For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. – Romans 6:14
When we forget grace, we try to become holier than God. And, frankly, we don’t do a very good job. Once, I was literally one penny short on the change I needed to pay for copies at the UPS store. How embarrassing! Of course, the guy was really nice and told me to just make it up next time. (Not that I wanted to show my face there again!)
Later, I mentioned it to some Christian friends. They felt I should go back to the store and paid off my debt. The reasoning was twofold: I should pay back what I owe, and this would show that Christians are honest. I dutifully paid it back, thus proving that Christians are honest, but also quite weird. I think perhaps we were getting a little caught up in religious law keeping.
It’s uncomplicated to be holier than God when not much is at stake. It’s not so straightforward when lives are on the line. For example, most Christians would agree that lying is wrong, plain and simple. Corrie ten Boom was a Dutch lady who hid Jews during World War II. For a time, she and her family lived a lie, hiding people behind a cleverly designed fake wall in their home. Were they sinning? Of course not! They were loving – the heart of God’s Law.
They were finally caught and sent to concentration camps, where all but Corrie died. During Corrie’s release, she was asked to sign a document that stated she had received humane and fair treatment during her stay. Although this was a lie, she signed it. Somehow, I doubt God had a problem with that one.
Have you ever been so tired and broken that the finer points of lawkeeping are just beyond you? Happy condition! Here we encounter God as the real Person He is – not a Law Machine – and it’s very freeing.
There are examples of righteous law-breakers in Scripture. In Joshua 2, a heathen woman named Rahab hid some Israelite spies on her roof. “So the king of Jericho sent this message to Rahab, ‘Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land.’ She said, ‘Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from…. They left. I don’t know which way they went.’” So saying, she lied.
How did God respond? Rahab was welcomed into the nation of Israel (Joshua 6:25). In Hebrews 11:31, she is commended for her faith.
When righteous living becomes disconnected from loving motives, we have the holier-than-God problem. We strive to keep the smallest religious laws. The irony is that in doing so, we completely fail to fulfill the Law. We become hard and unloving.
Jesus rebuked the Pharisees of His day for this tendency. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”
Jesus also told His disciples, “apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) The truth is, we simply cannot fulfill God’s righteous Law without the empowering of His indwelling Holy Spirit.
And what is this Law? “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’” states Ephesians 5:14. If we choose to love, by the Holy Spirit’s life in us, we fulfill the Law without even trying!