“But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person…” (1 Timothy 1:8-9).
There are rules that govern the conduct of each participant in an athletic competition. When those rules are broken, there are penalties that must be enforced. For instance, a basketball player is assessed a foul. A hockey player is dismissed to the penalty box. A football (or soccer) player receives a red or yellow card. In these instances, the rules of the game are not there for those who don’t break them- the rules are there for those who do.
This leads us to a discussion of the “lawful use” of Biblical Law as referenced in the passage quoted above. In this context, “the law” is associated with the first five books of the Old Testament Scriptures and the Ten Commandments in particular.
The New Testament book of Romans offers some insight into the appropriate use of the Law when it tells us, “For the more we know of God’s laws, the clearer it becomes that we aren’t obeying them; his laws serve only to make us see that we are sinners” (Romans 3:20 TLB). Another version of that passage says, “…No man can justify himself before God by a perfect performance of the Law’s demands—indeed it is the straight-edge of the Law that shows us how crooked we are” (Phillips).
Much like the rules of an athletic competition, these Biblical laws are not there for a righteous person who does not break them; they are there for those who do. With this in mind, we can say that the lawful use of the Law involves showing us how we have fallen from God’s standards. The following verses of 1 Timothy chapter one will go on to illustrate this idea with several graphic examples.
When imperfect human beings are faced with the responsibility of living up to the standards of a God who is unmatched in His perfection, we can then appreciate our need for a Savior. This is where Jesus comes in, for as we’re told in Galatians 3:24 “…the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”
Thus, “…the law is good if someone uses it legitimately” (NET). Much like a signpost that points us in the right direction, the legitimate use of the Law points us to our need for a Savior who can deliver us from our failure to fulfill God’s Law.