Spiritual Instruction: Defining the “Lawful Use of the Law” in 1 Timothy 1:8-11

Galatians 6:1Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault [trespass/offence/sin], ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.”

James 5:19-20 “Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; 20 Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.”

1 Timothy 1:8-11 “But we know that the law [is] good, if a man use it lawfully; 9 Knowing this, that THE LAW IS not made for a righteous man, but FOR the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, 10 For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be ANY other THING that is CONTRARY TO SOUND DOCTRINE; 11 According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.”

2 Timothy 4:1-5I charge [thee] therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; 2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure SOUND DOCTRINE; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; 4 And they shall turn away [their] ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. 5 But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.”


How are we to apply Scriptural passages related to those described as wicked or ungodly? As Christians, should our immediate reaction be to never identify as such? Should our immediate reaction be to always identify as such? Or should we let the immediate, grammatical, and greater biblical context dictate our understanding?

Not every passage about the wicked should be internalized by the Christian. There are parts of the Bible where, when speaking against certain types of evil, the passage really does not apply to true, born again, believers. Take for example:

1 John 2:18-19 “Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would [no doubt] have continued with us: but [they went out], that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us…”

It should be clear that the “[they went out], that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us,” language has unique application to apostates. And yet, far too often, many see passages about the ungodly and presume that such have nothing to do with them. They see language like “…the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners…,” and reason (within themselves or with others) “that passage has nothing to do with me, I’ve been made perfectly righteous and holy in Christ; therefore, I’m not one of those who are lawless, disobedient, or ungodly!”

They see in such wording only those who are either false professors or who do not claim to profess Christ at all. As a result, they will use such language to argue that the extant/spiritual law has nothing to do with true Christians, but only with those who are outside of Christ, being apart from Him, and any righteousness of His that would be imputed them. The problem with this reasoning, however, is that it evidences a very poor understanding of (a) the believer’s daily experimental reality; (b) who and what we are by nature (after the flesh, as opposed to after Christ, or after the Spirit); and/or (c) a very poor understanding of the right Christian use, and the all-around usefulness, of the extant/spiritual law of God.


1 Timothy 1:8 declares “But we know that the law [is] good, if a man use it lawfully.” Before tackling the question of what is the lawful use, let’s first consider what the unlawful use of the law would be.

To use the law unlawfully would be to use it as a means of initiating one’s salvation, maintaining one’s salvation, and/or somehow trying to improve upon one’s salvation (as if the finished propitiatory work of Christ, alone, was not enough to establish a perfect righteousness, and sanctification for His people).

Christ is the end of the law for righteousness for all of the believing ones. Therefore, anyone attempting to use the law to gain a right standing before God (a) in lieu of the work of Christ or (b) in addition to the work of Christ, is using the law unlawfully. Why? Because they are either openly, or tacitly, declaring that Christ’s own fulfilling of the law, and His own death in light of the demands of the law, is not enough to truly justify and sanctify His people. Such setting at naught the completed work of Christ, in favor of adding in (or substituting) one’s own law-keeping, would indeed be a grossly unlawful, and damnable, use of the law.

Now (since so many today wish to twist the argument and to obscure the matters at hand), let me make the following as abundantly clear as possible — A little leaven leavens the whole lump! God sees ‘Christ’s work plus ours‘ for salvation as filthy rags. One cannot add any aspect of their own law-work to the finished work of Christ, and expect it to be remotely acceptable before the Father, for salvation. Either Christ is 100% our righteousness before God, as to our eternal state and legal standing before Him, or we have no righteousness whatsoever, and are yet in our sin — subject to eternal damnation.  


Remember, the law is good and that which is good has a perfectly good use for us today, if one truly is born from above. If by the blood of the Lamb, we have already been made perfectly holy and just (righteous and sanctified) before God, then there is indeed a lawful use of the law — for us. Consider the following passages:

Romans 7:12-25Wherefore THE LAW [IS] holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and GOOD. 13 Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. 15 For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. 16 If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that [it is] good. 17 Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but [how] to perform that which is good I find not. 19 For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. 20 Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.

21 I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. 22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? 25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.”

Psalm 119:172-176 “My tongue shall speak of thy word: for all thy commandments [are] righteousness [Note: thus, the law (the collection of all of God’s extant commandments for His people) is as well]. 173 Let thine hand help me; for I have chosen thy precepts. 174 I have longed for thy salvation, O LORD; and thy law [is] my delight. 175 Let my soul live, and it shall praise thee; and let thy judgments help me. 176 I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments.

Proverbs 1:7-9 “The fear of the LORD [is] the beginning of knowledge: [but] fools despise wisdom and instruction. 8 My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother: 9 For they [shall be] an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck.”

Psalm 19:7-14The law of the LORD [is] perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD [is] sure, making wise the simple. 8 The statutes of the LORD [are] right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD [is] pure, enlightening the eyes. 9 The fear of the LORD [is] clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD [are] true [and] righteous altogether. 10 More to be desired [are they] than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. 11 Moreover by them is thy servant warned: [and] in keeping of them [there is] great reward. 12 Who can understand [his] errors? cleanse thou me from secret [faults]. 13 Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous [sins]; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression. 14 Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.

Again, the LORD IS OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS; the ‘lawful use of the law‘ does not involve using the law to “establish a righteousness of our own.” However, the ‘lawful use‘ most certainly pertains to, and encompasses, all aspects of our manifest sanctification, as affirmed by countless passages in Scripture. The ‘lawful use‘ is central to the development of our Christian character and conduct, as we strive to live it out in our daily walk and warfare.

Understand, I say all of this with the firm realisation that it is not the law ‘after the oldness of letter,’ but the spiritual law (as wielded by the Spirit of God, in light of the new man, even newness of spirit and life) that is in view. As proof-texts, consider the following:

2 Timothy 3:16-17All scripture [note: including that which pertains to the extant/spiritual law of God, is] given by inspiration of God [it is God-breathed], and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness [G1343/dikaiosynē/”integrity, virtue, purity of life, uprightness, correctness in thinking, feeling, and acting”]: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

Psalm 119:1-19 “ALEPH. Blessed [are] the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD. 2 Blessed [are] they that keep his testimonies, [and that] seek him with the whole heart. 3 They also do no iniquity: they walk in his ways. 4 Thou hast commanded [us] to keep thy precepts diligently. 5 O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes! 6 Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments. 7 I will praise thee with uprightness of heart, when I shall have learned thy righteous judgments. 8 I will keep thy statutes: O forsake me not utterly.

9 BETH. Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed [thereto] according to thy word [note: including that which pertains to the extant/spiritual law of God]. 10 With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. 11 Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee. 12 Blessed [art] thou, O LORD: teach me thy statutes. 13 With my lips have I declared all the judgments of thy mouth. 14 I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as [much as] in all riches. 15 I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways. 16 I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word.

17 GIMEL. Deal bountifully with thy servant, [that] I may live, and keep thy word. 18 Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law. 19 I [am] a stranger in the earth: hide not thy commandments from me.

Colossians 3:16-17 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly [note: including that which pertains to the extant/spiritual law of God], in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another, in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. 17 And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, [do] all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.

1 Thessalonians 4:1-2 “Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort [you] by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, [so] ye would abound more and more. 2 For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus.”

Psalm 19:7-11 wherein we again read “The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple” and “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed [thereto] according to thy word. 10 With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. 11 Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee. 12 Blessed [art] thou, O LORD: teach me thy statutes.


In light of the above, would any dispute that 1 Timothy 1:8-10 can be rightly summed-up as:

‘the law [is] good, if a man use it lawfully; 9 Knowing that the law is not made for [an experimentally-perfect] righteous man, but for anyone and anything that is CONTRARY TO SOUND DOCTRINE…’

Ask yourselves… as Christians, do we not have sin? That is, isn’t sin ever present with us? Are we not evil after the flesh, seeing that “the good that I would, I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do“? Indeed, if I do that which I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me, but it is still of me, it is still I, given that I am in this body of death. Therefore, I must confess (and all Christians must confess) that we do indeed sin, that we do indeed do evil, and that we do indeed walk contrary to sound doctrine far more often than we ought (especially in light of our Gospel profession).

Clearly then, the law of God still has something to say to us… not in judgment, curse, or condemnation, but unto instruction and exhortation concerning an upright, but albeit imperfect, walk.


Some may deny the right and lawful use of the (extant/spiritual) law by pointing to the book of Galatians, and passages like:

Galatians 2:16, 20-21 “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. … 20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. 21 I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness [come] by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.

Galatians 3:10-12 “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed [is] every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. 11 But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, [it is] evident: for, The just shall live by faith. 12 And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.”

However, such passages do not apply here. For one thing, the Christian is not under the law of ordinances in particular, or the Mosaic law in general. Nothing in this article pertains to either aspect seeing that they have been utterly put away (nailed to the cross of Christ). We must determine which law was primarily in view in Galatians, before using this book as a refutation (the linked article should help with the Galatians / law of ordinance aspect).

Moreover, even as it pertains to the moral law, the Christian is not under it, is not subject to it (as one judged and condemned by it), and thus is not under the curse of it. So again (finding the need to repeat myself on these matters, given the false arguments so often brought forth), no part of this article has any interest in, or connection to, seeking justification before God via any aspect of the law, let alone (eternal) life through it. 

Instead, in promoting the extant/spiritual law of God, we are indeed speaking “...the things which become sound doctrine: 2 That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. 3 The aged women likewise, that [they be] in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; 4 That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 [To be] discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. 6 Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded. 7 In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine [shewing] uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, 8 Sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you” [Titus 2:1-8]. In seeking to be obedient to such, there is simply no attempt to be, or interest in being, made perfect by the flesh. Woe to those who cannot rightly distinguish between such things.

VI. CONCLUSION If any still doubt this, if any still doubt that the right use of the spiritual law is to instruct/exhort/admonish/provoke God’s people unto manifest uprightness in character and conduct (in light of our Gospel profession), then I do not know what to say — other than, ponder 1 Timothy 1:8-10 again, and everything else that has been shared above. Prayerfully strive to break free from false tradition, and false religion, and hear (with ears to hear — Lord willing) the message afresh. The anomian/antinomian spirit is a powerful one and does not readily relinquish those caught up in it. However, it is my unwavering belief that (a) the truth will make God’s people free and (b) the Bible simply could not be clearer than it already is on the subject, especially seeing that, by the Spirit of God, 

Proverbs 6:23 “…The commandment [is] a lamp; and the law [is] light; and reproofs of instruction [are] the way of LIFE” [experimentally speaking, for all of the people of God].

Proverbs 13:14The law of the wise [is] a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death.”

John 6:63It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, [they] are spirit, and [they] are life.

Consider, did not the Psalmist affirm this when he sang “My soul cleaveth unto the dust: QUICKEN Thou me [i.e., revive within me that felt sense of spiritual life and vitality] according to thy word. 26 I have declared my ways, and thou heardest me: teach me thy statutes. 27 Make me to understand the way of thy precepts: so shall I talk of thy wondrous works” [Psalm 119:25-27].

May the Psalmist’s words be our words.

To God be the glory,


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