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Sometimes we tend to be amazed (and even snicker) at the minutia of Pharisaic legalism. We tend to forget, however, that sandwiched among our country’s sound and workable statutes, there are hundreds of cockeyed ordinances that remain to clutter up our law books because the powers-that-be-from state legislators to town fathers-have not gotten around to repealing them. For instance, in Amarillo, Texas, it is against the law to take a bath on the main street during banking hours. In Portland, Oregon, it is illegal to wear roller skates in public restrooms. In Halethor0e, Maryland, a kiss lasting more than a second is an illegal act. The list goes on and on. Suffice it to say that down through history man has been inclined to live by and enforce the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law.



The sin of the Pharisees was paying attention to outward demonstrations of piety for appearance’s sake rather than giving attention to inward obedience. This can be well illustrated by two eggs. One egg is a normal raw egg that, when placed under the palm of the hand and pressed evenly cannot be broken because of the structure of the egg itself. The second egg is exactly the same on the outside, but its insides have been removed. When it is placed under the same palm pressure, it breaks easily because it is internally weak. So, too, one who gives himself to the sin of the Pharisees is empty of substance and will eventually crack under pressure.



The attitude one has toward doing what has to be done determines if the action is legalistic. An illustration makes this clear:

        “A serious athlete has to keep training rules. Most athletes are glad to keep them, rigid as they may be, for the sheer love of the sport. A few athletes conform to make the team and glorify, show off, self. The former attitude is love, and the latter is legalism, but both attitudes are toward the same rigid code, and both result in conformity. Having to conform to a law is not of itself legalism.”—Charles C. Ryie



A law is a set pattern of how things happen; it is rule. The law of gravity deems that a heavy slab of concrete will remain where it is placed. Thus sidewalks stay in place. But we all have seen a sidewalk that is heaved up and twisted because once a small acorn fell between the slabs of the sidewalk and now has grown into a massive oak tree whose roots are powerful enough to move great weights.

That is what is meant by the triumph of one law over another-such as the law of life over the law of sin and death (Rom. 8:2). ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching



A man lived in another country whose laws were such that one could not walk on the sidewalks after 6:00 P.M. Eventually this man moved to the United States. After arriving here he decided to see the sights and so went for a long walk. Suddenly he realized it was getting close to 6:00 P.M. and he was far from where he was staying. In desperation, he stopped a stranger who was getting into an automobile and in halting English said, “Please, sir, help me! It is almost six and I am too far from my hotel to walk back before I will be arrested. Can you give me a ride?”

The stranger at first was confused but then realized that the man was new to the United States and so said to him, “Sir, let me assure you that in the United States we do not arrest people for being out after six.”

This man knew he was in the United States, but he had not cast off his obedience to the laws of his old country and so was still being controlled by what no longer had any jurisdiction over him. He was a free man, needlessly bound to the rules and regulations of his former life. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


Effect of Law

The Flagship Hotel in Houston, Texas, is built right next to the water. Large plate-glass windows adorn the dining room, which is on the lowest floor. However, the windows kept getting broken by guests fishing from the balconies above. Heavy sinkers had to be used to cast to the water, but the lines were often too short and so would crash against the windows below. Finally the management removed the “NO FISHIING FROM BALCONY” signs from the rooms. The windows were safe at last.

The law always bears fruit in disobedience. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


Function of Law

Many people are physiologically sensitive to chocolate. Certain of the larger benzene compounds present in chocolate are resisted by their bodies through an allergic reaction. Depending on the individual, this reaction may range from very mild, producing a minor skin rash, to very severe, producing medical shock and death. Chocolate is fatal for some persons not because chocolate is poisonous in and of itself but because of the biochemical makeup of their bodies.

In a similar way, the power of sin in man reacts to the law and brings death. As Paul says in Romans 7:7~12, this happens not because the law is evil but because of sin within us. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


Grace and Law

An Indian pastor in Oklahoma was going to a pastors’ conference. He went to the train station and caught a train to a mansion where the conference was being held. The theme of the conference was “Law and Grace.” The Indian pastor listened intently to the lengthy theological discussions and arguments presented by each seminar leader. Finally, in a group-discussion period, he said, “It seems to me the train station we all came in at demonstrates law, and this house we are meeting in, grace. At the station was a sign ‘Do not spit,’ yet the men there did. Here there is no sign, yet no one spits. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


Grace and Law

The Law says, “Do this and live.” It commands but gives us neither feet nor hands.

Grace bids us to fly and gives us wings. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


Purpose of Law

A plumb line can only prove that a crooked wall is crooked. No matter how you use it, a plumb line can’t make a crooked wall straight. The law was God’s plumb line, designed to show all people that they are crooked, or sinful. It was never intended to make us straight or righteous-and, indeed, it never could. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


Purpose of Law

If you set aside a glass of water with dirt and garbage in it and left it undisturbed for a few days, the particles would settle to the bottom of the glass so that the water would begin to look drinkable. However, we all know that it would still be dangerous to drink, even though that wasn’t readily evident. If you took a sterile spoon and stirred the water, it would become readily evident that the water was not clean.

The law is like the sterile spoon-though perfect in itself, it was intended to make evident to us the true nature that exists within us. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


Purpose of Law

One of the biggest flops the federal government has ever promoted was the Susan B. Anthony dollar. Literally millions of these coins are stored in the government’s vaults, unused and unwanted. Even when they were first issued, no one wanted them, and they soon became the basis for seemingly endless jokes.

However, this rejection was not universal. A postal worker in one town put up a sign that said, “Susan B. Anthony dollars: limit of two per customer.” He said he had been previously trading two or three per day, but when he put the sign up, he traded at least fifty daily.

That is exactly what the law does to us. It makes desirable what was undesirable before. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


Ten Commandments

Somebody once figured out that we have thirty-five million laws trying to enforce ten commandments. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


Christian Liberty

Fire, depending on how it is used, can be either beneficial or destructive. When used correctly, it can warm a house, cook food, and create a romantic evening with your spouse. However, when fire is used incorrectly, it can lay waste to woodlands, destroy houses, or even devastate an entire city.

Christian liberty is the same. When used correctly, it can be extremely beneficial, but when used incorrectly, it has great potential for destruction. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


Christian Liberty

Sometimes, when you enter a main highway or come to an intersection, you will see a sign with the word “YIELD” in large letters. The sign means that the driver on one road is to yield the right to proceed to any driver on the other road. The latter driver does not own the right of way, rather, another driver yields it to him.

This is an excellent picture of what Christian liberty is all about. We are to yield our right so that others may go on to greater maturity. No one can demand that another believer yield his rights; rather, as an act of maturity, he should see the need to give up his rights for the good of another. Perhaps we should make yield signs and put them up in our homes and churches-because it is a Christian philosophy to yield, to give way to other believers. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


Christian Liberty

If the law states that one may drive 55 m.p.h., one has the “liberty” to proceed at that speed. However, it is not always wise to drive at the lawful speed because of other factors, such as a severe snowstorm, or fog. In a similar manner, a Christian has liberty in many areas, but sometimes he wisely restrains his liberty. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


Christian Liberty

When a man is released from prison, he is not free to do anything he feels like doing, but he is free to obey the law. In the same way, when we are freed from sin by trusting in Christ, we are not given a license to sin, but rather are set free to obey him. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


Christian Liberty

One of the greatest times of turmoil in the history of the church was the Reformation. Men like Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli were strong personalities in difficult times. Not a few people in those days found themselves banished from their ancestral homeland or city because of their beliefs. In some cases, wars were fought over beliefs and seemingly (to us) minor doctrinal points.

In a day of fiery personality conflicts, major doctrinal deviation, and battles at every level, a lesser-known German theologian, Philipp Melanchthon, summed up Christian liberty in a superb fashion: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


Principles vs. Rules

Some people confuse principles with rules. A principle is something that comes from inside a person. A rule is an outward restriction. To obey a principle you have to use your mental and moral powers. To obey a rule you have only to do what the rule says.

Dr. Frank Crane pointed out the difference neatly: “A rule supports us by the armpits over life’s mountain passes. A principle makes us surefooted.” ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


Spiritual Slavery

Some years ago in Los Angeles a man was walking down the street with a sign on his shoulders. The front of it said, “I’M A SLAVE FOR CHRIST.” The back of it read, “WHOSE SLAVE ARE YOU?”

That is a good question, because all of us are slaves to one or the other of two masters-sin or righteousness. We have no other choices. By the very nature of our humanity, we are made to serve and to be controlled by forces beyond our power. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching



What then?  Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace?  By no means!

 Romans 6:15.

Some years ago, I had a little school for young Indian men and women, who came to my home in Oakland, California, from the various tribes in northern Arizona. One of these was a Navajo young man of unusually keen intelligence. One Sunday evening, he went with me to our young people's meeting. They were talking about the epistle to the Galatians, and the special subject was law and grace. They were not very clear about it, and finally one turned to the Indian and said, "I wonder whether our Indian friend has anything to say about this."

He rose to his feet and said, "Well, my friends, I have been listening very carefully, because I am here to learn all I can in order to take it back to my people. I do not understand all that you are talking about, and I do not think you do yourselves. But concerning this law and grace business, let me see if I can make it clear. I think it is like this. When Mr. Ironside brought me from my home we took the longest railroad journey I ever took. We got out at Barstow, and there I saw the most beautiful railroad station and hotel I have ever seen. I walked all around and saw at one end a sign, 'Do not spit here.' I looked at that sign and then looked down at the ground and saw many had spitted there, and before I think what I am doing I have spitted myself. Isn't that strange when the sign say, 'Do not spit here'?

"I come to Oakland and go to the home of the lady who invited me to dinner today and I am in the nicest home I have been in. Such beautiful furniture and carpets, I hate to step on them. I sank into a comfortable chair, and the lady said, 'Now, John, you sit there while I go out and see whether the maid has dinner ready.' I look around at the beautiful pictures, at the grand piano, and I walk all around those rooms. I am looking for a sign; and the sign I am looking for is, 'Do not spit here,' but I look around those two beautiful drawing rooms, and cannot find a sign like this. I think 'What a pity when this is such a beautiful home to have people spitting all over it -- too bad they don't put up a sign!' So I look all over that carpet, but cannot find that anybody have spitted there. What a queer thing! Where the sign says, 'Do not spit,' a lot of people spitted. Where there was no sign at all, in that beautiful home, nobody spitted. Now I understand! That sign is law, but inside the home it is grace. They love their beautiful home, and they want to keep it clean. They do not need a sign to tell them so. I think that explains the law and grace business."

As he sat down, a murmur of approval went round the room and the leader exclaimed, "I think that is the best illustration of law and grace I have ever heard."

H. A. Ironside, Illustrations of Bible Truth, Moody Press, 1945, pp. 40-42.

The law is the light that reveals how dirty the room is, not the broom that sweeps it clean. 

Dr. Phil Williams, DTS, 1976.

A duck hunter was with a friend in the wide-open land of southeastern Georgia. Far away on the horizon he noticed a cloud of smoke. Soon he could hear crackling as the wind shifted. He realized the terrible truth; a brushfire was advancing, so fast they couldn't outrun it. Rifling through his pockets, he soon found what he was looking for--a book of matches. He lit a small fire around the two of them. Soon they were standing in a circle of blackened earth, waiting for the fire to come. They didn't have to wait long. They covered their mouths with handkerchiefs and braced themselves. The fire came near--and swept over them. But they were completely unhurt, untouched. Fire would not pass where fire already had passed.

The law is like a brushfire. I cannot escape it. But if I stand in the burned-over place, not a hair of my head will be singed. Christ's death has disarmed it. 

Adapted from Who Will Deliver Us? by Paul F. M. Zahl.

According to a 3rd century rabbi, Moses gave 365 prohibitions and 248 positive commands. David reduced them to 11 in Psalm 15. Isaiah made them 6 (Isaiah 33:14, 15). Micah 6:8 binds them into 3 commands. Habbakuk reduces them all to one great statement: The just shall live by faith.

Source Unknown.


LAW, a safeguard

One winter a resort in Breckenridge, Colorado, posted signs instructing skiers to keep off a certain slope. The signs, large and distinct, said, "DANGER! OUT OF BOUNDS!" In spite of the warnings, however, several skiers went into the area. The result? A half-mile-wide avalanche buried four of the trespassers beneath tons of snow and rock. This tragedy never would have happened if the signs had been heeded. 

Daily Bread, September 10, 1990.

A husband and wife didn't really love each other. The man was very demanding, so much so that he prepared a list of rules and regulations for his wife to follow. He insisted that she read them over every day and obey them to the letter. Among other things, his "do's and don'ts" indicated such details as what time she had to get up in the morning, when his breakfast should be served, and how the housework should be done. After several long years, the husband died. 

As time passed, the woman fell in love with another man, one who dearly loved her. Soon they were married. This husband did everything he could to make his new wife happy, continually showering her with tokens of his appreciation. One day as when was cleaning house, she found tucked away in a drawer the list of commands her first husband had drawn up for her. As she looked it over, it dawned on her that even though her present husband hadn't given her any kind of list, she was doing everything her first husband's list required anyway. She realized she was so devoted to this man that her deepest desire was to please him out of love, not obligation.── Source Unknown.


LAW, fulfilled in Christ

A story is told about Fiorello LaGuardia, who, when he was mayor of New York City during the worst days of the Great Depression and all of WWII, was called by adoring New Yorkers 'the Little Flower' because he was only five foot four and always wore a carnation in his lapel. He was a colorful character who used to ride the New York City fire trucks, raid speakeasies with the police department, take entire orphanages to baseball games, and whenever the New York newspapers were on strike, he would go on the radio and read the Sunday funnies to the kids. 

One bitterly cold night in January of 1935, the mayor turned up at a night court that served the poorest ward of the city. LaGuardia dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself. Within a few minutes, a tattered old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told LaGuardia that her daughter's husband had deserted her, her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving. But the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused to drop the charges. "It's a real bad neighborhood, your Honor." the man told the mayor. "She's got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson." LaGuardia sighed. He turned to the woman and said "I've got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions--ten dollars or ten days in jail." 

But even as he pronounced sentence, the mayor was already reaching into his pocket. He extracted a bill and tossed it into his famous sombrero saying: "Here is the ten dollar fine which I now remit; and furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Baliff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant." So the following day the New York City newspapers reported that $47.50 was turned over to a bewildered old lady who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren, fifty cents of that amount being contributed by the red-faced grocery store owner, while some seventy petty criminals, people with traffic violations, and New York City policemen, each of whom had just paid fifty cents for the privilege of doing so, gave the mayor a standing ovation.

Brennan Manning, The Ragmuffin Gospel, Multnomah, 1990, pp. 91-2.

LAW, letter of

Professional golfer Tommy Bolt was playing in Los Angeles and had a caddy with a reputation of constant chatter. Before they teed off, Bolt told him, "Don't say a word to me. And if I ask you something, just answer yes or no."

During the round, Bolt found the ball next to a tree, where he had to hit under a branch, over a lake and onto the green. He got down on his knees and looked through the trees and sized up the shot.

"What do you think?" he asked the caddy. "Five-iron?"

"No, Mr. Bolt," the caddy said.

"What do you mean, not a five-iron?" Bolt snorted. "Watch this shot."

The caddy rolled his eyes. "No-o-o, Mr. Bolt."

But Bolt hit it and the ball stopped about two feet from the hole. He turned to his caddy, handed him the five-iron and said, "Now what do you think about that? You can talk now."

"Mr. Bolt," the caddy said, "that wasn't your ball."

Crossroads, Issue No. 7, pp. 15-16.

LAWS, obsolete

In Lexington, Ky., there is an ordinance forbidding anyone to carry an ice-cream cone in his pocket.

In Waterloo, Nebr., barbers are forbidden to eat onions between seven a.m. and seven p.m.

In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts it is against the law to eat peanuts in church or to use tomatoes in making clam chowder.

In Kansas an old law states that you cannot eat snakes on Sunday or rattlesnake meat in public.

In Los Angeles you cannot bathe two babies in the same tub at the same time.

In Zion, Ill., it is illegal for anyone to give lighted cigars to dogs, cats and other domesticated animals kept as pets.

In Carmel, N.Y., a man can't go outside while wearing a jacket and pants that do not match.

In Gary, Ind., persons are prohibited from attending a movie house or other theater and from riding a public streetcar within four hours of eating garlic.

In Hartford, Conn., you aren't allowed to cross a street while walking on your hands.

In Baltimore, its illegal to take a lion to the movies.

In Nicholas County, W. Va., no member of the clergy is allowed to tell jokes or humorous stories from the pulpit during a church service.

In Carrizozo, N.M., it's forbidden for a female to appear unshaven in public (includes legs and face).

In New Jersey a person can be arrested for slurping soup in a public restaurant.

A citizen may not carry a lunch pail on the public streets in Riverside, Calif.

In Oklahoma you cannot take a bite of another person's hamburger.

In Green, N.Y., you cannot eat peanuts and walk backwards on the sidewalks while a concert is on.

In Houston, Tex., the law stipulates that you cannot buy rye bread, goose liver or Limburger cheese on Sunday, and if you do, you can not take it out.

A Lynn, Mass., ordinance states babies may not be given coffee to drink.

In Winona Lake, Ind., it is illegal to eat ice cream at a counter on Sunday.

It is against the law for Nebraska tavern owners to sell beer unless they have a kettle of soup brewing.

According to an old Detroit law, banana peels are not to be thrown in the streets for fear of injury to horses.

In Connecticut pickles which, when dropped 12 inches, collapse in their own juice are illegal. They must remain whole and even bounce.

In Corvallis, Oreg., young ladies are not allowed to drink coffee after six o'clock in the evening.

In Lehigh Nebr. it is against the law to sell doughnut holes. 

In Richmond, Va., it is illegal to match coins in public restaurants to see who pays for the coffee.

In Baltimore, Md., "Only pure unadulterated, unsophisticated and wholesome milk" may be sold. 

Campus Life, March, 1973.

Sign in the middle of the Royal Gorge bridge in Colorado, the tallest suspension bridge in the world, rising 1053 feet above the water level: "No Fishing From This Bridge."

Source Unknown.

People who love sausage and respect the law should never watch either one being made. 

Reader's Digest, May, 1980.


Evangelist Fred Brown used three images to describe the purpose of the law. First he likened it to a dentist's little mirror, which he sticks into the patient's mouth. With the mirror he can detect any cavities. But he doesn't drill with it or use it to pull teeth. It can show him the decayed area or other abnormality, but it can't provide the solution. Brown then drew another analogy. He said that the law is also like a flashlight. If suddenly at night the lights go out, you use it to guide you down the darkened basement stairs to the electrical box. When you point it toward the fuses, it helps you see the one that is burned out. But after you've removed the bad fuse, you don't try to insert the flashlight in its place. You put in a new fuse to restore the electricity. In his third image, Brown likened the law to a plumbline. When a builder wants to check his work, he uses a weighted string to see if it's true to the vertical. But if he finds that he has made a mistake, he doesn't use the plumbline to correct it. He gets out his hammer and saw. The law points out the problem of sin; it doesn't provide a solution.

Fred Brown.