Tripping Down Hell’s Stairs

Can anyone see the problem with this piece of health and safety equipment? The floor has been mopped; passers by are warned against its slippery peril with the erection of a yellow sign. Over the next few hours, the floor dries, but the sign remains. Placed near a flight of stairs, the sign intended to keep us safe itself becomes an obstacle, tripping careless walkers down a steep drop.

Such is the problem of legalism. Man creates rules and regulations to make himself live better. These rules themselves become obstacles, creating false assurances of righteousness and plentiful supplies of pride. The law of God, given to us in the Torah, is not primarily about improving our morals, though it is a useful ethical code. Rather, it means to expose our inbuilt wickedness that we might cry our for grace.

If you think you are good enough for God and clean enough for heaven, watch out. You might skilfully sidestep the slippery floor of social morality, but God’s moral law will throw you down hell’s stairs quicker than you think.

From John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress:

Faithful: So soon as the man overtook me, he was but a word and a blow, for down he knocked me, and laid me for dead. But when I was a little come to myself again, I asked him wherefore he served me so. He said, because of my secret inclining to Adam the First; and with that he struck me another deadly blow on the breast, and beat me down backward; so I lay at his foot as dead as before. So, when I came to myself again, I cried him mercy; but he said, I know not how to show mercy; and with that he knocked me down again. He had doubtless made an end of me, but that one came by, and bid him forbear.

Christian: Who was that that bid him forbear?

Faithful: I did not know him at first, but as he went by, I perceived the holes in his hands and in his side; then I concluded that he was our Lord. So I went up the hill.

Christian: That man that overtook you was Moses. He spares none, neither does he know how to show mercy to those that transgress his law.

Faithful: I know it very well; it was not the first time that he has met with me. It was he that came to me when I dwelt securely at home, and that told me he would burn my house over my head if I stayed there.


What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.

Romans 7:7-12

We are saved not by observing rules- God’s or ours- but by His amazing grace.