Seven Signs that You Might Be Living Under Law
BY PAUL ELLIS
CS Lewis said that the safest road to hell is the one without signposts. You might say the same thing about the road that leads back to the law. It’s gradual and unmarked.
Can you imagine the Galatians saying, “let’s set aside grace and re-instate circumcision” or “let’s stop trusting Jesus and try earn our salvation”? Of course not, for if they had thought about what they were doing in such terms, they would’ve stood firm and resisted the yoke of slavery.
Paul said the Galatians were “bewitched.” Some translations say they were under a spell. Paul wrote to set them free from the spell of the law and that meant asking a few pointed questions. Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard (Gal 3:2)? Are you trying to complete with human effort that which God began (Gal 3:3)? Does God manifest His presence among you because of your moral striving or because you believe what you heard (Gal 3:5)?
If the road to law is unsignposted, then one way to remain free in grace is to erect signs that reveal law’s boundaries. This is exactly what Paul does when he flags grace-killers like human effort (Gal 3:3), the traditions of men (Col 2:8), rules and regulations (Col 2:21-23).
In Part 1 of this series I said I wished Adam had put a big fence around the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. He didn’t, so guys like Paul have had to warn believers like the Galatians about the dangers of nullifying grace by returning to the law. Self-imposed law can take many forms. In Part 1 I listed seven signs that will alert you when you’re in danger of trading free grace for enslaving law. Here are seven more…
1. You feel rejected, guilty, condemned, or unworthy.
Condemnation is the number one symptom of a law-based life for the law is a ministry that condemns (2 Co 3:9). Before the cross, Adam’s sin meant condemnation for all men (Rms 5:18). Before the cross, God held us responsible for our sins and not even sacrifices could clear a guilty conscience (Lev 5:17; Heb 9:9). There’s only one thing guaranteed to clear a guilty conscience and that is the blood of Jesus (Heb 10:22). Now there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus (Rms 8:1). By God’s perfect standard, all of us are unworthy, all of us fall short. Not one of us deserves what God has given us and that’s why it’s called grace. He qualifies the worst of us and makes us His beloved sons. A life captivated by His grace responds with “thank you Jesus!” But a life under law ignores what Jesus has done and chooses to remain under condemnation. For more, read this from CS Lewis.
2. You think working out your salvation means working for your salvation.
It doesn’t. Jesus’ work on the cross was perfectly perfect and completely complete. Because of His sacrifice you have been made perfect forever (Heb 10:14). As He is, so are you in this world (1 Jn 4:17). Your work is to rest in Him. Click on the link to learn what it means to work out your salvation.
3. You treat the Bible as a road map or instruction manual.
We are to live by the Spirit, not by the book (Gal 5:16). God wants us to have a relationship with Himself, not with His love letter to the world. Jesus gave us a pattern for Bible study on the road to Emmaus when He pointed out in the Scriptures all those things concerning Himself (Lk 24:27). Don’t read the Bible merely to find out what to do. Read it to discover Jesus.
4. You think the remedy for lukewarmness is to get zealous for God.
Contrary to what you may have heard, we are not in a Mr or Miss Enthusiasm contest. God is not watching you on Sunday morning to see if you’re singing or clapping louder than the person next to you. Jesus is not going to vomit you out if you don’t get up and dance or hand out a gazillion tracts. Carnal zeal gets you nowhere with God (Rms 10:2). Genuine enthusiasm comes not from what you have done for God, but from appreciating what God has done on your behalf. And what has he done? He has made you, a born sinner, righteous and acceptable through the blood of Jesus. There is no middle, lukewarm ground. (Click here if you’re thinking of the Laodiceans.) You are either “the people” of God or you’re not (1 Pet 2:10). We don’t declare His praises to become a people belonging to God. We praise Him because we are a people belonging to God and He is praiseworthy!
5. You are conscious of your debt to God.
What debt? You were in debt but Jesus redeemed you. On the cross, the righteous demands of the law that stood against you were fully satisfied. If the debt had not been met in full, Jesus would not have risen from the dead (Rms 4:25). Or perhaps you think this unfathomable act of grace now obligates you to God, that He bought your debt and now you owe Him. A law mind-set will always get you to focus on what you have done, or in this case, what you have not done and cannot do. A perception of indebtedness will cripple you and make you grace-resistant. God didn’t redeem you because you deserved it or because He was looking for an army of indentured servants. He did it because He is the Ultimate Giver and it’s His nature to love on us. See every good thing in your life as a gift from God (Jas 1:17). He gave you His Son (Jn 3:16), His Spirit (Acts 2:28), His life (Rms 6:23), His righteousness (Rms 5:17) – even your faith is His gift to you (Eph 2:8). Stop trying to pay Him back for His priceless gifts – it’s an insult to generosity of the Giver. Just bow your grateful soul and just say “thank you Jesus!” Then go tell other people the good news about this Great and Giving Redeemer.
6. You think your illness is God punishing you for your sin
It’s quite possible that your illness is the result of sinful choices you have made, but God is not making you sick. A law mindset says you reap what you sow, that if you do bad (eg: sin), you get bad (eg: sick). But grace declares that God already judged all your sin at the cross. Jesus went around healing people. If God the Father is making people sick while God the Son is healing them, then they’re a house divided. Jesus provided for your salvation and healing at the cross. A person under grace won’t take sickness lying down but will proclaim the Lord’s death over their infirmities.
7. You think there is too much emphasis on the goodness of God.
And let me guess – not enough emphasis on the badness of God?! “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.” (Deut 32:4). There is no variation, no shadow of turning with God. He is good all the way through and He is good all the time! It’s no more possible to overemphasize His goodness than it is to grasp the width, depth, height and length of His love (Eph 3:18). (But I encourage you to try!) We need more emphasize on the goodness of God, not less! If you’re not convinced, read this post on the goodness of God.