“But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully.” (1 Tim.1:8)
The law is good—holy, as a matter of fact. Paul says so in Romans 7:12. But in his first letter to the young preacher, Timothy, he places a qualifier on this premise, the ever limiting “if.” This is a sobering thought. By adding it, he is saying, if the law is used lawfully, it’s good; if not, it’s not. Whether we choose to limit this verse to the Law, as given to Moses, or the entire canon of Scripture, as given to us by God through the “holy men of old,” the principle remains the same. Men and women are capable of doing bad things with good implements. It is possible to handle the Word of God “deceitfully” (2 Cor. 4:2) and “wrest” (twist) the Scriptures to the “destruction” of ourselves or others (2 Pet. 3:16).
For instance, when adherence to the Mosaic Law or the Word of God in general is offered as a means of justification before God, the Scriptures have been twisted in the most perverse way and will lead to eternal destruction. Paul’s dogmatic statement that “by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified”(Rom. 3:20) and his entire letter to the Galatian church make this plain. And though it may not lead to eternal destruction, nothing can be more crippling to a joyful, victorious Christian life than the deceitful addition of man-made laws and prohibitions to God’s Holy laws.
For a concise overview of the “lawful” use God’s Word, a good place to look is Psalm nineteen where David talks about the Law and some of its many uses. For instance, it is capable of making the most ill-informed wise unto salvation (v. 7); it can give us joyful hearts and spiritually enlightened eyes (v. 8); it’s altogether true and therefore an infallible final authority for all matters of life and death (v. 9); in short, it provides warning when needed, with promised reward, if heeded (v. 11). We may safely say that using the Bible to these ends is to use it lawfully. And as a matter of fact, one of the best ways to know if we’re using it lawfully is whether we’re using it more on ourselves more than others.
The law of the Lord is perfect, says Psalm19: 7; but we’re not. The more we try to make it “relevant” (one of my least favorite words), the more we’re in danger of using it unlawfully. It is up the Spirit of God to personalize it. Only the inattentive, unaware, or unenlightened fail to grasp its significance. We need to use it, and use it lawfully, mostly one ourselves. It’s living, breathing organism meant to change us, not our circumstances. And it will.
Take the Word of God as it is, and it will meet you where you are.