Obeying God sometimes feels like trying to cup a butterfly in my hands without damaging its wings. Obedience is a beautiful thing, but my human sinfulness, even when I don’t want it to, frustrates His efforts and even my desire to preserve that beauty.
Paul said it well in Romans 7: “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin.”
While the rest of his writing makes it clear that sin no longer totally controls those who belong to Christ, sin still has power in my flesh, the human “I-will-do-it-myself” part of me. Unless God is at work, and unless I am yielded to Him, I will sin. But even when both things are happening, the contamination of sin is such that it tries to ruin the work of God and my willingness to cooperate with His work.
This verse shows that the law of God has nothing wrong with it; it is spiritual. Yet, when I try to obey it (apart from Christ), it reveals how much is wrong with me. My devotional book gives an excellent illustration. Suppose I have a clumsy servant. As long as I never ask him to do anything, his clumsiness is hidden. But if I give a command, he gets up and begins knocking over things, stumbling, breaking dishes, and so on. The commands were okay, but the servant is all wrong. He cannot do what I ask without ruining it.
We are sinners by nature, but unless God asks us to do something, we don’t realize it. When it happens, as Paul writes in Romans 7, “sin through the commandment becomes exceedingly sinful.” It is by the law that I know how far short I fall, how much I miss the high standard of God’s holiness.
The purpose of the law of God for unbelievers is that they will know they fall short and need a Savior, but it is also the law’s purpose for me. I am saved from sin’s penalty, but to be saved from its power, I also need Jesus. I cannot conquer sin, nor can I obey the law of God if I try to do it myself. Nor can I do it if I try to direct the main player, the Holy Spirit. I must let Him do with me as He wishes, not control Him. If I interfere, the beauty of obedience is hidden.
My hands, my fleshy, sinful nature cannot wrap themselves around the butterfly. The Spirit of God is at work to produce obedience in me. The only way that can happen without me wreaking it is if I quit trying to control His movements and let go, let the Spirit take flight, and live for God—not according to my will, but His.