If You Want to Love, You Must Die to the Law

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Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Ever since we arrived at Romans 7:4, I have stressed that the Old Testament Law is not the first and decisive means of bearing the fruit of love. Now I want to show you this from 1 Timothy 1.

Romans 7:4 says, "You also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God." In other words, if you want to be a loving person, the way to pursue it is to die to the Law and to pursue a vital, all-satisfying union with "Christ." Embrace Jesus Christ by faith as the Savior and Treasure of your life.

But this does not mean that the Law aimed at something other than love. Romans 13:10 says, "Love is the fulfillment of the law." So it seems that death to the Law means something like: stop using the Law unlawfully. That is the way Paul talks in 1 Timothy 1. There are folks who want to be "teachers of the Law" but "they do not understand . . . what they are saying" (v. 7). What are they doing wrong?

Paul explains. In 1 Timothy 1:5 he says that "the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." So Paul's gospel ministry aims at the fruit of love. People who love from "sincere faith" are in sync with the gospel.

Where does this love come from? He says it comes "from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." In other words, the way to pursue love is by focusing on the transformation of the heart and the conscience and the awakening and strengthening of faith. Love is not pursued first or decisively by focusing on a list of behavioral commandments and striving to conform to them. That is what we must die to.

Then in 1 Timothy1:6-7, Paul describes some men who don't understand this and yet are trying to use the Law for moral transformation. They are making a mess of it. He says, "Some men, straying from these things [that is, from heart, conscience, and faith], have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand . . . what they are saying." So their error is misuse of the Law. They are trying to teach the Law, but they are turning aside from matters of the heart and conscience and faith. And so they are not arriving at love.

Is then the Law at fault? No. Paul absolves the Law, by saying in 1 Timothy 1:8, "But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully." The "lawful" use of the Law is to use it as a pointer to the gospel of the risen Christ, which awakens love. Paul confirms this in verse 9 by saying, "Law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless, rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners. . . ." What does he mean? He means that the Law does not need to do its job for those who are united to Christ by faith and are growing in righteousness. It needs to do its job by confronting sinners with the fact that their lives are contrary to the gospel and that they must pursue "the gospel of the glory of the blessed God."

Paul says with a sweeping statement in verses 10-11. The Law is for pointing out and convicting people of "whatever is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God." This is very significant. Notice the connection between the Law and the gospel here. Who is the Law for? It is for "the lawless, rebellious, the ungodly and sinners," that is, for those whose lives are not "according to the glorious gospel." That is, for those who do not love. For love is the aim of Paul's gospel (v. 5). The Law does not produce lives that accord with the gospel. The gospel produces lives that accord with the gospel. That is the point of Romans 7:4 – you must die to the Law and be united to Christ by faith "so that you might bear the fruit [of love] for God."

In other words, according to 1 Timothy 1:5-11, the Law is meant to accuse and convict people of breaking the gospel! "The law is for . . . whatever is contrary to . . . the glorious gospel" (vv. 10-11). The law of commandments is not the first and decisive means of fruit-bearing for the Christian. Rather the Law brings us to Christ so that, as Romans 7:4 says, "you might be joined to . . . Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit [of love] for God." O let us embrace the risen Christ!

Pastor John