Friday, April 11, 2014

The Law Is not For the Righteous

One of the most important texts in the NT (I do not hesitate any longer to say it), and one of the more neglected texts in the NT (at least as far as preaching and teaching go), is 1 Timothy 1:8-11. Its importance, I'm convinced, has yet to be adequately grasped by much of the Church. And its importance is directly related to how it views the function of the law ("law" here certainly referring chiefly to the Pentateuch) and how it concieves of the plane on which the Christian life is to be lived out.

Now before I get to the main point of the text, I want to acknowlegde that all texts are constrained by contexts. That's no less true for this text than any other. I say this because this very text before us can be mishandled and misappropriated if applied to the wrong context in the wrong way (after all, Paul pens this text in this context, and not in another, or all others, for that matter). So let us not forget what Paul is dealing with in Ephesus, namely, men teaching divergent doctrine (1 Tim. 1:3). These men wanted to set up shop as the licensed handlers of the law, even though Paul tells us that, with respect to the law at least, they didn't know up from down, didn't have a clue, didn't get it (as they say), though they sure acted like they had gotten it (1 Tim. 1:7).

Without delay, then, on to the main point of the text. Verses 8–11 are one sentence in the Greek with a fairly simple structure. The basic structure reads this way (the other elements are supportive or elaborative): "Now we know that the law is good . . . knowing that the law is not laid down for the righteous, but for [the unrighteous] . . . and whatever else contradicts sound doctrine . . ." (translation mine). Did you hear that? The law is not for the righteous. Isn't that clear? But it is for the unrighteous (described in the list that follows). Isn't that also clear? And the unrighteous and their unrighteous ways are said to be contradicting sound doctrine. They are the ones who need to hear the law. But those who live in line with the sound doctrine, that is, the righteous—they don't need the law. It's not laid down for them. Isn't this what the text is saying?

So what Paul is saying here appears to be quite plain, and yet many Reformed folks (and especially theonomistic types) won't acknowledge what is out there in broad daylight. And I highly suspect they cannot see the apostle's clear assertion because of their systematics (which I by and large love and hope I would shed my blood for). To be fair, it would perhaps be more accurate to say that they have nobly tried to do the work of systematizing all the biblical texts without handling fairly and accurately texts like this one.

So the plain out-in-the-broad-daylight teaching (for all to see, it seems to me) is that the law of God—holy, just, and good (Rom. 7:12)—was never given for the righteous. That's not why God gave the law. If you are righteous, if you are living righteously, you don't need the law of God. (At least not in one very important sense pointed out here by the apostle of grace.) No, it's not meant for you, O righteous. It's meant for the unrighteous, the unholy and ungodly, the sinner and worldling. The lawless need the law. But those who are fulfilling it (e.g., Rom. 13:8-10) don't need it. At least not for the purpose of making them righteous!

This has implications for what's called "the third use of the law" in Reformed circles. And the main one is that we are not sanctified by the law. It's powerless to make us righteous. Oh, it still has a function, alright (e.g., Matt. 5:17-20). Not one jot or tittle passes till all is accomplished (as an aside, note the eschatalogical language in Matt. 5:17-20). But it is not God's primary instrument for changing us into the likeness of Christ. No, that's accomplished by "sound doctrine" that accords with "the Gospel of the glory of the happy God" (1 Tim. 1:11). If you are living under the almighty sway of the good news of God's joyful glory, the law has done its job, and hardly has any work to do anymore.

And so the plane on which the believer's life moves is sound doctrine. But what is that sound doctrine? Is this sound doctrine the ten commands? Well, that's not quite how Paul puts it, now is it? Is it Mosaic legislation? Is it a list of rules? Statutes? Precepts? Commands? Well, I don't dare say that a believer's life moves on a plane that is out of step with God's commands or the ten words or the Mosaic pattern. But going to these commands and demands of the law is not where Paul goes when he speaks of what is "opposed to sound doctrine" (1 Tim. 1:10), what kind of life is not like the life that is lived in line with sound doctrine.

No, but by "sound doctrine" Paul means what accords with (we might say, what flows from) not so much the law (though that is true!), but with "the Gospel of the glory of the happy God." That's more to the point. If the life is lived out on the Gospel plane, it will be a life of love flowing "from a pure heart and a good conscience and an unfeigned faith" (1 Tim. 1:5). And love driven along by the engine of the Gospel of a Vesuvius-like God who explodes with happiness and blessedness has no truck with the lawlessness of 1 Tim. 1:9-10. And so it also has no need for the law.

No comments:

Post a Comment