by Bruce Mills
I listened this week as the governor of South Carolina admitted that he had been involved in an illicit affair with an Argentine journalist. About one third of the way into his public apology, he stated, "There are moral absolutes and God's law is, indeed, there to protect you from yourself." I immediately thought, "No, it's not. It's there to reveal the sinful, corrupt, depraved condition of your heart."
Now, I think I understand what the governor meant. I think he meant that if we obey God's law, our own sinful nature will not be controlling our actions, and in that sense, it protects us from ourselves. But unfortunately, our human heart is so depraved that it is incapable of obeying God's law apart from the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit who transforms and renews our minds (cf. Romans 12:1-2). But many professing or so-called Christians seem to think that the Christian life is merely not doing certain things that God's law prohibits, and doing certain other things that God's law commands, and that if they live like that, they are "okay" with God. A statement such as that made by the governor would fit well into that kind of theological thinking.
Now, please don't misunderstand. I do recognize that God's law gives us a demonstration of what true spiritual life looks like, and that obedience to it will bring His blessing on us. Psalm 119:1-2 tells us, "How blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord. How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, who seek Him with all their heart." Proverbs 3:1-2 says, "My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments; for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you." So then, God's law is a reflection of His holy nature and character, and if it is obeyed, it produces blessing. In fact, Romans 7:12 says that "the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good." But those statements are written to those who are genuine believers whose hearts have been regenerated and have been released from enslavement to sin. They are the ones to whom those promises of blessing for obedience to God's law are written.
The problem for the unregenerate man is that he is incapable of obeying God's law because it was given to crush, condemn, and expose the sinner. It requires behaviors that are the very opposite of the desires of the human heart. It demands you do what you cannot do and love what you will not and cannot love. It asks sinners who love sin and darkness, who love the world, the flesh, and lust, to stop loving all of those things, and instead, to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, to love their neighbor as they love themselves, and to obey the moral law of God from the heart.
Even if the sinner desired to do those things, he could not do them. That's why Romans 3:10-12 says, "There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one." And a few verses later in Romans 3:20, the apostle Paul states, "by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin." Then in Romans 8:7, he goes on to explain that "the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God, for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so." So, not only is it not the sinner's desire, it is not possible for the sinner.
So, why then, did God give mankind His law if it is impossible for the sinful human heart to obey it? In order to reveal to man the true character of his sinful condition. You see, when a person comes face-to-face with the full reality of God's moral law, he sees his sin for what it really is, and that is absolutely necessary to drive a person to the only possible rescue that exists--salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. And then, once the individual has trusted Christ, it is the on-going, continual exposure to the holy law of God through the pages of Scripture that drive that saved person on toward sanctification, which is the process of becoming increasingly conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.
The whole effort of the Law comes down to this: It is to bring men and women to a sense of their sin so that they know they need to be saved, and then once they are saved, to push them on to sanctification. It is to produce in them, as Dr. John MacArthur has put it, a permanent "beatitude attitude" in which they mourn over their sin and feel inadequate, unworthy, and weak.
So the South Carolina governor is correct when he says that there are moral absolutes which originate in God and that man is expected to obey them. But he is incorrect that the primary purpose of God's law is to protect us from ourselves; rather, the primary purpose of God's law is to reveal our sinful, fallen condition to ourselves. And then, once it is revealed to us, to drive us to the only One who can offer forgiveness. I sincerely pray that the governor will look at God's law, let it perform its work in his life, and then turn in genuine saving faith to Jesus Christ. If that takes place, he will agree with the apostle Paul that "the Law...is holy and righteous and good" (Romans 7:12).