Today we continue the series we started earlier this week, exploring theological concepts that should be obvious, but that we somehow mess up. Last time we talked about the most basic one: God saves us. We don’t save ourselves. (That’s what “saving” means, after all!) We tried to strip away all the “ifs” and “buts” we want to append to God’s salvation work, like, “If I do the right thing,” or, “But not THOSE people (who aren’t like me)!”
Claiming this brings up another theological question, another basic concept we’re confused about: What about the God’s Law?
Definitions of Law vary, but the general idea is that “Law” encompasses all the parts of scripture where God shows us the difference between right and wrong. The Ten Commandments are the most famous example, but Law can be found everywhere from the book of Genesis, through the gospels, all the way through Revelation. God is good. Not only do we fail in goodness, we have trouble figuring out what “good” means! God has talked to us throughout history, reminding us of the difference between goodness and everything else we want to try. That’s the Law!
There’s nothing wrong with God’s word or God’s Law. Goodness endures; God continues to embody and inspire it. That’s fine as far as it goes, but we make a left turn with the whole concept that gets us in trouble and denies the purpose of the Law itself. We do this when we change this claim:
“God is good, and shows us the difference between right and wrong.”
…into this claim:
“We are good, capable of doing right and not wrong.”
When we stop viewing Law as the description of good and evil and start using it to define ourselves as good (for keeping it) and others as evil (for not), we separate ourselves from our neighbors and place ourselves firmly in the seat of God, the example and embodiment of goodness. In effect, we use God’s own word to supplant him, making ourselves the standard for right and wrong. That’s not what the Law was meant for!
The Law does have power in our lives. It’s real! It’s valid! But the Law does not exist to confirm our righteousness before God or our superiority to our neighbors. The Law does not justify us; it condemns us. It does not separate us from our neighbors; it puts us all under the same umbrella. The Law does not exist to show us how good we are, but how we have fallen short of goodness.
Paul says in Romans 3:23 that, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. We also read in 1 John:
8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
The Law does not exonerate some of us while condemning others. We all stand condemned under the Law. If we deny this, we’re not telling the truth.
This condemnation has two side-effects, though. First, it puts us together with our neighbors instead of apart from them, in judgment. Second, it reminds all of us of our need for the Savior, without whom we remain condemned, powerless to achieve the goodness we were meant for.
The Law actually ends up doing wonderful things: showing right and wrong, driving our vision and hope towards God, our Savior instead of our own selves. It does these things not by praising us as perfect, but reminding us that we fall short. The Law works against all of us, and in doing us ultimately works for all of us. We don’t get to wield it as a weapon against one another. We all stand under it together, in need of correction, but hopeful that love will prevail.