Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Law is Impotent

When I think about the powerlessness of the law to fight sin, one of the most striking examples is an experience that has stuck with me for almost six years. I was teaching a group of middle school girls. We were talking about memorizing God's Word, and our leader asked the girls if they could think of a situation in which knowing the Bible could help them. One of the girls mentioned that she had been jealous because two of her friends were leaving her out. She then said she could look up verses that say, "Don't be jealous." Then she paused, and admitted: "But I still feel jealous, though."

She was only nine years old, but she nailed it. All attempts to conquer sin without applying the gospel are shallow--they do not have the power to inspire us and make us more like Christ! If I am struggling with jealousy, and so I memorize a verse that tells me "thou shalt not covet," how does that help me to overcome the jealousy? I already knew that my jealousy was wrong. Reminding myself that it is a sin doesn't change the fact that I feel hurt, left out, whatever. These laws and commands are impotent--they are not designed to defeat our sin, but to point us to the Savior who does!

That's why the Christian life can't be about a list of dos and don'ts. We're no longer under law, but under grace. And so the part of God's Word that has the power to defeat jealousy in my heart is not the part that tells me, "don't be jealous, it's wrong." It's the part that promises that God will satisfy all my needs--that He alone can give life--that He works in all things for my good and His glory.

When I need to battle jealousy, I find "thou shalt not covet" less than compelling. But "Christ's love compels [me]" (2 Corinthians 5:14). I find great comfort and joy in promises like these:

"He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:32) --God went to radical extremes to provide for my greatest need: forgiveness of my sin, justification before a holy God, reconciliation with Him. How can I doubt that He will provide for my much smaller needs, which are that much easier for Him to meet?

"His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3a) --God is all-powerful, and He has already given me everything I need to live fully and to honor Him this moment. If there is something I lack, it is because He in His sovereign wisdom has determined I don't really need it to live an abundant life that brings glory to Him!

It is a huge paradigm shift, when you've lived as a Christian for decades and never learned to think this way. I still struggle to apply the gospel to my life; I am constantly tempted to run to the law, to try harder. But I am fighting to remember and to help others see that the gospel is not just a story for unbelievers; it is the good news that enables us to stand before God and receive His blessings every day of our lives as His children.

[edited repost from the archives]


LeAnna said...

I can't "amen" this enough. I grew up in a very law-driven home, and I can attest that YES, it is hard to understand the freedom that is in Christ Jesus, the freedom from the law of sin and death. I praise God for the day that my parents began to understand and come out from under the law and teach us what the Gospel really had to say about the finished work of Christ. Amen, amen, and amen to all that you have written!

Briana Almengor said...

oh my goodness, this is so excellent. I am richly blessed by a "gospel-centered" church, community of believers, read lots of "gospel-centered" books, but STILL often live by the law and run to the law just as you illustrated so well in this post. It does require such conscious effort to really live a "gospel-centered" life. Posts like this one help considerably in that goal.

And, I have a feeling my parenting is going to look different tomorrow... :)