We all have someone in our lives whom we would like to change. I can probably say that there are times when my fellow congregational members and my wife would like to change me (and for good reason). But how is it done? How does one get a person to control their temper? To stop drinking? To do their homework? To do what God wants us to do? How do we encourage our fellow church members to be more fully dedicated to Christ? To attend church regularly? What do we use to motivate Christian behavior?
Laying down the law is the usual method people use to produce changed behavior. For example, to increase church offerings, a congregation may try shaming its members into giving more. In such a case the law reads something like this: “A good Christian would give “x” amount of income to the church.” In a troubled marriage, a spouse may lay down the law like this, “I’m taking the children and leaving unless you clean up your act.” Parents do the same thing with children. “If you don’t do your homework, you are grounded!”
Sometimes the law throws us a curve. It challenges our sinful nature and it rebels. It often incites our sinful nature to do just the opposite of what it commands. God’s Word tells us this. “When the commandment came, sin sprang to life…” (Romans 7:9) Tell a two year old not to touch something and see what happens.
The law may bring about a change in behavior but the real answer is to change the heart. An illustration of this is the parent who says to the two year old, “Don’t touch that glass vase!” Two seconds later the child’s hand is reaching out to touch the vase or to see how close they can come without touching it. Laying down the law often moves us to disobedience. Even if the law’s threats stop us from committing the sin, it can never motivate anyone to want to do the right thing for the right reason.
So why don’t we use the Gospel to motive and encourage each other? Perhaps it is because we want to see instantaneous results. From our impatient human point of view, the Gospel doesn’t seem to work fast enough. The law may get results but only the gospel can bring forth results that please God.
A Lutheran pastor named Herman Gockel gave an illustration of the Gospel’s power to compel Christians to do the right thing. He wrote, “A mother was upset when she saw several suggestive pictures on her son’s dorm room wall. She didn’t say anything at the time, but sent him a picture of Jesus. He put it on his wall. In a matter of days, the other pictures were gone. The mother never once badgered him. Jesus’ love, as called to mind by the picture, worked in his heart what laying down the law could never do.
“For Christ’s love compels us…and he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised again.” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)