On this blog, I have read many helpful discussions about the effect of God’s two words, the Law (in short, his holy standard of living from perfect love for him and our neighbor), and the Gospel (our forgiveness and complete cleansing of guilt by Jesus’ death and resurrection on our behalf) upon the human heart. Recently there has been a buzz about the potential “third use of the Law” which, some argue, propels the Christian in her maturity through its instruction, and helps her choose the good work God desires of her.
Now, I agree that God’s Law is holy, righteous, and good. It would bring happiness and freedom were I able to do it. The issue isn’t about the “what” is to be done but rather the “how”. I find it helpful to read the Bible through the eyes of an addict.
As one in recovery, it’s where I always need to begin because I remember how my sinful nature sneaks into everything I do, even when I am desperately trying to do the good. The entire discussion of whether or not the Law can instruct Christians to do the right needs to be seen, I think, through our anthropology, our sinful nature, which still lives in the Christian yet, thankfully, no longer has the final say.
As an example, I am going to freely draw from Peter C. Moore’s entry in the Two Words: Teaser Edition. (And yes, this is a shameless plug to buy it here!) In it, he uses a definition of addiction (which I think is one of the most relevant contemporary illustrations of what Christians mean when we say our human wills are bound up in sinful nature):
“Addiction, says Gerald May in Addiction and Grace, is anything to which we are drawn that keeps us from loving God with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves.”
That’s a pretty inclusive definition. I don’t think anyone, Christian or not, would be unable to relate to that reality. Moore summarizes, “These habits, attitudes, activities can be relatively innocent to an outside observer; but they have a grip on us and ineluctably pull us downwards and away from our true home” (italics mine).
In light of that, Peter quotes a poem appropriated from the beloved Psalm 23, written by a recovering drug addict who fell back into the habit once again:
Heroin is my shepherd
I shall always want.
It maketh me to lie down in gutters
It leadeth me beside still madness
It destroyeth my soul.
It leadeth me in the paths of hell for its’ name sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
I will fear no evil,
For heroin art with me.
My syringe and spike shall comfort me.
Thou puttest me to shame in the presence of my enemies.
Thou anointest my head with madness.
My cup runneth over with sorrow.
Surely hate and evil shall follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of misery and disgrace forever.
If heroin is not our drug of choice, it might be gossip, pornography, food, comparison, or career, but our re-writes of Psalm 23 would sound eerily similar. The Law shines a mirror on us, revealing how far away we are from love. The Holy Spirit convicts us, often by describing our situation, such as the heroin addict above. It’s not that I don’t want God’s peace, it’s that I need it and don’t have it on my own. When I read what I ought to do, I can never seem to say, “Yeah that’s right, I do that!” Thus I rely on the Gospel message that Jesus came not for the righteous but for sinners such as me. The Holy Spirit is in charge of producing the good fruit in us spontaneously, freely, and to tell the truth, all the needy recipient of grace cares about is being forgiven and loved. So the discussion of whether or not we need the Law to teach Christians how to behave disintegrates when we begin with our honest starting place.
“He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake…” (Psalm 23: 3)