The Bible’s View
How Can Law Be ‘Handled Lawfully’?
LAW is always given for a purpose, and usually that purpose is to help and protect those under it. Lawmakers do not intend that men should abuse the legislation by breaking it, flouting it or teaching things about it that are untrue or misleading. These would be ways of handling the law lawlessly.
The apostle Paul wrote concerning certain men who claimed to be Christians and who thought that they were qualified to teach “law,” but who did not do so in “love out of a clean heart and out of a good conscience and out of faith without hypocrisy.” (1 Tim. 1:5-7) These tended to induce Christians to look to the Mosaic law for salvation. This certainly was a lawless handling of the Law. It did damage.
The apostle says that when the Law is ‘handled lawfully’ in its proper application it must be with the knowledge that “law is promulgated, not for a righteous man, but for persons lawless and unruly, ungodly and sinners, lacking loving-kindness, and profane, murderers . . . fornicators, . . . kidnappers, liars,” and so forth. (1 Tim. 1:8-10) If men had no tendencies to do these bad things, there would be no necessity of law telling them not to do them.
Has there ever been anyone who was righteous, so that he did not need such a law? Yes, Jesus Christ was righteous. Of him it is written that, from the beginning of his life on earth to the end, he was “loyal, guileless, undefiled, separated from the sinners.” (Heb. 7:26) He did not have to be restricted by such a law for, being righteous and harmless, there was no inclination in him to do anything wrong, even though he had free will and could have chosen to do wrong, as did Adam. In fact, Jesus never entertained for an instant even a thought of doing wrong. This is evident in his immediate, unhesitating responses to Satan’s efforts to get him to contemplate some form of disobedience, self-satisfaction or selfish display of power or position. (Matt. 4:1-11) Also, note Jesus’ instant hatred and rejection of Peter’s well-meaning statement: “Be kind to yourself, Lord; you will not have this [ordeal of suffering and death in Jerusalem] at all.” Turning his back, Jesus said to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, because you think, not God’s thoughts, but those of men.”—Matt. 16:21-23.
So Jesus did not have to hold himself back or impose restrictions on himself to avoid violating some law. It was natural, inherent in his makeup, for him to do what was right. He said about his Father, Jehovah God: “I always do the things pleasing to him.”—John 8:29.
Therefore, a righteous man is not hampered, trammeled or restricted by righteous law. He lives according to the law of love, the “law that belongs to freedom” and “the law of a free people.” There is no law of God against love, or the restricting of the full, free exercise of love. The apostle Paul speaks of the fruitage of the spirit, including love, and says: “Against such things there is no law.” (Jas. 1:25; 2:12; Gal. 5:22, 23) Jesus said to his followers: “This is my commandment, that you love one another just as I have loved you.”—John 15:12.
Today Christians are living under the laws of various governments, and they must and do obey these laws when they know that they are right and for the common good. The only exception is where a man-made law is contrary to God’s commands to his people and where the Christian conscience would be violated. (Compare Acts 4:19, 20; 5:29.) Such a law would violate the law of love that the Christian must observe in his relations with God and all men. But, even though Christians are under righteous governmental laws, these laws do not restrict or hinder them from doing good and expressing love for others.
The reason is that those who exercise faith in Christ’s sacrifice for humankind are “declared righteous.” In God’s eyes their sins are covered by Christ’s atonement sacrifice. The apostle describes their situation in this way:
“Therefore those in union with Christ Jesus have no condemnation. For the law of that spirit which gives life in union with Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For, there being an incapability on the part of the [Mosaic] Law, while it was weak through the flesh, God, by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us who walk, not in accord with the flesh, but in accord with the spirit.”—Rom. 8:1-4.
The law that God gave to Israel through Moses is, therefore, not for perfectly righteous men. By reason of the fact that no imperfect man could keep that law, it demonstrated that all men, in themselves or in their own merit, have nothing good—they are all sinners. (Compare Romans 7:18.) It showed that all men need help—the help that God provides through the atonement sacrifice of Jesus Christ. One’s acting according to this understanding of God’s law would be a lawful handling of that body of Law.
But to try to get people to conform to the Mosaic law and to use it as a standard and as a threat to Christians—this is wrong, for Christians are not under the Law, which was abolished by means of Christ’s sacrifice.
Of what use, then, is the Law? How is it ‘handled lawfully’? For one thing, a study of it helps because it “has a shadow of the good things to come.” (Heb. 10:1) Furthermore, by studying God’s laws and his dealings with Israel under the Law, we can get God’s viewpoint on matters—how he feels about certain things. We get guidelines. But we cannot, as Christians, go back to the Law except to apply its principles.
Moreover, Christians are not judges with authority to inflict corporal punishment on people for violating either the law of love or the Mosaic law. Christ is the Judge and the one who will carry out justice. But he is also merciful. So it is the duty of Christians to help an erring one, if possible. James says: “Know that he who turns a sinner back from the error of his way will save his [the sinner’s] soul from death and will cover a multitude of [the erring one’s] sins.”—Jas. 5:20.
If the erring one seriously violates the righteous principles of God and is persistent and unrepentant, the congregation expels him, not to do him personal harm, but because such action is necessary and commanded for the cleanness of the congregation before God and is in harmony with love for God’s name and for the congregation. (1 Cor. 5:5, 13) Thus, God, through Christ, is the One who punishes the sinner according to what is deserved.
Hence, law is ‘handled lawfully’ when its true purpose and function are understood, acknowledged and adhered to in the light of God’s purposes through Christ.