Obviously, the law applies to those to whom it was given, for its purpose is to keep people from having excuses, and to show that the entire world is guilty before God. For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are. But now God has shown us a way to be made right with Him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.Romans 3:19-22 NLT)
“Obedezca Las Señales!” For those of you who don’t speak Spanish, this is a very common sign in Mexico. It says, “Obey the Signs.” This leads me to wonder, “If I haven’t obeyed the other signs, what makes you think a sign telling me to obey signs will prompt me to mend my ways?” Maybe you think I am ignorant of the purpose of the other signs. Maybe I thought they were only decorative, not really binding. Or perhaps you assume I am recalcitrant from a lack of reinforcement concerning sign compliance. Is it possible I just haven’t seen enough signs yet? One more sign may be my breaking point. Who knows?
Signs that encourage obedience to other signs are the result of people who don’t want to obey signs, who hate signs altogether, running full face into those who are tasked with enforcing regulations. This is the process spawned by legalism. In church we see the same impulse displayed in what we used to call “clothes-line preaching.” My wife points out that women are wearing short skirts. I preach on the evils of short skirts. The skirts get shorter, the men leer more intently, and the visitors leave thinking, “What a joke!” Now what? We schedule a seminar on “Lust and short skirts: Freedom Can be Yours.” Those who attend are all over 60 and leave shaking their heads and clucking, “Ain’t it awful.” We react to sin by adding more layers of law and increasing the volume. God, on the other hand, responds by pointing out the problem, changing the offender, and forgiving the offence.
You see, the preaching of law only begets sin. It stimulates the flesh rather than controlling it. It points out the sinfulness of a behavior without providing motivation or ability to change it. The signs may move me to action if I can see the benefit. I may obey the signs if I believe the authority behind the signs has my well-being at heart. In fact, if I can grasp the principles behind the signs, I may well be able and willing to control my own behavior, signs or not. That is called grace.