As much as I do believe grace is the bigger word, the more important word, the more impactful word from God, the “law” word, absolutely matters. It is an important and integral part of our faith. It is the place-setter for the dynamic Law/Gospel dualism found in all of scripture.
The law is the fuse in which grace explodes into our lives. It is the ticking of the time bomb that counts down to the only possible answer, when it goes off.
Grace is the debris and shrapnel that gets into us from that explosion and says, something greater than our obedience saves. We learn the power of grace that cleanses us from within. Grace that brings us to a bended knee. Grace that leads us to repentance.
And yet the law still absolutely matters.
So I’m clear, I don’t think we just ignore the law. We don’t look at God’s commands and toss them aside like moldy leftovers, unworthy of a taste. There are too many instructions throughout Scripture to encourage us towards a better way to do life for our own good, and for the good of our family and neighbors. Solid teaching that reminds us to love and serve others out of a grateful heart. It reminds us what’s good for society as a whole.
Despite all of those good things, the law will always come back to the ticking bomb, that fuse burning down to the TNT of grace.
Because of our struggle to obey. Because of our struggle to relish in our ability to obey. Because in these flawed bodies there will always exist, the nearly dead legalist, trying to resurrect themselves in a boot-strap like fashion. Part of us wants the law to justify us, to give us our legs back, to put strength back in our bodies. Some part of us always wants our ability under the law to be as important (or more) than grace. This is why people make that point over and over again, of grace not being an excuse to sin. We love when that “paid for by Christ” stamp is slapped over our sins. But when everyone’s looking the other way, we slap our own little sticker of “kept paid by law” right on top.
…and the clock ticks on ….the fuse burns a bit shorter.
As much as the law is a curb for society and a guide for our personal living, it’s most important job is that it will always accuse, and it should. It has to.
How do I know this is its primary job. As much as the law is a curb for society, those laws get broken, even by christians. Same thing with our personal living. We fail, we fall short. It doesn’t mean the law is bad or we shouldn’t heed its call for better. It just means none of us totally heed that call. We all fall short, we all sin, if we say we have no sin, the truth is not in us. There is your plumb line for faith. A true faith knows that as good as it is to follow the law, we won’t. At least, not completely.
…and the clock ticks on ….the fuse burns a bit shorter.
When the law reaches critical mass and explodes as it does over and again throughout our lives, just as we need it to, grace is there to remind you God loves you despite this. He loves you past this. He loves you through this. Even if you have a more evolved understanding of grace, and know God loves you past all of it, that internal law-keeper in us loves to tell us that we are forgiven, but we should still feel overwhelmed with guilt. We did do a bad thing after all.
This is the trap I tend to find myself in more times than not. I get the concept of grace. I love to talk about it, and remind people of it. But it’s another trap. Overwhelming, unrelenting guilt of sin is just more, “Look how I treat myself because of my sin. See how I give myself the guilt that I deserve. Now I am truly worthy, because of my unrelenting guilt”
This is still my most current and consistent battle in my life.
I also think men especially need to hear this grace bomb after the law ticks down to zero. Men by nature are work-orientated creatures, building our reputations on the outside of us for people to see. Why? Because Christian or not, we tend to want people to see we are men of integrity and good fortitude. Pride is often our ally in this. Pride wants people to see it. Pride wants people thinking we’ve got this life thing down. Filthy rags, all of it. Not because integrity is bad, or living decent lives is not good for society. But because as much as we know we shouldn’t, we’ve all suffered from “long-arm syndrome.” We’ve all at times, made a point of patting ourselves on the back for our greatness, even sounding humble doing it.
But we know our thoughts…
Listen to me again. The law is good. It is helpful in many ways. But it will always be the most helpful when we recognize that it periodically ticks down to zero as we are reminded once more how much we couldn’t keep the law fully, but God has in the past and still give to us much grace because of it. That explosion of grace, completely humbles us and changes our attitude for a time. That grace is now the driving force of good. It helps us serve better, love better, live better.
Then the law begins to reconstitute itself. Pride takes root and twists reasons and desires. Our arms get a bit longer again. The countdown starts back up. The fuse is re-lit and we wait for the next explosion. If you’re fortunate, you go to a church that practices a pattern of confession and absolution. The more humble reminders, the better. That’s been a great help to me.
Despite my going on, someone addressed this better than I. Someone with even greater authority. The Apostle Paul in Romans 7:
What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? – Romans 7:7-24
This is Paul. Not brand new Paul. This is Paul many years in. This is Paul speaking present tense words, telling us of his present tense struggles, which is the Christian struggle that is in all of life. A right up-to-the-end struggle. This is the constant ticking of the law.
And here is Paul’s “explosion.”
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. Life in the Spirit There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. – Romans 7:25-8:2
As much as I love the law for being a help to society and to me in a more personal way, I love it the most when it leads me to the cross. When it leads me through each step of Christ. Footprints of grace in every step. Footprints he would place my feet in as if I walked righteously on earth. I love when it causes me to consider my struggle the most, because when the bomb goes off, it replaces the “you did”, with “well done.” Now I can serve and love with less worry and fear, with less me. For at least a little while.
Tick… Tick… BOOM!