When I was a teenager and young adult, I thought that I was pretty much invincible. I think that this is pretty normal. When we are young, we may feel like we can do anything, treating health and safety warnings (from those who are older than us) as if they only apply to other people. The older I get, though, it seems that the reality of the human condition – its frailty and finite duration – becomes more and more obvious.
Whether for myself, a loved one, or an acquaintance at work, we may hear that a doctor has given a prognosis. As empathetic human beings, we cringe internally while the story is being told, until we learn whether the outcome is good or bad. Sometimes, it’s really bad: Diseases where our own bodies are turned against us, like autoimmune disorders or cancer. Or, conditions where good things become dangerous, like food allergies or impairments that restrict our activities.
Take a look at Paul’s comments about the law that was given to the Israelite people, which was still revered by the Jewish people in Paul’s day:
But how can that be? Did the law, which is good, cause my death? Of course not! Sin used what was good to bring about my condemnation to death. So we can see how terrible sin really is. It uses God’s good commands for its own evil purposes.
Romans 7:13 NLT
The truth is, if we choose to break God’s law, we deserve punishment: not just a failing grade on an exam, but eternal separation from Him. This includes both the formal laws that He has shared with humankind throughout history, and the innate laws that He writes into the consciences of those who may not have read the Bible.
In our finite minds, and self-seeking attitudes, we might accuse God of setting us up to fail. “How can we follow all of these rules?”, we ask, “We’re imperfect human beings, after all!” (As we think more clearly through things, though, we see that Jesus proved that life could be lived without sinning, and – if we are honest – we will probably acknowledge that our choices are driven by our selfishness, pride, and other bad choices that we entered into willingly.)
Paul spells this out in the passage above (and, in more detail throughout the book of Romans, which is a deep – but very valuable – read). The law (the “rules”) wasn’t wrong in itself. In fact, a careful examination of God’s law confirms that it actually leads to the good of mankind. If we – as the human race – were able to follow God’s commandments perfectly, not only would each of us be better off individually, but society would function better than any community on earth today (even the church, itself).
No, the rules simply define right from wrong. They are not evil. They merely define what good and evil looks like. After all, evil is pretty much anything that is “not good”, as “good” is measured against the nature of God.
So, what should our attitude be towards what God has shown us about right living? Do we see it as a “velvet rope”, meant to keep us from getting into a venue with a musician that we want to hear? Or, do we see it as guard rails on the road of life, meant to keep us from driving off into the ditch and getting stuck – or worse? From another perspective, is it just a healthy of food that we really don’t like (but have to choke down because we are forced to), or is it a treatment for a serious illness?
I admit that sometimes I don’t like rules. I want to do things my own way, and not take time to do the right thing in the right way. Shortcuts look easier, and it’s tempting to try something else. Still, left to my own opinions and preferences, without the direction of God’s Word and the Holy Spirit, I’m letting a chronic illness – sin – consume me. Sin will eat me up, taking away my joy, my health, my wealth, and my wholeness. God’s instructions just point out what sin is doing, and they remind us that we need a cure. Following those rules won’t cure sin itself, but they at least remind me to stay on my “treatment” plan: following Jesus daily, as the source of my salvation.
May you remain on the path to better spiritual health, today.