With school starting up soon, teachers might greet their students with a “trick” assignment that instructs them to read all the directions before starting. The lesson typically tells them to do things like drawing something on the paper, do an impossible math problem or to stand up and shout something. However, had they read all the directions first, they would have read the final instruction telling them to disregard the previous ones.
The purpose is to emphasize the importance of reading all the instructions before starting. This image came to my mind as I completed Logan City’s primary election ballot this week.
If you live in Logan City, and are a registered voter, you received a mail-in ballot for the mayoral primary. While it’s not new for voters to mail in their ballots, voters may not realize that as a Logan city, not Cache County, election, ballots are handled differently. Ballots not mailed in are to be dropped off at boxes at the Logan city offices rather than the Cache County drop off boxes.
While the instructions are clearly printed in numerous places, I wondered how many people failed to pay attention to them and mechanically dropped them off at a Cache County Clerk’s ballot box. When I checked with the Clerk’s office, I found that of the ballots already processed for Logan city, about 20% were mistakenly dropped off. (Don’t worry if you were one of them, they will be counted as the Cache County Clerk’s office authorizes all signatures before they are returned to Logan City for counting).
When have you failed at a task because you didn’t to follow instructions? An obvious spiritual answer is that we sin because we have failed to follow the Bible’s instructions for right living. But, this view is like the trick assignment on the first day of school; we have jumped to a conclusion before reading all the instructions.
When we consider the whole message of the Bible, we find that the gospel wasn’t given so that we could make ourselves righteous, but to show us our sin and our need for a savior. In Romans 7, Paul says “But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit.” (Romans 7:6)
The purpose of the law was to reveal our sin, not to save us. Paul reasons, “it was the law that showed me my sin.” (v. 7) But if the law wasn’t going to save us by our obedience, is its purpose to simply make us feel bad? No — if we consider the whole gospel story, we find that God’s purpose in revealing our sin was to call us to confess our sin and find salvation. However, like putting the ballot in the wrong box, we have misunderstood the purpose of the law by failing to examine the whole.
So, if the purpose of the commands is to reveal our guilt, what are we to do with this information? Listen to what Paul learned: “At one time I lived without understanding the law. But when I learned the command not to covet, for instance, the power of sin came to life, and I died. So, I discovered that the law’s commands, which were supposed to bring life, brought spiritual death instead. Sin took advantage of those commands and deceived me; it used the commands to kill me.” (7:9-11) Has striving to obey the commands left you feeling lifeless?
Paul realized that his salvation comes from belief, not obedience to the law. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved.” (10:9-10)
We are likely to make false assumptions when we fail to read and follow all the instructions on a test, or our ballots, or the Bible. While at times the consequences are minor, our failure to understand what biblical obedience looks like will likely cause us to miss the meaning of the Bible’s instructions. It may cause us to see the law as a list of dos and don’ts rather than seeing the grace (undeserved favor) it testifies of in Christ.
Eldon Peterson is pastor of the Cache Valley Bible Fellowship. His column appears on the Faith page. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.