It is at times like this, when we are confronted with yet another vivid and disturbing illustration of man’s inhumanity to man, in the form of the mass murder of dozens of innocent people, that the Internet and the air waves become filled with calls for stricter laws and more stringent regulations. There are those demanding greater enforcement of our immigration laws. Others are screaming for a whole new range of restrictions on gun ownership. The pros and cons are debated feverishly and fervently by both sides. And this blog is not an attempt to take sides in the debate, but to simply remind us that there is only one law that will ever bring what it is we are looking for. The apostle Paul refers to it as the law of the Spirit of life. He wrote about this “law” in his letter to the church in Rome. “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2 ESV). Paul uses the term “law” (nomos) over 70 times in his letter, but he is not always referring to the same thing. There is general law or those man-made regulations designed to guide the actions of a given society. Every human community operates under a set of rules or guidelines that dictate the accepted behavior of its members. Paul also uses the term “law” to refer to a principle of life. We all have them. Sometimes they are societal principles or norms, but at other times they are individually ascertained and adhered to. I have my principles for life. You have yours. Paul spoke of them as the “law of the mind.”
But he also used “law” to refer to the law given by God to Moses – found in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures. In other cases, he spoke of the “law” as including the entirety of Scripture or the Old Testament. Then, of course, Paul used “law” to refer to the law of God or the Mosaic law given by Him to the people of Israel.
Yet, regardless of which of these laws Paul wrote about, none of them could regulate the behavior of mankind effectively. Even God’s just, righteous and holy law was unable to save men. In his letter to the Roman church, Paul wrote, “The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins” (Romans 8:3 NLT). God’s law was never intended to save anyone. If anything, the law of God simply revealed man’s inherent sinfulness and hopelessness. Paul personally confessed, “it was the law that showed me my sin. I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, ‘You must not covet.’ But sin used this command to arouse all kinds of covetous desires within me! If there were no law, sin would not have that power” (Romans 7:7-8 NLT). Standing firmly against every law or regulative principle is the sinfulness of man. The very existence of laws seem to feed man’s desire to break them. Again, Paul speaks from personal experience when he writes, “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good” (Romans 7:15-16 NLT).
Laws can’t change men. They can only attempt to control them. The real problem is not a lack of laws or regulatory restrictions, but an inherent problem common to all men and women. Whether we want to admit it or not, we all have sin natures. We are law-breakers. It’s wired into our DNA. We all lie, even though we know it’s wrong to do so. All of us have exceeded the speed limit on more than one occasion. Not because we had to, but simply because we wanted to. We felt we had to right to, despite the law prohibiting that very action.We seem to operate according to the old adage, “laws were meant to be broken.” When we do break the laws of our household, community, religion or nation, we tend to rationalize and excuse our behavior. If our religion calls for it, we ask for forgiveness. But the fact remains, we all break the law(s).
So are more laws the answer? Are better laws the solution to our problem, individually and collectively? In some cases, they may be. But we are highly mistaken if we think any particular laws are going to change mankind’s behavior. Unless we are talking about the law of the Spirit of life. This is the only law that can effectively transform man’s behavior from the inside-out. External behavior modification or regulation never works for long or ever produces true change. All the laws in the world that prohibit stealing will never stop anyone who is determined to do so. Moral laws restricting the practice of adultery have done nothing to diminish its existence. Gun laws, while necessary, will never stop murder or violence. So do we do away with all laws because they appear to be useless. No. That is an overly simplistic conclusion to reach. But we must always realize that if God’s law could not change the sinful behavior of men, then man-made laws are doomed to failure. The most they can do is regulate and manage man’s sinfulness. But the law of the Spirit of life can bring about real and lasting change. Rather than an external law attempting to control man’s inner behavior, the law of the Spirit of life rules from the inside. It begins at the heart of the problem – man’s heart. As the prophet, Jeremiah wrote, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9 NLT). Even Jesus said, “For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you” (Mark 7:21-23 NLT).
The law of the Spirit of life brings about heart change. It comes about as the result of an individual’s acceptance of Jesus Christ as their Savior. In order to accept Christ as Savior, you must recognize your own sinfulness and separation from God. The existence of laws and our attempts to obey them does not change the fact that we are law-breakers. If anything, laws confirm our lawlessness. And our lawlessness or sin, according to the Scriptures, condemn us to death, eternal separation from God – unless we can somehow pay the penalty for our sin or manage to live a sinless life. It is when we recognize our hopelessness and turn to God’s Son as the substitute for our sin, that we are changed from the inside-out. We receive the Spirit of God, and He empowers us to live according to the righteous standards of God, not in our own strength, but in His. We receive the Spirit of life – a new regulatory principle that determines and dictates our behavior and equips us to live accordingly.
So what does all this have to do with what happened this week? Everything. What we see happening in our world should be no shock to us. It is the natural result of the fall. Sin, like a cancer, is relentlessly spreading throughout our world, destroying lives and wreaking havoc on society. And while laws are needed, they are no match for sin. What our world needs is a Savior. And that Savior brings with Him a new principle or law for living: the law of the Spirit of life.