Anyone who has been in a confirmation class is familiar with the three uses of the law:
Curb – to maintain external discipline
Mirror – show us our sin and lead us to Salvation
Guide – after justification to show us how we should pattern our lives.
But lately I have seen a different use of the law; a use of the law that is most certainly in error. I have seen the law used as a club.
I notice it most often when good Christians, most of us who are well aware of the receiving of grace in the right-hand kingdom, seem to fail to apply grace in the left-hand kingdom. Instead we justify our beliefs or throw up our hands while hiding behind the law.
When we behave this way, I believe we are rightfully condemned by our non-believing peers.
I am not thinking that grace needs to be applied all of the time. That is not any more correct than applying law all of the time. However, there are some situations where we need to be reminded of the message of these verses:
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because He first loved us. I John 4:18-19
Just like the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-34) we err when we feel so confident about our cancelled debt that we neglect to show mercy to others. We may begin to believe that somehow we deserved our forgiveness.
And people, that is very dangerous territory. It is a fallacy that implies that I earned my forgiveness so now this poor fellow must earn his.
Don't go down that road.
The law becomes a club when it is used to self-righteously beat someone down:
- A justification for insulting comments.
- A refusal to practice empathy.
- A denial of opportunities that might bring about change.
- An obsessive devotion to the punishment and reward system of behaviorism.
- A false belief that we can solve the problems of our world with more law, with tougher law, with unrelenting law.
- A simple, sinful, arbitrary refusal to apply grace to a contrite sinner who needs something the law cannot provide.
We dare not ignore the warning of the parable. The servant was forgiven a huge debt – a lifetime’s worth of sin, if you will. That same servant could not see clear to forgive even a small debt for another. It did not end well.
I know I am a sinner. The mirror effect of the law shows me this every day. Yet, every day God forgives me. I live as simultaneous saint and sinner as the blood shed at the cross covers my sin and brings me into the folds of righteousness. This is a powerful, precious gift. It is a gift that demands to be appropriately shared.
I cannot change opinions, I cannot change lives, and I cannot correct wrongs or improve relationships when I use the law as a club. Only God can bring about these changes and His preferred tool is grace.
I found both law and grace in this quote from Martin Luther posted by a wise friend. May this be my guide as I expound my opinion on social media.
“For you are powerful, not that you may make the weak weaker by oppression, but that you may make them powerful by raising them up and defending them.” Martin Luther: Two Kinds of Righteousness: Luther’s Works AE: 304
Lord, remind me daily of my sin and Your grace. Enable me to show that grace to those who may not deserve it, but like me, desperately need it.
For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 5: 19-21
Amen, amen, amen.