understand one cannot find satisfaction in Christ until he understands and feels his need for a merciful Savior.

 

In 1 Tim 1:8-11, Paul exhorted Timothy to stay in Ephesus for the specific purpose of silencing false teachers. In so doing, he affirmed the proper use of the law for the gospel teacher. We too should affirm and embrace the proper use of the law. We should understand the proper use of the law particularly as it relates to true teaching, that is, the teaching of the gospel. As Christians, as ministers of Christ who are committed to making disciples who make disciples, what is it that we, if we are gospel teachers with that commitment, understand?

 

In the first place, gospel teachers understand the use of the law. We see this dynamic in vv. 8-11. Paul affirms that the law is good. He simply says, "But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully." Of course Paul makes this statement because of the misuse of the Scriptures by the false teachers. They desire to be law teachers but they know not of what they speak. The problem lies with them, not the law itself. That means that gospel teachers understand the goodness of the law (8a).

 

But, gospel teachers also understand the responsibility of the law (8b). Elsewhere, Paul affirms the goodness of the law (Romans 3-7). In the context of 1 Timothy, Paul qualifies his statement regarding the law; the law is good if one uses it properly. The false teachers were not using the law properly. The question naturally arises; what is the proper use of the law? Paul alludes to its proper use in v. 9.

 

Thus, gospel teachers understand the purpose of the law. In vv. 9-10, Paul says, "Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine." He affirms that the law is not made for the righteous. Little doubt exists to his primary emphasis. Paul is saying that those who are self-righteous will not benefit from their use of the law. They see the law as something they can achieve. They see the law as a code of conduct that is unrelated to the heart. They strive to conform to the law in an external fashion only.

 

Paul speaks of this dynamic and its futility in Romans 7 and affirms that he was one such individual in Philippians 3. He discovered his sinfulness when he read in the law, "Thou shalt not covet." He knew then that he had no righteousness of his own because he saw the wickedness of his heart (Rom 7:7). The Lord Jesus Himself said that He did not come to call the righteous, but sinners (Matt 9:13).

 

Jesus was affirming much the same point. The law is not for the righteous, but for lawbreakers. In other words, it is the law that shows a person his/her sinfulness and drives that person to Christ for salvation (Gal 3:24). See Galatians 3 for further exposition on the law.

 

Interestingly, as Paul sets forth those for whom the law was made, his list has much in common with the ten commandments. He speaks of those who are ungodly or unholy. Paul seems to have the first three commandments in his mind. He speaks of murderers, those who fall into sexual sin, those who steal men,  and those who lie. He seems to have the second table of the law in mind as he mentions these dynamics. While he does not follow the decalogue perfectly or completely, no doubt it was in his mind.

 

The fact that he does not follow the decalogue perfectly and completely, especially with the notable omission of the fourth commandment (Sabbath), and, in light of his catch all phrase "and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine," demonstrates two dynamics. First, he understands the proper use of the law in light of the New Covenant. While the Old Covenant Sabbath regulation has passed away and is now fulfilled in our resting in Christ (Hebrews 4), more law than just that law found in the ten commandments condemns the sinner. All sound doctrine is part of God's New Covenant law.

 

Second, it has been said that true gospel preaching only occurs if the law is first preached, and then the good news of the gospel of grace. Many mean by that statement that the gospel has not been preached if the ten commandments have not been preached. These individuals would affirm that the ten commandments are God's highest standard of moral law. The fact is, these individuals, while being tremendous gospel preachers, are in error on both counts while actually being right in essence. They are correct in saying that true gospel preaching does not occur unless one preaches law and gospel. However, that law need not, in fact should not be the ten commandments only. Their assertion is repudiated on two counts.

 

First, as one looks at the apostolic preaching of the New Testament, particularly the book of Acts, one discovers that the ten commandments are rarely used in that proclamation. See Paul's message to the Greek philosophers in Athens for example (Acts 17). What one finds in apostolic proclamation is the condemnation of sin prior to the proclamation of the gospel.

 

Second, as one reads through the New Testament, he is impressed with the fact that sin is always a heart issue and never a mere issue of external conformity to the law. In dealing with the heart, the New Testament preachers used not only the ten commandments, but heart commandments given in the New Testament. The law preaching that precedes the gospel proclamation is anything "that is contrary to sound doctrine," especially sins of the heart. Thus, the proper use of the law, and indeed New Covenant law (Jesus gave us law that corresponds to the New Covenant in His sermon on the mount, Matthew 5-7), is to show sinners their lost condition and drive them to Christ that they might be saved.

  

Having said the foregoing, it is also possible, because it is true, while Paul's primary emphasis is as outlined above, that he has a secondary emphasis in mind when he speaks of using the law properly and the law not being made for a righteous man. First, let us affirm that which is true. In the believer's life, the law is a standard to which he should strive to attain, knowing all the while that he is unable to do such. That understanding drives us to find our rest in Christ. At the same time, and because of that dynamic, our motivation for living for Christ is not the fear of punishment. We understand grace. Our motivation for being holy is the grace and mercy we have received, and, the grace and mercy we will continue to receive for the rest of our lives and for eternity. As Christians, we can think of nothing more satisfying than to please and bring glory to God (Rom 12:1-2).

 

Second, because that notion is true, it may be that Paul had it in mind as a secondary thought when he said the law is not made for a righteous man, that is a saved man, but for the lost man. The lost man must see his sinfulness before he can even understand grace. The saved man is not motivated primarily by the law in the process of sanctification. Rather, he is motivated by the grace of God in Christ.

 

By way of summary, the purpose of the law is to show sinners their sin (9-11). Paul defines sin as anything that is contrary to the law (9-10a), anything that is contrary to sound doctrine (10b), and anything that is contrary to the gospel (11).

 

In v. 11, Paul defines that which is contrary to sound doctrine, "according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust." Anything that does not conform to the glorious gospel of the blessed God is not sound doctrine. Again, notice Paul's understanding of the New Covenant. His primary focus in teaching is the glorious gospel. Anything that goes against that gospel is deemed transgression of the law.  The gospel is glorious because, contrary to the law, it is a ministry that brings life. The law is a ministry that brings death (see 2 Cor 3:5-18). One should study through Paul's affirmation that we are ministers of the New Covenant in 2 Corinthians 3 in order to understand his statement here in v. 11.

 

Paul also affirms that God is blessed. In this context, he means that God is praised for His mercy in the gospel. That gospel was committed to Paul's trust. He was a faithful steward. We should be the same.

 

Thus, the purpose of the law is to drive sinners to Christ (11). That means that gospel teachers understand the glory of the law (11a). According to 2 Corinthians 3, it is fading. That means that gospel teachers understand the ministry of the law (11a). According to 2 Corinthians 3, it is death. That means that gospel teachers understand the fulfillment of the law (11a). According to 2 Corinthians 3, it is the gospel, or, more properly, Christ Himself.

 

Now, we can say in the second place that gospel teachers understand the grace of the Lord (11b). Salvation and sanctification are by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

 

Finally, in the third place, gospel teachers understand the stewardship of the gospel (11c). We have been entrusted to preach the gospel, not the law. Thus, we proclaim it that sinners might be saved, that we might fulfill our stewardship, and that God might be blessed and glorified as sinners praise Him for His mercy.