Counterfeit Christianity
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Counterfeit Christianity

1 Timothy 1:1–11  (ID: 1952)

If subsequent generations are to hold fast to the things of Christ, the people of God must be grounded in the truths of Scripture. Paul warned Timothy about false teachers arising from within the church, and Alistair Begg notes that counterfeit Christianity remains a matter of pressing urgency for the Church today. Christians must be instructed in sound doctrine in order live out our faith correctly and recognize errors in teaching.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in 1 Timothy, Volume 1

God’s Household of Faith 1 Timothy 1:1–4:16 Series ID: 15401

Sermon Transcript: Print

Can I invite you to take your Bible and to turn to 1 Timothy and to the opening verses of the first chapter? We’re beginning a series of studies in 1 Timothy because we, as an eldership, feel that it is appropriate and timely that we would address, with an ever-expanding number, the nature of the church. And so it is that between now and into February in the morning and between now and leading up to Christmas in the evening, we’re going to give ourselves to pay careful attention to what it is that the Bible has to say about the church.

And I’ve chosen to begin here in 1 Timothy, which, along with 2 Timothy and Titus, comprises what we refer to as the Pastoral Epistles. These are a trilogy of letters written by the apostle Paul to two pastors—Timothy, who receives two letters, and Titus, who gets one—urging both of them to fulfill their responsibilities as pastors and to do so with moral integrity and with a measure of biblical authority. Now, we have already studied Titus, and we noted when we did that Paul was concerned that Titus would stay in Crete and straighten out matters of unfinished business, particularly as it related to leadership within the church. Then, in studying 2 Timothy, we noted Paul’s great concern in light of his impending death to pass carefully into the hands of his young lieutenant, Timothy, the truths of the gospel and urging upon Timothy the responsibility to guard this “good deposit” which had been entrusted to him and to do so with the help of the Holy Spirit.[1]

Now, in writing 1 Timothy, Paul explains towards the end of chapter 3, in verse 14, that he is writing in this way so that, although he is hoping to come and see Timothy, if he happens to be delayed, he says, “I am writing … these instructions so that … you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is … the pillar and foundation of the truth.” His great concern, then, is for there be true belief and right behavior. And he makes short work of launching into what he regards as the most pressing issue of all—namely, the existence of these false teachers who have arisen within the fellowship. And so, this morning, we’re going to deal with these verses under the heading “Counterfeit Christianity.” And Paul is addressing the distinction which exists between these false professors and a true commitment to the gospel, which, of course, he is urging upon Timothy and, through Timothy, upon others.

Now, the age in which Timothy is living and ministering is a long way removed from our own, and yet it is not dissimilar, insofar as Timothy was operating at a time when men and women were prepared to grant plausibility to anything and at the same time to give certainty to nothing. And so it is that the apostle Paul is not bashful in confronting this problem. He wants Timothy to make sure that certain men resist the temptation to teach these false doctrines. And he addresses this in the opening chapter. He returns to it, actually, in chapter 6, beginning in verse 3: “If anyone teaches false doctrines and does[n’t] agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing.”[2] When Phillips paraphrases those words, he says, “If anyone tries to teach some doctrinal novelty which is not compatible with sound teaching (which we base on Christ’s … words and which leads to Christ-like living), then he is a conceited idiot!” It’s certainly not very politically correct, certainly not socially acceptable, and therefore, one must conclude that it was a matter of pressing urgency. And indeed, dear ones, it remains a matter of pressing urgency in the confusion of our times.

Novelties in Christian Teaching

Now, in verse 3, you will notice the geographical context—namely, the city of Ephesus, with which we’ve dealt in the past. And if you turn for a moment to Acts chapter 20, you will find, in the record of Luke, the scene when the apostle Paul, having spent significant months in Ephesus, takes his leave of the Ephesian elders. And he says to them in verse 25, “Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again.” That’s the context. If you are taking your leave of someone whom you will never greet again, whom you know you will never have the opportunity to say one more thing to, presumably you would think long and hard about what you’re going to say in that moment. And Paul must have done so. And so he says, “Therefore,” in light of this, “I declare to you today,” first of all, “that I am innocent of the blood of all men.” Reason: “For I have[n’t] hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.”

Now he says, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.” It must have caused him great pain, having planted the church, having labored long and hard to see it up and on its feet, to have to speak prophetically in this way and to say, “I will hardly be in the distance when there will be those who come amongst you, sheeplike in their gentle, external demeanor and yet wolves in their desire to ravish you.” And, sadly—verse 30—“even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for [the past thirty-six months] I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.”

Interesting verb, isn’t it? “I never stopped warning … you.” “Warning … you.” Isn’t that part of the responsibility of parenthood—to be constantly warning those who are under our care? Our children weary under our warnings: “Oh, you don’t have to tell me to be careful again.” “Yes, I do!” And we warn them about making sure they don’t involve themselves in wrong kinds of friendships. We warn them about all kinds of things because we love them, we care for them, and we desire the very best. And Paul, in his ministry of apostleship over this fledgling church, has done just that. And that is why he has been concerned to declare to them “the whole will of God.”

Now, in leading into this, will you just notice that the problem, then, or the threat which is before Timothy as he exercises pastoral ministry is first of all an internal threat. It would appear that Paul’s words had not been sufficiently heeded, and so there had been arising within the fellowship those who were doing just what Paul said would happen—namely, teaching all kinds of specious things with the express purpose of having their own little group.

So the threat was internal. The threat was also intellectual. These individuals were high-sounding in their speculative theories. They appealed to those who thought of themselves as the sort of theological intelligentsia—the ones who liked the special nuggets, the esoteric information, the little angle on the truth that nobody else necessarily fastened onto. And those whose minds were put together in that way were drawn to these characters, who began to draw around them folks who imbibed their speculative confusion. And it was confusion which marked the place—a confusion that was both moral, insofar as the people did not behave properly, and doctrinal, insofar as they did not believe properly. And it is imperative that men and women know how to believe so that they in turn may learn how to behave. With an insufficient grasp of the truth, they would be susceptible to error. And therefore, it is imperative, as Paul understands, that they would be grounded in the “sound doctrine” to which he refers there at the end of verse 10—so that they will in turn be able to identify and to reject the counterfeit claims of the conceited; so that they would be alert enough, aware enough, of the true article so as not to be taken in by someone who offers them a bag of three-dollar bills, as it were, theologically.

Now, children may be interested in that. You could find a little kid, and you could give them a million dollars in Monopoly money, and depending on how astute they were, they might think that they had just become phenomenally rich and proceeded to go off down the high street, awaiting their opportunity to buy everything they could get. But it would only be on account of their immaturity making it impossible for them to distinguish between that which was true currency and that which was counterfeit currency.

And what Paul is recognizing is this: that if a congregation, if a local church, is not instructed regularly, faithfully, in the truth, then they will be susceptible to people who come dressed up as sheep but with teeth like wolves, and they will be susceptible to individuals who will arise even from the very leadership of the church to draw away little groups after them and so ravish the church which Christ has bought with his own blood. Therefore, more than any other thing in all the church, it is imperative that those who name the name of Christ would be instructed in the truth of Scripture.

It is imperative that men and women know how to believe so that they in turn may learn how to behave.

That is why we do what we do at Parkside Church. I told you before, and I don’t say this with any sense of self-aggrandizement or self-focus, but that is why we go systematically and consecutively through books of the Bible. Oh, it’s not as dramatic or exciting as it might be if we were to take a topic a week: Diana last week, and Saddam Hussein next week, and the circus came to town the following week, and the flood here the next week. I could fill your minds with all kinds of fancies. And believe me, I have a lot of stories about dogs that got ran over on the railway, and I have so much humor in me, it’s almost unstoppable. And we could have the time of our lives Sunday by Sunday, and we would be the talk of Cleveland! People would say, “You should hear this and hear that and hear the next thing.” But we don’t do that! And we’re not going to start it! Because it is imperative, if a subsequent generation is to arise beyond us here and hold fast the things of Christ, that we become grounded in the truth of the Bible. And that is the apostle’s great, urgent concern in writing all three of these letters, and expressly this first letter. Because it was a time in which mythology was rampant. It was a time in which materialism was ruinous, as you will find when you read ahead, as I’m sure you will, these chapters.

Therefore, its timeliness, I suggest to you, is unquestionable, given the condition of contemporary evangelicalism. As I move around a little, I am struck again and again by the prevailing confusion in the minds of men and women who ought by this time to have become teachers but who are susceptible to all kinds of specious nonsense.[3] Therefore, we have always to pray God that when we read our Bibles, when we are instructed from the Scriptures, that we are enabled by the Spirit of God, who leads us into all truth,[4] so that we become men and women of the Book. It’s a necessary warning in Timothy’s day, a necessary warning in our own day, in the modern age, to guard us against novelties in Christian teaching. Novelties in Christian teaching.

A Chain of Command

Now, let me just try and weave a line through these eleven verses, if I may. First of all, will you notice that there is a chain of command here. And the word “command” comes two or three times. And Paul wants Timothy and in turn the church he pastors to understand that it is as a result of the command of God that he is an apostle. He’s not a self-styled apostle. Apostleship is not something that has been invented by an individual. It was not that Paul volunteered for it and therefore was included in the group. No, he knew that he had been added to the apostolic band as a result of the gracious command of the Lord Jesus. And that’s why in Acts chapter 9, when you read the story there, the word of God to Ananias, who is helping Paul at the time of his conversion, is “I want you to look after this guy, Saul of Taurus, because he is my chosen instrument to bear my name before the gentiles.”[5]

And apostleship in the Scriptures, in its central, most exclusive reference—because the word apostellō means “to send,” and apostellō is used in a number of ways for those who were involved in missionary endeavors or who were sent by the church—but the word “apostle” refers to a small, definitive, unique, one-time group of individuals who were chosen, called, and sent by Christ, who were witnesses of the risen Christ, who were endowed in special measure with the Holy Spirit, whose work was confirmed by signs and by wonders, and whose work extended to the totality of the church and was for the totality of their lives. And Paul says, “[Here I am], an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope.” And the word there is a word of certainty, and he is speaking of the transformation that was brought about in his life and in the lives of others who are redeemed by the outstretched hand of God.

Paul’s authority, then, is Christ’s delegated authority. And it is vital that we understand this. The authority of the apostle was the authority delegated by the head of the church, Christ himself. The apostle’s message—therefore, Paul’s message—is Christ’s message. Therefore, as we have noted before, we cannot allow to ourselves the distinction which says, “Well, I am prepared to accept the words of Christ, but I am unprepared to accept the words of Paul.” Christ’s words and Paul’s words are possessed of the same authority.

And so the command line goes from God to Paul and from Paul to Timothy—verse 2—who is his spiritual son and whom he addressed with tenderness, as we would expect, as he prays down upon him God’s unmerited favor, which is “grace,” and the tender compassion of God, which is “mercy”; and all of the benefits and blessings of reconciliation, which is this shalom, this “peace.” And he says, “Timothy, as I think of you, as my concern reaches to you, as I long to see you, if I don’t get to you, know this: that as I pray for you, I pray grace and mercy and peace.”

Now, he says, having said that, “As I urged you when I went to Macedonia, so I want to tell you again. This is what I want you to do, Timothy: I want you to stay there. Stay there in Ephesus.” Now, it’s interesting. I don’t know, we don’t know, what it was that caused Paul to speak in this way. Perhaps Timothy, because of his timidity, thought that the prospect of dealing with all of these wild and wonderful people was such that he ought to make a run for it. Maybe someone had come from another area and said, “Timothy, there’s a lovely place over here. We don’t have these ravenous wolves that you have in Ephesus. And if you would come over here, then you could have a wonderful pastoral ministry.” Maybe that was in his mind. But Paul’s not letting him off the hook. No, he says, “Timothy, this is what you need to do: you need to stay at Ephesus.” Later on, in 2 Timothy 4:5, he says, “I want you to stay there. I want you to endure hardship. I want you to keep your head. I want you to do the work of an evangelist. And I want you to discharge all the duties of your ministry.”[6]

Now, I think there’s great advantages in just staying places. ’Cause the longer you stay in a place—and this is not a plea for you to keep me—but as long as you stay in a place, people get to know the good and the bad and the ugly. I mean, you’re old news pretty quick, as long as you stay home. Oh, you may be Mr. Businessman when you fly to wherever you fly to, but when you come home, you’re just Dad. You’re old news. It’s not they disrespect you, but they’re just comfortable. And there’s great benefit attaches to that, and especially when those in pastoral leadership understand the clear directives they receive.

We cannot allow to ourselves the distinction which says, ‘Well, I am prepared to accept the words of Christ, but I am unprepared to accept the words of Paul.’ Christ’s words and Paul’s words are possessed of the same authority.

Now, in Timothy’s case, the reason that Paul demanded of him to stay there in Ephesus was in order that in this chain of command, Timothy himself may also start making some commands, and namely, in verse 3, to “command certain men not to teach false doctrines”—notice—“any longer.” “Any longer”! He’s not saying, “Make sure these people don’t start.” He’s saying, “You’d better make sure they stop.” It had already begun. They were already beginning to infiltrate the congregation with a notion of this, and an idea of that, and a little group here, and another group there, and it was just ever so subtle. And they were gradually undermining the truth of God’s Word.

He says, “I want you to stay in Ephesus, and I want you to go and command certain men.” Now, it’s clear that Paul knew who these “certain men” were. Before the chapter is out, he mentions two of them. But perhaps it’s simply pastoral wisdom which speaks in this veiled phraseology. Perhaps it’s grace. Whatever it is, he says, “Now, there’s certain men” (in parentheses, at least, he’d be saying, “I know who they are, and you know who they are”) “and I want you to go to them, and I want you to command them,” he says, “not to teach false doctrines any longer.” These individuals, we find, had become preoccupied with “myths” and with “endless genealogies.” That had become their focus. And because that had become their focus, the central issues of the faith had become peripheral because the peripheral issues had become central. If their minds had been focused and filled with the great truths of the gospel, then they would have been able to identify how spurious it would be to get yourself all tied up in knots with these other things.

And when the people of God do not have their minds filled with the great truths of the gospel, they will be susceptible to all kinds of silly ideas. It is maturity that prevents the child from running away with the stranger. Isn’t it? So those tender little ones—you say, “Now, this chap comes, and he does this, or he says this or this thing—you don’t go away with that person.” Now, you don’t expect to be saying that to a twenty-seven-year-old single who’s still living in your house, because you would anticipate that with maturity they had grown to an understanding, they had identified error, they were aware of truth, they could distinguish between them, they were on their feet. But these people to whom Timothy was ministering were susceptible to all of this confusion.

And the people who were teaching them were lost in endless words. They were full of meaningless talk. They wanted to be teachers, but they didn’t know what they’re talking about. Isn’t that what he says there in verse 7? “They want to be teachers of the law, but they do[n’t] know what they[’re] talking about.” They want to be professors, but they don’t know what they profess. They want to be dogmatic, but they don’t know anything about dogmatics. They fill their blackboard full of charts and diagrams and symbols and theories and triangles and stars and glory all knows whatnot, and the silly people are all sitting underneath the blackboard going, “Wow! That is fantastic!” Silly people always will.

And we are by nature silly people. “All we,” like silly people, “have gone astray; we have turned every one [of us] to [our] own way.”[7] And unless our minds are constrained by truth, then as soon as my ears begin to itch, I will go and look for somebody to scratch me behind the ears in relationship to whatever tickles my fancy. And loved ones, do you realize what it took, for example, in the city of Ephesus—how soon after this there was mayhem and destruction where there had once been a church that had been founded by the apostle Paul himself?

This is not an issue of marginal importance. These people were spinning all these kinds of yarns. The rabbis—I shouldn’t say the rabbis in general, but certain rabbis—loved to find little hints in the law. And they would take these little hints, and then they would weave them into intricate, fictional embroideries. And they were then deposited in the Haggadah, which is part of the Talmud. And when you read that dimension of the Talmud, you can find, for example, that the book of Genesis is embroidered into all kinds of speculative things. And there, for example, you will learn that the archangels observe the Sabbath. There you will find out that angels practice circumcision.[8] And when you read that, you say, “Who says?” Exactly!

But what they did was they said, “Hey, isn’t this a really, kind of, freaky idea?”

They said, “Yeah! Maybe we should get together and call ourselves an institute and, you know, kind of beef this up. I think we could make it a chart, a diagram, a video, a six-part tape series.”


“Timothy, command these characters to cut it out.” Why? “Because they only produce controversy. Because they only engender confusion. Because they only, ultimately, mangle the church in their own quest for their self-serving desire to be known as somebody who knows something that someone else doesn’t know.” And in our own day, the same is true. People in every generation love to engage in a mixture of truth and error. That’s why the Christian Science Reading Room has the Bible right in the front window. That’s why the Mormons are giving away copies of the Bible. Now, they’re not telling you that they’re going to give you as well, as a little free gift, a copy of the Book of Mormon, without which you will be unable to understand the Bible. They are simply wanting people to know that they are offering the Bible. And so crazy people who don’t know their Bibles, who don’t understand the importance of the deity of Jesus Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity and the atoning death of Christ—people like that are going to say, “What nice people, giving away the Bible! And they want to come over and have a little Bible study with us with the Bible that they want to give away.” How will we know what to say? Well, we won’t, you see, unless we are grounded in the truth of God’s Word.

Instead of studying the infallible Word, people resort to all kinds of fancies and fictions. And they prefer to see a kind of human embellishments over biblical history. They begin with the sacred truth of Scripture, they mix in a little bit of fiction—sometimes for theatrical effect; sometimes just for personal enjoyment, for an intoxicating thrill; sometimes to satisfy vain curiosity—but in doing so, they tamper with the very essence and the purpose of the inspired Scripture itself. And before you know what you’re dealing with, you’re not actually dealing with the Bible; you’re dealing with a concoction. And the result is, he says, controversy—promoting speculative fancies which do not set forward the work of God. There you have it in verse 4: “These promote controversies rather than God’s work—which is by faith.”

A Goal to This Command

Now, he says in verse 5 that there is a goal to this command. This may seem very harsh. It certainly sounds that way in our relativistic age—in our politically correct environment, where you can never, ever say anything is wrong. Nothing’s right, and nothing’s wrong; therefore, anybody who would be suggesting truth—the existence of truth—must, ipso facto, be in error, and who is taking the high ground of being right must inevitably, by very definition, be wrong. “Well,” says Paul, “I need you to understand that the goal of this command is love.”

Unlike the false teaching—the speculative rambling which results in strife and unhealthy debate—the goal of the command given to Timothy is love: a love which springs from the work of God, the work of redemption, in the lives of those who trust his Son. Because ultimately, the work of God is the work of redemption. You think of Jesus in John’s Gospel: “It is right for me to go on and to finish the work.”[9] This is the work that he is given to do. “I am at work, and my Father is at work.”[10] And then, finally, as he anticipates Calvary, he says in a prophetic perfect, “I have finished the work that you gave me to do.”[11] What is the work? It is the work of redemption. And so, therefore, anything which confuses the centrality of the work of redemption, which is the gospel, has to be stopped.

You see, when… And look at these things: the command is love. You see, when God’s love is implanted in the heart of an individual, then their heart becomes a loving heart, becomes “a pure heart.” And this “good conscience,” a conscience that is cleansed of guilt and made obedient to God’s law, ultimately only approves of the things to which the law of God finally points—namely, the love. And genuine faith, to which he refers here in verse 5—“sincere faith”—is the faith which embraces Christ and all of his benefits and which reveals itself in a genuine love for Jesus and a genuine love for all those who in turn have been embraced by his love.

In fact, we would do well to pause and assess our condition against these three elements in verse 5. The goal of this command is love, which comes from—notice—“a pure heart … a good conscience and a sincere faith.” Do you have a pure heart? A good conscience? A sincere faith? How will we know? Well, when these things are interwoven in the life of an individual, in the life of a church family, then they produce the most beautiful jewel of all—that is, a genuine love. And that—again, notice—is in distinct contrast to these would-be teachers of the law, who fail to realize the meaning of their own words, and yet, nevertheless, they remain confident in their affirmations.

It’s the kind of thing you see when you’re in conversation—and sometimes we’ve been guilty of it ourselves, I’m sure—where somebody lobs into the conversation a piece of vocabulary that, you can tell by looking in their eyes, they haven’t a clue what they just said, and they’re hoping that it won’t come out of their mouths again, because they’re not sure that they could use it in a clarifying sentence. But every so often, you find these people, and they just ramble and scramble and go on. And the only people that they gather around them are equally silly ramblers and scramblers.

The Law of God

Now, says Paul, the big issue with these folks is the law. They’re big on the law. They want to be teachers of the law, but they abuse the law. Now, having mentioned their abuse of the law, he wants to make sure that his reader—namely, Timothy, and, indeed, the church—understand that the fact that he has said something negative about their use of the law should not be construed as a negative statement about the law itself. Very, very important. And so, as something of a digression, he clarifies.

In fact, what you have here are two digressions. From verse 7, it really picks up again at verse 18. And between verse 8 and verse 17, you have two digressions. He mentions the way they’re treating the law, and then he says, “Hang on a minute, and let me say something about the law.” And then, having dealt with the law, and as he comes to the end of verse 11, that points him to the gospel, and then he says, “Hang on, let me say something about the gospel.” And then, when he had said something about the gospel, he says, “Now, let’s get back to what I started with, and let me tell you about Hymenaeus and Philetus. These are the characters that I was referring to, along with others, as ‘certain men.’” So I’m going to spend the remaining few moments that I have making some statements concerning the law of God.

Now, notice verse 8: “We know that the law is good if one uses it properly.” Now, you could say that about a lot of things. For example, you could say, “We know that preaching is good provided preaching is proper preaching”—provided it’s not somebody just running off their mouths, speculating about their own theories; providing it is governed by, constrained by, the truth of God’s Word. If it is that, then it’s good. If it isn’t that, then it’s frankly bad. So “we know that the law is good,” he says, when it is used properly.

Of course, the implication is that these would-be teachers are using it improperly. How were they using it? They were using it as a springboard for their fanciful interpretations. They had missed the whole point. They couldn’t see the wood for the trees. They studied the law of God with all of its injunctions and all of its precepts, but they never applied it to themselves. They studied the law of God, which condemned a man in his unrighteousness, but they were never prepared to acknowledge that they were unrighteous. They strapped the law of God to their forehead, they wrapped it around their wrists, they proclaimed it on the corners, they gathered little groups around them to talk about the law of God, and all the time they failed to understand the point—namely, that the law was to show them their need of a Savior. But they were so stuck on how well they knew the law and how they had these theories about the law and how people were interested in listening to them that they missed the whole point.

And Paul says, “Listen: the law is good if you use it properly. We know that the law is not made for the righteous. It’s not made for…” This is really a correlative statement to Jesus’ words to the Pharisees. He says, “I didn’t come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.[12] So, no point in me preaching to you guys the law, because you’re so convinced that you’re keeping all the law. Until you get to the point where you’re prepared to recognize that this sorry list with which these few verses conclude, that this sorry list is descriptive of you—until you get to that point, then you are of all men most miserable.” Instead of their being crushed by the law, they simply adopted a spirit of Phariseeism. How could the law prove to be a bridle—which is one of the ways in which it is described in the Bible—how could it be a bridle to those who feel no need of restraint? How could the law of God prove to be a dirt-revealing mirror to those who regarded themselves as absolutely clean? How could the law of God prove to be a guide to those who, in their arrogance, were unprepared to acknowledge that they were lost? It’d be like going up to somebody in the street, waving them down on 271, and saying, “Hey, I have a map for you!” The person says, “You stopped me at sixty-five miles an hour just to say, ‘I have a map for you’? Thank you, but I know where I’m going. Why did you do this?” And these people were so sure that this map that they had in their hands was a springboard for all of these ideas and notions that they were unprepared to see themselves as condemned by the very law they proclaimed.

And the list here, which is a graphic list, largely follows the line of the Ten Commandments. He says, “This law is for lawbreakers, rebels, the ungodly, the sinful, the unholy, the irreligious.” Now, what they should have said was, “This law is for us! ’Cause this actually describes us. We’re the ones with the murderous thoughts. We’re the ones with adultery in our hearts. We’re perverted. We tell lies.” But no! They simply continue to take this and, as Lenski says, as with “all pretending law teachers,” they “stand condemned by the very law they pretend to teach.”[13] You see, the law was given primarily to bring sin to light, to bring sinners to the point where they would feel utterly crushed under the load of their sin—and that in turn would lead them to the glory of the gospel. That’s what happened to Paul. Look at verse 15, when we anticipate it. He says, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Now notice how he finishes. He doesn’t say, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—like you, you bunch of scumbags!” He says, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—and just in case anyone’s in any doubt, I am the worst sinner of them all!”[14]

The law is good; the gospel is glorious.

Now, that is the message that people do not, in the streets, get. And it’s largely because of the spirit of the Pharisee sticking out in too many of us. Because the image we present is the got-it-together image, the no-need image, the triumphant image, the “nothing hurts” image, as if somehow or another we were upholding a standard which had never, ever been given to us in the Bible. But when we learn to acknowledge what these fatuous individuals refused to acknowledge—namely, that the law crushes me—then we will be in the position to convey the good news. Because when I am crushed, then I know: “Somebody is going to have to pick up my pieces. Somebody’s going to have to put me together again.”

Did you see the lady in the car that was getting washed away? Did you see that picture on the news? The car over on its side, wheels up, lying on its back; the water’s up all over the car; and just her face seen in the window, just screaming in agony: “Help me! Get me out of here!” Now, what did she imagine? Somebody coming along, saying, “You know, a car’s not supposed to be upside-down like that. I don’t understand what you’re doing with that thing, Missus. You should have got that thing up on its wheels! Look at you! Oh man, are you in a mess! Whew! I’m glad I’m not like you. I’m glad my car is parked and on its wheels.” See, we’ve got to go to people and say, “Listen, the car of my life is upside down. It’s off its wheels. And it was when I understood that that Jesus came, turned the car back up, put the wheels on the ground, put me on a narrow road that leads to life.”

See, some of you have come out of a background that has been very rigid. I know that because you tell me all the time. You tell me all you ever heard about was sin. All you ever heard about was the Ten Commandments. All you ever heard about was how bad you were. Listen: thank God for that. You should be very thankful for that. Because that was the precursor that crushed you. That was what made you feel the way you feel—that sense of emptiness, that sense of lostness, that sense of being unable to do it. What you were missing was the final piece. The law is good; the gospel is glorious. He says here, the law points us “to the glorious gospel of the blessed God.”

What is this “glorious gospel”? Well, we’ll come to it next time, but let me just give you a little flavor of it. It’s the kind of thing that takes a man who absolutely, flat-out denies that Jesus Christ is alive; who hates anybody who says that they know Christ, love Christ, or want to follow Christ; who’s prepared to cuss the air blue at the very thought of the existence of these people; and who is prepared to take his whole life and the lives of those in his care and commit himself unreservedly to extinguishing the existence of the church of Jesus Christ—it is the glorious gospel which takes a guy like that, the most unlikely person in the whole world, and makes him the very champion of the church that he was prepared to destroy. As a result of what? His being able to fix himself? No. As a result of him being crushed and hearing the voice of God saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? Isn’t it awful hard for you to keep kicking and screaming and scratching in your rebellion?”[15]

Final word, for an individual: You maybe were invited here. Somebody told you, “You should come. It’s this,” or “It’s that,” or “It’s the next thing.” But you didn’t think it was this. And actually, you feel pretty dreadful right now. Now, that might be for a number of reasons. It might be the person you’re sitting next to. It might be what you had for breakfast. It might be that you had no breakfast. I don’t know your physiological condition. But let me tell you this: if you feel in any sense the dreadfulness of the dawning awareness that you are outside of Christ, then you should be very thankful. Because there are a number around you who have now heard me for the nth time, and they don’t feel dreadful at all. They’ve never felt dreadful! They just don’t understand why I get worked up. But they’re prepared to keep coming back. They’ve never been crushed! They never fell off the wall! Therefore, they see no need of anyone to pick them up. They are in the worst condition of all. But to those of you who feel dreadful, the reason you do is in order that you might hear the glorious news of the Lord Jesus Christ, who will grab you and take you to himself so that you may be relieved of that burden.

And that, you see, is the good news. It’s not the good news which is superficial stuff like “Oh, thank you for coming. Everything’s wonderful. Super-duper! On we go! Diddly, diddly, doo-doo-doo! Three little stories, one little joke, dah dah-dah dah-dah!” It’s none of that stuff. A pox on all of that stuff! It is “You’ll never feel good until you feel dreadful.” And I am committed to making people feel good—but only after God made them feel dreadful.

Let’s pray:

Lord, if our zeal was undiminished in our desire to do good things and make ourselves acceptable to you, if we cried tears to somehow convey our humility, if we pulled ourselves up by our religious socks and endeavored to do our best for the rest of our lives, we would never be able to approximate remotely to the standard of your righteousness. And when we consider your law (“You shall have no other gods before me”)[16] and we recognize how much we worship ourselves and our own ideas (“You shalln’t make graven images”)[17]—we fill our lives with all kinds of imaginationings of a God that is small enough to be accommodated. And as we go through the list, a sense of dreadfulness dawns upon our hearts, and we find ourselves saying, “What, then, can I do? Where can I go?” And we hear this wonderful news of the glorious gospel, enabling us to say,

Nothing in my hand I bring,
And simply to your cross I cling,
And naked come to thee for dress,
And helpless come to thee for rest,
And so I, in my foulness, to your fountain fly;
Wash me, Lord Jesus, or I die.[18]

Father, write your Word in our heart. Save us from speculative nonsense. Make us men and women who understand your truth. Manifest it in the purity of our hearts and the clarity of our conscience, the sincerity of our faith, and the expressions of genuine love. Make Parkside Church, for your glory, a community which is pervaded by the love of the Lord Jesus, so that the crushed and the weary and the broken and the guilty and the perverted and the adulterers and all who acknowledge their lostness may be drawn to the love of the Lord Jesus.

And now may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God our Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit rest upon and remain with each one, today and forevermore. Amen.

[1] 2 Timothy 1:14 (NIV 1984).

[2] 1 Timothy 6:3–4 (NIV 1984).

[3] See Hebrews 5:12.

[4] See John 16:13.

[5] Acts 9:15 (paraphrased).

[6] 2 Timothy 4:5 (paraphrased).

[7] Isaiah 53:6 (KJV).

[8] Jubilees 2:18; 15:27.

[9] John 4:34 (paraphrased).

[10] John 5:17 (paraphrased).

[11] John 17:4 (paraphrased).

[12] Luke 5:32 (paraphrased).

[13] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon (1946; repr., Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2008), 507.

[14] 1 Timothy 1:15 (paraphrased).

[15] Acts 26:14 (paraphrased).

[16] Exodus 20:3 (NIV 1984).

[17] Exodus 20:4 (paraphrased).

[18] Augustus M. Toplady, “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me” (1776). Lyrics lightly altered.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.