THE NATURE AND ROLE OF LAW
Luke tells us in Acts that “Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” It was on his trip to Damascus that Saul of Tarsus encountered the Lord Jesus. When Jesus accused Saul of opposing Him, He did not indict Saul with violating His Law. Saul had done no wrong.
Later in his life, Saul (now Paul) testified before Agrippa that Jesus said to him on the Damascus road, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.” Evidently the Holy Spirit had been working in Paul’s life prior to his conversion. This may have included a sense of discomfort and guilt when he witnessed the stoning of the martyr Stephen. We cannot tell. But whatever the nature of the “goading” by God, Paul had no reason to believe he had in any way transgressed God’s commandments. His mission to Damascus was, from an Old Testament perspective, a noble one; he sought to keep the True religion pure.
When writing to the church at Philippi, he boasts in his pedigree saying, “Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” From Paul’s perspective, he kept the Law – a remarkable statement from a man who later calls himself “the chief of sinners.” The point, however, is that when Paul met Jesus en route to Damascus he viewed himself as circumspect in his relationship with God and blameless in keeping the Law. And yet, God called him His enemy.
I cannot imagine the trauma experienced by Saul when he pondered the implications of Jesus’ accusation. How would you feel if you had given your life in dedication to what you believed to be the will of God, only to discover that your life was in opposition to the will of God? Luke records, “And Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.” We cannot know what raced through the mind of Saul as he waited in the room in Damascus for the healing touch of Ananias, but with a bit of sanctified imagination, we can see him wrestling with how such a thing could have happened. How could he be “touching the righteousness, which is in the law, blameless,” while at the same time the enemy of God?
IMPOTENCE OF THE LAW
This may very well have been the moment that Paul understood the impotence of the Law in man’s ability to find favor with God. During his ministry, he constantly called attention to the Law’s inadequacy.
To the church at Rome he wrote: “You are not under the law, but under grace.” “Likewise, my brethren, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God.”
To the Corinthians Paul wrote: “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law I became as one under the law — though not being myself under the law — that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law — not being without law toward God but under the law of Christ — that I might win those outside the law.” Note that Paul says, “I became as a Jew.” When he came to Christ he became a citizen of Heaven, and ceased, in his own eyes, being a Jew. In the same way he practiced the Law when with those for whom the Law was important, but Paul felt no obligation to keep the Mosaic Law, only the commandments of Christ.
In II Corinthians, Paul addresses the influence of Judiazers in the life of the church. Even though they call themselves ministers of Christ, Paul refers to them as “false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ,” for they taught that the Corinthian believers had to practice the Mosaic Law in order to please Christ. These antagonists of Paul argued for the continuity of the Mosaic Covenant. When you live under the Law you tend to measure your worth before God by the degree to which you keep the Law. Performance influences your position in eternity, but it has nothing to do with your relationship with Christ. When you live under Law, you are forced to think of external behavior, the keeping of the Law. When you live under grace, you are forced to think of internal behavior, i.e. – that which pleases the indwelt Christ. In a moment we will see the critical importance of this difference.
When writing to the churches in Galatia, Paul says: “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.”
Paul warns the Corinthians: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body.” When you stand in the presence of God, giving account for your life, imagine your response to God when He asks you the following:
“How was your prayer life?” You respond by pointing out that you daily came before Him in prayer, registering your dependence upon Him. He points out that your prayer life was lacking, for you were to “pray without ceasing.”
You ask Him if He would change the subject, and He asks, “How was your time in the Word of God?” After you comment on your Bible reading program, etc., He reminds you that you were to allow the “Word of Christ (to) dwell in you richly,” suggesting that you failed in this area of your life.
Next He calls upon you to give account for your evangelism. Embarrassed, you ask again if He would change the subject. So He asks you to explain your keeping His command to love your wife. Feeling a bit better about this, you point out that you in fact did love her. He retorts, “As Christ loved the Church?”
It becomes immediately apparent to you that the Savior can find fault with you in any area of your life that He pleases. Paul discovered this regarding his own life while on the road to Damascus. The Law is impotent in its ability to help you to be “blameless” simply because much of the Law (as well as the commandments of Christ in the New Testament) defies specific application in your life. What do adequate prayer, evangelism, and love look like?
God is absolutely consistent, but He is not predictable. You can no more predict how God will evaluate you on the Day of Judgment than Paul when He met Jesus en route to Damascus. If you think you can, you have an inadequate understanding of God.
From this, what should we learn? Let me suggest the following:
First, if God does fault you on the Day of Judgment, as He most probably will, your best response is that of King David when God charged him with sin: “For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.” Your relationship with Him was established by grace, and if grace fails you at your Reckoning, then all is lost. Freely admit to Him that your ability to please Him rests solely on His willingness to find favor with you.
Second, remember that God does not want you to be able to predict how He will respond in these and other areas of your life. If you are confident that He will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” you will cease being dependent upon Him. His unpredictability keeps you broken and humble before Him, which is the only safe posture to maintain with God.
Third, although this may appear contradictory, your relationship with God had nothing to do with your performance; it was His performance on the Cross that established the relationship. You must carefully maintain a distinction between God holding you accountable for all you do, on the one hand, while remembering that your relationship with Him rests in His grace alone. Grace does not eliminate accountability, just as forgiveness does not eliminate consequences. (If, in a moment of despair, you jump from a tall building, God will forgive you, but He will not eliminate the consequences.) Grace simply ensures that your relationship with God has nothing to do with your performance.
By His sovereign grace,
 Acts 9:1-2
 Acts 26:14
 Philippians 3:6
 Cf. I Timothy 1:15
 Acts 9:8-9
 Romans 6:14
 Romans 7:4
 I Corinthians 9:20-21
 Cf. II Corinthians 10:7, 11:23
 II Corinthians 11:13
 Galatians 3:24-25
 II Corinthians 5:10
 Cf. I Thessalonians 5:17
 Colossians 3:16
 Ephesians 5:25
 Psalm 51:3-4
 Matthew 25:21