When my husband and I were first married, we bought this small old home with the purpose of fixing it up as we went along. At one point, the bathtub in the master bedroom began to sink and we realized that the flooring was rotting underneath. Once we pulled the bathtub out we realized that water damage caused from leaks in the ceiling ducts was the source of the issue, and the entire bathroom needed to be gutted.
Upon pulling the sheet-rock down, we also realized that the previous owner, instead of replacing floor joists that were rotting away, tried to prop up the wall studs with spray foam and then proceeded to cover it all up with new sheet-rock. While it looked fine on the outside, the interior structure was completely unstable. His quick-fix solution to keep the deeper problem at bay didn’t hold for very long. We had a giant mess on our hands and the entire structure had to be deconstructed and then rebuilt.
As sinners, we tend to get stuck on the belief that God is pleased with the “short cuts” we come up with to fix ourselves. We are addicted to the flavor of this juicy, self-salvific narrative we’ve created which says the Christian life is supposed to be a DIY renovation project of virtue. It feels good to believe that we can spray a few rules around our desires, propping up our weaknesses, in order to keep this whole morality construct from collapsing — we’ve convinced ourselves that this is what sanctification looks like.
“Just let me look like I’ve got my life under control!”
We believe with the help of a few self-imposed rules we can actually get better, thereby creating cheap law. “If I just avoid x,y, and z, then I can keep this Law that God has put in place which will keep Him happy with me.” We get off to the belief that there’s something that we can do to fix our brokenness, that doesn’t cost us our dignity. Essentially, we’re over here trying to catapult ourselves to the moon on a toothpick and measuring our distance to see if we are getting better at jumping. It’s as ridiculous as it sounds yet hauntingly familiar:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside, but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and every impurity.” (Matthew 23:27)
The problem is that by trusting in our rules to obtain the Law, we quickly become vexed, ending up with a bigger problem on our hands than outright lawbreaking because it always leads us to self righteousness– which is the antithesis to the gospel message. We think we are cutting it by our effort, completely missing the point of Christianity — which was founded on the finished work of Christ. This trust in rules for better behavior reveals that we know God’s Law has no power to help us obey — we need something else. Instead of turning to Christ, “who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor 1:30) we turn to piety because it feeds our desire for self-congratulations (Col 2:23).
Let me be clear, God’s law isn’t the problem, it’s our misunderstanding of it’s function and His intent with it. Our interaction with the Law is not a morality makeover, it’s an annihilation, where everything gets knocked swiftly to the ground in a pile of rubble, leaving nothing salvageable behind — especially our dignity. Stumble in just one point and you’re guilty of the whole shabang type stuff. The Law insists on the complete death of any notion that we’ve any ability to make ourselves good. It’s why Jesus took to the Mount and brought the Law down to the heart level — we thought we had this morality thing in the bag.
Sanctification is a life that is full of deaths (Law) and resurrections (Gospel) through the Spirit. It is in the wake of deconstruction under the heavy weight of the Law that we find ourselves desperate for someone else’s goodness on our behalf. It is not our feeble attempt to get better by our might, but our confession of “I can’t get better!” that puts us in the position to hear of God’s love. When the Law crushes you to death, your rules become hysterically irrelevant, and Jesus becomes the best news there is. What God required of you by the Law, love God with all your heart, mind, and soul and love your neighbor as yourself, Jesus fulfilled. He truly is the end of the Law for righteousness. God actually loves sinners, which makes Christianity such a scandal. The Law is that impossible and the Gospel is this radical.
“Does God lavish His Spirit on you and work miracles among you because you practice the Law, or because you hear and believe?” (Gal 3:5)
The Spirit meets our confession, “I can’t!” with the truth of the gospel, reminding us that Jesus, “through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Heb 9:12). We hear Jesus cry, “it is finished” and as this truth washes over our hearts, faith ignites. You have been crucified with Christ, and you no longer live, but Christ lives in you. This life that you live in the body, you live now by faith in the Son of God, who loved you and gave Himself up for you. (Gal 2:20) This is what it means to abide in Christ, to have faith in the perfect Law keeper. Through this demolition and reconstruction process, we draw near to him by faith, trusting that He is the “God of peace who sanctifies us completely.” (1 Thess 5:23-24)
The whole slop-closet full of mildewed performances (which is all you have to offer) is simply your death; it is Jesus who is your life. If he refused to condemn you because your works were rotten, he certainly isn’t going to flunk you because your faith isn’t so hot…..Because at the very worst, all you can be is dead – and for him who is the Resurrection and the Life, that just makes you his cup of tea.” – Robert Farrar Capon, Between Noon and Three: Romance, Law, and the Outrage of Grace