As we observe our Legislature working toward their June deadline with increasing fervor, we might wonder, “Why do we need so many laws?”
New laws are necessary, of course, to counteract the novel ways people invent for behaving badly. For example, very few would have imagined, just a couple decades ago, cybercrime to be the issue it is today. This human tendency means job security for legislators and law enforcement!
We may find ourselves thinking if there were just the right laws in place, then people would behave better. Despite rewards for following rules, it’s human nature to break them, even those we create ourselves. (How’s that New Year’s resolution coming along, if you made one?)
Over three millennia ago, God gave his law to Moses. It’s boiled down to Ten Commandments, and the standard is stated more directly: “If you obey my decrees and my regulations, you will find life through them. I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 18:5 NLT)
If you ever thought for a moment that you’ve been able to keep the Ten Commandments, just read Jesus’ amplification of them in Matthew 5:17-48. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus applies the law to the attitude of our heart. In this light, anger without cause is as serious as murder; lustful thoughts as adultery. The bar for keeping God’s law is placed beyond all our reach.
If keeping God’s law 100% of the time leads to life, then breaking the smallest portion of it results in death: separation from our creator, from spiritual life itself.
Thankfully, there is one law different from all others: the apostle James calls it “the law that sets you free” (James 2:12). Jesus Christ, God’s only son, came to do what none of us could ever do: fulfill God’s law! He then offered himself as payment for our sins— all the laws we’ve broken— when he died as our perfect substitute on the cross. Faith in Jesus sets us free from penalty of sin, and from the cycle of trying— and failing— to keep God’s laws.
But God isn’t done blessing us yet! Through faith in Jesus, he changes us from the inside out, giving us a new heart that’s responsive to him (Ezekiel 36:26-27). He also gives us the ability, through his spirit, to live in a way that fulfills the righteous requirement of his law (Romans 8:4). There’s not enough space in this paper to tell all that God does when we trust our lives to Jesus!
So the law that will make people behave better will never come from the Legislature, as good as their ABs and SBs might be. The law that sets us free was ratified by Jesus’ death and resurrection: it becomes reality for us when we turn from being our own lawmaker and trust him for the change of heart only he can give.
Don Baumann is outreach pastor at Hilltop Community Church.