You may get a rash. Or you may die.
Food sensitivities can be scary. Just ask anyone who reacts violently to peanuts. The same is true for those unfortunate individuals who are allergic to chocolate. The tiniest amount can send them into an immediate anaphylactic shock. Blood pressure enters freefall, the airway narrows, the pulse becomes weak and rapid, and there may be nausea and vomiting. And in some unfortunate cases, death closes the door.
Chocolate is fatal to some people, not because it’s poisonous, but because it contains compounds that their bodies can’t successfully resist. So the food isn’t the problem. It’s the biochemical makeup of their bodies that creates the deadly response.
The apostle Paul, writing to the Christians in Rome, shone a light on God’s laws that mirrors this dangerous medical condition. Apparently there were those among his readers who were struggling with sin issues. Their guilt was becoming a load too heavy to bear, and they needed some relief. Sound familiar? That would probably describe most of us. We look at our lives and sigh, “I’m worthless. I’m a failure. There’s no hope for me.”
Then we begin to identify exactly why we think we’re feeling this way. “It’s the law,” we conclude. “God’s law. That’s what’s dragging me down! If it weren’t for that annoying law, I’d be just fine!”
We begin searching for ways to dull the law’s impact on our life. We drink it away, fantasize it away, crowd it out with noise and commotion, vilify it, nullify it, and basically remove it from our consciousness. And it works! With minimal effort, we’re free to continue living without the burden of guilt dragging us down. Trouble is, we’re misunderstanding what’s happening. The dangerous condition remains. We’ve just removed some of the triggers.
Paul knew exactly what was happening, and he shared his experience about covetousness. “Once I was alive apart from the law,” he confessed in Romans 7:9, “but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.” In other words, he ate the chocolate. “I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death” (verse 10).
So the question is: what metaphorically killed him? The chocolate commandment, or his body’s sin allergy?
He’s quick to answer. “For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death” (verse 11). Then he concluded, “So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good” (verse 12).
I find two interesting points here. First, the law is good. Second, sin deceives.
Sin came out of Satan’s mouth as a soothing statement to Eve: “You will not surely die.” Thus was launched the cosmic Chocolate War that continues to this day. The devil’s premise was that God’s laws were unfair, unjust, and impossible to keep. Adam and Eve agreed, and sin took up residence in the human heart. At that moment, the human race became allergic to truth.
Now here we are, six thousand years later, with bodies so compromised by sin that even the mention of God’s laws creates a negative reaction in many people’s minds. But it’s not the chocolate that’s at the root of their unhappiness and guilt. It’s the allergy.
This plays right into the lying claims of Satan. “If you want to stop being troubled by the way you live your life,” he seems to soothe, “lose the law and keep the sin. Problem solved.”
Well, not exactly. God’s laws are built into everything. They’re much more than Ten Commandments carved on stone—or written on paper in your Bible, for that matter. They’re part of the very fabric of life—impacting us on so many levels. God has many kinds of laws, from gravity to health and relationships to creativity. Even our ability to think and reason depends on God’s laws in order for these abilities to function efficiently. Ignoring these laws doesn’t make them go away. It just makes doing everything harder and, in many cases, impossible. We become lawbreakers living in a world that’s structured by laws.
Here’s a thought. Why not take God’s advice to Paul when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus and stop “kick[ing] against the pricks” (Acts 9:5, KJV)? Why not use the laws to our benefit instead of trying to diminish their impact on our lives?
When we fully understand what God’s laws are designed to do, we can enjoy their benefits without violently setting off our sin allergy. That’s right. We can eat the chocolate!
God’s laws are designed to guide. This may come as a complete surprise to those—like Paul—whose spiritual immune systems are triggered by those laws.
Shepherd boy turned king, David, got the point. He said, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11). When God’s laws are allowed to fully take up residence in our hearts and minds, they suppress sin’s allergic response. How? By removing the cause of our discomfort—the sin itself. But be warned. As Paul discovered, that transition can generate a small side effect. You die, not physically, but spiritually. To quote Paul again, “Count yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11).
God’s laws—all of them—serve as guides for how to live, how to love, and how to regard the future. Gone is the guilt, replaced by a solid foundation of truth. God’s laws remove the ambiguity of life, setting a clear course straight to eternity. Let’s see Satan do that!
God’s laws are always delivered in just the right way to reach hearts. In the Old Testament we witness the handing down of a small list of God’s laws wrapped in what seemed to be an act of violence. Mount Sinai’s tables of stone, written amid a thunderous mountaintop tumult, addressed our most basic relationships with both God and our fellow humans. But why did God include all that drama when He gave these laws? Because the people needed drama. As slaves in a cruel land, that’s what they were used to. That’s what would get their attention.
Then, in the New Testament, we come face-to-face with the Lawgiver Himself and discover that He’s far from violent. He’s meek and mild, sharing a message of love, not violence; salvation, not judgment. Same laws. Different delivery. Keep in mind, though, that if necessary, God can create drama in your life to get your attention. Our personal choices dictate which method God will use on us. Consider this helpful hint: an open, contrite mind allows the meek and mild to shine through.
God’s laws offer the best benefits when they’re shared. I learned this lesson many years ago while attending a small church school in Syracuse, New York.
Our teacher, Mrs. Metzger, had reached her wits’ end. She was facing a room filled with rowdy fifth through eighth graders, and things weren’t going well. “All right people,” I remember her saying. “Here’s the deal. For the rest of the morning, if anyone talks out of turn, disturbs a classmate, or is disruptive in any way, he or she will immediately lose all noon recess privileges today. You got that?”
We got it! She’d delivered the ultimate threat. Noon recess was sacrosanct in our young minds. It sure was in mine! So I determined to become—at least temporarily—the perfect student. All morning I kept my comments to myself, spoke only when spoken to, and left my poor classmates alone for a change. It wasn’t easy, but I was determined.
After we had eaten our lunches, Mrs. Metzger called the room to order. “Here’s the list of people who’ve behaved themselves and will be allowed to enjoy the noon recess,” she announced. I closed my eyes and crossed my fingers. “The list is short,” she added. “There’s only one name on it.” Then Mrs. Metzger looked directly at me. “Charles Mills, you may be excused. The rest, stay right where you are and read quietly.”
With a big grin on my face, I hurried out to the playground, ready to enjoy my hard-earned reward. What would it be? Baseball? Kickball? Four-square? Tetherball? I looked around to see what teams were forming. That’s when it hit me. There’d be no teams. There’d be no energetic competition. There’d be no shouts and hoots and laughter. The playground was empty. I was alone.
I glanced back at the little school building and saw sad faces staring at me from inside. I believe that’s the first time I fully understood why Jesus added one final item to His list of laws. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).
The greatest reward to the law-abider isn’t the fact that he or she survived the ordeal with Satan. That’s a lonely victory. However, when you add love to the blend—when you include a desire to help others win their battles, overcome their sorrows, cure their sin allergies—that’s where the real reward is found. I’d spent the morning focused on keeping myself on the good side of the law. I should have spent an equal amount of time respectfully encouraging my schoolmates to do the same.
God’s laws heal. God’s laws correct. God’s laws save. King David invites us all to “taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8). Great advice for chocolate lovers everywhere!