What Compels Compliance?

indexThe other day I saw a truck that made me laugh out loud. 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. 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.

Preachers who think that simply 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 tells us that compliance is required but the law is incapable of producing a compliant heart. We would all agree that compliance is a laudable goal. We want people parking legally and we want people loving their neighbors as themselves. But how might compliance actually happen?

Counter-intuitively, it is grace that produces compliance. Grace—that love that comes to the undeserving—is the thing that causes 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.

(Excerpted from my forthcoming devotional It Is Finished: 365 Days of Good News)

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