Thou Shalt Not . . .
God’s Law in the Life of the Baptized
I remember the first time I surprised my wife with a trip to the theater. We were dating at the time, but she was in town visiting. I bought tickets to see Les Miserables at the Fisher Theater downtown. I knew how to get to Detroit from my parents’ house in Auburn Hills, and assumed I would be able to find the theater once we got down there. Boy was I wrong! I think we were almost in Dearborn before I realized our mistake! If only I had looked at a map first, instead of assuming that I could figure out where I was going on my own, we might have had a more pleasant trip to the theater.
The Law of God often acts as a map in the life of the baptized. Once Christ is alive in us, that new creation desires to do God-pleasing things and live a God-pleasing life. The Law of God describes such a life to us, for the Law shows us life as we were created to live it. In this way, it acts as a map or GPS device to get us to our chosen destination. While our conscience acts more like a curb or guard rail that keeps us on the road by force, the Law in the life of the baptized becomes a map guiding us to a godly life on earth.
One of the problems we run into with the Law is trying to use the map to get to the wrong destination. Just as a map of Chicago will not get me safely through the Black Hills of South Dakota, so also we cannot use the map of the Law to get to heaven – our sin is too great for that. Arriving at that destination requires salvation that is beyond our ability, salvation that is given to us as a free gift through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. No, the map of God’s Law is not a map to heaven; it is a map to a godly life this side of heaven. The new creation alive in a baptized child of God desires to hear and follow the directions given by the GPS.
The difficulty is that such striving to follow the guide will only force us to see the true depth of our sin. When we truly dedicate ourselves to following God’s Law we become all the more aware of how far short we fall on a consistent basis. It is easy to conjure up excuses for the sin we lived in before we became “serious Christians.” But the gift of the Law is that it forces us to come to grips with the reality that we can’t even live God’s Law when we try our best. It is in trying hardest to live righteously that our failures hurt the most and that we begin to truly see our sin for what it is.
Thus the Law is once again acting the mirror and showing us our sin. That’s what it means when we say that the Law always accuses us. First, it accuses us of not having lived a godly life. Then, when we try to live perfectly according to the Law, it shows us that we cannot. It is always shining its holy light on our imperfections and sin. Rather than hating the Law for this, the child of God receives this knowledge as a gift, continually turning to our Lord in repentance and seeking his forgiveness. Then, having been forgiven, the child of God continues in daily life listening to the voice of the GPS.
Such is the life of the baptized. This is what Martin Luther meant when he wrote in the 1st of his 95 Theses that the entire life of the believer was to be lived in repentance. This is the attitude we take into our families and workplaces: striving to live according to God’s design to the glory of his name and for the benefit of the people around us, but being willing and even eager to acknowledge when we fail, trusting in his gift of forgiveness. Continual hearing of God’s Word, Law and Gospel alike, keeps this attitude alive in us.
Next month we will begin to look more closely at God’s Law itself as we attempt to understand the relationships that our Lord has created for us with him, with the people around us, and with the world in which we live.