Sunday, November 11, 2012

Mercy (1 Timothy 1:8-17)

In clarifying false teaching, Paul addresses something he constantly has to combat: legalism. In doing so, he makes a wonderful contrast between legalism and mercy.

The Law was given for sinners. And in this case, Paul is highlighting the punitive function of the Law. It was not intended to save or change anyone. Its function is to highlight our shortcomings; to prescribe the punishment for sin. To take a person who has been saved by God’s grace—a new creature in Christ—and guide them back into the life under the condemning law is wrong. (Paul says over and over again that the love of God is what guides the saved in matters of behavior.)

Instead, Paul helps us to see what Christ’s attitude towards sinners is. He starts His relationship with us in mercy. He takes the sinner, condemned by their own sin as highlighted by the Law, and changes our character. He makes our lives into an example of His love and His power over sin.

True teaching will not gloss over sin, or the need to change. However, to try to argue that legalism has a better attitude than the Bible or Paul is to not understand legalism. The legalist does belittle sin and the sin nature. They argue that sin is something that can be overcome with human efforts. Simply follow a pattern, discipline yourself with a list of rules and you can be the person God wants you to be in your own strength. Jesus may have paid the down payment, but now it is up to you to effect the change the rest of your life.

The mercy of the Gospel is that Jesus does not set us up to fail. He does not recruit sinners to a life of trying our best. When we come to Him, He begins a change and He brings it to completion.

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