By Pauline Daniel
So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. – Rom 7:12
When I was a student, we had a rule that 75% attendance was required in class to be able to appear for the exams at the end of the year. Now, why 75% and not 100%? Because there were valid reasons why a person might miss class, like being sick. But what was the effect of this rule on people who had no interest in being in class? It caused them to calculate how many days of class they could “safely” bunk. Though the rule was good, it resulted in behaviour that it didn’t intend to bring about. On the other hand, what about people that enjoyed studying? They would be in class anyway and would have 100% attendance, if they could, even if there was no rule mandating it.
That is what Paul says about the law in this verse. The commandments given to Moses for the Israelites to live by were good. They taught how God’s people ought to conduct themselves. But while the law could show the right way to live, the ability to keep the law only came from a right relationship with God.
Trying to keep the law without a relationship with God is what causes problems with the law. When we do that, we become like the first set of students looking for the minimum that we need to do to be in compliance. The law then becomes a burden and obedience becomes a struggle as described in Rom 7:13-20.
When we have a right relationship with God, however, we become like the second set of students that don’t need rules to do the right thing. Because our attitudes are transformed when we come to Christ, we don’t need the law to control us. We will want to do the right thing anyway because that is what we enjoy doing.
That is why Paul could call the law good and at the same time speak against those who clung to observing the law and tried to impose it on others - because obedience to law doesn’t, by itself, ensure being right with God. A right relationship with God comes from having faith in Him. At the same time, we don’t discard the law because it does serve to show us the kind of behaviour that pleases God. However, our goal is to be in relationship with God, not in compliance with the rules. And when we have that, the rules – though good - become redundant.
What is our attitude in living the Christian life? Are we trying to do the minimum required so that we are not considered “bad”? Or do we delight in doing the things that please God?