In Romans 7-8, Paul draws a distinction between the law and grace that can be somewhat confusing. However, this distinction is important if we are to better grasp what God has done for us.
The problem we face is the fact that we are, in Paul’s words “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). One might say that we are like zombies: up and moving around, but dead on the inside. Borrowing an image from Ezekiel, we have a heart of stone.
This rock is stubborn and unyielding in its service to sin.
The first solution that comes along is the law.
The law tells us what we must do in order to be righteous, to be right with God. The law is not bad in and of itself because it brings our sin to light and reveals it for what it is. However, there are two problems: the first is that the law is only able to address the outside, doing nothing for the dead heart of stone. The second is that it tells us how to be righteous, but it doesn’t help us to reach the goal of actually being righteous. What ends up happening is …
…that we are condemned and put to death by our sin working through the law. The law only has power to convict.
Returning to our zombie analogy, the law-solution ends up fixing the zombie problem by killing the zombies. Much like any anti-zombie tool, it isn’t a bad solution, but it isn’t the best solution either because those who have become zombies are still lost.
Although it has its problems, the law still accomplishes its purpose: to show us that we can’t fix ourselves. The law gives us the best set of rules possible, better than anything humans could come up with. However, you can train a zombie not to eat brains, and it may not very often, but the hunger will always win out in the end. We need something more, something better than the law. We need a cure.
Enter grace: the ultimate solution. Through Christ’s work on the cross, we have the opportunity to be set right with God. Christ received the consequences of our sin once and for all and we are able to receive the consequences of His righteousness. As part of this, we receive God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, Who dwells in us. Paul sums this up by saying, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation;” (2 Corinthians 5:17). In the book of Ezekiel God says “I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh,” (Ezekiel 36:26). This new heart is a cure for us because, with it, we are no longer dead inside and therefore are no longer the walking dead.
What’s more, the law is no longer an external set of rules, but is within us, written on our hearts of flesh (Jeremiah 31:33). Therefore, grace accomplishes the internal change that the law was not able to. As with any major surgery, it takes time to fully recover from this spiritual heart transplant (the Holy Spirit is our therapist who helps and encourages us). There will be times that we stumble and relapse. However, so long as we entrust ourselves to God’s care we will continue to heal until we get to heaven and the sin virus has been completely purged from our bodies and souls.