Friday, August 13, 2010

Proclaiming the Grace of the Gospel

Be honest: How many of you, when you hear the words, law and Bible, think of Charlton Heston as Moses holding two very large stone tablets?  Of course, the tablets need to have very nicely rounded edges at the top, and be straight across the bottom, as do almost all depictions of the Ten Commandments.  If you don’t believe me, just search Google Images for representations of the Ten Commandments.

Charlton Heston Ten Commandments Confusing the intent of biblical law has been a perennial problem.  Perhaps among the greatest temptations in handling the Scriptures is to paint biblical law as something other than what it is, and its intended effect, especially when it comes to that which is known as Mosaic Law found in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible were one five-part book, sometimes referred to as the Book of the Law).  There are multiple ways to misuse biblical law, and I don’t intend to exhaust all of them here.  I’ll only mention two.

The first is to say that following the various laws of the Bible is necessary for salvation.  However, the biblical gospel makes clear that, left to ourselves, we are completely incapable of fulfilling the law, and thus could never be saved if that were the requirement.  Another temptation is to go to the other end of the spectrum and claim that, since following the law doesn’t provide salvation, the law must be bad.  To the contrary, the Scriptures clearly speak to the goodness of the law, and its intended effect.  Note what Paul says about the intent and purpose of the law:

So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith (Galatians 3.24, ESV).

So the gospel enters to point us to faith in Christ, not law.  To miss this point is to miss the gospel—which is all about grace.  This idea is all throughout the Bible, and we see it again here in 1 Timothy with regard to our responsibility as believers: we are to proclaim the gospel as grace.  Here is what we have seen thus far:

1. We are to protect the integrity of the gospel of Christ.
    (1 Timothy 1.3-4).

2. We are to promote the goal of the gospel of Christ.
    (1 Timothy 1.5-7)

3. We are to proclaim the grace of the gospel of Christ.
     (1 Timothy 1.8-11)

In these next verses we see that if we miss the grace of the gospel, there is no gospel at all.  It may be tempting to try to apply laws to earn favor with God, but that was not God’s design.  The law is good because it points us to our need of One who can actually fulfill the law.  That is Paul’s point in this next section:

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 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, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted (1 Timothy 1.8-11, ESV).

To say, as Paul does above, that the law was not laid down or given for the just, is to say that those who assume they are righteous through following the law will never actually be righteous through the law.  They are self-righteous, in their own minds.  Actually, the law is in place for sinners (all of us apart from Christ) to see that we are sinners and need a Savior in accordance, as he says above, “with the glorious gospel.”

Notice what Paul is specifically doing in his sin examples: he is purposely drawing a parallel to the Ten Commandments, to show that not even trying to follow the Ten Commandments can remove one’s need for the gospel of Jesus.  Note the general correlation of the verses above to the Ten Commandments, listed in Exodus.  Here’s the latter portion:

Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor
(Exodus 20.12-17, NASB).

Obeying laws can never remove sin.  That truth is all over the Bible.  So part of our job as believers is to proclaim the gospel for what it is: that Jesus saves us by grace through faith in Him, in His accomplished work on our behalf.

But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy… (Titus 3.4-5, NASB).

[This is part 4 of 5 in a miniseries titled, A Loving Command.  The larger series on 1 Timothy is called The Community of Truth.]