“I felt fine when I didn’t understand what the law demanded. But when I learned the truth, I realized I had broken the law and was a sinner, doomed to die” (Romans 7:9).
Do you remember a time when you didn’t realize you were breaking the law and how it felt when it was brought to your attention? It’s not a good feeling. Even if your actions were initially unintentional, the realization immediately brings fear and a sinking feeling in your stomach. This is what the Apostle Paul was trying to describe concerning righteousness from the law.
He had been raised under the Old Covenant and was at the top of his class. He said, “[I was] circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin–a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault” (Philippians 3:5-6, NLT).
Then an encounter with Jesus changed everything he knew or thought before.
And that’s what He meant in his letter to the Romans. He was basically saying, “I thought I was doing good, until I realized I had been doing everything wrong.”
And just like a person suddenly realizing they’re driving the wrong way on a freeway ramp, Paul had to make a decision to either keep going the wrong way or turn around. Thankfully, he not only made a wise choice, but he set an example for us.
He said, “I once thought [those other] things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with Him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Him” (Philippians 3:7-9, NLT).
The Bible says the demands of the law were designed to show everyone how guilty they were, in order to prove our need for a Savior (Galatians 3:19). Once Paul embraced this truth, the sinking feeling of realizing he had been wrong was soon turned to obedience, gratitude, and joy. There’s a difference between the righteousness of the law (trying to earn it by works) and the righteousness of faith (receiving what we don’t deserve because payment has been made by another).
So the next time you get revelation about an area of your life that needs to change, don’t dwell on the “sinking feeling” of condemnation. Instead, make the adjustment or U-turn in the right direction and embrace the new (and better) path that draws you closer to Christ.