The Law and Grace

The Law and Grace:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:7-10)

For every rule there is an exception, or at least we think there should be. The Bible has rules and for every one of them, it seems there is an exception. That’s where the New Testament and the Old Testament come crashing together.

The Law was given to Moses and from there 613 laws were derived by Jewish authorities. The Law was the center of Jewish culture and strict obedience to the Law went beyond that. It was the way of life.

Then came Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, the Son of God, who introduced a seemingly completely contradictory idea—grace.

Jesus introduced grace

On the one hand, men and women could earn right standing with God by doing all that was required of the Law. That seems simple enough if you choose to ignore the fact that no man or woman has ever done that.

With the coming of Christ, salvation was given by the grace of God through faith in Christ Jesus. Grace means that salvation cannot be earned, it is a gift. It cannot be purchased because it’s free.

The Apostle Paul talked about living by the spirit and not by the flesh. You can see that the two sides of the issue—following the law and accepting the gift of God by faith, can be seen as mutually exclusive, but in reality they are not.

From Law to grace: Three types of law

Historically, in Judaism, there were three type of law—civic, ceremonial and moral. Israel, in its earliest years, was a theocracy.

Beginning with Moses, God passed down His law regarding all aspects of life, from social interaction, to dietary restrictions, to religious observances. The law began with God’s giving of the Ten Commandments, but from there it would expand to 613 individual laws.

Civic Law

This dealt with crimes, like murder, theft. It also dealt with immorality and other misdemeanors. Those in power had the authority to impose severe penalties for transgressions, from death to a “slap on the wrist.”

Interestingly, they focus more on “sin” than the actual crime itself. In theocratic countries, breaking civic law can be a major, traumatic event, such has amputation of a hand for stealing, the death penalty for adultery.

Islamic nations, theocracies, still practice these harsh punishments. Why? There is no grace, no redeemer, no Messiah who has paid their price for sin. There is only the law. Western law is predicated on the Ten Commandments, but moderated by the mercy and grace of God.

Ceremonial Law

The sacrificial offerings, the Temple, the tabernacle, all of the ceremonial trapping so the Law were in full force in the Old Testament. Then came Jesus, who would fulfill all of the requirements in complete detail.

Jesus, our great high priest, swept away our need to fulfill these requirements. He did not do away with ceremonial law, he fulfilled it.

The legalistic necessity of making sure the complete law was followed, impossible thought it is. Jesus did it all. The controversy is obvious, if you can’t follow the law to the letter, then why have a law at all?

It is by faith we are called to not only follow the law, but the love the law. Our faith in Jesus, our acceptance in Him as Lord and Savior, is our pathway to right standing with God. Churches can become legalistic in demanding submission to their rules, but Paul argues that following Christ is the key to unlocking the bondage of sin, not the self-effort of following the law.

Moral Law

These laws reflect God’s own essential attributes. God is spirit, and so His law is spiritual. The moral law is God’s blueprint for living a Christian life. His law is Holy. God cannot and will not change.

Therefore His law will not change. It has eternal validity and will never be altered. God is the moral governor of the universe, and because of that, God deserves and is entitled to obedience from all of His creation.

Our faith in Christ and our willingness to follow Him offers us the ability to obey, because God, through His Son, is also our redeemer. Moral law was in force from the beginning, as Adam and Eve suffered from breaking it. The Apostle John tells us that being saved from sin means being saved from transgressing the law.

Again, it is all Jesus. We are enabled to keep the moral law only because of Him.

Christ had to die to pay the penalty of our sin

The old testament shows us how the Christian message unfolded through the law, the prophets and the writings. It is easy to see how Christians can become legalistic. The law is still very much in evidence.

It is why Christ had to die, to pay the penalty for man breaking God’s law. Because believers are saved by the grace of God through faith in Christ, that does not mean that obedience to civic, ceremonial and moral law can be forgotten.

No, it means they are given the ability to freely follow the law and make good choices. Works are important, but they are not the payment for sin, they are a sign that the payment has been made by Jesus and obedience to the law can be described as appreciation or gratitude.

Sin is not our master because of grace

For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!

Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey — whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?

But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. (Romans 6:14-18)

Understanding the law can be challenging

Understanding the law can be confusing. The law is very much in place and we are accountable to every letter.

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.

As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.

For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.

For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:14-25)

Jesus fulfilled the righteous requirements of the law for us. That which we could not do by ourselves, He did. Blessed is our savior.