Our country is at a cultural crossroads. Evil is on the rise. Injustice is increasing. Economic troubles are escalating. We are asking questions of ourselves and of our government: What will we do to stop the injustice? Will more laws and restrictions bring an end to the violence? Will more requirements bring a balance our financial woes? Both sides have their arguments, both sides have their answers. Neither is interested in giving away ground. Both are convinced their view of government, finances, and laws will bring resolve.
Our national political culture is not the only one in the midst of crisis and debate.
The tension is also rising in an area much closer to home for Christians: the church. As the morals of the nation and those within the church decline, the question is being asked and debated: What will we do to stop the injustice? What is needed to change people? Do we need to enforce greater consequences? Do we need to raise the standard? Do we need to hold people more accountable?
In the midst of both debates, there is something unsettling. There is something that we have forgotten. There is something we are missing. Perhaps the lapse is caused by the urgency of the moment. Perhaps it’s our fear. Whatever the case, it is essential that we know this one thing.
Laws cannot change the hearts of people.
Don’t get me wrong, government, laws, and rules have power. They are necessary within a culture and are essential for the enjoyment of our liberties. They set the standard for what is required in order to be a free citizen. They curb evil, enforce consequences, and bring about a certain amount of behavioral change. I would not want to live in a society that did not have laws. As great as the role of government and law, they are limited in what they can accomplish.
Laws can only affect behavior.
There is something more to man than just behavior. He is also made of desire, motivations, and passions. To truly bring about a change in the hearts of people, these areas would have to be impacted for good. They would have to experience something that ignited them with passion for good. This is something much deeper than just affecting behavioral change. As necessary as laws, they are limited in what they can accomplish.
- Laws cannot make someone want to do right.
Laws can establish the standard. Laws can enforce consequences for failure. Laws can even provide for blessing to those who do right. As powerful as these motivations may be, they are only temporary. Law cannot create genuine and sincere desire inside to not steal, kill, or speak evil of another. Behavior and desire are two very different things. A law cannot ignite a man with a passion to want to be good, sincere, honest, and caring. Laws cannot make a man have love, serve, sacrifice, forgive, or be humble. Those are matters of the heart that require something more powerful than a law.
2. Laws cannot free a man from his failures.
Laws and government have their power in controlling behavior. They attempt to preclude a wrong action and they give consequences if bad behavior happens. They remove the evil doer from society and make him pay for what he has done. Because of law, a man can be declared guilty. Because of law a man can serve his sentence. As powerful and necessary as those laws are, those same laws cannot free a man from his guilt. They cannot set him free from the stain on his heart and his sin. They are powerless at helping him know forgiveness, cleansing, and freedom in his heart. He may serve his sentence. He may do his time. But something he would have to experience something greater to free him from the shame and guilt he knows in his heart.
3. Laws cannot make a man right with God.
Since the Garden of Eden man has tried to define his relationship with God by the things that he does. In hopes of attaining favor, he has tried to measure his goodness by laws and standards. That kind of performance leads to outward conformity, but inward disparity. We know it as hypocrisy. We do one thing, but feel something different. We hope that our religious outward actions will atone for our inward selfishness. And it never does. The New Testament offers these words of counsel about the weakness of following laws as a way of experiencing oneness with God:
For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. Galatians 3:21b & 3:24
The debate is far from over in our country and within our churches. The tension will continue to mount and each side will increase with its proponents. We must remember however that there is only one thing that can bring the kind of change that is necessary within our culture and within our churches. That one thing is more powerful than the government and more effective than the law.
That one thing is an experience with the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
Only when a man experiences the overwhelming love and lavishing favor of God personally will his heart be restarted and ignited with love. Only after this happens will change occur. Only after He knows forgiveness can he know how to give forgiveness. Only after he experiences what it means to be served by Christ can he know to serve his fellow man.
God, in desperation we turn to You. We have exhausted our attempts at making things right. We have reached the place of frustration, emptiness, and failure. Our churches need a fresh infusing of your grace. Our land needs a fresh wave of You love. We need something different than what we’ve been doing. We need You.