The other day I saw a truck that made me laugh out loud. No, it wasn’t one of those Truly Nolen trucks with the mouse ears and tail. It was a truck from Premier Booting Services, one of those companies that comes to put the bulky metal lock on your front tire when you’ve parked illegally. Not that funny, right? What was funny was their slogan: “Your Source for Parking Compliance.” Something about that line struck me as appropriate for the Ministry of Information in George Orwell’s 1984 or Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. So I laughed. But while I was laughing, I realized that their slogan had profound—and unintended—theological implications as well.
Premier Booting Services doesn’t actually want to provide parking compliance. It would put them out of business. Their business model, in fact, depends on people getting booted, and then getting booted again. It’s not in Premier’s best interest for people to learn their lesson and start parking legally. They’re not actually in the compliance business, they’re in the punishment business. They say that they provide “compliance” because it doesn’t sound as nasty.
Many Christians are fooled by the way some preachers talk about the law. In just the same way that Premier Booting Services promises “compliance,” preachers claim that the application of the law to a situation will bring about obedience. A Premier sales pitch—say, to an office building manager—might go something like, “A contract with Premier Booting services will ensure that no one illegally parks in your lot ever again. Once someone is booted by us, they know better than to make that mistake again.” Sounds like a sermon, doesn’t it?
But remember, it’s not actually in Premier Booting Services’ best interest to provide compliance! A booting company doesn’t want compliance, it wants violation.
“Now the law came into to increase the trespass…” (Romans 5:20a)
Preachers who think that telling bad people to be good—applying the boot to the tires of our spiritual lives—will actually produce compliance misunderstand the law’s purpose. The law makes us sin all the more! Don’t you feel this when someone forbids you to do something? The desire to do it becomes overpowering! We would all agree, however, that compliance is a laudable goal. We want people parking legally and we want people loving their neighbors as themselves. But how might we actually achieve compliance?
“…but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” (Romans 5:20b)
Counter-intuitively, it is grace that produces compliance. Grace—that love that comes to the undeserving—is the thing that can cause the kind of heart change that can actually generate true obedience. Punishment and judgment don’t create a reformed heart, they create—at best—a heart full of fear, and—at worst—a heart full of rebellion. Love and grace replace a fearful heart with a grateful one, a heart that desires whatever the lover asks.