I'm still reading through the book of Romans. It's taking a long time, but I think I'm beginning to understand some of what's actually being taught through this book. Today I was reading Romans 4:13-15, and I realized something. Let's look at the text and see what's there:
13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.
(by the way: I use ESV inserted in blog posts these days because the Bible Verse Inserter plug-in for Live Writer is ESV-based. I still prefer the NASB, personally, but I do like the ESV.)
Taking a look at verse 15, I was thinking about the statement "where there is no law there is no transgression" and wondering whether or not it would have been better, then, for there to be no law. After all, if it's the law that makes transgression, then wouldn't it be better to have no law?
That's not what's really being said here, though. Whether there is law or not, sin remains. Consider this: we have seen various examples in recent years of things that we know to be wrong even though they were not illegal. In my lifetime we've seen laws added against stalking. I remember the first pushes to make DUIs a felony, or to at least make them a serious crime. There was no law against complex market derivative investing. It took a person's death to make people consider 'cyber-stalking' and its legality.
Looking back, law as interpreted by people has consistently held problems. The first problem is self-centeredness. Laws are typically made that suit the interests and desires of those who make laws. That's where you get slavery laws, Jim Crow laws, and much of the law you see in Islamic nations that hold back women and non-Muslims. The second problem is inadequacy. No law actually changes people's hearts. You can make discrimination illegal, but you can't change the hearts of racists.
What do inadequate laws do, then? They reveal the heart. It's the same with the law which God gave to the people of Israel. It wasn't so much about that if they could make all the festivals and sacrifices and never do what they ought not do, they'd be alright. It was that the law and their efforts to meet it would reveal if their hearts were longing for God. In national governance, the same is true. The law reveals where our hearts are. If a financial institution is honest, then disclosure laws reveal that heart (need an example? Whether their advice is really sound, I don't know, but the folks at Motley Fool have long been willing to disclose their personal biases, but do so lightheartedly. Other stock advisers, not so much). Laws related to discrimination reveal the heart.
The same is said of God's laws: the heart is reveal by the instruction given. If we are truly passionate to seek after God, then we will follow what He's given us. What do we have? Not a lot, under the New Covenant: love Him, love one another, encourage one another by meeting together, spread His Word, live like you belong to His kingdom not the kingdoms of this world, look after widows and orphans, and be faithful to your marriage (whether you've got one yet or not).
That about sums it up. Yet we sometimes chafe against these ideas, and it's not because they are hard to follow or even really need discussed. It's because our hearts are rebellious inside and we don't want to do it.
God provided laws so that we might see our sinfulness, which is there, down inside, whether we admit it or not. The law helps that. The great news is, though, that He didn't just provide a mirror to see who we are and then sit back and leave us in despair over the truth.
He gave us the opportunity to be forgiven those faults and to have that heart made new by the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He allowed the one perfect heart to count for all who believe.
And that's really good news.