The Law Makes You Worse

abcDo’s and don’ts. Don’t flirt. Don’t lust. Don’t watch porno. Don’t date…until you’re ready to marry by faith. Don’t be lazy. Work hard. Prepare for Bible study. Write your repentant testimony. Feed sheep (five a week, or at least one). Don’t complain. Be thankful. Be faithful. Just obey.

It doesn’t work. Though not entirely, yet as a Christian I generally don’t disagree in theory and principle with the above imperatives. The problem is that it doesn’t work! Sooner or later it produces despair and despondency (because I just can’t stop flirting!). Or it produces varying degrees of pride and self-righteousnes (What’s wrong with those rebellious, complaining, disobedient, immature, proud people!).

Law and grace. As I am studying and preaching on Romans at West Loop in some depth and detail, it seems rather clear that Paul makes it a point to elaborately explain and distinguish between grace and law, faith and works, credit and merit, justification and work righteousness, humility/unity and elitism/nationalism.

Do I need to know the difference? I used to think that nitpicking about such theological distinctions was practically irrelevant. I regarded it as unnecessary, since Christians should primarily just feed sheep (Jn 21:15-17) and make disciples (Mt 28:19).

A hole in our gospel when discipling others. But if we ignore such biblical Pauline teachings we are ignoring a significant chunk of teachings in the NT. We will have some hole in our gospel. Mainly, we Christians often think that the way to genuinely help others is to simply instruct them correctly and biblically as to what to do. We should tell them to obey the teachings of the Bible. In other words, we are giving them the law, some law, some imperative, some command that they should follow and obey. (See the first paragraph.)

The law, though good, makes us worse. Paul said that the law is good (Rom 7:12), since the law is from God and it reflects who God is. Yet the law is NEVER able to change or transform anyone, since as sinners, including all Christians, the law makes us worse, not better.

Be humble. For instance, if you tell an older Christian, “Be humble,” he knows that what you said is correct. But he will likely not become humble just because you clearly told him what he knows is biblical, correct and true. Yet surprisingly, when this older Christian tells someone younger that they should be humble, they often somehow expect that their directive and command be followed and obeyed.

The law makes you and your sin worse. Paul’s repeated point in Romans is that the law doesn’t work. In fact, the law:

  • shows you your sin (Rom 3:20)
  • brings the wrath of God (Rom 4:15)
  • increases sin in you (Rom 5:20)
  • arouses sinful passions in you (Rom 7:5)
  • produces sinful desire in you (Rom 7:8)
  • weakens you (Rom 8:3)

Only the gospel is the power of God for salvation (Rom 1:16). It is surely the reason why Paul explicitly stated that testifying to the gospel of the grace of God was his only aim in life (Ac 20:24).

Does it make sense that the law makes you worse, not better? Is your life driven by the gospel of God’s grace? Or is it driven by the law? Does your church motivate people by the gospel of God’s grace? Or by the law?


  1. forestsfailyou

    Someone recently expressed to a good friend of mine (who is a missionary), that they were very concerned about me and hoped I would become more like Jesus. The friend said that he felt I was growing in the grace of God, but then the “concerned” person said “yes but I hope he grows in the law.” It was so funny to hear such a thing (to me).

    A few things. First the law is a school master, it is like a mirror that shows us how bad we are, but in order to get clean I cannot use the mirror. I must find something else, and that something else is Jesus. My sin will continue to made me worse in worse if I in vain, attempt to be clean by the mirror. Secondly, theological issues turn into practical issues. I like to think of theology as a map. If my map is wrong I will end up in the wrong spot. I sympathize with the view that theology is unimportant compared to Christ. I understand it, it is like saying the best thing about climbing a mountain is reaching the top. The summit is the most important, but if my map brings me in circles around the mountain I will never get to my goal. Theology is a gift of God given though faith that allows people to avoid pitfalls and turnabouts in our climb to Christ. It is a weapon against the deceiver. But it is true. The map cannot be taken as the thing itself. The map might show the mountains summit, but that picture is not the summit itself.

  2. “the law is a school master…”

    I agree, and so does Scripture. Galatians 3:25 was massively healing for my soul. The law is no longer our school master! Our new master is grace and we are now bound to the Spirit!

  3. Great thoughts Ben. I think you’ve captured some of the key points of what I call outlaw theology.

    I’ll repeat my contentions, which I stand by more and more passionately the more I learn:

    1. Christians do not strive to obey God’s Law, but to follow Jesus.

    2. God’s Law has a purpose: to teach a redemptive narrative about Jesus.

    3. God’s Law is an all or nothing proposition. If you attempt to obey any part of it, you must obey all of it.

    4. God’s Law is not binding nor unifying on Christians, but the Spirit of God is binding and unifying.

    5. Any attempt to implement God’s OT law is an attempt to rebuild what Jesus fulfilled. If we try to do that, what sacrifice remains?

    So then, how can our righteousness surpass that of the teachers of the law? How can we be perfect? The answer is as astoundingly deep as it is blatantly obvious: love.

  4. forestsfailyou

    How do you all feel about todays utmost devotional

    My Utmost For His Highest



    Oswald Chambers’ BioAboutUpdated EditionLogin

    The Eternal Goal




    By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing…I will bless you… —Genesis 22:16-17

    Abraham, at this point, has reached where he is in touch with the very nature of God. He now understands the reality of God.

    My goal is God Himself…
    At any cost, dear Lord, by any road.

    “At any cost…by any road” means submitting to God’s way of bringing us to the goal.

    There is no possibility of questioning God when He speaks, if He speaks to His own nature in me. Prompt obedience is the only result. When Jesus says, “Come,” I simply come; when He says, “Let go,” I let go; when He says, “Trust God in this matter,” I trust. This work of obedience is the evidence that the nature of God is in me.

    God’s revelation of Himself to me is influenced by my character, not by God’s character.

    ’Tis because I am ordinary,
    Thy ways so often look ordinary to me.

    It is through the discipline of obedience that I get to the place where Abraham was and I see who God is. God will never be real to me until I come face to face with Him in Jesus Christ. Then I will know and can boldly proclaim, “In all the world, my God, there is none but Thee, there is none but Thee.”

    The promises of God are of no value to us until, through obedience, we come to understand the nature of God. We may read some things in the Bible every day for a year and they may mean nothing to us. Then, because we have been obedient to God in some small detail, we suddenly see what God means and His nature is instantly opened up to us. “All the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen…” (2 Corinthians 1:20). Our “Yes” must be born of obedience; when by obedience we ratify a promise of God by saying, “Amen,” or, “So be it.” That promise becomes ours.

    • I agree with every fiber of my being. I love this quote:

      “There is no possibility of questioning God when He speaks, if He speaks to His own nature in me. Prompt obedience is the only result. When Jesus says, “Come,” I simply come; when He says, “Let go,” I let go; when He says, “Trust God in this matter,” I trust. This work of obedience is the evidence that the nature of God is in me.”

      When Jesus commands me to do something, I am learning not to question it. He told me “Resign from ubf and you will be crucified”. But I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to be the one to engage in all the ugly conversations. I didn’t want to hurt my friends. I just wanted to live my life and be with my family. I didn’t want to get involved with all the mess. But Jesus said “Go.” So I went.

  5. Here is a relevant quote that I love from Danaher. The Christian gospel is not anarchy (I am not against laws in general).

    “God’s law must be rethought, not only because of our renewed understanding of sin, evil, and good, but because the gospel gives us a perspective of law that is radically different from the concept that we acquire as we are acculturated into human society.”

    Eyes That See, Ears That Hear: Perceiving Jesus in a Postmodern Context (James P Danaher) Kindle Edition, Loc. 1399-1403

  6. I read this from a blog today and it reminded me of this article:

    “It’s interesting to me that when someone comes to faith in Christ for the first time we tell them that there is absolutely nothing that they can do to free themselves from their sins, and that they must fully trust Christ to save them and cleanse them. But when a believer confesses that they are entangled in sin, we tell them that they must try harder! Try harder? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh (Galatians 3:3)?
    Your trying harder didn’t get you saved, your trying harder can’t keep you saved, and your trying harder definitely has no power to make you pure!
    The real key to purity is not trying, but believing! That’s right; the same thing that got you saved when you came to Jesus for the first time will get you clean and keep you clean!”

  7. I dont think the law makes a person worse…it is Holy and good. I think when a person hears the word they realize they fall short of the glory of God. God is perfect and we never will be…the problem comes when we try to earn heaven with our works than we become worse. Like MJ mentioned, all we must do is believe His grace. UBF is dangerously about works. This is where they fail and many ministries that try to work their way to heaven. This is why there is no love for the common man, the homeless, the man in prison, their children, or the once UBFer. In a works based system, there is no grace and love. Thank God for the believer. Such a person becomes free in Jesus…they uphold the law.