The Law and Grace
Jack M. Lane
Are you a “legalist”? Do you rely on strict adherence to a set of laws to provide you with salvation? Are you, on the other hand, an “antinomian”? Do you look only to faith in Jesus Christ and his shed blood as the sum total of salvation? In this article, we will look at the often-debated subject of “law versus grace,” and see if we can find some answers and some understanding from the scriptures about how these two topics may not be polar opposites, but may, in fact, work hand in hand to bring about each individual’s salvation. Is it either/or? Is it law versus grace? Or is it rather, as the title suggests, law and grace? If you have been called either a legalist or an antinomian, this article will help you to have a much fuller grasp of this topic.
Part 1. The Law – What it is and what it isn’t
To help us understand the subject of grace, we should spend a minute reviewing what law is, so we can see how the two relate to each other. The Hebrew word translated “law” in the Old Testament is torah, which basically means “instruction.” The Greek word translated “law” in the New Testament is nomos, which simply means “the rules.” (Therefore, an “anti-nomian” is one who is “against law,” or who believes the law is done away.)
Why mention this in an article about grace? In a way, everyone who speaks in church or at Bible studies, everyone who gives sermons and sermonettes, whoever teaches the teachings of the Bible, is talking about grace. Any time anyone speaks about the love of God, the rich rewards and benefits that come from following God, and the amazing future that we have waiting for us for eternity, these people are actually talking about God’s grace toward us. But to truly understand grace, we need to compare and contrast what the Bible teaches about grace with what the Bible teaches about law.
We often hear about the so-called controversy between law and grace, as if it’s law versus grace, as if the two are polar opposites and mutually exclusive. I don’t see that. I see that God’s law is a very important part of His grace. It’s not law versus grace, it’s law as part of grace, as a subset of grace, as one of the foundations of grace. Because of that viewpoint, we are often labeled as “legalists,” because of our undue emphasis on law, or what some consider to be our undue emphasis on law.
Those folks who call us legalists have a valid point. There is, in fact, a real tendency to go overboard in law-keeping, so that the law becomes so important in our religious practice that we overlook some really important things. Jesus pointed this out, in Matthew chapter 23, when he was blasting away at the hypocrisy of the religious leaders:
Matthew 23:23-24 (NIV throughout, unless otherwise noted):
23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices — mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.
24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
The Pharisees were aware of how important the law was, but they had a lopsided picture of what was important. Jesus said there are more important things in the law than tithing sugar and spice and everything nice. We, too, must remember that we can go overboard.
We often use the word “torah” to refer to the first five books of the Bible. But the entire Bible is torah, the teachings God has given us. And nomos simply refers to law; some law, any law, whether man-made or God-given. It means the rules, or any established, agreed-upon set of procedures.
Our Father, as any loving parent would do, has given us a set of rules to follow. If we follow those rules, things are going to go right for us. If we violate those rules once in awhile, He is faithful and just to forgive us (1 John 1:9), and to help us go back to living by those rules.
The Rules of the Game
Let’s say you buy a new game at the store. You bring it home, you open it up, and you set up the board and the pieces. Then what? Usually, you look at the instructions, the rules of the game. If you know the rules and follow them, you can play the game successfully. If you don’t care about the rules, if you make up rules as you go along, you can move the pieces around the board, but you’re not playing the same game, the way the inventor of the game wants you to play it.
It might help us greatly to look on God’s nomos along these lines, as the rules of the game. God has given us a set of rules, or teachings, in both the Hebrew and the Greek scriptures, so we can play the game His way. If we reach the end of the game, we’ve gained the victory. We win! We get the prize, the free gift, the crown that’s stored up for us! And if we stray from the rules during our lives, or knock the board over entirely in a fit of anger, God will always accept our repentance, and He’ll set up the board again, and put your pieces back on the board, and help us get back to playing the game His way.
If we can realize that we have a loving Father, who wants us to succeed, who wants us to win the game, and who will help us play the game correctly, then we might be able to relax into an enjoyable session of “God’s Game of Life.” God is love. He is positive and uplifting. He wants us to succeed. He’ll help us to succeed. His law, His torah, His instruction, is there to help us succeed.
Now, with that background, let’s look at the subject of grace.
Part 2. What is grace?
In some Christian religions, there is much discussion about the law on the one hand, and grace on the other. It’s a battle between law and grace. The Old Testament was about law, and the New Testament is about grace. Actually, law and grace aren’t opposites, they don’t collide with each other, and they don’t cancel each other out. They actually go together. It’s really law and grace. In fact, the law, the set of rules, the instruction, is actually a part of grace.
What is grace? In the Greek scriptures, the word most often translated “grace” is charis (KHAR-ece, Strong’s #5485), which refers, not to unmerited pardon as many of us often think, but rather to the idea of something which brings joy, pleasure, charm, loveliness; a kindness, a benefit; thanks and gratitude; loving-kindness. That’s what the Greek word means.
In the Hebrew scriptures, the word chen (khane, Strong’s #2580) is most often translated “grace” or “favor,” and carries much the same meaning. Many times the KJV will say something like, “If I have found grace in your sight,” then let this or that happen. But later translations will say, “If I have found favor in your sight...” The Hebrew word means favor, acceptance, even charm and elegance.
So you see, grace is more than simply unmerited pardon.
There are related Hebrew words which are translated as mercy, gracious, or merciful. We see that “grace” and “gracious” are closely related ideas.
One example is Psalm 86:15: “But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”
“Grace,” in this sense, is all over the Hebrew scriptures. Let’s look, for instance, in Psalm 103 (NIV):
1 Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits —
You like your benefits package at work? Get a load of these benefits:
3 who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion,
5 who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
6 The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.
7 He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of
8 The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.
9 He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed, [He should know—He formed us!] he remembers that we are dust.
15 As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field;
16 the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.
17 But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children —
18 with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.
Aye, there’s the rub (to quote Hamlet). I can see a great deal of grace—favor, mercy, kindness, joy—in that Psalm. But the bite in this psalm, the reminder of our responsibility, comes at the end, when David reminds us that we must fear God and obey His precepts.
But knowing what grace is isn’t enough. We also need to ask: Where does it come from, what does it do, why would we want it, and how do we get it?
Grace in the Greek Scriptures
To answer these questions, let’s look at some of the Greek scriptures that talk about charis, and see if we can put together a picture in our minds of what grace is.
Let’s start in John, chapter 1:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 He was with God in the beginning.
3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men.
5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
6 There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John.
7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.
Look at that. The Light came that all might believe. Not just people in one church, or people in one small, select group. All people.
8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
9 The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.
10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.
11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.
12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—
13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Continuing in verse 15: “John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.”‘”
Now, what in the world does all that mean? According to information in Luke chapter 1, John the Baptist and Jesus were related some way, quite possibly second or third cousins. Their mothers, Elizabeth and Mary, were cousins, so that would make their sons, John and Jesus, cousins. John was about six months older than Jesus. And John began his ministry of repentance and baptism before Jesus began His ministry. In fact, as we are reading the account in John chapter 1, here comes Jesus, to be baptized by John, so He can get started.
John says, “This is the man I was telling you about. He’s coming after me, but He was before Me. In fact, He preceded me!” Because John knew that Jesus was the man we just read about earlier, who was in the beginning. Remember, Jesus was the light, and John was going to be a witness for the light.
Verse 16: “From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.”
From the fullness of whose grace? Jesus! If “we have all received,” who is “we all”? All of the people standing there, then all of
Judahand later on, and out into the Gentile areas, and down through time. All of us. We have all received one blessing after another from the fullness of his grace. Israel
Verse 17: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
Here, verse 17 appears to draw a contrast. Many people have assumed these were two contradictory ideas, that the law was given through Moses, but then, on the other hand, Christ came to correct that by giving us grace and truth. What’s the problem with that? Are the law and the truth mutually exclusive? Is the law, or God’s teaching, the opposite of grace? Was John saying here that Moses gave us the harsh old law, but Messiah came to do away with the law, and replace it with grace and truth? No, not at all!
Rather than being a contradiction, it’s a completion. The law, the torah, the teaching, was given, not by Moses, but through Moses, from God. John is saying that Christ was coming, not to do away with the law, but to add in grace and truth. Of course, grace and truth were there all along, but Christ came to make better definitions, and to steer a course correction for those who want to follow God.
Some Attributes of Grace
What does this “grace” do? Paul wrote that grace brings salvation.
Titus 2:11: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men [or to all people].” There it is again. Grace, salvation, life, are available to all people, not just a select few.
12 It [the grace of God] teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,
13 while we wait for the blessed hope — the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,
14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
In Titus chapter 3, Paul explains that we are justified in God’s sight because of His grace.
4 But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared,
5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,
6 [which] he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour,
7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
Grace (or favor, or beauty, or joy) is a significant component of what God has prepared for those who love Him. We can see from a number of scriptures that grace plays an important part in how God brings us to salvation, to eternal life, to resurrection into His family.
Let’s look next in Ephesians chapter 1.
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints in
, the faithful in Christ Jesus: Ephesus
2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Here, again, is the source of grace—both the Father and the Son.
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love
5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will –
6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.
7 In him [that is, in Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace
8 that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.
By the way, there are a lot of people who don’t have a good grasp on what predestination is all about, and the concept that God predestined us to salvation. We have some articles on the subject. (You can click to read “God’s Five Steps to Salvation” [5steps.html] and “Predestination.” [predestination.html])
What a lot of people don’t realize -- or what they forget -- is that God predestined the entire human race to salvation! So they waste a lot of energy trying to show that some people are predestined to be saved, while other people are predestined to be lost, then people are consumed with worry about which category they’re in.
The Bible doesn’t teach anything of the kind. When Paul wrote that God “chose us … before the creation of the world” and “predestined us to be adopted as his sons,” there is no mention that only a select few will be saved, while the majority of humankind is left to suffer in the torments of eternal hellfire, or be lost, or whatever. No, when Paul writes about who is being saved, and he uses the word “us,” we understand that this includes us today.
Isn’t that obvious? Those who follow God today, who are led by His Spirit and are sons of God, are the ones who will be saved out of today’s crowd. We are part of “us”! But does it stop there? Or will there be others in the future who will follow the Lamb wherever He goes (Revelation 14:4), and also be saved?
What about the far flung future, during the Great White Throne period, when all of humankind will be resurrected to learn God’s way and choose life? Will they be saved? Of course they will. That’s what the Last Day, the Great Day of the Feast, seems to be about! It’s a celebration of the time when everybody wins!
The terrible people we hear about and read about in the news today, and the terrible people who are making your life miserable, are also predestined, from before the world began, to be made sons of God, at some time, whether now or later. It will be as simple as accepting Jesus Christ as their personal Savior!
The Bible doesn’t talk about vast hordes of people who are predestined to be lost, and there is nothing we can do about it. That’s not in the Bible! Where did it come from? Calvin. That hope-crushing doctrine comes right out of Calvinism. It’s not in the Bible. Rather than this being the biblical doctrine of predestination, this other, diabolical doctrine is called “predestinarianism.”
If God chose somebody, and predestined them to be His sons, and Paul calls those people “us,” then who is “us”? We look at those scriptures, written so long ago, and we say, “Yes, that includes me today.” Well, as it turns out, “us” will ultimately include almost everybody! “Us” refers primarily to those who are willing to follow Christ, and be led by the Spirit of God, who look to God for everything, and have told the devil to take a hike. And that includes followers of God in all ages, past, present, and future.
The Part We Play in God’s Grace
Going back to Ephesians 1:7: “In him [that is, in Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.”
Does everyone out there have access to redemption through Christ’s blood, and the forgiveness of sin? Of course they do. It’s there for everyone! From other scriptures, we realize that God is not a respecter of persons, but rather, He’s the Potter and we’re the clay (Isaiah 64:8). Sometimes God makes clay vessels to be put into service now, while others will be put into service later. But He’s not going to waste any clay.
I’ve often said that God has called Christians in this era ahead of the rest, not instead of the rest. God’s plan is to invite all mankind into His family. Some people He has called to special knowledge and assignments, to help Him prepare the way for others. The Bible refers to those people as “first fruits.” In that capacity, as first fruits, we can participate in God’s grace, or His loving-kindness to mankind.
Do you know what that means? We are to be instruments of God’s grace. That’s one of the jobs of the first fruits. Now, when I say we are instruments, I don’t mean we’re a loud, raucous brass section, with trombones and trumpets arguing loudly with each other. I mean instruments more like surgical instruments, electronic instruments, regulatory instruments.
The dictionary defines “instrument” as: “(1) A means by which something is done; an agency. (2) One used by another to accomplish a purpose … (3) An implement used to facilitate work. See Synonyms at tool” (American Heritage Dictionary).
That can be a pretty sobering thought. “Me? An instrument of God’s grace? How can I do that? Boy, parting the
Red Seawas nothing compared to making me an instrument of God’s grace!”
Let’s turn to 2 Corinthians 12, and see how Paul became an instrument of God’s grace. You remember what kind of a fellow Paul was before God knocked him down and converted him. After that, Paul became one of the greatest men of all time in administering God’s grace.
2 Corinthians 12:
1 I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord.
2 I know a man in Christ who, fourteen years ago, was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know – God knows.
It’s generally agreed that Paul is talking about himself in this passage. He’s using a device of language to refer to himself in the third person, but it seems pretty obvious from the way the passage reads that he’s talking about himself.
3 And I know that this man – whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows –
4 was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.
5 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses.
6 Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no-one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say.
7 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.
8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Here God is saying to Paul, “My grace—My favor, My joy, My pleasure, My delight, My loving-kindness, My mercy, My benefits—are good enough for you. Because I can demonstrate My power through your weakness.”
Paul continued, in verse 9:
9 Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
If God’s grace is good enough for Paul, if God’s favor can turn a weak little Jewish scholar into a mighty emissary of the Messiah, what do you think God’s grace can do for you? For your neighbor across the street? For your relatives? For the poor, misguided souls who run this country?
Of course, you know that if anyone resists God’s grace, God’s power simply isn’t going to be manifested in them. James and Peter both wrote that God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5). So for anyone to receive the power of God, through His grace, that person must first of all be humble. From that starting point, the Potter can turn us into vessels of His grace. The technician can use an instrument to do his job, but the instrument doesn’t tell the technician what to do. The technician picks up his volt-ohm meter, or his calibrator, or his test meter, or whatever instrument he’s using, and he uses that instrument. If the instrument isn’t working properly, the technician doesn’t get the right results. If the problem with the instrument can’t be fixed, the technician throws it out and gets another instrument, one that will work!
The instrument is in God’s hands, and God does the work through the instrument. The instrument doesn’t do the work. The instrument doesn’t tell God what to do. God uses the instrument to do what the instrument was made to do.
Part 3. Grace versus Pharisaical law-keeping as a means of earning salvation
One of the early battles of the fledgling New Covenant church was combating the idea that salvation comes from our own efforts. There were people who boasted about how well they observed the law, and how righteous they were because of it. For instance, in Romans chapter 3 we read:
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.
20 Therefore no-one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.
This is a vital understanding. God’s nomos, His rules, are not set up to break us into little pieces if we happen to violate them. At the same time, God’s rules are not there so we can jump through some hoops and work up our own righteousness or our own salvation. Paul says the law is there to show us that we are sinners. That’s the purpose of God’s law. We become conscious of sin because we fight against it every day. Overcoming sin requires, not the righteousness that comes from law-keeping, but the righteousness that comes from the Holy Spirit.
21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.
22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference,
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
24 and are justified freely by his grace [How?] through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
Jumping to verse 28: “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.”
There were a lot of people back then—indeed, there are a lot of them today—who were relying on their own righteousness to save them. Today we call that “legalism.” Paul is teaching that it’s faith that really counts, and it’s through God’s grace that we can have faith.
29 Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too,
30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith.
31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.
Faith and God’s law work together. In fact, God’s law, His torah, is a part of God’s grace. Paul didn’t even try to nullify God’s law, or do away with it, or teach against it.
If we look at it that way, we’ll see that the rules of conduct God has given us work hand-in-hand with the favor, the graciousness, the joy of God. God’s rules are for our benefit. It’s part of His grace toward us. It is to everyone’s benefit to obey God. It brings joy and happiness. Our lives become so much richer because of it. Violating God’s code of conduct brings grief and misery. Following God’s rule book helps us to play the game better.
Think about your own role as a loving, caring parent. When we impose rules on our young children, is it to hurt them, or is it for their benefit? It’s to help them see which way to live, which behaviors to avoid, and how to please Mommy and Daddy. Sometimes the youngsters run up against the limits we have imposed. Does that make the rules harsh and unfair? No, the rules are still there to help them and protect them. They may not see it at the time, but we hope that some day they will. We hope they won’t grow up, move out, and decide they are free of our harsh old laws. If our children do that, they are going to hurt themselves.
Do we try to destroy our little children if they violate our rules at home? No, we encourage them, in various ways, to look at the rules we have established for their behavior, and to give it a good try. If they flop again, we’ll help them get started down the right path again. That’s what parenting is all about: trying to raise good citizens.
Isn’t it the same with our loving Father, and how He has chosen to raise His young children? These rules we try to live by were placed there for our benefit, to make our lives better, and our futures filled with hope. It’s because of the torah of God that we have this hope.
Can you see what I mean, that the law is grace? The instruction from God, the rules God has set down for us, are a direct part of God’s favor, His kindness and mercy toward us, and the thing that brings joy.
In the days of the apostles, it so happened that, when you found people teaching that strict law-keeping was required as a means of salvation, these same people were also teaching that circumcision was necessary to be saved. Let’s see how Paul addressed this issue, in Romans, chapter 4.
1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter?It’s interesting that the word “gift” here is from the Greek charis, or grace. If Abraham had earned his justification by his works of obedience, then his wages, his reward, would be an obligation. Paul is saying that Abraham was promised his blessings as a gift, as an act of grace, not as something Abraham had earned.
2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about – but not before God.
3 What does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation.
Skipping to verse 9:
9 Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness.Paul is saying here that Abraham is the father of the Gentile believers who have not been circumcised. He’s saying that it’s the righteousness that counts. It’s the desire to obey God that brings us closer. It’s not the circumcision of the flesh, or relying on the adherence to law, that saves us. What counts is the righteousness that comes from God, apart from the law, or from another source besides law-keeping. That other source is the Spirit of God.
10 Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before!
11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith, while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them.
12 And he is also the father of the circumcised [that’s the Jews] who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
13 It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.
14 For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless,
15 because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.
Technically, precisely, it’s not the law that brings wrath, but sin, or the violation of the law. Sin is identified as the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4). Paul is contrasting law and faith. Now, let’s tie this back into the subject of grace:
16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring – not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.
The promise comes by faith, as an act of graciousness, or favor, or joy, to those who have the faith of Abraham, whether circumcised or uncircumcised.
Continuing In Romans chapter 5:
1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,Do you see how grace and faith have a close relationship? Earlier, we saw that we obtain faith through grace. Here we see that we obtain grace through faith. The two travel together. Faith and grace have a very close relationship to each other. God’s grace gives us the faith, and that faith brings us into a state of grace with God.
2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”
Justified by the Law?
In the early chapters of the book of Galatians, Paul makes analogies about Hagar versus Sarah,
Mt. Sinaiversus , and so forth. He continues his discussion into chapter five, using the word “circumcision” to refer to those who rely on observing the law as the only important thing. Reading in Galatians chapter 5: Mt. Zion
1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.Paul isn’t saying that the law is bad, or that obeying the law is bad. Rather, “trying to be justified by law” is the problem. If it was possible to do that, then people could save themselves, and they wouldn’t need God’s grace.
2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.
3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is required to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
Verse 6: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”
Indeed, if you’ll recall, the whole purpose of the church council in Acts 15 was to address the subject of whether circumcision, or obedience to the customs and traditions, and the oral law, should be a notable characteristic of those who follow Christ. Let’s turn there next. Acts chapter 15:
7 After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe.The findings of the council in Acts 15 were that one does not need to become a Jew in order to become a Christian. That’s what the whole thing was about. God Himself had shown Peter that the Gentiles were to be equally accepted into the fellowship of faith. And Paul’s writings reinforce the idea that, if we rely on being justified by the law, we have fallen away from grace.
8 God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us.
9 He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.
10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?
11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”
Circumcision doesn’t save us. Law-keeping doesn’t save us. Following the Jewish traditions doesn’t save us. God saves us, through our faith in Christ’s shed blood. Does that mean that the law has been done away? Of course not. There is a very important place for the law in our Christian lives.
Part 4. The pendulum swing: Grace versus no-law theology
With all of this explanation written into the Greek scriptures, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that, much later in history, there was a big pendulum swing in religious thinking on the subject of grace, and the opposite view came into prominence. During the Middle Ages, with people like Martin Luther, Swingli, John Wesley, Calvin, and others creating religious movements, the religious world became indoctrinated with the concept of “no law,” or “antinomianism.”
It’s fairly easy to see how these men looked at the very scriptures we just saw, and others, and realized (just as we do) that the law doesn’t save us, but rather faith in Christ saves us. From there, though, it was only a short leap of faith to the concept that the law was somehow bad, done away, and not of any importance at all in salvation. But by using the very scriptures we were just looking at, these men were able to launch major antinomian religious movements among the uneducated masses of people. And this philosophy of “no law” still exists today in many denominations.
Now we’re faced with the opposite problem. How can we show, from the scriptures, that God’s law is still in effect today, and we are still obligated to obey that law if we expect to have any chance of being saved? We should be able to show, from the scriptures, that God’s law is still very much in effect, that the Greek writers were very aware of the law, and that God looks at how much we love Him, including how obedient to Him we are willing to be. Fortunately, there’s a lot of literature available on the subject to help us do that.
Part of the answer is back in Romans chapter 6. Paul goes for balance in his writings, so now he’s going to talk about this pendulum swing to the other side. “Well,” he says, “if law-keeping isn’t so great, how about if we just go around violating the law instead, and capitalizing on this grace business?” Of course, in order to violate the law, that means the law is still there, since the law defines what sin is (1 John 3:4).
1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning, so that grace may increase?
2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?”
Jumping down to verse 12:
12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.
13 Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.
14 For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.
This is a verse that many people have really squeezed the juices out of, because they don’t want to be under the law, they want to be under grace. But then, so do we. So what does it mean?
Discussions about this phrase have caused a lot of confusion through the centuries, simply because people have not understood what it means to be “under law.” Does it mean we don’t have to obey the law? If we’re not “under the law,” does that mean we don’t have to obey the law? If that’s the case, then if we’re “under grace,” does that mean we have to obey grace? That doesn’t make any sense. It isn’t a logical sequence of thought.
But, does being “under law” mean that we must obey the law, and not being “under law” means we’re free to transgress the law -- to sin -- any time we want? No, Paul has been arguing against this very idea throughout this whole passage. In fact, he continues by saying, in verse 15:
15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!
16 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 [slaves] to obedience, which leads to righteousness?
In fact, Paul is once again encouraging obedience to the law, as a means of obtaining righteousness. Not justification—righteousness! This is where a lot of people jump the track. Let’s make sure we understand. We don’t obey God in order to be justified. We don’t obey God in order to be saved. We obey God in order to be righteous.
Justification comes by faith in Christ’s blood, and having the faith of Abraham. God will justify you, but you still need to be righteous. Why? Because you can’t go on sinning and expect to stay justified!
So whatever being “under grace” means, it doesn’t mean we’re free to transgress the law. Well then, what do these terms mean? Paul actually defines these phrases in this same passage. It’s been there all along, and a lot of people have missed it.
Continuing in Romans 6:
17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching [the form of torah] to which you were entrusted.
18 You have been set free from sin [you’re no longer under the law] and have become slaves to righteousness [you’re under grace].
That’s the explanation! It’s right there, and a lot of people have missed it! Verse 22 says it again: “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God [now that you’re no longer under the law, but you’re under grace], the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.”
Do you see it? You have to pass through being righteous on your way to becoming saved!
Verse 23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Remember earlier that we saw how Abraham didn’t receive the promise as his wage, but rather as a gift, and “gift” was translated from charis? Abraham received the promise as an act of grace! What do we see here? Eternal life is a gift from God. This word “gift” is translated from a form of charis. We have adopted this word into our language just as it is. The word is charisma (Strong’s # 5486). What is “charisma” in English? It’s a grace, or a graciousness, that people have. So the wages of sin is death, but giving us eternal life is an act of graciousness from God! What God gives to us is a gift, not an obligation.
You get a paycheck from sin—you get a death sentence. It’s an obligation. But from God, your new employer, you get a free gift: eternal life in Christ Jesus, freely given by the grace of God. But here’s the catch, and a lot of people miss it: You won’t get this free gift if you’re still a slave to sin. We must resign our old position as a slave to sin and take our new job as a slave to God.
A lot of churches aren’t teaching this. They say you don’t have to change your life, just believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. You don’t have to “do” anything. They teach Christ “did it for you,” so the job is already done, and all you have to do is believe. You are, in effect, saved in your sin. Go ahead and be sinful, but know that God loves you anyway. I don’t see that in the scriptures.
In fact, Paul hits this idea head-on, also. In Ephesians chapter 2 he writes:
4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,
5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.
6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,
7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.
Here the Greek word indicates that it’s a present, an actual gift, from God.
Verse 9 continues the thought: “not by works, so that no-one can boast.”
Paul is reminding us that no one can boast that they have earned anything at all from God through the works of their hands. But this is misinterpreted by the “no works” people, who say salvation is purely passive, and we don’t have to do anything. However, Paul counters in verse 10: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
This shows that our role in God’s plan is not passive, but active!
We are created, as vessels created by the master Potter, to do good works. We are called ahead of the rest, in this time, not just to be saved, but to do good works, on behalf of our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, as instruments of God’s grace in our everyday lives, to everyone in our sphere of influence! Why is that?
1 Peter 2:12: “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”
Matthew 5:16: “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
What is this saying? We are supposed to be instruments of God’s grace. How do we do that? We will have good deeds, something that people can see, look at, point to, think about, and remember. What will these good deeds accomplish? They will cause people to praise God when it’s their turn to be called!
When people look at you, do they see the attributes of God? When people see you, do they see Jesus Christ in action? That’s what the first fruits are called to do. Because somewhere down the road, during this life or in the Great White Throne period, those folks are going to have their eyes opened, and they’ll understand God and His ways—and your name may come up!
Paul gives more advice in Ephesians chapter 4 to help us be instruments of God’s grace to others:
1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.
2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
4 There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called –
5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism;
6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.
Isn’t that interesting? There’s one God, one body, one faith. But on the other hand, there are a lot of us. And Christ has apportioned grace to each one of us.
That may be a new concept for us: Grace can be measured out, perhaps in different quantities, perhaps in different gifts, perhaps in different assignments within the Body of Christ. After all, if someone in the Body is a hand, and another person is an eye, who made them to be those things? It looks here as if Christ apportions grace differently to different people.
Continuing in verse 11:
11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,So the purpose of various people in the body of Christ is to prepare us to do works, works of service, not simply so we can earn our own personal salvation, but so we can be of service to God’s people. We’re not in this only for ourselves. (At least, we’re not supposed to be in it only for ourselves.) We’re in it to help each other run the race!
12 to prepare God’s people [that’s us] for works of service …
12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up
13 until we all reach unity in the faith [Have we all reached unity in the faith?] and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants [Are we infants currently? Then we will no longer be infants!], tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.
15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.
16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Is each part doing its work? Do we find the body of Christ holding together well, growing together, building itself up in love? No? Maybe not all the parts are doing their work!
We can see this theme repeated in 1 Corinthians 12.
4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.
5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.
6 There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
8 To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit,
9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit,
10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.
11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.
12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.
13 For we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
God shares His grace, in many forms, with those of us who are in the body of Christ. How do we, in turn, share grace—or graciousness, or favor, or joy—with others?
We learn more in 1 Peter chapter 4:
10 Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.
11 If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
If our focus is on, “How do I get saved?”, we are side tracked. Our minds are off the goal. Our focus should be, “Am I faithfully administering God’s grace to serve others, using whatever gift I have received?”. That’s where our minds should be.
How Do We Do It?
Which way are we headed as members of the body of Christ? How do we change our lives, and step up to meet some of these responsibilities? How do we do this incredible thing we’re supposed to be doing? The answer is: Through God’s grace! God will help us, through His grace, to become the administrators of His grace to those around us.
One of the most encouraging passages about grace is in Hebrews chapter 4:
14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.
15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.
16 Let us then approach the throne of grace …
The throne of mercy, favor, loving-kindness, elegance, forgiveness, joy!
Verse 16: "Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. "
Do we ever have a time of need? Do we ever! Are we in a time of need right now? Many of us are! Do we need to receive mercy from our God? Do we need to find grace to help us in our time of need?
We need to approach the throne of grace—the throne of graciousness, the throne of favor—not timidly, not fearfully, not doubting, but in confidence. KJV and NKJV say to boldly approach the throne of grace.
Do you believe it? Can you do it? Will you do it?
We have a great high priest who was tempted like we are—but he didn’t sin! He didn’t sin! And because of that, you and I have the singular honor of being able to step through the torn curtain, right into the holiest place in heaven, and approach the throne of grace! Not timidly, like Dorothy and her friends in The Wizard of Oz. Boldly! You’re there to talk to your dad! Why wouldn’t you be bold?
The Prodigal Son
When God gives us His grace, it is a loving-kindness, a joy. But God’s grace is a free gift. We can accept the gift, or we can refuse it. We refused it for a long time, before we repented, but we finally came to see that it was there all along, all around us, from the foundation of the earth.
You know how God’s Spirit flows out from Him at all times, in all directions. That describes grace. It’s all around us. God’s favor, His loving-kindness, His joy—it’s everywhere. And He has waited for us to wake up to it, and respond to it. There are a lot of people out there who haven’t awakened to it yet. But it’s there, ready when they are.
Probably the best description of this principle at work is the story of the prodigal son, found in Luke chapter 15. What happened in that story? The son didn’t want to live his father’s way, or play by his father’s rules. So he took what he could get, and he took off, and he indulged himself in all the vices he could find. The scriptures call it “riotous living” -- parties, excitement, whooping it up.
The word “prodigal” isn’t in the Bible. It was added in later by theologians. But “riotous” is translated from the Greek word asotos, from which we get our word “sot.” He was a sot—a drunkard, a real boozer.
So, what happened? After the money had run out, after the so-called friends had vanished, this young son, formerly well-off, had to take a menial job to survive. Talk about a growth experience! After awhile, he finally came to his senses. After he had been severely humbled, he repented, and decided that, after he had tried everything else, the only place he had left to turn was his father.
What was his father doing all this time? Waiting. Waiting and watching. Sitting by the road, every day, just waiting for this wayward son to make the long journey home. All the time this son was out there, doing things he shouldn’t be doing, wasting his inheritance, digging a deep ditch for himself, the father was sitting by the road, watching, hoping, anticipating the day he would see his son walking in the way, heading for home.
If we look at God as being, not just the supreme Deity with all the power in the universe, but a loving Father, intimately involved in the lives of His children, that would help us to see that, when Messiah was telling this story, He was telling it about His own Father, to a bunch of wayward sons standing there listening.
When we woke up, and we were done with it all and ready to go home, our Father was there, waiting. And when the rest of humanity decides they’ve had enough of this world, and its ways, and the sin, and the heartache, and the misery, their Father is waiting.
But there are others. There have been some who were at one time considered members of the family of God, but who have decided to cash in their inheritance and go back into the world. Have they separated themselves from fellowship? Yes, they have. Have they put up a wall that might interfere with their salvation? Yes, they have. But have they separated themselves from the love of God? I don’t think so. It says in Romans 8 that nothing can separate us from the love of God. God shows in many ways that He loves us. All of us.
We often say that the only unforgivable sin is the one we don’t repent of. So anyone who repents, who comes to God on bended knee, and seeks the grace of our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, is acceptable to our Father.
Does God start loving them at that point? No, He loved every one of us, all along, from before the foundation of the world. Before we knew it, God already loved us, and gave His Son for us. While we were yet enemies, Christ died for our sins (Romans 5:6-11).
So all the while these sin-sick people are out there, running the world and ruining the world, God loves them. In fact, He loves them so much, He gave His only-begotten Son, not that the world should be destroyed, but that it should be saved (John 3:16-17).
God is waiting, patiently. If people don’t come to their senses and repent in this life, He’ll wait. There’s another life later. There’s time for all people to walk in the way toward their Father’s house. And when they do, He’s already waiting—patiently waiting for people to come to their senses. He already loves them, in spite of everything they do to be unlovable.
God showers His grace on all mankind. Their salvation is already assured. All they have to do is go get it. And a person forgiven and saved is a person who will respond to God’s love in the way any grateful child will respond to his or her loving father, through love, through thankfulness, and through developing the relationship between Father and child. Just as we show our love to our children by giving them boundaries, by setting limits on their behavior, for their own good, so God as our Father does the same with us. He demonstrates His love toward us by doing what a loving Father would do, and we demonstrate our love to Him by becoming His loyal and faithful children. We want to stop disobeying our loving Father, stop hurting ourselves and others, and learn how to live the way our Father wants us to live, because we love Him.
God’s grace is already there, for all mankind. It’s all around them. And they don’t even know it! But when the time comes, when they’re ready for God’s forgiveness, it will already be there for them—from the foundation of the world!
And if that doesn’t describe grace, I don’t know what does.