The Law Accuses
I had the opportunity to play the game Mafia a few times this summer and I always got a kick out of the accusation stage of the game. Who would be the first to speak up and accuse a fellow townsperson of murder? Who would sit quietly hoping they wouldn’t get accused? There are many things that we can be accused of and many of us have pointed the finger at one point or another, but not much points out our flaws as well as the scriptures. The term "Lex Semper Accusat" translates to "The Law always accuses" in Latin, underlining the belief that the Law's primary function is to expose human sinfulness and inability to fulfill its demands. We glean this theological concept, at least in part, from Paul’s reflections to the church in Rome:
So I ask you, has God rejected his people? Absolutely not! I’m an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God hasn’t rejected his people, whom he knew in advance. Or don’t you know what the scripture says in the case of Elijah, when he pleads with God against Israel? God’s gifts and calling can’t be taken back. Once you were disobedient to God, but now you have mercy because they were disobedient. In the same way, they have also been disobedient because of the mercy that you received, so now they can receive mercy too. God has locked up all people in disobedience, in order to have mercy on all of them.
-Romans 11:1-2; 29-32
In these verses, Paul grapples with the divine plan of salvation and the relationship between God's chosen people, Israel, and the Gentiles. The verses highlight both God's sovereignty and the human condition of disobedience and unbelief. Romans 11 underscores the universality of sin and the inability of humans to attain righteousness by their own efforts, highlighting the Law's accusatory nature. A way that we have come to understand this in Lutheran theology is that the Law, as exemplified in the Old Testament commandments, brings awareness of sin but cannot provide salvation. Instead, it drives us to acknowledge our sinfulness and recognize our need for a Savior. The good news is God's mercy extended to all in spite of all the ways we are broken. Make no mistake, the Law as we understand it is also a gift from God. Holding together Law and Gospel, we know that we need God's mercy and grace through Christ, and we find the good news that the redemptive work of Christ is the ultimate solution to humanity's predicament.
Grace and Peace,