by Rev. George F. Borghardt
“Do this....Don’t do that.” And if you don’t do, you go to hell. If you do do, or you don’t do it well enough, completely enough, you still go to hell.
The Law is a mirror that shows only our sins, our selfish motives, our faults, our deepest secrets. No matter what we do, the DVR of life is always recording—and the Law doesn’t miss a thing—thought, word, deed. It catches it all.
Not to mention that even if you do or don’t do all that you are supposed to do, you still go to hell because you were born going to hell on account of Adam’s dids and didn’ts.
Yet the Law was given as a gift from God. He’s our God. He protects us from what would kill us and tells us how His people are to live. But the gift has become a burden in our not doing.
Lex semper accusat. You learned that in catechism class. I did, too. It means, “The Law always accuses.” There’s never a time in which the Law isn’t accusing us, isn’t condemning us, isn’t damning us.
The Law wrecks our style. It tells us not to do stuff we want to do and to do stuff we don’t want to do. And the worst thing about it is that the Law is always true! Its condemnation is right—always right all the time.
Some gift, eh? Can we return it? If God would just stop with all His dos and don’ts, wouldn’t our lives be better? Adam and Eve sure thought so. That’s why they did what they did! They believed that their dos and don’t dos were way better than what God had said to do and don’t do.
You can try to ignore the Law and act like it isn’t there or put it behind you. But it still speaks truth, still condemns, and still hunts you down. You can jump out of a window, acting as if there isn’t gravity, but you’ll still hit the ground—hard. In the same way, you still get cast out of the Garden when you fall short of God’s Law.
You still die. Death. The Law kills. It slays. It’s worse than the Grim Reaper. In the Law, each day, each one of us, every cell in us, is dying. Adam died. Eve died. Do do, and you die. Don’t do, and you die.
Jesus first. The Law condemned Jesus first. Christ suffered the punishment for all our dos and don’ts. Every sin, every accusation—He bore it all for you and me. What He has taken upon Himself, He has redeemed, bought back, and forgiven.
We would like to hide the Law, ignore it, sweep it under the bed. But Christ has done one better! He has fulfilled the Law. He counts all His perfect doing and don’t doing as your perfect doing and don’t doing. Then He died the death that we deserve for our dos and don’ts. And we, even you and me, are saved. If He had not fulfilled the Law, it might still be out there, poised to sting, ready to reach out from under the bed and grab your leg and kill you and me.
That’s the gift of the Law: It kills us, it slays us, it buries us. The Law kills us so that we can live in Christ. Thank God for the Law!
And when you can’t lift up your dos and don’ts before God any more; when you realize that the life that you live before God isn’t life at all but just the death of your dos and don’ts—then you’ll understand all the more that the only hope you have in this world, the only salvation you have, is Christ.
Christ has saved you—by His taking on God’s dos and don’ts for you and paying the price for them. His Cross is the end of the Law for you, the end of death for you, and the end of hell for you. In His death and resurrection, you have life—life that the Law could never give you. Life that never ever ends.
And since you died to the Law in the waters of Holy Baptism, you can now live to God—not for yourself any more, but for your neighbor. God doesn’t need you to do the Law to make Him happy, but your neighbor sure does.
Do and don’t do for those around you like Christ did and didn’t do for you. Sure, the Law will still sting and accuse you. Just ignore it and cling all the more to Jesus’ forgiveness. Jesus for you and Jesus for your neighbor, too.
That’s the gift of the Law! The Law is a gift because it kills you. The Law is a gift because after you are slain by it, the Gospel raises you to new life in Christ. Then, forgiven one, the Law is a gift because it guides you in how to live for those around you. Only in the Gospel are the Law’s dos and don’ts a gift!
Pastor George F. Borghardt is the senior pastor at Zion Ev. Lutheran Church in McHenry, Illinois, and serves as the Deputy and Conference Executive of Higher Things. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.