The Gospel Changes How You See the Law

By A University Law Professor

When I was a young new lawyer, I was often asked by older adults in the church how I expected to work in that profession and be a Christian completely committed to the Lord. My answer was simple. I could surely serve God in any profession. I never gave the question much thought. 

Now as a much older Christian lawyer I wish I had.

There seems to be something particular about being a lawyer that not only consumes your time, but also your identity. Lawyers, especially successful ones, work hard. Almost universally, whether you are employed in private practice, non-profit, or government institutions, you make more money, accomplish more for your cause, and move up the ladder faster the more hours you work. It can easily (and literally) consume your life.

Being a lawyer can have an exhilarating effect, especially for those who have made it into powerful political or financial circles, and the ability to help people and affect positive change in the culture can be very rewarding. And unlike most other professions, lawyers operate in an adversarial system where there are winners and losers at the end of the day. So it is easy to begin to define yourself by what you do, how much you do, how others perceive you, and what you accomplish for the cause.

You’re so busy working, winning, helping, accomplishing, and being seen that you don’t even notice that you have begun to shift the center of your universe away from the actual Center of the Universe. When you reach that point, you’re not only failing to give God his due, you’ve become vulnerable to the vagaries of those around you and the unexpectedness of life. You can be easily shattered. Pastor Tim Keller refers to this as an implosion that happens when something goes wrong with what you’ve built your life on.

I always understood the gospel as the story of Christ’s life, substitutionary death, and victorious resurrection over sin and death through which I have forgiveness and eternal life. What I have learned through the ministry of Gospel in Life is that the gospel is not just a historical salvation event that we experience once at the moment of conversion, but it is the power by which we can live at large, full of joy and poise, in the midst of our successes, failures, and the mundaneness of life. If we love and trust the immutable God and are assured of His love for us through Christ, we are not only given eternal life, we are shatter-proof as we work in our chosen professions, parent our children, and live in relationship with others. This is the message of the gospel that has changed my life and it is the message I try to pass on to the law students at the Christian law school where I teach.

…the gospel is not just a historical salvation event that we experience once at the moment of conversion, but it is the power by which we can live at large, full of joy and poise, in the midst of our successes, failures, and the mundaneness of life.

Law students are highly stressed and anxious all the time. They study incessantly. They worry constantly about their grades, the bar exam, and their future employment. In response to their anxious late-night emails to me and their tearful visits to my office, I remind them that while it is important to study, work hard, and build a great resume, it is more important to obtain the internal, unshakeable equipoise to face the personal and professional stresses and challenges of being a lawyer.

That equipoise, as I have learned, comes from knowing that the gospel has given you the approval, acceptance and love of the only One who matters. So there is no need to strive for status or the approval of others. Knowing that God loves you, really, personally loves you, and has all authority in your life, relieves the stress of believing that every law school exam, courtroom appearance, job interview, or opinion of a professor or colleague can change the course of your life or that it defines you. As Christians, our significance and future rests in the immutable God. So, an exam is just an exam. A job is just a job. And without carrying all of the unnecessary weight that students or lawyers usually attach to both enables them to be better students and to better serve clients and employers. I believe that as law students live out this gospel truth it will not only transform their own personal and professional lives it will also begin to transform the legal profession. The gospel has the power to transform a profession that includes overworked, anxious, and often self-aggrandizing or self-serving lawyers into a profession composed of assured individuals who do justice, love kindness and walk humbly before God.

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