Understanding Ethics and Morality in the New Covenant

1 Timothy 1:1-11
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, 2 To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. 3 As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, 4 nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. 5 The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, 7 desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. 8 Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 9 understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.


Ferguson - ethics and moralityA. Understanding biblical law & God’s ethical standard or rule for believers.
B. The aspect of the law of God which is universally binding (absolute or unchanging).
C. That aspect of the law of God not universally binding (i.E. As covenant law taught in the ot & nt).
D. How does God’s law individually and personally bind all mankind?

“There is perhaps no part of divinity attended with so much intricacy, and wherein orthodox divines do so much differ as stating the precise agreement and difference between the two dispensations of Moses and Christ.” − Jonathan Edwards 

Part of the problem is that we have not well understood TWO governing thoughts.

a. For the Believer, there is a shift from PRECEPT to PRINCIPLE

For this study – we are only going to look at how you and I still have the whole of the OT PRECEPTS in our Bibles, and how we are to relate to THAT aspect of the Law.

We’ll come back and deal with the LAW AS PRINCIPLE in our next time together.

b. For the Believer, We must understand what it means to use the Law “lawfully” 1 Tim. 1:8

To begin – A reminder of the structure of Paul’s letter to the Galatians is useful here.

This subject had to be addressed over and over to the NC Believers.

a. Ch. 1-3: Summed in Gal. 2:15-16 / The Law cannot JUSTIFY

b. Ch. 4-6: Summed in Gal. 5:1 & 16 / The Law cannot SANCTIFY

SO – if The Law was never meant to, neither has it any power to: Justify / “by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified”

AND IF The was never meant to, neither has it any power to: Sanctify / Heb. 8:7  For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second. 8  For finding fault with them, He says,  / Gal. 3:21

Yet a very great question remains then – how DO Believers look at the precepts of the Law?

If we can’t use it to JUSTIFY OR SANCTIFY ourselves – how in the world CAN we use it “lawfully”?

I want you to remind at this point – we are only speaking of the Law in terms of PRECEPT still – NOT PRINCIPLE.

We are talking about the “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not” commands.

What is to be the Christians’ understanding of the Law and its demands upon his or her life?

What is the nature of the Believer’s RELATIONSHIP to the Law of God?

1 Tim 1:8-10 – Three Observations

1. The Law must be used LAWFULLY

It must be used for what it was intended.

2. [The] law is not made for a righteous person

The primary use of the Law is NOT for the man who has been made righteous with the righteousness of Christ

BUT: [It IS made] for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching,

3. The Believer is NOT “lawless”

Since the Law is NOT made for the righteousness man but for the lawless  man – The Believer is NOT lawless, even though he is not “under” the Law.

Titus 2:14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

1 Peter 4:3 For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.

Rom. 6:14  For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

The restoration of God’s OWN holiness to the HEART of the Believer – as it is re-inscribed there by the Holy Spirit in regeneration and energized by the indwelling presence of the Spirit is now the PRINCIPLE under which the Believer lives.

He is not constrained by externals as much as he is now motivated by new internals – He has a new inclination.

He is to use Paul’s words in 2 Cor. 5:14 – Constrained by love

1 John 5:1 “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. 2  By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments.”

The man who has been born again, loves the righteous and holy God he once rebelled against and ran from. He now sees God’s righteousness as lovely, not distasteful. He love righteousness BECAUSE he loves the righteous God who loved him.

This we will attempt to unpack more fully in our following sessions.

But this still doesn’t fully answer our question – Sure, I may now LOVE righteousness, but what exactly is my relationship to God’s Law?

And that IS the key word, RELATIONSHIP

The point is, that being born again and justified by His grace and indwelt by His Spirit – we now stand in a totally different relationship to the Law than we once did.

The Law didn’t change – WE DID!

The issue is one of a change of relationship.


THE SHIFT / Gal. 4:1-5 / 

Illustration: Trespassing vs. Being a co-owner (or joint-heir) If I become an heir, what did not belong to me now does – what attempting access to would once bring the charge of trespass, is now turned on its head. My relationship to it changed. I now have an entrance to the throne room of God which was once not mine to enter.

Illustration: NYS Driving age. Once I turned 16, the law that said I could not drive at 15, became the law that said I COULD drive. The law didn’t change, I did.

The Law is good IF it is used “lawfully”.

Classically – 3-Fold Purpose of the Law (Louis Berkhof) —

a. CIVIL: “The law serves the purpose of restraining sin and promoting righteousness. Considered from this point of view, the law presupposes sin and is necessary on account of sin. It serves the purpose of God’s common grace in the world at large.”

b. PEDAGOGICAL:In this capacity the law serves the purpose of bringing man under conviction of sin, and of making him conscious of his inability to meet the demands of the law. In that way the law becomes his tutor to lead him unto Christ, and thus becomes subservient to God’s gracious purpose of redemption.”

c. DIDACTIC (or Normative):The law is a rule of life for believers, reminding them of their duties and leading them in the way of life and salvation.” (Lutheran controversy)

Actually, while this is generally accepted, and nice and neat – it is nowhere near how the Bible speaks.

The 7-Fold Purpose of the Law

The Bible itself gives us 7 reasons for the Law.

a. EXPOSES SIN / Rom. 3:20b: “since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”

Rom. 5:20: “Now the law came in to increase the trespass”

Rom. 7:7 “Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”’”

PURELY DIAGNOSTIC – Like an X-Ray machine. It can show you the broken bone, but has no power to MEND the broken bone.

b. INSTRUCTS / Ex. 24:12 “The LORD said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and wait there, that I may give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.”

To know what God thinks about things – what He likes & dislikes, proscribes and warns against.

I’ll unpack this in a message of its own – looking at the 10 Words as ten revelations of our God Himself.

c. HUMBLES / Lev. 16:31 “It is to be a Sabbath of solemn rest for you, that you may humble your souls; it is a permanent statute.” (NAS95)

It reminds us that we are under His authority – not autocrats.

d. DECLARATIVE / Deut. 4:6-8 Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?

e. IDENTIFICATION / Same as Above    It shows we’re God’s people. We listen to Him, cherish His words, and live by His precepts.

f. PROPHETIC / Col. 2:16-17 “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.”

g. PROTECTIVE / Gal. 3:19 “Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary.”

Mainly protective against two things: The Wrath of God / Natural Consequences of our sins

Also – Ga 3:24  So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.

MUCH MORE  Suggestion: Due to our change in relationship to the Law, the Law may be used “lawfully” (in respect to him or herself) by the Believer in the following three ways.

I want to suggest to you that due to our change in relationship to the Law, the Law may be used “lawfully” (in respect to him or herself) by the Believer in the following three ways.

The Law as PRECEPT – serves as a reminder of:

1. The Canceled Debt /  Col. 2:8-14

Col. 2 – Due to the fact that the decrees against us have been removed out of the way (i.e. Nailed to His cross) THEREFORE we are no longer to be judged concerning Sabbath days etc. – BECAUSE – they were shadows of that which was to come (i.e. Christ) and now that the substance is here – we no longer occupy ourselves with the shadows.

When the Believer is confronted with the Law of God, his first response ought to be to look at it as “having received double” – for his sins against God.  An infinite debt  PAID IN FULL!

2. Christ’s Imputed Righteousness / Rom. 3:21-26

Not only has my infinite debt been canceled – this is what has been deposited into my account!

I am righteous with the righteousness of Christ Himself!

2 Cor. 5:21  He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Rom. 5:19  For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. What Christ has done which is imputed to me.

He deals with me as though Christ’s own righteousness were mine!

What an unspeakable comfort!

3. The Glorious Promise / 1 John 3:1-3

We will wake in His likeness

Those words: Thou shalt & Thou shalt not are promises!

This is my promise, when I am done with you dear child you will

love me with all your heart mind soul and strength and never have some other god before me.

I will preserve you from falling prey to any idols

You will not bear my name vainly – it will not be an empty thing to

say you are God’s

You will rest in the perfect rest of Christ’s completed work for ever

You will honor your mother and father

You will not murder any more

You’ll never commit adultery again

You will never steal

You will never bear false witness against your brother or covert your neighbor’s wife or anything else he has


Unbeliever, the Law represents the opposite of these three things to you.

For you, the Law shows you exactly how much obedience you owe God.

It reveals to you that you have failed in every one of the things He demands

And it guarantees that you will spend eternity suffering the torments of God’s just wrath.

But if you turn to Him today and confess your sin and cry out for mercy –

That very same Law can become for you what it is for every one who is putting their trust in the substitutionary death of Christ at Calvary –

The record of The Canceled Debt

The testimony of Christ’s Righteousness Imputed to you

and The Glorious Promise  of what He will work in you – Christ’s own image.

~ Reid

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Reid Ferguson
Reid serves as the pastor for preaching and vision at Evangelical Church of Fairport in Fairport New York. A native of Rochester, N.Y., he has served in various ministry areas during his life, including: a founding member of the former Mark IV Quartet, Youth Pastor at ECF, former board member of the Fellowship of Independent Reformed Evangelicals (F.I.R.E.), and author of The Little Book of Things You Should Know About Ministry (Christian Focus Publications, 2002). Pastor Reid blogs regularly at Responsive Reiding.