Using the Law Lawfully

Intro:  What is a speed trap?  Have you ever been caught in one?  I read this week that Sarasota, just north of here, is the most notorious city in the nation for a speed trap.  I remember as a child that my dad would mark them on his map, so my mom could warn him ahead of time (Livingston, Ky?). Wikipedia says A speed trap exists wherever traffic enforcement is focused on extracting revenue from drivers instead of improving safety, made possible by speed limits posted below the prevailing flow of traffic.

My dad did not like speed traps. You might not either. His problem with them was not that they enforced the law on speed limits. But that they were enforcing the law for the wrong reason. They were more concerned with making money than making the roads safe.  In my dad’s assessment they were using the law unlawfully.

  • 1 Timothy 1:6-11-Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, 7 desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.8 Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 9 understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. (ESV)

I. The Law is Good…(v. 8) As we noticed last week, Paul told Timothy that the purpose of God’s commandment was to produce love that flowed from a pure heart, a good conscience and a genuine faith in God. But there were some teachers at Ephesus who had swerved (miss the mark, stray from the truth).They spent their time teaching useless things (idle talk) and speaking confidently about things they knew nothing about.What were they ignorant of that they spoke so confidently about?

A. v. 7desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm. Paul is most likely referencing the Jewish teachers who prided themselves in their literal ancestry from Abraham, and their keeping of the law of Moses. They were insisting that the Gentiles keep the law of Moses in order to be saved. Paul opposed this teaching at every turn.

• Gal 2:16a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. … 21if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.”

The law of Moses was never intended to justify sinners. The animal sacrifices it demanded could not take away sin.  Heb 10:1-4 – For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. 4  –For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.  

1. There was a bit of irony in Paul’s words. These teachers claimed to be experts on the law (esp. the law of Moses) but did not understand the place of the law itself as a shadow of what was to come.

2. If no one can be justified by law-keeping, should we abandon the teaching of law? Is the good news of the gospel contrary to the law of God? The apostle’s consistent answer to that question is NO!

• Rom 7:7What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law.

• Rom 7:12Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.

• Rom 7:22For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man.

• Gal 3:21Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not!

B. And Paul says it again here in 1 Timothy 1 –8 But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfullyThese teachers of the law were not using the law lawfully. –[play on words (nomos (nom-os) – law; nomimos (nom-im’-oce) – legitimately] using the law legitimately

1. Just like the policeman at the speed trap, the problem is not with the law or the importance of keeping it, but with the use of the law. They emphasized compliance to law for the wrong reasons.

a. As Paul points out elsewhere, familiarity with the law produced arrogance and hypocrisy, which betrayed the very purpose of the law itself. Rom. 2:19-23– and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law. 21 You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? 22 You who say, “Do not commit adultery,” do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law?

2. We must be careful here. R.L. Whiteside comments are compelling. “Is there not danger that we fall into a similar state of mind? We have the Bible, abhor creeds, glory in the name we wear, and feel able to teach the whole world. Are we not inclined to be proud and arrogant? Should we not rather feel humble and ashamed that we have not made better use of what we have?”

II. The law is not made for a righteous person (v. 9) For the second time in two verses Paul uses the term eido (I-do’) which means to know.  He is reminding Timothy that this is something we already know.  What does Timothy already know? He knows the law is good, and he also knows the law is not made for a righteous person.What does Paul mean? What is he telling us about God’s law?

A. There are some who contend that Paul is renouncing the place of law altogether in the life of the Christian. Believing that the sinner is redeemed by the imputed righteousness of Jesus’ life, and holding that once a sinner becomes a Christian, he cannot sin so as to be eternally lost, it is easy for them to conclude that law itself has no place in the life of the Christian.  But Paul himself said he was under law toward Christ (1 Cor. 9:21), and the Christian is condemned by law if he chooses to disobey it.  John called on Christians to keep the commandments of God – 1 John 5:3–  For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. 2 John 6 – This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it. Consider also that the law of God was given to Adam and Eve when they were both righteous persons, and they were responsible to obey it. Paul is not teaching that the Christian is not under the jurisdiction of God’s law.

B. The Greek word for “made” in. v. 9 literally means laid out, or laid down (ESV translates it as “the law is not laid down for the just…”)It is used two other places where it is translated as appointed or intended. Thus the law was not appointed for the righteous person, but for the lawless.  How is this true?

• Illustration: I made a call at second base on an unusual play where the runner advanced past 2nd base and then retreated back toward first. He as called out on the force. The coach disagreed. He brought the rulebook out on the field. He wanted me to show him the rule. He thought the book was going to help him. It did not do what he thought it would do. When I read the rule to him it did exactly what it was appointed to do – it condemned him and expressed the judgment and penalty against him.  The rulebook was not made for the one who did not break the rule.. It was made to identify the rule breakers.

1. The law itself is appointed to condemn sin, not justify the sinner. Theoretically one could remain righteous by perfect law keeping, but once he sins, the law is powerless to make him righteous again. Paul points this out concerning the law of Moses frequently in the NT. Rom 3:19-20Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. 20 Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

a. Notice the end of this verse… “by law is the knowledge of sin”. The other inherent reason that the law is not appointed for the righteous person is that the law’s purpose is to make known sin. Using the law lawfully, is not to teach that one is justified by law keeping, but that one is condemned by lawbreaking. The law doesn’t help us, it just leaves us helpless. It doesn’t justify us; it just leaves us guilty before God.

b. One function of law is to stop every mouth. The law takes away the ability of any person to justify himself and say, “I’m not really a bad person”. I can be right with God on my own.”The whole world stands guilty before God. 1 John 3:4sin is a transgression of the law.

c. Romans 7:7What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. Paul says that the law makes sin known to the sinner. Later in that chapter he states that “sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. (v. 11), concluding later in v. 13… “sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful.

d. Paul told the Christians at Galatia – Gal. 3:19-22What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator. 20 Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one. 21 Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. 22 But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. The law was added because of transgressions… to make known what was sinful and thus confine all under sin (we are all sinners who cannot redeem ourselves).  Paul teaches in Galatians 3 that the law of Moses was designed to be a tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (3:24)  The law forces us to put our trust (faith) in another.

III.  But for the lawless and disobedient…  Paul often utilizes a “not this… but this” reasoning to make his point. He emphasizes positive truth through the use of a strong negative.  The law is not for a righteous person but is for a lawless and disobedient person.  This is common in scripture.

A. Jesus said “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” (Matt 9:12) This does not mean that a healthy person does not need a doctor on occasion to maintain his health, but that the primary work of a doctor is to heal the sick. So, it is with the law. What Paul is telling Timothy is that law’s primary purpose is revealing the knowledge of sin and restraining the wicked.

1.  If this is the purpose of God’s law, do we need to teach it to the world around us? It law an important or necessary ingredient to the gospel of Christ?

B. What follows in 1 Timothy 1 is a list of those for whom the law was primarily appointed. 1 Tim 1:9-11 – the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.

It may be significant that Paul’s list parallels the Ten Commandments in both substance and order. The three doublets of v. 9 point to one’s relationship to God and his holiness found in the first 3 commandments of the decalogue.  The following  individual descriptions point to the 4th – 10th commandments which regulate ones responsibility to his fellow man.  Paul’s subtle referencing of the 10 commandments was not to suggest that the Ephesian Christians were under the jurisdiction of the law of Moses.  But rather to expose the unlawful use of the law of Moses by the false teachers at Ephesus.  They were debating and theorizing about the law, when they should have been exposing and reproving sin through the law of God.

C. What about us? When you read this list of law-breakers, do you suppose we need to use the law lawfully today?  Paul connected his list of lawbreakers to the gospel of his day and ours in v. 10-11and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God.  The law of God exposes every sin and every sinner.  (I thought seriously about this point when I heard and saw the work of modern-day lawmakers in NY this past week.  The depraved and evil hearts of men make a law in order to facilitate the murder of innocent children and then celebrate their law.  What does God’s law say about this?  It condemns the sin and the sinner)


  • To use the law lawfully means to do what Jesus did- to speak clearly about sin and the plight of the sinner.
  • To not rationalize, minimize or categorize what God’s law says about our own sin.
  • To use the law lawfully means to teach that It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Heb 10:31 and that it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, Heb 9:27. It is to voice the words of Paul in Acts 17:30-31  30 “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 “because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained.
  • To use the law lawfully is to point the sinner, no matter how accommodated he has become in his own society and generation, to the only hope he has – to the mercy of the cross of Jesus. When a sinner understands the horrific consequences of breaking God’s law, he will flee to the Savior to escape the wrath to come. We must preach that there is wrath to come.
  • In the first gospel sermon Peter delivered the good news by first pointing his candidates to their sin. Acts 2:22-2322 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know—23 “Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; Acts 2:36-3836 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” 37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” 38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Scroll to Top