Law and Grace: Discerning God’s Expectations for Christians

First Word

Regarding Law and Grace, as with all doctrinal matters, the Christian must have a sure handle on God’s truth. Discerning and living up to God’s expectations for our lives is a lifelong pursuit which Satan seeks to derail with heretical teachings at every turn. When is comes to satanic heresy (false doctrine), we find that extremist views are usually the causal culprit. When we unwisely allow undisciplined studies (eisegesis*), unchecked emotion, and anti-Christ doctrines to sway us, we get into trouble every time. Make no mistake, sound exegesis and hermeneutics are very important. Students of God’s Word are expected to be accurate and clear in the handling of the Word; scripture is our sure guide and meant to be respected (2 Tim. 2:15; Ro 10:17; 2 Tim 3:16; Col 3:16). Likewise, it is imperative that we pay attention to what we are taught and go the Word before embracing every doctrine preached (Ac 17:11).

Introduction

While God’s precious grace has been bestowed upon His children, there are moral expectations regarding the way we ought to live. Liberty and grace are not licenses to sin. Likewise, God’s moral dictates and expectations are not a call for us to place ourselves under the yoke of the law.

The purpose of this work is to speak to our need for a scriptural understanding of God’s expectations of Christians. What we do not intend to do herein is provide a codified statement regarding what we should adhere to or dismiss. Our aim and primary work here, is to point out the error of heretical, extremist views and give thought to an honest pursuit of truth.

At the opposite ends of the grace-law spectrum, we find the doctrines of theonomy and antinomianism. Theonomists** would place us under Mosaic law. The vast majority of Christians reject this heresy, but antinomianism is just as heretical. Again, it is the extremist’s view which leads us astray.

“In Christianity, an antinomian denies the fixed meaning and applicability of moral law and believes that salvation is attained solely through faith and divine grace. Many antinomians, however, believe that Christians will obey moral law despite being free from it. The distinction between antinomian and other Christian views on moral law is that antinomians believe that obedience to the law is motivated by an internal principle flowing from belief rather than from any external compulsion.” [1]

Examining our primary terms

Law and Grace, as terms, are our primary focus. So, let’s be clear about their meaning. The Law of Moses or Torah of Moses (Hebrew Torat Moshe) is a biblical term first found in the Book of Joshua 8:31-32 where Joshua writes the Hebrew words of “Torat Moshe” (translated as “Law of Moses”, meaning “instructions of Moses”) on the altar at Mount Ebal. [2]***

While the Mosaic law was indeed from God, it was specifically given to the nation of Israel during Old Testament times (Ex 19 cf. Lev 26:46; Rom 9:4) The law consisted of: 1. The Decalogue (The Ten Commandments) 2. The Ordinances 3. The System of worship as it regarded priesthood, offerings, festivals (Ex; Lev)

If Christians are not ‘under the law’, if the law was not given to save us, what then, was its purpose? God’s holiness and flawless character were/are revealed by the law (Lev 19:2; 20:7–8). Israel was/is shown to be distinct from all other nations by the law (Ex19:5). In Galatians 3:19 we read, “ Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.” Not all human failings are naturally or readily perceived. Mankind’s sinfulness is undeniably revealed by the law. While it’s true that, the law is holy and of God, we can never be righteous in the eyes of God by the works of the law. Again, the law makes us conscious of our sin (Rom 3:20; Acts 13:38–39). Again, we cannot keep the law perfectly and thus cannot be saved by it.

In Leviticus 1-7, we see that sacrifices and offerings once made a way for the forgiveness of sin. Yet they were merely a foreshadowing of Christ’s redemptive work on the Cross. One quaint explanation says, “The Old Testament sacrifices and offerings were merely checks which Jesus cashed on Calvary’s Cross” As we know, animal sacrifice is no longer a valid means of remitting sins (Heb 10:4). Likewise, it is no longer the law that separates us unto God, but our relationship with Christ our Savior. The law also provided the necessary dictates regarding worship by yearly feasts and gave direction for the spiritual and physical health of God’s people. (Lev 23; Ex 21 -23; Deu 6:4-19; Psa 119:97-104)

More on the Christian view of the Law

Christians are to regard the law as a schoolmaster and a mirror (Gal 3:24; Jam 1:23). By the law we see our need for Christ and the Salvation He offers (Gal 3:24). During Jesus’ ministry, He dealt with many who distorted the law for their own purposes. One will note that He referred to it as “your law” in John 8:17; they had so twisted God’s law, they reformed it into their own man-made code (tradition). If this could happen then, we must certainly be vigilant and realize that heretics still exist till this day. The Law is God’s standard of righteousness and it is a very high standard indeed. When we look at it only as God standard for righteous, we are on solid ground. Yet thinking that we can keep the law unto salvation is a heretical concept. Romans 3 makes it clear that we cannot abide by God’s standard(s) perfectly; we need a Redeemer where we fall short (Rom 3:23). Only Christ’s shed blood covers our shortcomings and makes us whole. So, we Christians are under Grace, not the Law.

What is grace?

Grace, as a term, is used in various ways in the New Testament. The Greek word(s) for grace (“charis” being the primary) means: 1.) That which gives joy, pleasure, delight (Lk 4:22; Ep 4:29; Col 4:6) 2.) God’s good will, longing kindness, and favor. This is rightly seen as God’s unmerited, undeserved favor. The New Testament writers repeatedly referred to grace as being Divine kindness and favor given to those who did not and cannot earn it. 3.) Those who accept God’s grace are in a ‘state’ of grace (Ro 5:1-2; 1Pe 5:12). This is a spiritual state or condition in which we can enjoy God’s favor. 4.) Finally, grace is also used as an expression of gratitude for favor bestowed.

Grace and the Christian

First and foremost, our salvation is predicated upon God’s grace; we are saved by His grace, period. Christ paid a price He did not owe for sinners who could not pay! (Eph 2:5-8). He owed us nothing, but gave us His best; He gave us his only begotten Son by His grace. If we think that God owed us anything more than eternal damnation, we are in error; our sinfulness has earned us damnation (Ro 3:23; 6:23a; Rom 5:12; Gen 2:17; Gen 3:19; Isa 3:11; Eze 18:4,20; 1Co 6:9,10; Gal 3:10; Gal 6:7,8; Jas 1:15; Rev 21:8). Yet God’s grace has secured for us a path to salvation (Ro 6:23b; Rom 2:7; Rom 5:17,21; Jhn 3:14-17,36; Jhn 4:14; Jhn 5:24,39,40; Jhn 6:27,32,33,40,50-58; Jhn 6:68; Jhn 10:28; Jhn 17:2; Tit 1:2; 1Pe 1:3,4; 1Jo 2:25; 1Jo 5:11,12 )

God’s grace requires holy living

To those who assume that grace was intended to give license to debauchery, we first offer the Biblical truth of Romans 6:1-2.

“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” – Romans 6:1-2

It may seem unfathomable, but some actually think we’re given permission by God to do as our flesh pleases when saved by grace. Yet grace was never intended to be a fig leaf to cover unbridled licentiousness. Grace instead teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts. We are to live soberly, Godly, and look for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of Christ Jesus (Tit 2:11-13).

In Titus 2:14 we read, “Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” Here, Paul continues by explaining the actual reason for Jesus’ sacrifice. He came to effect our redemption and purification from lawless deeds, not to cover and condone sinful lifestyles (!) Salvation is not gained by a feckless, insincere recitation of the Sinner’s Prayer. True regeneration is evidence by our being ‘zealous of good works’. While it’s true that ‘good works’ do not save us, it’s just as true that saved Christians do ‘good works’. Once truly saved, our lives are changed for the better and forever; we become new creations in Christ (2 Cor 5:17; Mat 12:33; Jhn 3:3,5; Gal 6:15; Eph 2:10).

The Greatest Commandments

So, if we are under grace and not the Mosaic law, how then do we obey God and live our lives for Him? Getting a handle on how to abide by God’s moral law and realize that we are under a covenant of grace can be tricky. Jesus answers this question succinctly in the following verses.

Luke 10:25-28: 25: And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? 26 He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? 27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. 28 And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.

Jesus’ answer erases all confusion; we aren’t left to wonder how we are to love God and live for Him. The guidance provided here is clear and we can apply it to our lives easily. True love of God requires us to examine our hearts and answer hard questions daily. Do we live by these commandments? Is there evidence of ‘total’ love for God in our lives? Do we indeed love our neighbors (fellow man) as we love ourselves? More often than not, honest self-examination finds many faults and flaws in the way we live. Yet there is Good News for those who love God with their all. While the law shows us our faults, we are justified by faith (Gal 3:24 cf. Gal 2:16; Act 13:39).

We are to love God so much that we strive for perfection (Matt 5:48 cf. Mat 5:16,45; Eph 3:1; Eph 5:1,2; 1Jo 3:3). The indwelling Holy Spirit moves us to love God with all of our hearts, minds, souls, and strength and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. As Christians, we submit to the leadership of the Holy Spirit and let our lives demonstrate that we belong to Christ and have been saved by Him. Yes, there will be failures in our lives, but our hope of salvation emanates from the imputed righteousness of Christ and not our own ability to be perfect law-keepers.

God’s grace empowers us for holy living

Once we’ve embraced the above truths regarding God’s grace, we must continue to live our lives in accordance with them. Acceptance of truth is a righteous first step, but it’s only the beginning. We never outgrow our need for God’s grace. Temptations abound in this world and to live soberly, righteously, and Godly we need God’s grace continually. Is it never by our own power, but God’s grace that we bear fruit and continue to live holy, Christ-like lives.

In Philippians 2:12-13 we read, “12 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” This text is not meant to make us fearful regarding the maintenance of our salvation. We are eternal security in Christ when truly saved (John 10:28-29). Yet how do apply these verses to our lives? How do we continue in God’s grace to be holy before Him? Are we expected to continually apprehensive in our zeal for holiness?

Christ’s blood was shed for the remission of sins (Matt 26:28; Mat 20:28; Rom 5:15,19; Eph 1:7; Col 1:14,20; Heb 9:22,28; 1Jo 2:2; Rev 7:9,14). Yet our feet are now set upon on a path we must walk in obedience. To ‘work out’ our salvation is to work toward being perfected in the sanctification process (Phi 3:13-14). The key to receiving God’s empowering grace for holy living is ‘humility’ (Jam 4:6). We are repeatedly exhorted to be at peace because, we are reconciled to God (Rom 10:15). Yet we are also encouraged to live our lives expressing a grand reverence and demonstrative respect for God’s moral law. When we are humble before God and zealous of good works, we can rest assured that He will provide the grace we earnestly seek.

What a fellowship, what a joy divine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
What a blessedness, what a peace is mine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.
Refrain:
Leaning, leaning,
Safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.
Oh, how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
Oh, how bright the path grows from day to day,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.
What have I to dread, what have I to fear,
Leaning on the everlasting arms?
I have blessed peace with my Lord so near,
Leaning on the everlasting arms. [3]

We are expected to grow in Grace

Now that we’ve been brought into Jesus’ flock and made holy, we must grow. How can one hope to live in increasing abidance of God’s moral law and be holy without growing in grace? The answer is that we cannot do such a thing. The truth is that we are indeed instructed to grow in grace (2 Pe 3:18).

The experience of being forgiven is indeed glorious, but is it all we are meant to receive? No, God has much more to share with His children in this live and in the hereafter (Eph 2:7). We also need to consider Paul’s salutations and benedictions (1Th 1:1; 5:28). It is our ‘reasonable service’ to sacrifice our lives and grow in obedience and submission to God (Rom 12:1-2). In heeding God’s Word, we grow in grace; in prayer we draw near to God (Ac 20:32; Heb 4:16)

We mustn’t receive God’s grace in vain

In 2 Corinthians 6:1 we read, “We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.”

What good is grace when not received with joy and then acted upon? When grace is abused, perverted, or even ignored, we thereby spurn and demonstrate contempt for a most precious gift. Grace not only provides for our salvation, but also qualifies those called to God’s service. We all have ministerial gifts and are indeed expected to use them. So, as we’ve stressed, grace is not a licence for impenitent sin. Likewise, it not to be placed upon a shelf in our hearts. We are instead to humbly reverence grace as the power God gives us to please Him. Our daily work is a high calling and God’s grace readies us for it unless we receive it in vain.

Summation:

Regarding the Law:

Romans 10:4 – For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.

Regarding Grace:

The Apostle Paul was asked, “What must I do to be saved?” In Acts 16:31we read, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” The carnal mind interprets this to mean: A mere intellectual acknowledgment is sufficient. True conversion is evidenced in our Godly, outward response to the Gospel. True regeneration and saving faith changes us totally (2 Cor 5:17). For example, an immediate outward confession of faith and submission to Baptism are inevitable outward expressions.

Main points:

  1. ) We are not under the Mosaic Law, but are to be aware of its content and purpose. It’s purpose is not to justify us (Gal 5:4; Rom3:20; Tit 3:5).
  2. ) Grace provides for forgiveness of sin, not a licence to sin (Rom 6:1-2).

3.) God gives us grace, not only for forgiveness, but to empower us for Holy living and good works. (2Ti 2:11-14; Heb 12;15; Heb 12:28)

4.) Therefore, though we are not under Old Testament law, a true Christian demonstrates his/her saving faith by the fruit they bear (Matt 7:16-20).

Notes:

*Eisegesis is the act imposing meaning onto a text and is often described in terms of reading “into” the text rather than “out of” it. Therefore it is the opposite of Exegesis.

** Christian Reconstructionism is a fundamentalist Calvinist theonomic movement, founded by Rousas John Rushdoony (Slick, Matt. https://carm.org/christian-reconstructionism-theonomy.) Also: Theonomy, from theos (god) and nomos (law), is the idea, espoused by Christian Reconstructionists, that Mosaic law should be observed by modern societies. Theonomists reject the traditional Reformed belief that the civil laws of the Mosaic Law are no longer applicable. (Duncan, J. Ligon, III (October 15, 1994). Moses’ Law for Modern Government. Annual national meeting of the Social Science History Association. Atlanta, GA.)

*** The Hebrew term Torah, ‘Law’ doesn’t fully describe the content of the Pentateuch. The first 5 books of the Bible do contain the law, but also contains a great deal of narrative as well. (John Van Seters The Pentateuch: a social-science commentary 2004 p16)

References:

[1] Como, David R. (2004). Blown by the Spirit: Puritanism and the Emergence of an Antinomian Underground in Pre-Civil-War England. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. p. 36.

[2] Kristin De Troyer, Armin Lange Reading the present in the Qumran library 2005 p158 “Both at the beginning and at the ending of the Gibeonites’ story there is now a reference to the law of Moses and to the fact that … The building of the altar happens on Mount Ebal, not in Gilgal—Joshua gets to Gilgal only in 9:6. ”

[3] “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” Elisha A. Hoffman, pub.1887

For a PDF version of this writing: http://www.tribosministry.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Law-and-Grace1.pdf

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