I Fought the Law – Greg Albrecht
In 1966 the Bobby Fuller Four recorded a top ten hit called “I Fought the Law”—here are the lyrics in the first verse: I’m breakin’ rocks in the hot sun I fought the law and the law won.
The physical image that breakin’ rocks in the hot sun brings to mind is of the endless, soul destroying labor performed by prison inmates—back in the day, soul destroying labor often included breaking rocks with sledgehammers on the proverbial hard rock pile. Prisoners broke the law and now the law returned the favor.
Breaking rocks on the hard rock pile is, of course, an intentionally meaningless exercise— and “meaningless exercise” is a superb definition of the spiritual ramifications of fighting the law.
Consider two ways to relate to and know God:
1) The most-popular-by-far method involves pleasing and appeasing God by virtue of obedience and the performance of works and deeds.
For simplicity sake we might call this first way performance-based righteousness. We could also call this first way religion—because religion in general is the idea that one can earn a relationship with God, or enhance an already existing relationship with God, on the basis of one’s efforts.
This first way essentially insists that God and his laws are one and the same and that God is best defined by his laws.
2) The second way of relating to and knowing God is Jesus—the second way is, as Romans 3:21 says, “a righteousness from God, apart from law…”
This second way believes that God and his love are one and the same and that God is best revealed in Jesus and best defined by his love.
Think about Jesus’ teachings, most notably those contained in the Sermon on the Mount. In the fifth chapter of Matthew Jesus gives six antithetical statements, each beginning with a repeated introduction like “You have heard that it has been said” and he follows with something like “you shall not murder, or commit adultery,” or he speaks of the old covenant principle of justice, “an eye for an eye,” and then he contrasts the past with a statement like “But I say unto you.…”
Many within Christendom at large twist these words of Jesus, so if we believe what these interpreters teach, in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is actually insisting on a stricter observance of the law.
So, for the followers of works righteousness, those who are forever breaking rocks on a religious rock pile—the first way of having a relationship with God— Jesus is actually saying that the rock pile of the new covenant is harder and more difficult than the old covenant.
According to those who believe Jesus was introducing even more difficult standards to please and appease God, he is essentially saying “You think it was tough in the past? You break my law and I will break you!”
But of course what Jesus is actually saying in Matthew 5 is that the law is impossible to fulfill. Jesus is saying that the law is a stern taskmaster, and you can never win if you believe God wants you to please and appease him by your obedience to the law. The law will always win.
If you attempt to please and appease God on the basis of religious performances, ceremonies and rituals, you will forever be fighting the law—the law will always win, and you will remain a prisoner condemned to endlessly and meaninglessly breaking rocks on the hard rock pile.
In the fifth chapter of Matthew, Jesus is saying: There is a better way to please God (the only way) because pleasing God by observing the law is impossible. There is only One Way to please God and Jesus is essentially saying, “I’m it. I will fulfill the law and introduce a new covenant whereby by God’s grace you might live in me and I in you.”
The new covenant announces the new standard of relationship between humanity and God is Jesus and God’s grace, not the law.
When anyone is deceived into thinking that God is primarily defined by his laws, rather than his love, they will eventually find themselves endlessly “pounding sand”—forever engaged in meaningless exercises in a religious penitentiary. The law will always win when one believes that salvation depends on law keeping.
The Jesus Way is the One and Only Way to fight the law without having the law win and exact its painful consequences in one’s life.