One evening I went through an intersection near home and right there was a police car, lights flashing right at me. I pulled into a nearby parking lot where several others were waiting with me for their respective turns with the city's finest.
The policeman finally approached my car, I rolled down the window, and the officer said to me, "Just wanted you to know that the City of Lee's Summit appreciates your abiding by all the traffic laws, including speed limits. You always stop at stop signs, and you yield the right of way. In fact we appreciate it so much that we're giving you a gift card for $500 and the right to run three red lights without penalty."
Okay, so I embellished the story just a little. But my minor brushes with man's law have taught me a few lessons about God and his law.
1. We should not expect any special favors just because we do what is expected of us. Jesus said, "Does he [the master] thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.'" (Luke 17:8-10) The law is nothing more than a standard of conduct, our duty. The police aren't going to reward you for doing what the law expects.
2. Keeping the law today gives no license to break the law tomorrow. Some theologians teach a doctrine that views grace as a bank account. If you are a good little boy or girl, God has an account of grace that He credits, and if you are a bad boy or girl, God makes a charge against that grace account. If you have more withdrawals than deposits, then you'll have a debt to pay on Judgment Day, and it will be a price you can't afford. But scripture says, "By the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Rom 3:20). And, "a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified." (Gal 2:16-17) Put in commonly used terms, you can't offset a wrongful act by a righteous one. You can't store God's grace in a bottle.
3. The law is good for you. If no one paid attention to stop signs and traffic lights, we would all hurt each other. While we get no kudos for doing the right things, we do reap the benefits of an orderly and safe society. There is a certain blessing that comes from keeping the law (James 1:25). It is for our own good (Deut. 10:12-13). The law makes us free (Psalm 119:45). The law makes us wise (Psalm 119:98-99). And the law is holy, just, and good (Romans 7:12).
It is unfortunate that we have lost sight of what the law is for. It is there to protect us and keep us. It is to show us the way as a lamp unto our feet. It is to keep us out of trouble. But it cannot remove the consequences should we break it. Only God's grace can do that.
While the law can't save us from eternal death, it can sure save us from a lot of trouble.