We live in a free country right? So what's with all the laws? It turns out our founding fathers understood that freedom is not the same as Anarchy. And the same is true in the Christian life. We've been set free of the law's condemnation but that does not mean we devolve into lawlessness.
It's usually not too long before Christians manage to slip into legalism. And it's easy to understand how it happens, at least in some cases. We want to make sure that we live a life pleasing to God so we create some personal guidelines that help keep us walking straight. Eventually the guidelines become the rule of law rather than the path of holiness. And not long after that the rules we set for ourselves become standards we begin to apply and even to teach to others. Voila! Another Pharisee is born.
But there's more than the self manufactured rules that tend to get us into trouble. The Old Testament law code if not correctly understood readily becomes a straight jacket of condemnation rather than a guide post to holiness. This is precisely the problem Paul deals with next in line in his first letter to Timothy. Take a look at chapter 1 verses eight to eleven with me as we ask the question: "What is the Function of the Law?"
<Read 1 Timothy 1:8-11>.
Point 2 of Church 101 Then is simply "The Role of Law".
So why does Paul bring up the issue of the Law here? Because he has just verbally "roasted" the false teachers who desire to teach the law but who themselves do not understand what they teach nor do they comprehend the subject matter they dare to teach on. In other words, they're teaching the law but they don't know what they're even saying about it, and they don't understand the relationship of the law and the gospel.
Based on what Paul has just said, one might be inclined to say, "Since the law is subject to such misinterpretation stop talking about it and focus on the gospel, that's all that really matters after all, isn't it?"
Paul would disagree, as would I. The law has a place in Christianity; in fact the law itself is holy ( Romans 7:12) and the law is Good; as long as it is used lawfully.
So what does it mean to use the law "lawfully"? First of all it means that there is a way to use the law "lawlessly"; that is, to use the law against its intent and meaning.
If you look into the following verse you discover that using it lawlessly means applying the law to righteous people. There we discover the all important distinction. The function and the purpose of the law is to convict sinners, not to constrain saints.
Constraining saints with the law is a constant marker of Paul's enemies throughout the New Testament era. Remember the Council in Jerusalem in Acts 15. The discussion at hand was whether or not Gentiles had to become subject to the Mosaic Law Code – exemplified by Circumcision in order to be saved. The answer of the council was a resounding no – adherence to the law code offered no "Salvation bonus" to the mix. At the same time a very short subset of the Mosaic Law code was passed on to the Gentile believers together with the acknowledgement or encouragement that the Mosaic Law code was taught in every synagogue in every city.
The understanding therefore is that the Law of Moses is not a component of salvation but as a statement of righteousness it makes the goal of post-salvation righteous living quantifiable. If being made holy means obeying the commands of Christ then knowing the commands of Christ becomes necessary.
At the same time the problem in Ephesus is that you had some teachers who were teaching the Law of Moses unlawfully. Using the law lawfully means applying it to the lawless – that is to those who are under its dominion, and who are by definition law breakers. It is unrepentant sinners for whom the law is written.
The Function of the law is to indict and convict and assign punishment for sinful people because of their sin. But not merely in order to crush – the function of the law is supposed to be a surgeon's scalpel cutting so that it can heal. Paul explains in the letter to the Galatian church that the law is supposed to lead people to the only cure for its being broken by them: Jesus the Christ! He is the cure, he is the fulfillment, he kept it all perfectly, and his perfect fulfillment becomes our own when we in humble faith fall at his feet and trusting in his mercy cry out for forgiveness!
If you look at verses nine and ten you see that Paul gives a list of a number of sins – every form of murder, sex outside of God ordained marriage, godlessness, and so forth. It is not intended to be exhaustive it's only meant to be representative.
There are dozens – hundreds or thousands of events that the scripture does not name as either virtue or vice. But it becomes necessary to understand the broader teaching of scripture in order to determine what is good and evil.
Please notice the final measuring line: "whatever else is contrary to …the… gospel." It is impossible to list every vice in the pages of the scripture (After all scripture is supposed to be a testimony concerning our breaking of the image of God and the Lord's gracious restoration of the same. So rather than post a complete "avoid these things list" it is much more efficient to simply identify sound teaching and hold to it.
Sound teaching is defined in verse eleven as that which matches up with the gospel. If it doesn't agree with the gospel it is false doctrine and should be avoided. By extension this does impress ever more the necessity to get the gospel right because it is the foundational meaning of scripture.
If the golden rule of interpretation is that "Scripture interprets scripture" then we need to comprehend the gospel as the foundation of scripture interpretation. For everything else must be measured against it.
These "wannabe" teachers of the law were preaching legalism to the Christians in Corinth. The problem is the law isn't given simply to provide us with a compressive list of do's and don'ts. The law's primary intent is to point out our sinfulness and God's righteous judgment. The law is supposed to point the sinner to it's fulfillment in Christ, and ultimately towards salvation.
In Matthew 5:17 Jesus said, "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill."
The fulfillment of the law in Jesus Christ means far more than just that he did everything that the law required. It also means that he paid the penalty of the broken law – even though he didn't break it. It is only in fulfilling the law in these two ways that Jesus was able to save us. He took our punishment when we broke the law and he transfers to us His intrinsic righteousness and his external righteousness in the keeping of all the law.
So what role does law play in your life?
The role of law for those who do not have saving faith in Jesus is to convict of sin. In Galatians Paul uses the analogy of a nanny. A nanny has jurisdiction over the children in her care until they are no longer children. The law has jurisdiction over the unsaved until they become Christians.
If the role of law in your life is primarily conviction than your greatest need isn't to become more law abiding – your greatest need is to recognize that the law is holy, righteous and good – and it is true in it's declaration that you are a sinner.
Armed with that knowledge the law then points you to the savior – who alone of all men perfectly kept every nuance of the law on your behalf. If you believe in Jesus – that he was crucified for you and that God raised him from the dead, and if you will name Jesus as your forever Lord and master than you will be saved.
The debt wiped clean, and the law code rendered powerless as Jesus' perfection is counted towards you. That is the testimony of God's love for you.
Having come to know Christ as Lord the law takes on new meaning. No longer is the law code of God a relentless set of rules which you must keep or die. Instead of a nanny the law becomes your friend. It describes the righteous character of God. It illustrates all that Christ has done for you. It stands as a permanent testimony of your forgiveness and a permanent reason to praise him.
If you know Christ, don't let the law be your straight jacket. All of the law is summed up in the command to love. Love God. Love people. That's all there is to it.