I stood in the middle of the park, taking in the fresh air and glancing at the bench that was calling for me to take a rest on it. I was tired. I had just been walking around and the sun was beating down on me.
And then I saw it.
That ugly, menacing, obnoxious sign that warned, “WET PAINT. DO NOT TOUCH BENCH.” What was I, an obedient dog? That sign couldn’t tell me what to do. So I took it as a challenge. “I’ll show it who’s in charge,” I thought to myself. And so, I decided to touch it.
Of course I did.
I don’t remember whether the paint on the bench had dried or not, but as soon as I touched it, I was immediately made aware of the fact that I had disobeyed the sign. Of course I didn’t commit a criminal offense, but I knew I hadn’t done what the “rule” had ordered me to. And thinking back on that experience has given me a new perspective on some things.
Rules don’t change hearts.
Mom says don’t eat the cookie, and what do I do? Eat the cookie.
So-and-so says don’t go here, do this, say that, and what do I do? I go there. I do that. I say whatever it is I’m not supposed to say. Because you know what? Having a list of do’s and don’ts doesn’t change my heart, it makes whatever I’m not supposed to do seem so much more appealing.
Now, this may seem messed up. And it is. We’re obviously not supposed to sin, it’s wrong and all that, but it just-so-happens to be in our nature.
“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.”
Adam sinned and passed that sinful nature onto us. From the day we’re born, we’re doomed to have the instinct to do that thing, the selfish thing, the disobedient thing, the thing that puts us first, that thing that elevates us to think we can conquer life on our own.
And even if we feel that pang of guilt when we do what we know isn’t right or good, we tend to ignore it and do it anyway. Even the “good people” do, because it’s not something we can control by ourselves.
We are dead in our sins on our own.
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
I know that’s a very long and dense passage, but it’s so important.
We were dead in our sins, chained to a life of immorality and evil. But because of God’s grace for us, He gave us life.
The difference between death and life isn’t just the difference between going to either Heaven or Hell someday. As much as that’s definitely part of it, it’s not all.
The difference between death and life is the difference between being controlled by the sin nature or being controlled by the Holy Spirit.
People have a misconception that when you’re a Christian, you try to live a decent life, be a good person, and be kind to everyone. That it’s all about trying harder. That if we mess up it’s because we did something really wrong, so we just brush ourselves off and try “harder” next time.
But that can be just as futile as is trying to live a perfect life while we’re still entrenched in sin. Trying to impose rules does one thing: shows us that we cannot be perfect.
Look at this verse.
“For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”
The Ten Commandments were given to us to show us that we needed a Savior, not to force us to be moral people in order to earn salvation. We’ve already established in Ephesians 2 that grace is a gift, and has nothing to do with our trying to earn it.
In our recognizing our need for a Savior, in accepting that amazing and undeserved grace of God that FORGIVES US and removes our sin for us, we are made blameless in His sight. We are given the Holy Spirit inside of us to overcome our sinful nature and make us new.
2 Corinthians 5:17
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
“For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”
The law showed us our sin and revealed to us that we needed someone to keep the law for us – namely, Jesus. He didn’t just keep it, but He gave up His life as a sacrifice.
“Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”
I’m not advocating disobedience to the law here. I’m really not. I’m not saying we can do whatever we want and it doesn’t matter because we’re forgiven.
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
We’re free, and by knowing this, we should not want to waltz back into what we’ve been saved from. We don’t need to “just work harder” at being a “good person,” we need to submit to the Holy Spirit working in our lives. In this way, we throw away slavery and embrace our amazing freedom.
Making rules doesn’t change hearts. The Holy Spirit does. Live in your freedom!