Imagine a situation where a woman was asked to try venison sausage for the first time. She ate the sausage assuming it was made from pork or beef, and was in the process of enjoying it when she found out it was venison. She apparently did not know what venison was, so as she took her next bite she asked someone sitting next to her. When she found out she was eating deer sausage, she spit it back out onto her plate and exclaimed, “I can’t eat Bambi!” Never mind that she had already eaten and enjoyed well over half the sausage; when she found out what it was, she couldn’t bring herself to take another bite. I guess for her, ignorance was bliss.
We are sometimes tempted to treat the Law of God in the same way, to act as if we would not be responsible for the consequences of breaking the Law if we didn’t know what the Law said. The implication is that God was somehow doing us a disservice by revealing the Law to us, and that we would have been better off if we would have been allowed to continue in ignorance. Paul offers a completely different perspective. Paul says that those who die apart from knowledge of the Law still die, which is proof that they are under the Law whether they know it or not. [Romans 2:12] He also says that the Law was given because of the transgressions, to demonstrate to us the reality of our situation. [Galatians 3:19] The point is that ignorance of the Law doesn’t undo its effects any more than ignorance of the type of meat in a sausage changes the meat. As we saw last month, the Law describes the right relationship between God and his creatures. Much of the world hates God’s Law and spits it out, wishing he had not revealed it in the first place. But in the life of the baptized, this revelation is a gift.
The Apostle Paul addresses this reality marvelously when he points out that the Law was given so that every mouth would be stopped. [Romans 3:19] When we read what God has revealed in his Law, the Law acts as a mirror by which we can see ourselves for what we truly are. Just like we tend to use mirrors to find out which of our hairs are out of place or to see how much lettuce is stuck in our teeth, the Law clearly shows us our imperfections before God. When the Law has done its job, we don’t like what we see. The law accuses us with its unrelenting demand for perfection. Because of this accusation and the sense of failure and shame that it brings, many people have grown to hate or resent God’s Law. They don’t like that it makes them feel bad, so they reject it altogether.
But for the baptized, this knowledge is received as a gift. Ignorance does not change reality, so the baptized rejoice that our Father has not left us unaware. Neither has he simply written the Law on our conscience and left us to figure out the rest for ourselves. Instead, he has revealed to us the depths of our sin so that we might understand our need for a Savior. This is not a one-time event, but it is the pattern of life for the baptized: continually be driven to our knees in repentance by the truth of the Law, and being continually raised up by the promise of the Gospel. As Jesus said, those who do not see their sickness will not seek a doctor. Jesus came to save the sick. We are all sick with sin, but will not seek help unless we are first given an accurate diagnosis. This is the primary role of the Law in the life of the baptized: to diagnose our sin and show us our need for a savior.
Next month we will explore what happens when the baptized, having been shown their sin and forgiven from it, set out to live life as God designed it.