by Jared Jones
“Thou shalt not…”
Three simple words, and yet there’s something radioactive about them. As soon as I hear them a sense of uneasiness begins to creep through my stomach. I start shifting in my seat. I bristle. What is it about these words that causes me to feel so uneasy?
I think it’s because they are words of threat towards us.
When the Law of God is proclaimed to me, a sinner, I’m immediately confronted with something that is not me. The thou shalt’s and the thou shalt not’s of God immediately bring a threat to the identity I’ve constructed. Even if I haven’t actually broken the thing that is commanded, it still exists as a possibility. I could break it. I know myself, and I know that if you give me one thing I’m not supposed to do, there’s a really good chance I will do it! As Tom Petty once so aptly sang: “One foot in the grave, the other on the pedal, I was born a rebel.”
And so, when we are confronted with a standard, an absolute, we tend to do the only thing we really can: we hide. We find something to cover ourselves before the great demand that has been placed before us. Like Adam and Eve, we sew together fig leaves of a successful career, the “perfect” marriage, our wonderful virtues, and anything else we use to buffer ourselves against the sense of demand we are held accountable to.
For instance, you don’t have to teach a kid they need to do something spectacular with their life in order for it to be meaningful. They believe that on their own! We all do. We think we need to achieve some sort of status, some sort of worthiness, or some sort of success, all in the hopes that we would have “arrived” and finally possess “the good life.”
And the presence of “thou shalt not” brings a challenge to this self we have constructed. It threatens to tell us that we really aren’t as far along as we think we are. It threatens to expose us and reveal that we are actually naked. It declares that we have nothing to stand on. This is what the Law does to us. It forces us to say, “I have not!” We have not followed God’s standard and Law. We have not done what is required of us. We have not done enough. It is God’s revelation to us: a revealing both of His perfect standard and our own rebellion.
But fortunately, it isn’t the only thing God has revealed.
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”
Paul here is saying that something new has occurred. Something wonderful has been manifested to us. God has revealed a righteousness to the world in His Son Jesus. And now there is a new way to stand before God. There is a new way to have an identity before our Maker. There’s a new way to have our nakedness properly clothed. And this way is simply “through faith in Jesus Christ…”.
No more striving. No more posturing and buffering ourselves before God. No more trying to achieve the demands of the Law in order to feel secure. Just simple faith in the One who came and died for our sins.
And through this faith, we will find that the thou shalt not’s of the world will slowly begin to lose their bite. They will still exist, but they will no longer be a threat to us. We may even begin to find great joy in them!
However, for the Christian, our response to the Law will never be: See! I did it!! This produces legalism and turns us into Pharisees. No, when we are faced with the accusation of the Law, Christians are not those who are able to prove to the court that they have finally done everything right, or even those who have gotten way “better”.
Christians are those joyful sinners who will simply respond: “I have not, but Jesus did.” And that will be enough. Thanks be to God!