In Part 1, we looked at our spiritually bankrupt position before God, and how we owed Him everything and couldn’t pay it. However, not only did God declare us bankrupt, but He also paid the debt, clearing our record and fitting us for heaven.
There is a second debt we owe, and that is to the Law.
We live in a world of rules. Every sport and game has its rulebook. Even children at play invent games with rules, usually in favor of the one making the rules! There are traffic rules, military rules, government rules, social rules, office rules, business rules, and relationship rules. Sometimes the rules are plainly spelled out, and sometimes they’re not. There is a satirical list that surfaces now and then, that itemizes the rules of relationships as understood by women. The last rule is, “Women reserve the right to change the rules at any time without prior notice!” Sometimes we don’t know “the rules” until we’ve broken them. How often have you heard, “Real men don’t . . . ” or “A wife shouldn’t . . . ” or “Friends don’t . . . ” or “You can’t . . . !”?
Rules and laws are meant to preserve the peace and create a just, orderly society. They rein in the selfish tendencies of mankind and protect the innocent, and also define the character of the lawgiver(s). Sadly, they can be created for evil purposes, and can be twisted or misinterpreted or ignored with malicious intent. In any case, laws, in order to be compelling, must have penalties attached to them. Laws without penalties are as effective as a lion without teeth. And, they must be understandable and equitably enforced.
Obeying laws is part of the responsibility of belonging to any group. Anyone who considers himself above the law puts himself in the place of the lawgiver or governing body, and causes disruption and damage. We owe the “powers that be” obedience to their laws.
The word owe carries the idea of debt. It is related to the word ought. When we ought to do something, it’s because we owe it to someone. As we saw in Part 1, failure to pay a debt incurs penalties.
We all belong to some group or society. Ultimately, whether we are Americans or Zambians, hermits or glitterati, Catholics or Protestants, Jews or Atheists, sinners or saints, we all belong to one vast, ancient, all-inclusive society called the human race. And the “Powers That Be” is the Triune God. And He made the rules.
The bulk of the Old Testament is the story of how God created a people to display His nature to the world, and he did this by giving them, through Moses, the Law (Deuteronomy 4:5-8). We learn (both by Scripture and experience!) that no one can keep all the laws. Adam and Eve had only one rule, and they broke it! How much harder it is to keep the myriad of rules in the Bible!
“So I break a rule here and there. God will understand and overlook it.” Remember that God is holy and just, and any offense against Him is an infinite offense. James says, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10). So, whether we break one law or one hundred, the debt is the same. And it’s no use trying to pick and choose which laws to obey, because “I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law” (Galatians 5:3). Some people thought that being circumcised and acting like a Jew would save them, whereas Paul said, in essence, that if you want to be part of that society, you have to obey all its rules. You owe it to them.
No one can pay the debt owed to God’s law. That law reveals the holy character of God and is applied universally, and we all fail in some point. And failing in just one point, as we saw above, makes us bankrupt! We learned last week that the penalty for failure is death. And Christ paid that debt for us on the cross.
If we want to try to please God by keeping some of His rules, then we have to play by all the rules. Is there an alternative? Yes: “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4).
Any attempt to merit God’s favor with religious rituals is futile. Paul stated, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Colossians 2:16, 17).
Does this mean there is no more law once one becomes a Christian? Indeed, there is an exceedingly big one: “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right” (James 2:8).