The Good News of the Law: A Meditation on 1 Timothy 1:8–11

carolyn-v-bb8WmgqWfeg-unsplashNow 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 gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.
— 1 Timothy 1:8–11 —

In a world where the laws continue to be questioned and rewritten, one thing remains: We are a people inextricably committed to rules, laws, and legislation.

There are rule books for leadership, rulebooks for diets, rulebooks for childrearing, and rulebooks for just about anything else you might want to tackle. The trouble is that the “21 Irrefutable Laws of Leader” and the 600+ laws of the Pentateuch aim at different things. The former address the physical man and his ability to learn, grow, and improve as a (fallen) leader. The latter, God’s law, addresses the moral man and his inability to be holy and righteous before God.

This difference is too often missed. And it is often missed by Bible-believing, gospel-believing preachers. Those who “ought to know better” are the ones who preach a message of “ruled living” for 45 minutes (or less) and then tack on a gospel invitation at the end. This confuses the whole matter, even as it explains why the church is so devoid of gospel power.

Conversely, there are other “gospel-centered” preachers so committed to grace (as pardon) that they miss the place of the law in the life of Christian. Such antinomianism (lawlessness) does not rightly understand grace nor express the fruit of the gospel. Rather, it presents a half-truth (God justifies the ungodly) as the whole truth, without understanding how the law and gospel relate.

In the fulness of truth, the gospel is not opposed to the law. The good news of Christ is rooted in the way Christ fulfilled the law on our behalf, died under the law, and now writes the law on our hearts. Thus, if we are going to understanding the gospel, we must see how it relates to the law. And that’s what I want to consider here. Continue reading

Ten Things About Deuteronomy 4:1–14

10 thingsIn preparation for Sunday’s sermon on worship, here are ten observations from Deuteronomy 4:1–14.

1. Deuteronomy 4 is the last chapter of Deuteronomy’s covenantal introduction.

In Deuteronomy Moses follows (and reformulates) a covenant structure identifiable by anyone living in the ancient Near East. Just as covenants made between kings and their servants (i.e., Suzerains and their vassals) followed a standardized pattern, so does the book of Moses.

Ancient Near Eastern Suzerainty Treaty[1] Deuteronomy as a Covenant Document
Preamble (“These are the words . . .”) Preamble (1:1–5): “These are the words of Moses addressed to all Israel . . .”
Historical Prologue: a survey of the relational history between covenant partners Historical Prologue (1:6–4:49)
General Stipulations General Stipulations (ch. 5–11): general commands to love, serve, fear Yahweh
Specific Stipulations Specific Stipulations (ch. 12–26): an exposition of the Ten Words
Divine Witnesses: various deities called to witness the treaty Blessings and Curses (ch. 27–28)
Blessings and Curses: relating respectively to the maintenance of breach of the covenant Divine Witnesses (see 30:19; 31:19; 32:1–43)

From this outline, we see where Deuteronomy 4 is situated. It is the final word of the covenantal introduction (i.e., the historical prologue). Moreover, in a way that deviates from the classical ANE treaty formula, it adds covenantal instructions that anticipate the next sections—namely, the general and special stipulations given in chapters 5–26. Continue reading

The Good News of the Law (1 Timothy 1:8–11)

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Reading the Law Lawfully (1 Timothy 1:8–11)
(Sermon Audio)

This Sunday we considered 1 Timothy 1:8–11 and the good news of God’s law. If there is anything in church history that has puzzled and divided Christians it is the relationship between the law and the gospel. Yet, in this passage we are given a clear understanding of how Paul read the Law of Moses.

With application for today, Sunday’s sermon sought to show how Paul read the Law lawfully and how we should do the same. You can listen to the sermon here. Additional resources can be found below.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Pastor David Continue reading

Reading the Law Lawfully: A Primer on the Three Uses of the Law

law.jpegNow we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully
— 1 Timothy 1:8 —

In his classic Systematic Theology, Louis Berkhof outlines three uses of the law,[1]

[The Civil Use of the Law]
The law serves the purpose of restraining sin and promoting righteousness. Considered from this point of view, the law presupposes sin and is necessary on account of sin. It serves the purpose of God’s common grace in the world at large. This means that from this point of view it cannot be regarded a means of grace in the technical sense of the word.

[The Pedagogical Use of the Law]
In this capacity the law serves the purpose of bringing man under conviction of sin, and of making him conscious of his inability to meet the demands of the law. In that way the law becomes his tutor to lead him unto Christ, and thus becomes subservient to God’s gracious purpose of redemption.

[The Normative or Christian Use of the Law]
This is the so-called . . . the third use of the law. The law is a rule of life for believers, reminding them of their duties and leading them in the way of life and salvation. This third use of the law is denied by the Antinomians. (Berkhof, Systematic Theology614–615)

Not to be confused with the tripartite division of the Law (i.e., the Moral, Civil, Ceremonial), the three uses of the law are a traditional way Reformed (and other) theologians have explained law and its various uses in God’s plan of salvation.

Observing the way the New Testament, but especially Paul, spoke of the Law positively (Rom. 7:12; 1 Tim. 1:8) and negatively (Rom. 7:5–6; 8:2), this threefold approach shows how God’s law preserved the world from sin (first use), revealed sin and prepared Israel for the gospel (second use), and now continues to purify the Christian by means of Spirit-powered obedience to God’s law (third use). To better understand each aspect of the law, let’s consider each in turn. Continue reading

How Does Jesus Fulfill the Law? Christ, His Teaching, and the New Covenant

jon-tyson-195064-unsplashIn Matthew 5:17 Jesus says that he has not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them. And as D. A. Carson has observed about these verses, “The theological and canonical ramifications of one’s exegetical conclusions . . . are so numerous that discussion becomes freighted with the intricacies of biblical theology” (“Matthew,” 141).

In other words, it is really easy to import one’s biblical framework into Jesus’s words. For how one understands the law and its use in the New Testament and how the New Testament relates to the Old Testament, will in large measure impact the way one understands Jesus’s words, which in turn reinforces, or reforms, our biblical-theological framework.

Therefore, the question before is, “How do we stay on the line of Scripture when we interpret Matthew 5:17”? By comparison with Matthew 10:34 (“I have not come to bring peace, but a sword”) and Matthew 5:9 (“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God”), we learn that Jesus “non-abolishment clause” in Matthew 5:17 may not be absolute. Sharing the same structure as Matthew 5:17, Matthew 10:34 does not mean Jesus has forsaken his peace-making ways. Rather, his peace-making will include the restructuring (and severing) of family relations in order to make a new family of  peace.

From this analogy, we learn there are some things in the Law that have come to an end—e.g., Hebrews indicates that Christ’s sacrifice ends the old covenant system of animal sacrifice. Therefore, we should go back to Jesus’s words to learn how to apply the Law. And thankfully, because of Matthew’s repeated and technical usage of the word “fulfill”/”fulfillment” (pleroō), we can get a good idea of how to understand the relationship of the Law to Christ and from Christ to us.  Continue reading

A Filter, A Lens, and A Prism: Three Ways Christ Applies the Law of Moses to New Covenant Disciples

law

One of the most challenging aspects of reading the Bible is applying the old covenant law to the new covenant follower of Christ. As the book Five Views on Law and Gospel illustrates, there are multiple ways in which Christians have sought to apply the Old Testament and its legal demands to the church today. And one of the most familiar ways is to differentiate three parts of the law.

Typically divided as moral, civil, and ceremonial, the tripartite approach to the Old Testament argues that some laws are eternal and unchanging (the moral); others are related to the theocracy given to  Israel (the civil); still others are related to the system of priests, sacrifices, and the temple (the ceremonial). In Christ, the civil and ceremonial came to their completion, while the moral law continues unabated.

The trouble with this approach is that the Old Testament never specifies the tripartite division and in many places the moral, civil, and ceremonial overlap. Still, we must make some sense of the way parts of the law continue and others do not. And historically, the tripartite division has a long tradition of helping Christians think carefully about the Bible, the Law, and the Gospel. Still, it is not the only way and there may be better approaches.
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Addressing this subject, I have found help in the way Jonathan Lunde uses three images to describe the way in which Christ fulfills the law. In his book Following Jesus, the Servant Kinghe spends three chapters outlining the way Christ fulfills the law of Moses. Focusing much of his attention on the Sermon on the Mount, he specifies the way Christ functions as filter, lens, and prism. In some ways, Christ brings the laws of Moses to an end (filter); in others, he clarifies what the law already meant (lens); and still in other ways, he heightens the demands of the law (prism).

While these three approaches (filter, lens, prism) are extra-textual and only illustrative, I find them more helpful in getting at what the text says. They make us consider what Jesus does and does not say about the law. And instead of foisting an extra-textual grid on the Bible, like the tripartite division of the law, they make us listen closely to the text itself to see how Jesus mediates between old and new covenants.

Because this approach is explicitly Christ-centered, in a way that the tripartite division of the law is not, I find it to be a surer guide. Likewise, because it does not create a whole system of categorization (which the Bible does not have), it lets the text of Scripture speak. It also permits more freedom to disagree about certain points—as I do below in two ways—and helps us go back to the feet of Jesus to learn how he approaches the old and new covenants. Continue reading

Seven Evidences the Sermon on the Mount is an Exposition of the New Covenant

joel-filipe-241154-unsplashWhat is the Sermon on the Mount about? And more basically, what is the Sermon on the Mount? Is it a newer, more stringent law for Christ’s disciples? Is it an ideal which drives disciples to seek mercy? How should we understand it?

Many answers have been given, but I believe the best understanding of Jesus’s Sermon in Matthew 5–7 is that it is an exposition of the new covenant. Rather than a new law that exceeds that of the old covenant, I would propose that it is the eschatological word of Christ which fulfills the Law and the Prophets. And in what follows I want to outline seven reasons for that view.

Seven Evidences the Sermon on the Mount is an Exposition of the New Covenant

For sake of space, I am not going to expound every point with exhaustive detail. Rather, I will trust that the points are somewhat familiar and that stringing them together has the cumulative effect of proving the Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount is an exposition of the way Jesus expects his kingdom disciples to walk according to the new covenant he is bringing. Continue reading

From Cain to Covenantal Continuity: Three Quotes on Matthew 5:21–26

kiwihug-284614-unsplash.jpgWhen reading Matthew 5:21–26, the first of six illustrations from Jesus on how to read and apply the Law of Moses, there are a number of interpretive factors to consider. In fact, we need to consider the meaning of the “anger,” the relationship of the Law-covenant to the Jesus’s fulfillment, and the way Jesus employs imagery from the first recorded murder.

In these three quotations from Charles Quarles, Jonathan Pennington, and Dale Allison we get a grasp on how the lexical, epochal, and canonical contexts should contribute to our understanding Jesus’s teaching. Continue reading

The Good News of the Law: “Getting” the Law, So That the Law Gets Into You (Matthew 5:17–20)

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The Good News of the Law: “Getting” the Law, So That the Law Gets Into You

What is the purpose of the Law? How are we supposed to apply Moses’ commands to our lives? How does Jesus read the Old Testament? Is there any good news for Christians in Law of Moses?

These questions and more have been raised by Christians for centuries. And one of the most challenging passages on the relationship of the Old Testament to the New is Matthew 5:17–20. This Sunday we considered these words of Jesus and how he helps us to read the Bible and apply the Law to our lives.

You can find the sermon audio online. Discussion questions and additional resources are also available below. Continue reading

The Significance of the Sermon on the Mount: 10 Reflections from Herman Ridderbos

sermon05What is the Sermon on the Mount about?

That question has puzzled pastors, theologians, and Bible scholars for centuries. While large volumes have been written on the subject, sometimes a slimmer response is helpful. On that note, one finds great help from the late Dutch New Testament scholar Herman Ridderbos.

Writing a chapter on the Sermon on the Mount (“The Significance of the Sermon on the Mount,” in When the Time Had Fully Come: Studies in New Testament Theology26–43), Ridderbos explains the eschatological nature of Christ’s kingdom and how the arrival of Christ’s kingdom as a fulfillment of the Law and Prophets helps us understand and apply Jesus’ famous words.  Continue reading