If you have been a Christian for any length of time, you have undoubtedly been encouraged to grow in your faith by “studying the Bible,” “having a daily quiet time, “ or “memorizing the Word.” We are told the more diligent we are in following these Christian disciplines the more we will grow in our spiritual lives, i.e., the more successful we will become in obeying the commands in Scripture. I grew up with this well-known adage: “Either the Bible will keep you from sin or sin will keep you from the Bible.”
However, those of us who believe others see us as screw-ups, failures or “carnal Christians,” are often easily convinced of those accusations ourselves, and we don’t need a lot of convincing. We always suspected as much. How could God not be disappointed and displeased with me?
Discouraged by this supposed three-pronged evaluation–by God, others and ourselves–we give up trying to obey God’s law. We are subconsciously either defeated, wanna-be Pharisees who think we can’t ever cut it with God, or defiant rebels who no longer want to.
On the other hand, those of us who are card-carrying Pharisees actually do see ourselves as pleasing God by the virtuous, exemplary, (but not perfect, of course) lives we are living. We are very invested in continuing to strive to do what, in our estimation, we do so well—obey the law of God. How could God possibly not be pleased with me?
The wanna-be Pharisee and the rebel know they are sinners—everyone has told them so for years. “Exhorting” or “encouraging” them to try harder to shape up and get their lives together does not bring them life but only buries them deeper in the grave of defeat and discouragement.
However, for the Pharisee, being a sinner is a much tougher sell. It often takes years for the law to eventually (sometimes dramatically, sometimes subtly) begin to expose us as it did for Paul. We have not committed murder or adultery externally with our bodies, but it finally begins to dawn on us that we are not doing nearly so well obeying God’s law in our hearts. As one dear friend of mine said, not referring at all to any theological concepts but purely personal experience: “I have been a Christian for 30 years and I haven’t changed a bit. It sometimes even seems like I am getting worse!”
This was precisely Paul’s attitude after the Lord finally showed him that even though he believed he was keeping the law so well, even blamelessly (Philippians 3:6), he was actually failing miserably to keep it in his heart. Rather than being a holy, righteous man as he had imagined, his eyes had been opened and he now saw he was actually the one whom Jesus referred to as a whitewashed tomb filled with death—uncleanness, hypocrisy and lawlessness (Matthew 23:27, 28).
Romans 7 is the record of Paul’s revelation of the law of God performing this ordained task of “killing” him experientially as God opens his mind to his helplessness to ever keep that law. His conclusion to Romans 7 includes this cry from the heart of a Pharisee whose eyes had been opened to his sin: “O wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).
So, for Pharisee, wanna-be Pharisee and rebel, the ultimate purpose of the law of God is the same: not to show us what we must do to please God, but to show us that we can never keep the law and thus please God. The law’s purpose is to “kill” us, so we are free from ever having to keep it or free from rebelling against keeping it! Dead men and women are free from keeping laws or not keeping laws (Romans 6: 2, 6, 7). That is exactly what Paul is saying of himself in Galatians 2:19, “For through the Law I died to the law, that I might live to God.”
You may say, “Andrews, that is crazy talk! Answer me this; we are told to be holy as God is holy, so shouldn’t I get as close to “holy” as I can? What about all the imperatives, written to Christians, flowing from the mouth of Jesus at every turn and making up ½ of Paul’s letters to believers? I realize I can’t keep the law of God perfectly or even consistently, but does that mean I just deliberately throw off all restraint and live any way I want?”
Great, great questions. Here are God’s counter-intuitive answers:
1. “We are told to be holy as God is holy. I am not perfect like God, but shouldn’t I get as close to ‘holy’ as I can?” Why would you want to do that? Why would you strive for something impossible for you to attain when you already have it? That’s foolishness! God has already given you the righteousness of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). Is that righteousness not enough?
2. “What about all the imperatives, written to Christians, flowing from the mouth of Jesus at every turn and making up ½ of Paul’s letters to believers?” After Paul’s claim in Galatians 2:19 to have been “killed by the law,” quoted above, he explains himself in the next verse, verse 20: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
When we realize we are dead to the law and therefore free from ever again having to keep it to please God, we are now free to live totally “by faith.” That means just trusting Daddy like a little child, who now lives in us by HIs Holy Spirit. The law, then, only convicts us of failure when we “fall from grace” by trying again to live by obedience and forsake trusting Daddy. We simply turn back into Daddy’s always waiting, welcoming, loving arms and trust Him again.
3. “Does that mean I just deliberately throw off all restraint and live any way I want?” Yes! Now you’re starting to get the picture. Paul tells us that all the commands in the Bible, all the injunctions in both old and new testaments, are promises of what God will do in us when we are walking by faith and not by obedience. “God is at work within you, both to will (to make you “want-to”) and to do (to give you the power-to) of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). You are free to live by faith alone! Wonder of wonders, the law gets kept, by the mighty Spirit of God who can’t help but keep the law!
That is the word of God. Do you believe it? Can we not trust His mercies, both obvious and severe, to ultimately bring us to trusting Him for everything, even making us holy? That is living by faith.
All the commands of God have now become promises to us as we live by faith and not the law. “Thou shalt not commit adultery” is no longer a command for you to try to keep (in your mind as well as your body!) but now a promise from God: just trust Him and He promises you “Thou shalt not commit adultery!”
You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. This is truth. Don’t you want to be truly free?