Using the Law for God's Glory

by Spiros Zodhiates

"But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully."

When Paul contrasted himself with the false teachers in Ephesus, he simultaneously arrived at a core disjuncture between Christians and unbelievers. While self-determined counterfeits from the first century up to modern times do not understand (noéo\ [3539], to know intellectually) the doctrines they promote, every true believer ministers from a basis of spiritual understanding. In the Greek this verse begins with the conjunction , which could be translated "but on the other hand," thus signaling a comparison with those described in the previous verse.

Speaking of Timothy and the entire body of Christ, plus himself, Paul said with all certainty, "We know" (odamen, first person pl. of edo\ [1492], to perceive spiritually). When a person believes in Christ's atoning sacrifice, he is then endued with the ability to intuitively comprehend what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is evil. While the believer may have questions regarding spiritual matters, the reality of God's presence and power are clearly evident to him. Paul's declaration here in verse 8 resembles a similar assertion made by John in his first epistle: "You have an anointing from the holy One, and you know [edo\] all things" (1 John 2:20; a.t.).

What was it that Paul and Timothy perceived through the Holy Spirit? That the Law (nmos) of God was good (kalos [2570], morally excellent) if used properly. Writing to believers in Rome, Paul noted that the Law "killed" (apokteino [615], to slay; Rom. 7:11) him because it revealed his overwhelmingly sinful nature. The Mosaic Law has no power to justify a person but can only condemn his malevolent behavior. In a sense, the Law is simply a picture of the Father's perfection-when man evaluates himself with it, he is able to see his failure in measuring up to God's righteousness (cf. John 16:8-11).

The apostle was very precise in the adjectives he chose to describe the Mosaic Law (cf. Rom. 7:12). While this rigid code is morally good (kals), it is not benevolent (agaths [18], also translated "good") toward those who compare their lives with it. Its benefit toward men and women is that it reveals their sin.

When Paul asserted that the Law was good (kals), he also included a vital stipulation: it was only good "if" (en) it was employed rightly (nommo\s, properly). The conjunction en is actually a composite of two other conjunctions, ei, (meaning "if") and n (whatsoever). While ei  implies a certain amount of doubt as to the probability of an action occurring, n is what I call the "whatsoever' of God." In other words, men may use or misuse the Law-but once they employ it properly the Father will definitely make the Law good for those who submit to His will for its appropriate application.

Those who make use of the Law must do so in a manner that is consistent with the Law's original purpose-to effect repentance in sinful men and women (Gal. 3:24). However, some have misused the Law, treating it as a standard by which they pride themselves on their religious conduct. However, using the Law in this manner only results in tragic calamity, which is vividly illustrated by the attitude of the religious leaders of Jesus' day.

The first-century Pharisees and Sadducees believed themselves to be the guardians of God's Law, congratulating themselves for carrying out its most minute details (Matt. 23:23; Luke 11:42). These men used the Law as a source of pride, but they ought to have employed it as a grid through which they saw their own destitute condition. When Jesus challenged the religious leaders' hypocrisy, however, they rebelled against His teaching, not knowing that the goodness (chre\sts [5543]) of God was capable of bringing them to repentance (Rom. 2:4).

On the other hand, the testimony of a modern-day criminal and his encounter with the Law of God demonstrates the antithesis of the Pharisees' self-righteousness. At age nineteen, Al Johnson robbed a Kansas bank, along with two other men. After his cohorts were killed in a car accident the police closed the bank robbery case and Johnson assumed that he would go unpunished for the crime he committed.

Johnson married a Christian young lady soon after the incident and he pretended to be a believer for many years. One day he received a gospel tract in the mail which God used to bring him to repentance. After receiving Christ, his life dramatically changed: he stopped deceiving his family and eventually confessed to robbing the bank so many years before. His confession attracted the attention of newscasters and journalists who made the story a national headline. As testimony to his transformed life, Johnson repaid his share of the money even though it was not required under a Kansas statute of limitations.1 The Law brought Al Johnson to true repentance before God.


1. Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations, Paul Lee Tan, 1979, Assurance Publishers.

2011 Disciple 155x50 2011 AMG 155x50
Disciple Banner Ad