Laws let us know when we are doing something right or something wrong. In order to illustrate this, let’s consider the speed limit. Often when I am driving around town, I see a sign that says, “45 MPH.” The sign informs me of the speed that experts think should be maintained for that particular street.
When I was younger, I would often ignore the speed limit. I would go 55 MPH or 65 MPH. I knew I was doing wrong, but I didn’t care. However, one day I was pulled over by a policeman. I received a ticket. Because the ticket was so expensive, it caused me to drive more carefully. I still sped from time to time…but I kept a careful eye out for police cars.
More recently, I became a father for the first time, and I find that I am much more conscious of driving safely. Now, whenever my son Caleb is in the car, I find myself driving under the speed limit. Caleb is 100% effective at making me drive the speed limit—and it’s not because he is writing me any tickets. In fact, with my son in the car, I don’t even need any speed limit signs. I operate under a different law, the “law of protecting my son’s life.” Or you could call it “the law of love.”
In the same way, the Law lets us know when we are doing wrong. Because disobeying the Law has consequences, it is occasionally effective at forcing us to be good. But, no one can obey the Law 100% of the time. By breaking even one law, you become a lawbreaker, worthy of punishment.
But, when you come out from under the Law and start a relationship with Jesus, you become motivated to do what’s right, not because of the threat of punishment, but simply because you don’t want to hurt the relationship. Suddenly, you are living under “the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus.” When my son Caleb is in the car, I drive safely, not because of the law, but because I don’t want to hurt my son. Relationship is a much greater motivator than the Law ever can be.
You can do right because you obey the Law, but you can also do right apart from the Law. In this illustration, what is “right” is safe driving. The law (speed limit) can make you drive safe sometimes, but the greater law of relationship (love for a son) can motivate you to drive safe all the time.
The Law is not effective at keeping us from doing wrong. It is effective at showing us when we do wrong. But, relationship is good at motivating us to do what is right. We know right and wrong because of the Law, but we know how to do right because of grace.
Law governs actions, but a grace relationship affects the heart. The Law can make you go to church, but grace compels you to worship. The Law can forbid divorce, but love between a husband and wife is a matter of relationship. The Law reduces adultery, but it can do nothing about lust. The Law can keep a person from stealing, but not from coveting. The law prevents discrimination, but not hate. In order for attitudes to change, grace is needed. My attitude toward safe driving radically changed once I had a son.