But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it properly… (1 Timothy 1:8)
A map is a very helpful tool – if one uses it properly. Its uses are many, some noble and some ignoble. A map is most helpful when the traveler knows her present location and desired destination. If either one of these data points is missing the map will be of limited value.
Most people use a map to intentionally get somewhere. However, some people use a map to avoid certain places. Someone who is traveling across country to visit an aunt is not thinking about avoiding places. He simply is plotting the most efficient and/or pleasing route to the place of his loved one.
But someone who is a fugitive uses the map in a different way. He looks at the map and immediately wonders where he might be recognized, where he might be exposed, where he might be found out. Accordingly, he plots his travel with the motive of avoiding certain places and people.
Though it’s highly unlikely that any of us easily admit the identity of a fugitive…we often fall into that category! The Pharisees in Jesus’ day approached religion on fugitive terms. Of course they didn’t see it like this. Jesus was referring to these very pious people when He said:
You do search the Scriptures because you think that by them you have eternal life. Yet it is these that bear witness of Me and you refuse to come to Me that you might have life. (John 5:39-40)
Their goal for the Scriptures was all wrong. Their’s was an ethic of avoidance. They felt that if they could keep themselves separate from sin and sinners, they would thereby make themselves acceptable to God. They failed to realize that in this approach they were not actually pursuing God! They were not going toward God’s heart. They were simply trying to move away from sin. And there’s a huge difference!
A big part of the problem was (and is) that it is impossible to live in this world and be totally removed from the fact of sin. Furthermore, the Biblical doctrine of “original sin” tells us that sin is more than an outward fact. It is an inward alienation from and independence toward God. There is a sinful disposition in all of us. To truly separate one’s self from sin would require an escape from the very nature you were born with! But how can a leopard change its spots? Or a thorn tree produce figs? It cannot.
But if you could somehow get God Himself to take up residence within you, then anything would be possible.
So the person with the external, Pharisee approach to religion and righteousness, must work very hard at avoiding the kinds of things that would expose the inner fugitive!
This is why Jesus always seeks to move people away from a piety that majors on externals toward a faith that is rooted in a heart-transforming relationship with Himself.
If you find this subject helpful, you will enjoy this audio teaching.