Behavior Modification, Sin, and Rules-Based Religion

I spent years convinced that behavior modification equaled maturity in the faith. Where an outward appearance of good behavior and conformity to the rules and standards imposed on me meant I was sinning less and was applauded as progress in the right direction. But woe unto me if I slipped and messed up. At those times, the solution was never grace, it was more law. A reinforcement and reminder of the rules and laws I was expected to follow. In short, the outside of the cup looked pretty good but on the inside, I was dying a slow death. That’s what law-driven sin management does. When the focus of our faith becomes an obsession with policing sin, our natural inclination is to think imposing laws and rules is the solution. But is it? In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul made this short but powerful observation:

“…the power of sin is the law.” 1 Corinthians 15:56

Think about it. If the law – any law – is what gives sin its power, then piling on rules and law to curb or avoid sin actually has the opposite affect. It empowers sin and gives sin more muscle. Wasn’t that Old Covenant Israel’s problem all along? They agreed to the terms of the Old Covenant – a covenant of law-keeping and works righteousness – and yet God “found fault with the people.” (Heb. 8:8). Why? Because they couldn’t live up to the terms of the covenant. They couldn’t do it. No one is made righteous by keeping laws or rules. No one. Law-based rule-keeping leads to one of two things: a self-righteous attitude in thinking I’m somehow pulling it off (i.e. the Pharisees), or an eventual crash and burn because living under that kind of pressure is exhausting and makes you give up.

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