The Law Defines Those Who Break It
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 is good, because it defined 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, 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; and apparently good people should examine their own attitudes. Timothy would have to confront the false teachers and immoral people, and also challenge the heart-attitudes of believers whose sins were not so obvious.
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, because only the grace of Christ can bring us forgiveness and a new start in the power of the Holy Spirit.
© Dr Paul Adams