“It’s Not Just Wrong; It’s Illegal!”

*Posted by Joe Wooddell

The other day my wife came home and told me about a sign she saw at a grocery store. The sign said not to buy cigarettes for minors; then it said, Its not just wrong; its illegal! What does the sign imply? The sign implies that if it were merely wrong but not illegal then thats one thing (i.e. we might find ourselves buying cigarettes for minors), but if its both wrong and illegal, wed better think twice! It implies that doing wrong is bad, but breaking the law is even worse. This is all backwards.

Unfortunately, people often think this way. Theyre willing to do the wrong thing if its not illegal because there are no formal consequences; that is, they can get away with it if its merely wrong but not illegal. But perhaps Im not giving the sign-makers (whoever they are) enough credit. Perhaps all they meant was: We know youd like to do the right thing, but we also know doing the right thing doesnt come naturally; therefore, wed like to inform you that if you dont do the right thing in this particular case, you could get caught and have to pay some hefty, formal consequences.

If this is what they meant, theyre right: doing the right thing does not come naturally to most people. Christian believers, however, ought to be transformed (Rom. 12:2) to such a degree that it becomes more and more natural for us to do right, regardless of whether anyone is looking, whether we might get caught, or whether its illegal. We ought to become virtuous in Aristotles sense (from his Nicomachean Ethics). That is, we ought to practice doing right, even if we dont want to, even when it doesnt feel natural. Aristotle says if you dont know what to do, find a virtuous person and do what he does. The apostle Paul says, Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). Simple. Not easy. Find a godly person and do what he or she does. Practice makes permanent fortunately or unfortunately.

Of course, more than anything, saturate your mind with Scripture. The passage I cited earlier be transformed (Rom. 12:2) says this happens by the renewing of your mind. Verse 1 is hard: present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice. You know what happens to sacrifices, right? They DIE! The symbol of sacrifice is the cross, and Jesus said we must take up our cross daily and follow Him (Lk. 9:23). This is not only hard for us to do alone; it is impossible. Thank God we are not told to do it alone. Instead we are told to do it all by the mercies of God (Rom. 12:1).

In one sense the sign about not buying cigarettes for minors is a pathetic commentary on our society: we need something to be illegal in order not to do it; its not enough that its merely wrong. We think wrong is bad, but illegal is worse. Thats backwards. In another sense, however, the sign is a good reminder: left to ourselves we wont do right; we need a law and the threat of punishment to remind us. Thank God the New Covenant doesnt leave us there, helplessly trying to keep the law. Instead, it promises us divine help as we are born again (Jn. 3:3), as we then become new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17), and then as we take up our cross daily and follow Him by His mercies. Its still a ton of work for us (yes, we must practice the spiritual disciplines), but we all know people (or, at least I know some people) who do it extremely well. Watch them, mirror what they do, and saturate your mind with Scripture. And by the way, illegal or not, dont buy cigarettes for minors, or do anything else you know is just plain wrong.

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