A young woman said she did not want to be a Christian because she was aware that Christians live according to the will of God and she didn’t want to do that because “it would not be fun.” Her understanding, however incomplete, did reveal one thing: she knew that living by God’s ‘rules’ would make her feel bad. She just didn’t know why.
Unfortunately, this perception about keeping the ‘rules’ has kept even Christians from realizing the purpose of God’s Law. Keeping it cannot make anyone holy or righteous because no one can keep it! Instead, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:20)
Trying to keep those rules is not fun because taking that route only makes people feel guilty. They realize they fall short and as a consequence must either stop trying and be left in their guilt, or seek mercy from the God they are trying to appease or please.
The second option is a good one because the God who demands righteousness also provides it . . .
“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” (Romans 8:3–5)
Those who put their faith in Jesus Christ are forgiven and the righteousness of Christ is imputed on them by a merciful God. That makes them His people, Christians who can live to please God. Yet everyone knows that Christians still break God’s laws and shock others, even themselves by their sin. How can that be explained? They have the righteousness of Christ, even the mind of Christ. What is the meaning of sin in the life of someone so blessed by the mercy of God?
In the above passage, there is an explanation, a qualifier for fulfilling the Law of God. It talks of those, “who live according to the flesh” and those “who live according to the Spirit.”
We know about people who suffer from double-mindedness, or mental illness like schizophrenia, which is not a good illustration, but enough to explain what is going on. Those who walk by the flesh are doing their own thing, seeking their own comfort and benefit, even using religious activities to do it. Those who live by the Spirit are listening to God and carefully following His direction. Their lives are governed by Him, not by their own desires. When that happens, through the Spirit of God a Christian is fulfilling His Law. It may seem weird at times, and not understood by others, but this is how I can live the way God wants me to live.
Paul rebuked the Galatians for trying to live righteously apart from this. He said, “Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? . . . . Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’? . . . . For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’ Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ But the law is not of faith . . . .” (Galatians 3:1–13)
Rule-keeping is evidence that I am trusting me. The law of God is holy, just and good, but only pride makes me think I can keep it. But that is not true . . . . “by the deeds of the law no flesh can be justified.” Instead, I need to walk in the Spirit. This is always a challenge (my flesh and my pride resists it), however humility and faith make it possible. Becoming consistent in both is a life-time challenge.
Jesus, I know that by faith in You, I fulfill the law’s requirement of perfect righteousness. I have no righteousness of my own. Faith in You does not ignore or defile or lessen the law, or make it void. Instead, because of Your grand salvation plan, by faith and grace, walking in Your Spirit is the only way I can honor Your Law.