What the law does to you

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The law was never meant to work. It is just a means of showing us our sin so that we could see our need of a saviour.

When someone decides that they will try to approach God through the law, they either become religiously proud (like the Pharisees) or they just give up. They either feel like they have attained a high level of righteousness through their own power, or they are more honest and they realise that they could never live up to the law – and they are crushed by it, because they live every day of their lives under condemnation.

There are many examples of the kind of pride the law brings in the gospels: people who looked down on everybody else (Luke 18:9), did everything for appearances (Matthew 23:5) and took places of honour for themselves (Luke 11:43).

The law gives you a “righteousness of your own” (Philippians 3:9), something that you can be proud about. It inevitably leads to boasting about yourself to other people. Romans 2:17 talks about people who “rely on the law and brag about [their] relationship with God.”

People who depend on the law are compelled to look for praise and affirmation from people. Paul contrasts true (inward) Jews with outward Jews in Romans 2:29 and says, “such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.” The reason why people who rely on the law are looking for praise and approval from men is because they are not getting it from God, and so they need to get it from somewhere!

How could God’s good and perfect law have such a bad effect as producing pride in people? The law is there to show you that you cannot keep it. To miss the point that you could never attain to the perfect standard required by the law, and to say to God, “I’ll take you on,” is an incredibly proud act. The law just gives pride an opportunity to come out.

The people who realise they can never live up to the law are not in a much better place, because they are just as condemned – only they know about it. The law is a “heavy yoke” which Peter said neither they nor their forefathers were able to bear (Acts 15:10). Freedom and release from the law is significant freedom. No wonder it says, “Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

For reflection:

If anything is worth fighting for, it is your freedom. The issue of freedom versus slavery is not a minor issue. Paul didn’t just argue with people who came into the church and put people under the law because he liked arguing; he valued their freedom too much to ignore what was happening:

“Some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you” (Galatians 2:5)

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