The Law And The Christian

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This morning we are starting a new series of studies. We want to see what the Bible has to say about CONCERNS FOR TODAY. And our first concern is The Law and the Christian.

With a loss of a sense of right and wrong in the world, the law for many is the only authority in life. In the same way as the state often acts as a surrogate for the dysfunctional family, so the law acts as a surrogate for a dysfunctional morality. But what is the basis for law? Is the law what the majority want it to be through the votes of Parliaments? Some people, frighteningly, now think it is. Or is its basis some force of life as the Nazis believed? Never think the Nazis were lawless. Martin Borman, the head of their organization, said: "We National Socialists set before ourselves the aim of living as far as possible by ... the law of life."

They overthrew the old concept of an overarching "Natural Law" - or a fundamental law of justice - and decreed their own "law of Nature". However, the Nuremberg Trials took place on the assumption that there is a fundamental law of justice - or Natural law - that all can appeal to and that the Nazis had inhumanely flouted. It was on that assumption that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was agreed. But half a century later there is again great confusion. And there was great confusion in New Testament times. You can see that if you turn to the passage we had as our NT reading this morning, 1 Timothy 1.3-11.

And by way of introduction can I point out three clues that are given here as to why there is this confusion.

First, there is the failure to realize that morality comes from doctrine - or how you behave is related to what you believe. So a breakdown of belief will lead to a breakdown in behaviour. In simple terms if you cease to believe in the Fatherhood of God, before long you will cease to believe in the Brotherhood of Man and you will act accordingly. In verse 3 Paul is telling Timothy to ...

"... command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer."

But the result of these "false doctrines" is (verses 5 and 6) a wandering from ...

"love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith."

So morality comes from doctrine.

Secondly, confusion comes from the failure to realize that the outward and the inward, or external law and the inner moral state, need to be related. Look at verse 5 again:

The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

The law is concerned with doing what is right - that is the end of the Gospel - living as God wants you to be living. But unless inwardly there is a "pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" you will never get what outwardly the law requires. Christ, however, brings good news. He offers a way of ensuring inward change, through forgiveness of sins through his death on the Cross and then the inward working of his Holy Spirit. Who needs to hear that message this morning? But if there is no inward change - the extent and the force of the law has to increase until it becomes oppressive or unworkable. So when greed leads to financial scandals in the United States, the immediate reaction is to call for new and more laws to control accountants. It was Edmund Burke who wrote:

"Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without.

And thirdly, confusion comes because there is a failure to realize that there are, verse 7,

teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.

This was so in Paul's day and has been so ever since. Since the 1960's there have been a surfeit of "teachers of the law ... not knowing what they [were] talking about" who have helped change the laws in the West on divorce, abortion, obscenity, homosexuality and embryo experimentation. And the result is materialistic hedonism and Godless decadence.

But it was so in the 19th century. Here is one example. People wanted to license prostitution. They argued that this would reduce the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. So in came the Contagious Diseases Act which the Government said would give - and I quote - "a clean supply of hygienic prostitutes." What was the result? Prostitution became acceptable because it was legitimized and the problem got worse. Josephine Butler, from here in the North East, had to spend her life working to overturn the Act - which eventually she did. And now in the 21st century people are using the same sort of arguments to set up "tolerance zones" for prostitutes in Liverpool and Edinburgh. They are also using them to legitimize cannabis. Christian Institute literature at the back of the church tells you about the reclassification of cannabis and requests action. It shows how current "teachers of the law do not know what they are talking about".

So much by way of introduction. For the rest of our time this morning I want us to look especially at verse 8 of 1 Timothy 1:

We know that the law is good if one uses it properly.

And I just want to go through that phrase by phrase. My headings will be first, WE KNOW; secondly, THAT THE LAW IS GOOD; and, thirdly, IF ONE USES IT PROPERLY.


First, WE KNOW

But you ask, "how do we know"? Paul is clear that what he is saying is a matter of knowledge. He says in verse 9: "We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels." According to the Bible the answer is that there is a universal, God-given Natural Law. That fundamental law is confirmed, indeed, by, what the theologians call, special revelation. This is God's revelation through prophets and apostles and supremely Jesus Christ and which we now have in the Bible. But this Natural Law is also known instinctively by general revelation and by everyone. Let me explain.

Please keep a finger in 1 Timothy 1, but turn to Romans chapter 1. This is where Paul teaches us about the Natural Law. Paul in the first part of Romans is trying to explain how everyone - whether religious or not - is guilty before God. He is working to the conclusion in chapter 3 verse 23:

all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

And that "all", he says, includes not only people who have heard the gospel - but - and this is important for us this morning - also those who have never been exposed to God's special revelation through prophets, apostles and Christ himself. They too deserve God's judgment and punishment and so need to hear the good news of salvation. For these Gentiles, as Paul calls them (we could call them people of other faiths or no faith) - these Gentiles have all sinned against the moral knowledge they already have. Look at verse 20:

since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

People do see the reality of God as eternal, almighty and sovereign. And the moral nature of God is revealed in his "wrath". Look at verse 18:

the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.

And that judgment is God's removal of all moral restraints on immorality - verse 24:

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.

His judgment comes as they act out their sinful desires - in what happens physically and what happens psychologically. Just think of poor Michael Barrymore. His sexual immorality and lifestyle is associated with death, drugs, psychiatric breakdown and the loss of broadcasting contracts. You don't need a PhD in moral philosophy to get the message. It is clear.

Also Paul says that people who flout God's moral laws and encourage others to flout them are still aware of them. Their consciences still function is some way. Look at verse 32:

Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

And there is further proof that this Natural Law is revealed in the consciences and hearts of people who have not heard the teaching of the Bible. Look at chapter 2 verse 14:

when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.

They have some inklings of what is right and wrong through general revelation. And God's special revelation in the Bible confirms that those inklings are correct. But you ask, "what is the content of this Natural Law?"

First, according to the Bible, there is the requirement for the grateful worship of our divine creator - verse 21 implies that people know they have to glorify their creator as God and give thanks to him.

Then, secondly, it prohibits all those things listed in verses 24-31. The offenders, as we have seen (v 32), "know God's righteous decree that those who so such things [listed in verses 24-31] deserve death." There is sexual sin and idolatry with homosexual and lesbian sex highlighted. Then there is "every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity ... envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice". Then there are people who "are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful" and people who "invent ways of doing evil; ... disobey their parents; [and] ... are senseless, faithless, heartless, [and] ruthless." Natural Law prohibits all of that. So much for Romans 1 and 2.

Please now turn back to 1 Timothy 1 for echoes and confirmation of this Natural Law. Look at verses 9 and 10. They refer to ...

the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; ... those who kill their fathers or mothers, ... murderers, ... adulterers and perverts, ... slave traders and liars and perjurers.

So what is outlawed by Natural Law is also outlawed in God's verbal, special revelation given in the Bible. Especially that is done in the 10 Commandments and the Old Testament prophets. The Bible with its special revelation reinforces what people know by general revelation but choose to ignore. And the facts of history confirm the truth of the Bible's claims for Natural Law. The Greeks and Romans spoke of it. Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, spoke of it as "a rule of justice" with "the same validity everywhere". The Roman writer Cicero spoke of it as "of universal application, unchanging and everlasting." C.S.Lewis in his book The Abolition of Man made a collection of teachings from various ages and cultures to show how universal it is.

So don't think that the moral truths of the Bible are for Christians only. They are for everyone.

And realize that because Natural Law is the law of creation, it is entirely reasonable. That is why you can argue for it with people who do not believe in Christ. And that is why you can confirm the truth of the moral teaching of the Bible by social science. The fundamental moral laws of the universe are, in simple, terms the maker's instructions. So, for example, we know that heterosexual, monogamous, lifelong marriage is the best for children, for adults and for society both by the teaching of Jesus and the Bible and by social science, which confirms it. So we know that the law is good. How do we know? By God's word - the Bible - by special revelation, but also by general revelation and what is called Natural Law. Let's move on. "We know ... "


Secondly, THAT THE LAW IS GOOD

It is good, verse 9 ...

not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels.

Similarly Jesus said (Mark 2.17):

"It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

However, we all are sinners and lawbreakers. 1 John 3.4 says:

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.

Therefore we all need the law. And we need the law in three ways.

First, we need the law to preserve human society. You read about that in Romans chapter 13. In the words of Martin Luther King, "the law cannot change the human heart but it can restrain the heartless."

Secondly, the law shows up human sinfulness and so leads men and women, when their spiritual eyes are opened, to Jesus Christ, the only saviour from sin.

Paul says in Gal 3:24:

the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.

And, thirdly, the law guides us as believers how to live and behave. Paul says in Romans 8 that, yes, "through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set [us] free from the law of sin and death;" and God through Christ "condemned sin in sinful man." But (verse 4) it was ...

... in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit..

You and I are now to live out the law. This is where some Christians go wrong. They think they can ignore the law. But "No!" Of course, we must do what the Bible calls "good works" and what the law requires. The Bible is clear. And Christians down the ages have been clear.

Here is Martin Luther: "Good works do not make a good man, but a good man does good works."

Here is John Calvin: "the law is the best instrument both to teach us the Lord's will and to exhort us to do it."

And here is John Wesley: "I cannot spare the law one moment, no more than I can spare Christ ... Indeed, each is continually sending me to the other, the law to Christ and Christ to the law."

Every Christian, therefore, must pray, along with the Psalmist (Ps 119.18):

Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.

So, "we know that the law is good [to preserve society; to bring us to Christ; and to guide us as we seek to live for him];" but it is good ...


Thirdly, IF ONE USES IT PROPERLY

Clearly these false teachers in 1 Timothy 1 were not using it properly. Verse 4 tells us that they were devoting "themselves to myths and endless genealogies." They were probably taking the early chapters of the Bible and making all sorts of theories about the text that were not warranted. So, first, a right use of the law requires that you interpret the Bible as a whole. You then see the Old Testament in the light of the New Testament. God had different stages of working out his plan of salvation. And some of his laws and commands were clearly for those different stages only. In the Old Testament you have much that is temporary because much has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. So you have temporary laws in the Old Testament, for example, about the priesthood and sacrifices. But now Christ our great High Priest has himself fulfilled all sacrifices on the Cross of Calvary. Then there are laws about the national life of Israel. But now God's purposes are fulfilled in the international and supra-national life of the Christian church. Article VII (of the Thirty-nine [of the Church of England) sums it up like this:

"Although the Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral."

Secondly, a right use of the law requires that you preach the law. If the law is not preached, how can the fact that Christ saves you from God's wrath and judgment make sense? But you can't stop there. Of course, not. You must then preach Christ as the saviour from sin and from the penalty of the law through the Cross of Calvary where Christ died in our place bearing the punishment we deserve. You can't preach the gospel without preaching the law. And you must not preach the law without preaching the gospel. The law, as Paul implies in verse 11, "conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God."

Then, thirdly, a right use of the law for the Christian is to realize that as Romans 13.10 says: "love is the fulfilment of the law."

So let me conclude by reminding you of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus taught this parable in Luke 10 to "an expert in the law" to explain the law of love - the law of loving God and loving your neighbour. He made it clear that you need both the cold, black and white rules - here the rule that you must help anyone in need, even if you cannot stand them - for the Samaritans and Jews couldn't stand each other. But you also need the warm virtues of, and a character marked by, sympathy, self-sacrifice and generosity. All that is involved in the law of love.

Do you live up to that law and do you have those virtues? All of us fail some of the time. So we all need to pray with the Tax Collector (Luke 18.13): "God, have mercy on me, a sinner" but assured of forgiveness because of Calvary. And then in the power of the Holy Spirit we must seek to grow in love and so truly fulfil the law.

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