The Purpose of the Law — Center for Action and Contemplation

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The Purpose of the Law

Law and Grace

The Purpose of the Law
Monday, May 22, 2017

Why did Paul come to the subtle but crucial understanding of the limited and dangerous possibilities of law/requirements? Probably because Paul himself had been a man of the law, and he saw that it led him to “breathing threats to slaughter the Lord’s disciples” (Acts 9:1). As he tells us in Philippians (3:4-6), Paul was a perfect law-abiding Pharisee: “As far as the Law can make you perfect, I was faultless,” he says. He seems to wonder, “How could such perfect religious observance still create hateful and violent men like me?” That was Paul’s utterly honest and humble question. (Many folks today would be wise to ask the same question of themselves.)

What is the law really for? It’s not to make God love you. God already loves you, and you cannot make God love you any more or any less by any technique whatsoever. The purpose of spiritual law is to sharpen your awareness about your own weaknesses and about who God is for you in that situation. When you recognize your own radical inability to really obey the purpose of the law and, in that same moment ask for God’s mercy, you have achieved its deepest purpose. If you have ever tried to get rid of a negative thought by mere will power, instead of by a “Higher Power,” you have surely experienced this reality. Surrender is the goal, not personal success.

God not only allows us to make mistakes, but even uses our mistakes in our favor! That is the brilliant Gospel economy of grace, and it is the only thing worthy of being called “good news and a joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10). When you come out of the boxing ring of the creative tension of law and grace, you will know that you have finally won the match; but ironically, you will have won by losing!

Gateway to Silence:
By grace I am saved.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2008), 82-84; and
New Great Themes of Scripture, disc 4 (Franciscan Media: 2012), CD.

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