I’m pretty sure I got a speeding ticket a few days ago. I was driving in an 80 km/hr zone, about 100m from the 110 km/hr zone boundary when I saw the black camera on the side of the road, partially obscured by leaves. I glanced down at my dash and saw, to my dismay, that the speedo had crept up without me noticing and it was presently hovering just below 90 km/hr. Drat! I was breaking the speed limit law.
There was no point slowing down; by the time I’d realised I was going too fast, I was almost into the highway speed zone and it was time to accelerate, not brake. For the rest of the drive home, an entire hour, I fumed at myself and at the police. Mostly the police, in accordance with my sinful nature.
When Jeff met me at the door ready to hug me and offer commiserations, I burst into tears. I told him I felt like Job – under unbearable examination every moment (Job 7:17-19), found guilty even though I try my hardest each and every time I drive not to break the speed limit law.
For a bit of perspective, it’s been almost 12 months since my last speeding ticket. Living in the country, driving several hundred kilometres up and down a long, straight highway most days of the week, I’ve earned a ticket every year or so for the last few years. The truth is, no matter how hard I try to keep within the law, I do, occasionally, break it.
There have been lots of times I’ve passed one of those roadside cameras confident I was doing a legally correct speed. But when I get one of those dreaded envelopes in the mail with its smug photos of the side of the car and the number plate, I know there is no getting around it. My inability to perfectly keep the law is exposed by the law itself.
I shouldn’t be surprised by my inability to keep the law. Nor should I be surprised by the law’s ability to make me conscious of my failure. This is, after all, the ultimate purpose behind all laws, from the least societal convention to the most profound commandment.
Romans 3:19 and 20 tells us, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law… through the law we become conscious of our sin.”
When I see those cameras, symbols of the law in Australia (whether they are currently taking my photo or not) I am reminded that I am, by nature, a sinner. I am not naturally perfect, pure, blameless or righteous*. Far from it! I cannot keep the laws of Australia – how much more do I fail to uphold the perfect standards of my holy God!
When I contemplate the seemingly easy to attain standards of road rules in Australia, I become conscious of my sin. When I think about the oft-misunderstood social mores of my peers, the rules of propriety, I become conscious of my sin. When I meditate upon the 10 commandments, I become conscious of my sin. “I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me” as David wrote in Psalm 51. The law makes my sin obvious.
A few days ago, when I saw that camera, it was too late to act and slow down to a safer speed. Paying the fine I’ll be getting in the mail sometime soon won’t take away the fact that I was speeding, either. Waiting out the loss of a few more demerit points from my licence won’t make me a better driver.
In contrast, God’s law is not ineffective. God’s law makes me conscious of my sin for a far higher purpose than revenue raising or road safety. When I am conscious of my own sin, I turn away from my sin and repent. I seek God’s mercy and clemency. I ask for God’s forgiveness.
Whenever the law makes me conscious of my sin, I realise just how unrighteous I am and how very much I need God’s righteousness. Instead of thinking I can become righteous through my own efforts to keep the law, I seek Christ’s righteousness, the righteousness that “is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Romans 3:22). I learn to trust God’s promise that “all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:24).
I realise that obeying Jesus and being like Jesus is only possible because I have faith in Jesus Christ, whom I know and love.
crux: Jesus Christ is righteous. On my own, I am not righteous. Through the law, I become conscious of my sin so I will have faith in Jesus Christ and be given his righteousness.
* Righteous means morally perfect. Other words with similar meanings are pure, upright and blameless. Good and godly also mean the same thing. Another related word is justified, which means that God has judged you, removed your guilt, and announced that you are righteous.
[This musing is based upon Romans 3:19-26. The Holy Bible, New International Version 2011.]