Don't stay out late.
Eat your vegetables.
No snacks before dinner.
Don't go with girls who smoke or chew.
Don't pick on your sister.
It's like our parents wanted to catch us doing something wrong. We were bound to break these rules… except maybe the one about the girls who chew. Many of these rules were unavoidably breakable. In fact, we were pre-sentenced to be repeat offenders.
The one thing we learned about rules is that we were bound to break them. That'll keep the doors of the confession booth rotating… and the occassional reminder of our guilt a regular, if not unwelcome, guest.
Rules prove our guilt.
We can't keep them. And yet we can't seem to live adequetely without them. Imagine a Justin Beiber autograph session in Times Square with absolutely no rules for the thousands of adoring fans who turn up. No rules = chaos and trouble and manipulation and pushing and anger and rage and fist-fights… and that's just the moms who tagged along. Preteen girls? Watch out, Justin.
Or imagine if some restaurants didn't have that special rule posted in the bathroom that employees should wash their hands after… you know. I wish those signs also told the customers to wash their hands. No rules equals sick nastiness from humans. We need rules!
But even when we have rules we just seem to break them… and the rules themselves prove that we trespassed the boundary, broke the code, veered off target. Man, even when we try to keep the rules we fail. My dog is more disciplined and faithful than most people I know.
Let's look at just three seemingly easy examples:
1. Don't commit adultery. Got it. We can keep that one, right?
FAIL – Jesus said that if we even look at another person with lust in our heart we have committed adultery. Makes sense – That other person with whom we've just crossed the boundary in our heart & mind is not our spouse… and they may in fact be someone else's (or may be someday). (Matthew 5:27-30) In this age marked by pornography and sexual obsessions, perhaps this rule seems too personal and problematic, after all. Let's try another more obviously simple rule to follow:
2. Don't muder. No problem. Not on the radar at all.
FAIL – Jesus said that if we are angry with our brother and speak out in contempt or slander or sarcastic hatred we have committed murder. If we are not reconciled with our brother because of anger in our heart, then we are guilty of murder in the eyes of God. Woah— what if our brother is a Cotton-Headed-Ninny-Muggins!?! Even then, if you harbor hatred, you are guilty of being against someone created by God. (Matthew 5:21-23) Oh, is now a bad time to mention our world's obsession with belittling people with mental handicaps, making fun of someone who is overweight, passing judgment on others because of their skin color, or contributing to society's apathy towards a voiceless/defenseless life in a womb? Guilty. This is not easy. How about this one:
3. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. Ugh.
FAIL – Sometimes I feel like I do this. Often I do not. Guilty. Clearly if I can't keep little rules then I have already broken this one, intentionally or not. And, honestly, I'm not even sure this one's a rule. This one's more like a pattern, a DNA code for how God created us to live. If we are made by God, then we should act like it. It's not so much a rule as it is a way of being… and the truth is I can't even uphold this most basic of realities day by day.
So, with somewhat of a heavy heart Chapter 5 of Romans concludes that rules prove our sin and our sin reveals our guilt.
And yet, here comes God again with his own set of guidelines. Marvelous, mysterious laws from before time. Laws embedded in God's gracious character and loving will. The wonderful mystery is that our guilt actually proves God's goodness. The Good News of all of this, after all, is that our guilt provides opportunity for God to prove His grace revealed through the right-ness (righteousness) of Jesus. It's almost as if the more guilty we are, the more God can show off His great love.
So don't let anyone tell us that the first five chapters of Romans are all about sin and judgment. The truth is that it is we who are full of sin and judgment. Romans 1-5 is full of glimpses of God's Great Goodness offered to us through Jesus.
Romans 5:20-21 : 20 God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant.21 So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:20-21)