MSG 8-11 It’s true that moral guidance and counsel need to be given, but the way you say it and to whom you say it are as important as what you say. It’s obvious, isn’t it, that the law code isn’t primarily for people who live responsibly, but for the irresponsible, who defy all authority, riding roughshod over God, lif, sex, truth, whatever! They are contemptuous of this great Message I’ve been put in charge of by this great God.
This is probably the toughest “first” chapter so far for me. I struggle with the use of the law. I want to understand the law as a standard for correction that results in the victory of restoration not a cattle-prod of control but when push comes to shove that’s pretty hard to live out. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “hate the sin but love the sinner.” That’s the ideal. That’s easy to believe but that’s also where all the confusion about the use of the law comes into play.
I found this quote in a commentary: “The demands of the law exceed our ability, and the knowledge of our sin that comes from these demands leads us to repentance.” That quote revealed some truth to me about my use of the law. My limited ability to understand the use of the law is as big an issue for me as it is for that sinner. The reality is the sin the law reveals in someone else has an impact on me. My response to the law and that sinner makes their sin my issue. God has planned for the law to correct the sinner, but wait…there’s more. The revelation of their sin that’s meant to lead their sinful heart to repentance and the use of “that moral guidance and counsel needed” that “exceeds” my ability…is meant to change my heart too. The law is not “us versus them.” Repentance for the inability of my heart to empathize with the needs of another heart is the victory God desires from His law. Lord, work that victory out in me too please.
NLT [New Living Translation] Romans 7:9 At one time I lived without understanding the law. But when I learned the command not to covet, for instance, the power of sin came to life, 10 and I died. So I discovered that the law’s commands, which were supposed to bring life, brought spiritual death instead. 11 Sin took advantage of those commands and deceived me; it used the commands to kill me. 12 But still, the law itself is holy, and its commands are holy and right and good.
I bet you’ve had the experience of speaking with a customer service agent at some point. Hopefully you weren’t speaking to me all those years ago when I was supposed to be a helpful assistant to a frustrated caller. The law is like a good customer service agent. That’s what came to my mind when I read this passage from Romans 7. There’s help available whose purpose is to supposed to solve a problem but a successful outcome depends on who you talk to.
My story is a perfect example of v11 “Sin took advantage of those commands and deceived me.” I answered the phone, I obeyed the rules of the job, I was concise and I was accurate in what I said. The end result having done everything that was required of me was I hung up from that call proud I had so politely put that caller in his place. “So I discovered [and so did that poor caller] that the law’s commands, which were supposed to bring life, brought spiritual death instead.”
The law is a really good customer service agent. The right agent who gives concise and accurate help that’s all explained in the user manual [the Bible] can solve a lot of frustrating issues about operating a life in obedience to Christ.
Romans 2:13 Hearing the law does not make people right with God. It is those who obey the law who will be right with him. 14 (Those who are not Jews do not have the law, but when they freely do what the law commands, they are the law for themselves. This is true even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that in their hearts they know what is right and wrong, just as the law commands. And they show this by their consciences. Sometimes their thoughts tell them they did wrong, and sometimes their thoughts tell them they did right.)
It was only when I pasted these three verses into my digital journal that I noticed the close parenthesis at the end and realized the enclosed explanation was twice as long as the sentence it was clarifying. That simple fact seemed like a Biblical object lesson for me to think about.
Being right with God is more complicated than just knowing what the law is. Obeying the law isn’t a matter of separating the have’s from the have not’s at all. Instead, God makes a connection to what he’s written in the heart. “They [those who do not have the law] show that in their hearts they know what is right and wrong, just as the law commands.”
The object lesson: “Right with God” is the complicated relationship between being obedient to what the brain knows about the law and the obedience of the heart desiring to freely respond to it.