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The Law Defines Those Who Break It

1 Timothy 1:8-11
We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practising homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers – and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me. (NIVUK)

Law, of whatever kind, marks out the boundaries.  Step over the line and the law is broken, leading to punishment.  Keep within the line of the law and there is security and freedom from the fear of punishment.  So Paul explained that God’s law in the Old Testament is still good, because it defines the people whose attitudes and actions are against God’s law.  But law can never make people good.  All it does is to let people see that they are sinners.  Indeed, everybody is a sinner (Romans 3:23). Recognising our sinfulness is the start point for connecting with the Gospel.

Paul wanted the church to be open to the worst of sinners.  The list is extensive describing people whose lifestyle was ‘off the scale’ of wickedness and social shame.  He later admitted that he was also like that before he met Jesus (1 Timothy 1:16).  If Jesus could save him, then anybody could be saved.  So, people who were obviously sinful should not be shunned by the church; they are the sick people Jesus came to save (Matthew 9:12-13).  Likewise, apparently good people should examine their own attitudes and see if they have slipped into accepting as right, what Jesus calls wrong.

Timothy would have to confront the false teachers and immoral people (1 Timothy 1:3-4), and also challenge the heart-attitudes of believers whose sins were not so obvious (1 Timothy 5:24).  The Gospel, and not the community or its social-imaginary (the currently trending ideologies which permeate society), must always set the agenda of Christ’s church.  Only the Gospel provides the alternative narrow way which leads to life, and away from the broad road leading to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14).          

It is the same today.  Self-righteousness is a trap for people who try to live a moral life; it allows the pretence that we are not sinners because we do not commit socially offensive sins.  That is wrong.  The truth is that we are all sinners.  The Gospel is as necessary for those who fall into the sin of self-righteousness as for those who are murderers or perverts.  We all need to respond to the Gospel in repentance and faith, because only the grace of Christ can bring us forgiveness and a new start in the power of the Holy Spirit and bring us into the glory of God.

Gracious and Holy God. Thank You for the Gospel which describes how law-breakers like me can be reconciled to You. I am sorry when I have thought that ‘good people’ do not need Your grace or that ‘bad people’ cannot receive it. Please help me to see my own sin without despair and the sin of others without condemnation as I come to understand the Gospel better and share it with others. May I never consider that anybody is so bad a sinner that Your grace cannot reach and heal them. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams