Outside of Christ we are all under the law. Whether we wish to acknowledge it or not, this is a universal fact of existence. Now, when I say law, I’m not speaking of any particular laws found in the Bible, but rather any form of outward standard that plays the voice of accusation in our lives. Sure, the laws found in the Bible are included in this, but the fact of us being under the law is something we all know deep down (Romans 2:14-16). Paul Zahl is insightful here:
The principle of the divine demand for perfection upon the human being is reflected concretely in the countless and external demands that human beings device for themselves. In practice, the requirement of perfect submission to the commandments of God is exactly the same as the requirement of perfect submission to the innumerable drives for perfection that drive everyday people’s crippled and crippling lives. The commandment of God that we should honor our mother and father is no different in impact, for example, than the commandment of fashion that a woman be beautiful or the commandment of culture that a man be boldly decisive and at the same time utterly tender.[i]
Simply put, the world is full of laws. We can see this in every facet of life.
Using the example of identity Tullian Tchividjian writes, “Identity is an area of life frequently mired in legalities: ‘I must be a ______ kind of person, and not a ______ kind of person if I’m ever going to be somebody.[ii]” Have you ever thought like this? We hear the law’s voice every time we think thoughts like, “If I could just be a more patient husband,” or “If I could just achieve this or that level of success.” This is particularly true when something becomes an idol in our lives (i.e. something we base our entire lives around). When this happens, the object of our adoration becomes a harsh taskmaster.
The problem with the law is that it never ends and it always accuses. No matter how much wealth one accrues he/she will always want more. No matter how good of a father I become, I could always be better. Again Zahl’s insight is priceless:
The law, even the law when it is thoroughly unhinged from theology, accuses, and it accuses always. The principles of law in secular dress are not any different from their theological framing in the way that they are heard.[iii]
For example, the demand to be a mother who has it all together is no less accusatory than God’s saying, “Be perfect, as I am perfect.” In the end both reduce their object to despair.[iv]
This dynamic of humanity under the law is poignantly played out in Radiohead’s famous song “Creep.” This breakout single tells the story of a man who tries to get the attention of a woman he is attracted to by following her around. In the end though, he lacks the self-confidence to pull it off.[v] This said, “Creep” is more than another boy-chase-girl song. In it we are treated to the despair of one who failed to meet the law and his idol’s demands. Just look at the tortured lyrics! The law accuses its subject to the point of non-existence. When Thom cries out, “What the hell am I doing here? I don’t belong here…” we hear the cry of humanity itself under the burden of the law. In a similar way, concerning the law’s burden, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Romans 7:24 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” In the face of the law’s demands, be them from God or man, we are helplessly in need of a deliverer.
I opened this post by saying outside of Christ we are all under the law. The inverse of this statement is that in Christ we are no longer under the law. Paul writes, “Romans 10:4 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” What this means is that in Christ God has dealt with our failure to fulfill the Law of God. This accomplished fact then renders all other laws, be them from God or man, silent in their ability to accuse. Tchividjian writes, “The internal voice that says, ‘Do this and live,’ gets shouted down by the external voice that says, ‘it is finished.[vi]’”
The consequences of this are almost beyond description. Because of Christ, I’m no longer defined by my failures, but rather I’m defined by Christ’s victory on my behalf. The law has mired me a “Creep and Weirdo,” but God the Father says, “This is my child with whom I am well pleased.” No longer do I have to look for approval and validation for my existence from a million different sources. All approval and validation is already mine in Christ Jesus. This is all because of the profound mystery that, “2 Corinthians 5:21 1 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” To put it in the terms of Thom Yorke’s cry, “I wish I was special,” the answer would be, “You are special, not because of anything you have brought to the table, but simply because of the fact that God has loved you through Christ.” As Luther writes, “The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it.”
[i] Zahl, Paul. “Grace in Practice” pg 28-29
[ii] Tchividjian, Tullian. “Glorious Ruin” pg 64
[iii] Zahl, Paul. “Grace in Practice” pg 22
[iv] Ibid. pg 29
[vi] Tchividjian, Tullian. “Glorious Ruin” pg 67