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2. How to Apply the Mosaic Law (1 Timothy 1:8-11)

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But we know that the law is good if someone uses it legitimately, realizing that law is not intended for a righteous person, but for lawless and rebellious people, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, sexually immoral people, practicing homosexuals, kidnappers, liars, perjurers—in fact, for any who live contrary to sound teaching. This accords with the glorious gospel of the blessed God that was entrusted to me.

1 Timothy 1:8-11 (NET)

Application Question: What are some of the various views among evangelicals on the Mosaic law’s application for believers?

Why do we need the law? What is its purpose?

Some Christians believe that we are still under the law including its moral and ceremonial aspects. We see this often with Seventh Day Adventist and Messianic congregations that practice festivals, customs, food restrictions, and Sabbath days. Some believe that we are no longer under the curse of the law but under its blessings, as seen in the prosperity gospel camps. They take the blessings in the law of health and wealth and declare these are the rights of believers. Some believe we are only under the moral law—referring primarily to the Ten Commandments. Christ fulfilled the ceremonial and civil aspects of the law, but we are still under the moral aspects. This is common in reformed congregations. However, others believe we are not under the Mosaic law at all, as seen in those from a dispensational background. They believe that we are no longer under the Old Testament dispensation, but under the New Testament dispensation and there is a lack of continuity between the two. The Mosaic law is one of the most controversial subjects in Christian doctrine.

The Mosaic law was also a major controversy in the early church. Soon after the founding of the church of Antioch, where Paul and Barnabas ministered, Judaizers came into the congregation teaching the need for Gentiles to practice the Mosaic law in order to be saved. However, the apostles and elders from the church of Jerusalem gave a ruling denying the need for Gentiles to practice the law (Acts 15).

The false teachers in the church of Ephesus were also abusing the law. Because of this, Paul had already removed two leaders in the church, Hymenaeus and Alexander, (1:20) and was calling Timothy to complete the work of silencing these false teachers (1:3).

As Paul finishes his exhortation to Timothy and the church of Ephesus about silencing these false teachers, he digresses to talk about the true purpose of the law. He says, “But we know that the law is good if someone uses it legitimately (v. 8). The NIV translates this, “if one uses it properly.” In this lesson, we will consider proper and improper uses of the law. This is important because the law has been a hotbed for controversy and false teaching from the early church till today. By understanding the proper use of the law, it will not only allow us to use it properly but help keep us from being led astray or leading others astray through the improper use of it.

Big Question: What are the proper and improper uses of the law according to 1 Timothy 1:8-11?

The Mosaic Law Is Not Primarily for Believers

realizing that law is not intended for a righteous person

1 Timothy 1:9a

Interpretation Question: What does Paul mean when he says, “the law is made not for the righteous”?

When Paul says, the “law is not intended for a righteous person,” he seems to be referring to believers. Second Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God.” At the cross, there was a great exchange: Christ took our sins and gave us his righteousness. Therefore, we are no longer under the condemnation of the law (Rom 8:1-2, 2 Cor 3:7-8), because God sees us as righteous. Romans 6:14 says, “For sin will have no mastery over you, because you are not under law but under grace.”

Believers are no longer under the Mosaic code. Paul also makes this argument in Romans 7:1-4, as he compares our relationship to the law as a marriage. He said,

Or do you not know, brothers and sisters (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law is lord over a person as long as he lives? For a married woman is bound by law to her husband as long as he lives, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of the marriage. So then, if she is joined to another man while her husband is alive, she will be called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she is joined to another man, she is not an adulteress. So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you could be joined to another, to the one who was raised from the dead, to bear fruit to God.

Because we died with Christ on the cross and rose with him, we are now dead to our relationship with the law. Now, we belong to Christ.

Interpretation Question: Does this mean Christians are not under any law (antinomianism) and therefore free to sin?

No, not at all. Scripture says we are now under Christ’s law and the law of the Spirit. Consider the following verses:

To those free from the law I became like one free from the law (though I am not free from God’s law but under the law of Christ) to gain those free from the law.

1 Corinthians 9:21

For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.

Romans 8:2

Instead of being under the Mosaic law, we are under the law of Christ in the New Covenant. The Holy Spirit has given us Christ’s teachings in the New Testament and written them on our hearts (Ez 36:26-27). It is this law that we are to obey.

With that said, much of the Mosaic law is repeated in the New Testament. Out of the Ten Commandments each is repeated in the NT except the Sabbath law: Do not lie, do not steal, do not commit adultery, etc. A good illustration of this is the similarities between the laws of most nations. As an American citizen living in Korea, if I break a law, I will be tried under Korean law—not American law. When I’m in Korea, I am under the jurisdiction of Korean law—though they are virtually the same. This is true for believers as well. In Christ, we are now under his law and that of the Holy Spirit.

This is what the false teachers at Ephesus failed to realize; therefore, they sought to bring New Testament believers under the Old Testament code. However, the law is not for the righteous—those declared righteous in Christ. With that said, we must ask the question, “Does the Mosaic law have any application for believers today? If it does, what is the application?”

Interpretation Question: What applications does the Mosaic law have for believers today?

1. The Mosaic law reveals God’s nature, as it is his self-revelation.

The Mosaic law teaches us much about God. It teaches us about his justice, as he required death for sin. It teaches us about his love, especially for the poor, the foreigner, widows, and orphans. Jews were called to allow the poor to freely glean from the edges of their fields (Lev 23:22), which essentially was a welfare system. The law also teaches us about God’s holiness. Leviticus 20:7-8 says, “‘You must sanctify yourselves and be holy, because I am the Lord your God. You must be sure to obey my statutes. I am the Lord who sanctifies you.” God gave Israel many laws including not practicing sexual immorality like the pagan nations, not offering their children to Molek, not tattooing their bodies, or cutting the sides of their heads. In considering this, one might ask, “Why all these laws?” God declared the reason was simply his holiness—he is different from everybody else—and therefore, the Jews, his priests, needed to be different. When we study the law, it teaches us about God’s nature: He is just, loving, and holy, among many other things. We study the law to understand God.

2. The Mosaic law reveals Christ.

Another thing the Mosaic law reveals is Christ. Much of the laws teachings are shadows and symbols of Christ. Consider what Paul said to the Colossians about various aspects of the law:

Therefore do not let anyone judge you with respect to food or drink, or in the matter of a feast, new moon, or Sabbath days—these are only the shadow of the things to come, but the reality is Christ!

Colossians 2:16-17

The food laws, the religious festivals, and the Sabbath days were all shadows fulfilled in Christ. As shadows, aspects of Christ could be discerned from them which helped prepare people for the coming messiah. The Sabbath represented how Christ would be our rest. The Day of Atonement demonstrated how a perfect lamb would be a substitute for the people. When John saw Christ, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). The atonement lamb never removed people’s sins, that is why every year it had to be offered again. But after Christ, there is no longer a need to practice the Day of Atonement. Christ completed it. He perfectly fulfilled it (Matt 5:17).

But not only did Christ fulfill the Mosaic law but also the prophecies and stories throughout the Old Testament. Christ said he was the manna that came down from heaven. In the same way, God sent Israel manna to eat, Christ said he was that manna (John 6:32-35). When the Israelites were dying from snake bites, and Moses called for them to look at a raised bronze snake and live, that was a picture of Christ on the cross and how those who believed in him would be saved (John 3:14). Christ is the last Adam (1 Cor 15:45). The first Adam willfully followed his wife into sin, but the last Adam died for his wife—the people of God—so that she might be saved. Christ fulfills not only the law, but the prophecies and the stories of the Old Testament. He is seen everywhere. In John 5:39, Jesus said, “You study the scriptures thoroughly because you think in them you possess eternal life, and it is these same scriptures that testify about me.”

The false prophets abused the law, the genealogies, and OT narratives because they pointed people away from Christ. They pointed people to “useless speculations” (1:4). However, Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament; it repeatedly foreshadows him.

3. The Mosaic law reveals continuing standards of righteousness for all generations.

As mentioned, much of the Mosaic law is repeated in the New Testament. This means they remain as standards of righteousness. Some laws were given specifically for Jewish people such as food, clothing, appearance regulations, and the Sabbath day. However, these do not continue. When studying the Mosaic law, it is good to ask what teachings are commanded in the New Testament and which are not.

4. The Mosaic law reveals wisdom principles.

Finally, though we are not under the law as a rule of life, it does reveal wisdom principles. For example, in 1 Corinthians 9:9-11, Paul uses a passage from Deuteronomy 25:4 about not muzzling an ox to teach about how pastors deserve pay. Consider what he says:

For it is written in the law of Moses, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” God is not concerned here about oxen, is he? Or is he not surely speaking for our benefit? It was written for us, because the one plowing and threshing ought to work in hope of enjoying the harvest. If we sowed spiritual blessings among you, is it too much to reap material things from you?

The OT law was written to an agricultural society, and therefore, many of the laws often seem hard to apply. However, Paul discerns a wisdom principle from the law in Deuteronomy. Israelites were called to allow their oxen to feed from the grain they treaded upon. In the same way, Paul says, pastors and missionaries should be paid for working at the church and preaching the gospel to others. This is a wisdom principle that should be applied to ministry, business, and government, among other things. Throughout the Mosaic law, there are many principles that can be applied to marriage, parenting, business, church, and even eating and drinking.

As we consider the law, we must remember it was not given to the righteous—meaning those who have been made righteous in Christ. Believers are no longer under the law but under grace. However, the law teaches God’s character, reveals Christ and wisdom principles for life.

Application Question: In understanding the law’s use for believers, how should it challenge us?

Certainly, it must challenge us to study Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy—the primary books that teach the law. These might be the most neglected books in the Bible. They are full of regulations for the tabernacle, the priests, the Levites, and the people of Israel. Often, people read them and feel lost or feel like it’s not applicable. However, the law is rich and relevant. In the context, the God of heaven breaks into a pagan world culture and says this is who I Am. This is how you will worship me. I am not like the pagan gods. It is his self-revelation, as it reveals the righteousness of God. It reveals Christ through shadows, and it gives us principles for life. One application is our need to dig deep into these books in order to better understand God, exalt Christ, and to be holy—different from the world.

Application Question: Many unhealthy teachings about the law are being taught in the church. Have you ever encountered these unhealthy views? How can we know which laws in the Old Testament continue today?

The Mosaic Law Is Primarily for Unbelievers

realizing that law is not intended for a righteous person, but for lawless and rebellious people, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, sexually immoral people, practicing homosexuals, kidnappers, liars, perjurers—in fact, for any who live contrary to sound teaching. This accords with the glorious gospel of the blessed God that was entrusted to me.

1 Timothy 1:9-11

Application Question: How are the Mosaic law and the gospel connected?

Next, Paul says that the law was made for the unrighteous—those caught in their sins and under God’s wrath. This is one of the problems with modern evangelism techniques. People are often told to focus on God’s love and to not say anything about hell or God’s judgment. However, the law was made for sinners. It is necessary and good for them. If people never feel the weight of their sin and their need for the Savior, they cannot be saved.

We get a good picture of this in the narrative of Christ and the rich man. The rich man approaches Christ to ask about eternal life. Christ does not lead him to the sinner’s prayer or even reveal to him that he was the Savior. He first gives him the law. Consider their interaction in Matthew 19:16-19:

Now someone came up to him and said, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to gain eternal life?” He said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” “Which ones?” he asked. Jesus replied, “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Why does Christ give him the law first? It is because this man needed to see his sin before he could recognize his need for the Savior. Law and gospel must always go together. If a person is not willing to turn from his sin (repent) and accept Christ, he cannot be saved. God’s law is like a mirror; it reveals a person’s unclean areas so he can seek cleaning. It is like a doctor; it reveals a person’s sickness so he can seek healing.

Interpretation Question: In what ways does Paul’s thirteen descriptors in 1 Timothy 9-11 reflect the Ten Commandments?

In verses 9-11, Paul describes the lost who need the law by giving thirteen descriptions. Each descriptor reflects the Ten Commandments, which everyone has broken. The first six are general—reflecting the first four commandments and our relationship to God. And the next seven are specific—reflecting the last six commandments and our relationship to others.1 He talks about dishonoring parents, murdering, adultery, stealing, lying and everything else that is contrary to God’s Word. This list condemns every person that has ever lived because we all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Rom 3:23).

Observation Question: What descriptions does Paul give and what do they mean?

The Teacher’s Outline and Study Bible’s comments on these descriptors are helpful:

  1. “The law is given to the lawless and disobedient (rebellious): all who fail to live as God wills and commands. If a person could fail just once (he cannot, but if he could), he would still need the law to let him know that he is short of the standard, has to pay the penalty, and must not violate the standard any more.
  2. The law is given to the ungodly and sinners: all who act contrary to God’s nature and come short of perfection.
  3. The law is given to the unholy and profane: all who refuse to set their lives apart to God and dedicate themselves to God; all who deny and question God and spiritual things, who exalt themselves and this world above God and the spiritual world.
  4. The law is given to “those who strike and beat and [even] murder fathers and strike and beat and [even] murder mothers” and for other murderers (Amplified New Testament).
  5. The law is given to whoremongers and to those who defile themselves with mankind, that is, all impure and immoral persons and all homosexuals.
  6. The law is given to menstealers or kidnappers.
  7. The law is given to liars and to those who commit perjury.
  8. The law is given to anything else that is contrary to the sound doctrine (teaching) of God’s Word.”2

As mentioned, these reflect the Ten Commandments. The summary of the Ten Commandments is to love God and love others (Rom 13:10). The lawless, unholy, and profane fail to love God. Murderers, liars, and the sexually immoral fail to love others. We all stand condemned by this law. It forces us to fall at the feet of God for mercy.

Interpretation Question: Why has God given his law to the unrighteous? What does it do?

1. The law convicts the unrighteous of sin.

Romans 3:20 says, “For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.” God gave the law to reveal how sinful we really are. It teaches us that we have not loved God with all our heart and mind. It also teaches us how we have failed to love others through our lying, cheating, coveting, and stealing. It convicts and condemns.

2. The law deters people from sin through the promise of judgment.

The law promises God’s judgment for those who break it. Those who curse their parents should be put to death (Lev 20:9). Those who commit sexual immorality should be killed (cf. Lev 20:10-21). And ultimately, Romans 6:23 says, “For the payoff of sin is death.” All sin ultimately separates us from God and requires death. The law not only convicts, it deters people from sin. It helps us understand that God is a righteous and just God who will not allow sin to go unpunished. God destroyed the earth by flood because of sin. He judged Israel in the wilderness for their drunkenness, sexual immorality, complaining, and general disobedience. The law promises God’s judgment to deter us from sin.

3. The law reveals one’s need for the gospel.

Galatians 3:24 says, “Thus the law had become our guardian until Christ, so that we could be declared righteous by faith.” The perfection that the law requires is impossible to keep, and therefore, the whole world is condemned by it. The ultimate purpose is that the world would look to Christ—the one who took the punishment for our sins so we could be saved.

Application Question: In knowing that the law is for the lost, how should this affect our evangelism?

Again, this is the problem with modern day evangelism techniques. Most are told to come to Christ for a better life or to give Jesus a try. However, the law is a necessary component of the gospel. In doing evangelism, we must share the righteous requirements of the law. The law says to not murder. Most would say they have not murdered, but Christ declared that if we have been angry with others, we committed murder in our hearts (Matt 5:21-22). The law says to not commit adultery, but Christ said that if we lusted after somebody that was not our spouse, we committed adultery in our hearts (Matt 5:27-28). The law ultimately speaks to our hearts calling us to love God with all our hearts, minds, and souls and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Because the law speaks to our hearts and not just our actions, it is impossible to perfectly keep.

Some might look at the law and declare they are not that bad. Maybe, they have broken only a few of God’s laws. However, the law is like a chain. If we break one link, we have broken the whole law. James 2:10-11 says,

For the one who obeys the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a violator of the law.

Since the whole law comes from God, to break any part of the law is to become a lawbreaker and to be found guilty of breaking the whole law. In our evangelism, we must not forget the law because it convicts and draws people to Christ. Law and gospel must come together. This is a flaw in much of our modern-day evangelism.

Like Christ speaking to the rich man, are you willing to share the law, so that others may know their need for the Savior?

Observation Question: How does Paul describe the gospel in verses 10b and 11?

Finally, Paul describes the gospel in verses 10b-11, which, no doubt, was meant to encourage Timothy and the Ephesians to faithfully protect it and share it. He said, “in fact, for any who live contrary to sound teaching. This accords with the glorious gospel of the blessed God that was entrusted to me” (1 Tim 1:10b-11).

How does he describe the gospel?

1. The gospel produces spiritual health.

When Paul says, “sound teaching” that conforms to the gospel, the word “sound” literally means “healthy.” The gospel is healthy for people. Before a person is born again, they are spiritually sick. In fact, it is worse than sickness; it is death. Ephesians 2:1 says we were dead in our transgressions and sins. However, when a person responds to the gospel, they experience a spiritual resurrection—new life.

Before they were like a dead man, when it came to God, the Bible, worship, and Christian fellowship; now, they respond to spiritual stimuli. They become alive, as God resurrects them from spiritual death to spiritual life (Ephesians 2:6). The gospel provides health for unbelievers, and it is healthy for believers to continually think and meditate on it, especially when the enemy condemns us for our sins.

We live in a world that is sick, which is why we must share the gospel with them—to help lead them to wholeness.

2. The gospel reveals the glory of the blessed God.

Paul says, “the glorious gospel of the blessed God.” The gospel reveals God’s glory. It teaches his righteousness, holiness, wrath, and love. It tells people that because of their sins they are under God’s judgment. God is too holy to have a relationship with sinful people, but because God loves them, he sent his only Son to die for their sins. This gospel reveals God’s glory. Therefore, as we share it, we exalt and glorify God.

3. The gospel is a gift we must protect and share with others.

Paul said that the gospel had been “entrusted” to him. The word “entrust” is used of a steward. Paul saw himself as a steward of the gospel (cf. 1 Cor 4:1-2) and so are we. As stewards, one day God will hold us accountable for our stewardship. Did we protect the gospel from being lost through neglect or contaminated by false teaching? Did we share the gospel with others?

We have all been given a stewardship of this glorious gospel. May we be faithful with it.

Application Question: Why is the law important to evangelism? Why is it often left out of modern day evangelism techniques? How is God challenging you to be more active in sharing your faith and using the law as part of it?

Conclusion

As in Ephesus and the early church, the Mosaic law is often abused today. It is abused as people use it improperly. Believers are commanded to practice festivals, Sabbaths, and food regulations. Sometimes, the law is used as a means of salvations. And sometimes, it is twisted to teach health and wealth.

How can we properly use the Mosaic law? What are its applications for today?

1. The Mosaic Law Is Not Primarily for Believers.

At salvation, we were translated from the dominion and condemnation of the law to the dominion of Christ and his grace. We are no longer under the law—neither its curses or its blessings. We are under the law of Christ and his Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 9:21, Rom 8:1-2). God works in us through his Spirit to will and do of his pleasure (cf. Phil 2:13). He leads us to fulfill Christ’s commands in the New Testament and to fulfill the love that the Mosaic law ultimately pointed us to (Rom 13:10).

2. The Mosaic Law Is Primarily for Unbelievers

The Mosaic law was given to convict and restrain sin and point people to the gospel. It condemns the whole world because we all fall short of God’s righteous demands (cf. Rom 3:23, 6:23). We have not loved God with our whole heart and neither have we loved our neighbor. Like Christ, we must present the law—the bad news—so we can present the gospel—the good news—to others (cf. Matt 19). This gospel makes people spiritually healthy, it reveals God’s glory, and it is a special deposit to be protected and faithfully shared with others.

Are you properly using the law?


1 Stott, J. R. W. (1996). Guard the truth: the message of 1 Timothy & Titus (pp. 48–49). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

2 Teacher’s Outline and Study Bible - Commentary - Teacher’s Outline and Study Bible – 1 Timothy: The Teacher’s Outline and Study Bible.

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