Let’s say someone were hell-bent on being a good person, which is not a bad thing in itself, that’s for sure. However, imagine whenever that person observes something evil or uncomfortable emerging from his heart, such as pride, hatred, wrath, jealousy, covetousness, aggressiveness, enmity against God, or grief over a great loss, such a one would either follow a ritual of sorts by confessing his sins to God in the hope of getting rid of them or he would try to take his mind off these things by devoting himself fully to something which does not cause these bad feelings.
Do we believe that this procedure will be successful?
Alas, these attempts to deal with God’s doing inside our hearts always only scratch the surface of those things God actually wants to reveal to us, a.k.a. self-knowledge.
I admit that getting to know ourselves is a PAINFUL process. Whenever His light reaches out for another (more or less) hidden depth in that unfathomable abyss which is my heart, IT ACHES – a lot. And the first impulse is ALWAYS to run. But from experience I know that His light will touch that spot again and again until I willingly give in and say, “Yes, my Lord. I accept that pain because I want to be healed by You.”
Just think of those cases when a “good” father and husband (or mother and wife) kills his (or her) whole family. Why do you think that such things happen? A perfect law-keeper who suddenly turns into a beast or monster? Why is that?
Or let us ponder on the fact that most people are both shocked and intrigued as soon as there has been a horrible event – a mass murder or a satanic ritual murder, for example. How many people feel irresistibly attracted and repelled at the same time?
And how many “religious” people believe the lie that the evil is only to be found outside of us and therefore turn into self-righteous moralists who attack those who do not “fulfill the Law”?
The apostle Paul said,
“I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.” (Gal 4:1-3 ESV)
Martin Luther’s thoughts, particularly on verse 3, were – excerpted – the following.
“In calling the Law “the elements of the world” Paul means to say that the Law is something material, mundane, earthly. It may restrain evil, but it does not deliver from sin. The Law does not justify; it does not bring a person to heaven. I do not obtain eternal life because I do not kill, commit adultery, steal, etc. Such mere outward decency does not constitute Christianity. The heathen observe the same restraints to avoid punishment or to secure the advantages of a good reputation. In the last analysis such restraint is simple hypocrisy. When the Law exercises its higher function, it accuses and condemns the conscience. All these effects of the Law cannot be called divine or heavenly. These effects are elements of the world.
I do not mean to give the impression that the Law should be despised. Neither does Paul intend to leave that impression. The Law ought to be honored. But when it is a matter of justification before God, Paul had to speak disparagingly of the Law, because the Law has nothing to do with justification. If it thrusts its nose into the business of justification we must talk harshly to the Law to keep it in its place. The conscience ought not to be on speaking terms with the Law. The conscience ought to know only Christ. To say this is easy, but in times of trial, when the conscience writhes in the presence of God, it is not so easy to do. As such times we are to believe in Christ as if there were no Law or sin anywhere, but only Christ. We ought to say to the Law: “Mister Law, I do not get you. You stutter so much. I don’t think that you have anything to say to me.”
When it is not a question of salvation or justification with us, we are to think highly of the Law and call it “holy, just, and good.” (Romans 7:12) The Law is of no comfort to a stricken conscience. Therefore it should not be allowed to rule in our conscience, particularly in view of the fact that Christ paid so great a price to deliver the conscience from the tyranny of the Law. Let us understand that the Law and Christ are impossible bedfellows. The Law must leave the bed of the conscience, which is so narrow that it cannot hold two.”
(Martin Luther’s Bible Commentary on Galatians chapter 4, verse 3)
Self-knowledge, eventually, frees us from any accusations of the law. Knowing ourselves, we realize that we might be the worst sinners on earth regarding our flesh (Rom 7:18-24; 1 Tim 1:15), but we also know that if we trust in Christ as our only help in all things, we won’t ever do those things our minds might suggest because God is the ONE who protects us, and thus, the evil one cannot do ANYTHING, for it is written,
“We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.” (1 Jn 5:18 ESV)
I’ll leave the closing remarks to our brother Paul ( 😉 ) again.
“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” (Rom 7:25, 8:1-2 ESV)