Here is a controversial subject that should not be controversial. This is something God intends to be understood--yea, which must be understood. In this theme we will see the character of God and its demands upon men. We will also see the heart of God and His provision for men.
I will use the words "LAW" and "GRACE" in regards to man's acceptance by God. Both will be viewed as a means to appropriating righteousness. By "LAW," I mean a God-given code of human conduct through which men gain God's approval. That code is epitomized in the decalogue, or the Ten Commandments. By "GRACE" I mean a God-provided means whereby men are made righteous through the merits and achievements of another. I will view "LAW" as a system of direction that is not accompanied by Divine help. Grace, on the other hand, will be viewed as an arrangement that joins God and man together BEFORE the work begins.
As we will see, these are not merely philosophical views of the subject, but reflects the manner in which God has presented them in His Word. I will summarize what I am going to say right here, then get to the matter of saying it.
Long before the Law was given, or any Scripture written, insightful Job asked the question: "I know it is so of a truth: but how should man be just with God?" (Job 9:2, KJV), or "how can a mortal be righteous before God?" (NIV). How can someone that has "sinned and come short of the glory of God" be made right with God? How can one become spotless before God? What is required for YOU to appear "without fault" before the God of heaven? That is the question Job asked. Every person in quest of the blessing and favor of God has asked the same thing in some form.
There are two pivotal truths that easily elude the best of men. They are facts, however, that must be grasped to a measurable degree before any progress can be made in the Spirit. Most of Scripture is built around one or both of these realities. All flawed theology stems from as misapprehension of these facts. Those that will not come to God have failed to grasp their significance, and those that come to God through Christ have seen their implication.
The depth to which mankind has fallen in sin. How far did our race fall when sin "entered into the world through one man" (Rom 5:12)? How grievous was the wound inflicted by transgression? How deeply did the stroke cut? How vast is the chasm that formed between God and His offspring when iniquity gripped their hearts and minds. With zeal, Satan has sought to neutralize men's view of this, while God has aggressively affirmed the case. God has assessed the human race, and articulated what He has seen. His appraisal leaves no doubt to the believer, destroying pride, removing excuses, and setting the stage for redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Hear the Word of the Lord!
"As it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes" (Rom 3:10-18, NIV). In all the human race, from Adam to the end of the world, there is not a single deviation from this diagnosis! "Worthless" is the Divine epitaph over our race! There are no doers of good-- "not even one." Sin has ruined our race, and without God, there is no hope of recovery!
Men have sought to naturalize the effects of sin upon our race. They use terms like maladjustment, generational gap, psychological disorder, and chemical abuse, to account for man's deviate conduct. It is traced to environmental deficiencies, social handicaps, and inherited traits. All of these descriptions have grown from the soil of spiritual ignorance. They are not inspired, and they are not right. They do not set the tone for Divine grace, nor do they allow Christ to dominate.
Apart from Christ men are described as "dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph 2:1-2), "alienated from the life of God" (Eph 4:18), and "without hope and without God in the world" (Eph 2:12). Fallen men are described as "enemies and alienated in their minds" (Col 1:21). How appropriately the Spirit describes our condition before we became a "new creation." "At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another" (Tit 3:3, NIV).
The extent to which God has gone to save men. The remarkable extent to which God has gone to save us is mind-boggling! His aggressiveness, once seen, exerts a powerful influence upon the heart. He has undertaken the liabilities of the human race Himself, laying the iniquity of us all upon the Son (Isa 53:6). To bless man, He cursed the Son, making Him to be a curse for us (Gal 3:13). He "made" Christ "to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor 5:21). Think what He has done! Through Jesus He has "destroyed the devil" (Heb 2:14), plundered "principalities and powers" (Col 2:15), and "blotted out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us," canceling out the debt sin had incurred (Col 2:14). Who but God could have accomplished these things? That is Grace!
It was GOD that was "in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them" (2 Cor 5:18-20). There was no obstacle He did not address, no member of the human race for whom He did not provide! Through the Son He forged a way to Himself that enables men to come out of darkness and into His marvelous light. He has met every need, provided for every person, and defeated every foe. And He has done so aggressively, decisively, and thoroughly! Furthermore, all of this is within your reach!
The real issue we are addressing is that of JUSTIFICATION--being fully exonerated before God Almighty! How can that be accomplished? How can our past be removed? How can our sins be "blotted out" (Isa 44:22)? How can the Divine nature be appropriated, and a new heart and spirit be obtained? By what means can you be constituted "righteous" in the eyes of the Lord? By what means can you be brought to stand before God "without spot or wrinkle, and any such thing" (Eph 5:27).
Conduct is important, but condition is more important. Your manner of life is vital, but whether or not you are alive to God is more vital! The question we will address is whether these things (your condition and your spiritual life) can be accomplished by Law or grace. Can Law raise those that are dead in sin? Can it remove their sin? Can it produce the favor and blessing of God? Can it write your name in the Lamb's book of life? Can measuring up to the Divine standard be accomplished by human effort? Or, are these things accomplished by the grace of God. Can the favor of God transform a person? Recreate him? Lift and sustainhim? Is the will and purpose of God capable of making you acceptable to Him? Or, are you required to correct the condition yourself? Those are the questions we will address.
Divine approval is everything! If He does not receive us, nothing else really matters. If we do not pass His scrutiny, the approval of others is of no consequence. Right here we leave the realm of speculation and vain philosophy. We are going to rise higher than human creativity can rise. We challenge the thinking of the philosopher, and bury the halting skeptic! Here we strike at the heart of human dilemma, and take hold of the heart of Divine purpose.
There is a progression in our salvation, both in time and in consequence. This progression is not a mere novelty, but is something required by the Divine nature. The appointed course begins with defiled humanity, and ends with people conformed to the image of God's Son (Rom 29-30). In a word, sinners become guiltless (Jude 24; Heb 8:12; 10:17), the defiled become pure (Heb 9:13-14), the enemies gain acceptance (Eph 1:6; Rom 15:7; Heb 2:11; 11:16), and the strangers become sons (John 1:12; Rom 8:14; Gal 4:5; 1 John 3:1-3).
Let me make the matter quite clear. There will be no one in heaven that is not a "son!" The distinction of the New Covenant is that we become "the sons of God," or His "sons and daughters" (2 Cor 6:18). Furthermore, He has no sons and daughters that have not been cleansed, purified, and accepted. His nature requires that this be so.
The question before us is simply this: Can the status of "sons" be achieved by Law of Grace? By Law-keeping or Believing? Can an individual, by following a code--a God-given code--become a son of God? Can their hearts be purified, and can they become guiltless by adhering to a set of rules? Is it possible to gain Divine acceptance by measuring up? OR Is can God by His grace address and resolve all of these demands?
That is the challenge that stands before us, and it is a formidable one. I am going to affirm that receiving what God has to offer has more moral power than doing what He says to do! I will state that grace is more compelling and demanding than Law--that it can teach you more and take you further than any set of commandments, however thorough they may be. I will show you that grace brings you where God wants you to be, and that it does it effectively.
We will find why coming to God on the basis of Law is inadequate, and why coming through grace is sufficient. I will make no apology for the Divine arrangement of things, nor modify it with explanations suited to salve the conscience of those with a penchant for Law. We will find that grace makes a harmony between man and God's Law, because it reconciles us to the One who not only gave the law, but His only begotten Son!
The clash between Law and Grace as a basis for salvation has been with us for a long time. A significant number of the Apostolic writings were prompted by confusion (or, more precisely, delusion) on these subjects. Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews come to grips with issues relating to this subject. Some of the clearest and most forthright statements of the Spirit have to do with delineating Law and God to the people of God. It must be remembered that Christ has eneded the Law as a means to righteousness. As it is written, "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth" (Rom 10:4, KJV). Thus, Jesus did not destroy the Law, but removed it as the means to appropriating the blessing of God. The following chart provides some inspired comparisons between these two principles.
To be righteous is everything! With a total absence of ambiguity the Spirit witnesses. " . . . the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor 6:9). The wrath of God is directed against all "unrighteousness," or "wickedness" (Rom 1:18). There is no hope for the individual that remains unrighteous! The question now becomes HOW to become righteous! Is it by Law or by Grace by doing or by believing? By believing or receiving?
One of the great proclamations of Scripture is found in Romans 1:16-17. Many are familiar with the sixteenth verse, but few have an acceptable acquaintance with the seventeenth verse, which explains the reason for the sixteenth. "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith'" (Rom 1:16-17, NIV). Notice, God's power to effect salvation is in a message--a proclamation- -not in a Law; a declaration, not a demand! It is universal in its availability, because it is boundless in its provision. It absolutely requires believing on the part of the recipient! The Gospel is powerless unless it is believed.
The Spirit now tells us WHY the Gospel has such power--power to effectively deliver men from enslavement to sin, spiritual death, and alienation from God. Mind you, but 1,500 years of Law could not achieve the reconciliation of men to God! The Law certainly told them enough! It directed them how they were to live, speak, and even work. But it could not change them! "For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed." Mind you, the Gospel is not simply telling us God is righteous, although that is surely the truth. Rather, the Gospel is announcing a righteousness that sinful man can appropriate! It is a righteousness FROM God, not of man! Think of it! A proclaimed righteousness! It is a concept that belongs to the Gospel alone!
This righteousness is appropriated "by faith from first to last." That is, it is appropriated and maintained by faith. You receive it by believing, and you keep it by believing. Now this is not mere intellectual assent, or casual acquiescence to the message! Faith is, after all, a dominating persuasion and conviction--one that forbids the individual to act contrary to the persuasion (Heb 11:1). Believing assumes something has been accomplished, and indeed it has! In the Gospel, the announcement is made that God has been satisfied by the work of another, namely His only begotten Son. Those that believe this provision are theirs, and take hold of it by faith, will receive a righteousness from God.
In further elaboration of this, Paul declares this righteousness is conferred apart from the Law. Hear his words. "But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:21-23, NIV). The Law spoke of this righteousness, because it is a moral image of God. The prophets were harbingers of this coming righteousness, declaring a time when men would have their stony hearts removed, and would receive a heart of flesh, soft and pliable in the hand of the Lord (Ezek 11:19; 36:26). This is a righteousness proclaimed. A marvelous message!
The Law provided an example of impact a system of Law upon humanity. In it, the Divine nature sharply clashed with the fallen human nature, and the results were arresting. In painting the glorious picture of where we have come in Christ Jesus, and the superiority of Grace over Law, the Spirit hearkens us back to Sinai. He affirms those conditions do NOT describe where we have come. This remarkable passage is found in Hebrews 12:18-21. Israel came to such a place, but that is NOT where Jesus has brought us!
A mountain that can be touched--Limited to the temporal realm. Burning with fire--The sharp contrast of the eternal with the temporal was set in motion. Darkness, gloom, and storm--Fearful, depressing, threatening. Trumpet blast--Abrasive, offensive, and in sharp conflict with human nature. Begged no further word be spoken--So contrary to their nature, they sought relief from it. Could not bear what was commanded--The revelation was in sharp contrast with their nature. Terrifying sight--The greatest sight brought the greatest fear. Trembling with fear--The whole person was shaking in consternation and apprehension.
The effect of that experience is seen in Israel's withdrawal from God. Like Adam, they were afraid, and it drove a wedge between them and God. They could not bear the sight of the words! There is the effect of Law upon the sinner!
On the other hand, we have been blessed abundantly by grace--and that, because of Another! The contrasted blessing is found in Hebrews 12:22-24, and how marvelous it is!
The contrast is so remarkable, and it leaves us breathless. Sin took us from God, but grace brings us to Him. Sin cast us to the lower realms, but grace elevates us to heavenly realms! If you have ever found it in your heart to argue about the effectiveness of God's grace, move in close to this text. Take it into your heart and muse upon it. Your faith has brought you to these places, not your works! God's grace provided the basis for your presence in heavenly realms, not your achievements.
You cannot ponder these blessed realities without being impressed with their greatness! The environment is glorious! The fellowship is transcedant! There is a sense of belonging. Above all, we are at home with Deity!
Sin is the problem! The challenge is to deal with sin, and to do so effectively. The remedy must satisfy both God and man. It must deal with the source of sin, and give power to say "NO!" to its demands. The difference between Law and Grace can be stated very simply, yet powerfully. Your heart knows this to be true, so there is no need to argue the case for you--although that could be done.
Law, as a means to appropriate righteousness, cannot meet our needs! Perfect obedience, were it possible, still does not bring the favor of God--difficult though that may be to receive. Remember, the extent of man's fall can easily elude you--but you must not allow this to take place.
Jesus has spoken on this subject, so there is no need for us to be deficient in our understanding of it. "So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty" (Luke 17:10). There you have it, plain and simple! And why is this so? Why, after having done everything we have been told to do, must we acknowledge we are "unworthy servants?" Because we have to be told what to do! It was not in the heart of the individual to do it. You see, our nature was affected by sin. This is appropriately stated in Ephesians 4:18. "They (The Gentiles, among whom, we once lived) are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts."
The Law does not rely upon faith and does not give power to obey what it demands! How remarkably this is stated in Galatians 3:2. "The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, 'The man who does these things will live by them'." If you will search the Law, with all of its intricacies (Exodus 20-40, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy), you will find a startling truth. There is not a single promise made to someone that believes--not a single one! In fact, believe or faith, in any of their forms, is mentioned a single time (Deut 1:32). Even there, it was a rebuke from God for NOT believing. You could go through every ceremony of the Law, carrying it out in meticulous detail, and not have a spark of faith! The Law was not based upon faith! Nor, indeed, can it give you any power to believe!
Elaborating on this, we are told why the Law was deficient in this Divine objective, to confer righteousness upon the people. "For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man" (Romans 8:3). The Law was not the problem, but man was! The Law made demands from humanity that it could not fulfill. Imagine going to the Intensive Care ward of a hospital today to find runners for the marathon tomorrow. Such a procedure would be absurd in the extreme. Yet, it would be more logical to do that, than to expect a man to be made righteous by means of the Law. To put it another way, steam can be harnessed to work for you if it is in a boiler. The boiler, being strong, can contain the steam, thus permitting you to use it profitably. However, if you place that steam in a cardboard box, it will become weak because of the cardboard box. So, the Law was "weak through the flesh," or the sinful nature. We simply were not equal to its uncompromising demands. Besides all of that, the Law did not make provisions for a weak person! It informed men of God's requirements, but provided no strength to accomplish them. It identified the problem, but provided no wisdom to address it, or means to correct it. The Law diagnosed us, but had no power to change us! A simple equation is this: There is no salvation that excludes Divine involvement!
When sin entered the world, the wrath of God was kindled. Because of the anticipated Savior, He did not consume mankind, but entered into a period of longsuffering. That indignation is seen in the expulsion of the guilty pair from Eden, the cursing of the ground, and the judgment of the serpent, Adam, and Eve. They could not walk with God any longer! They could not enter the Garden again! They could not eat of the tree of life any more!
There are some that suppose man can correct his condition if he is given enough information. Just give some directions, a few laws, some word about what God really wants. First God put man in a world that has His thumb print. The mark of His character is upon it, and the information is sufficient to provoke a search for the Almighty. However, nature, with all of its wonders and complexity, cannot fully delineate the character or will of God.
When it comes to the Law, it cannot extinguish the flame of Divine indignation. Sin started the blaze burning, and Law cannot cause the flames to subside. In fact, Law makes the flame higher and hotter, pointing relentlessly at man's deficiency. Paul, speaking of this very effect of the Law, said, "But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead. Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death" (Rom 7:8-11, NIV). If you desire to be made righteous, the Law--God's holy, good, and spiritual law (Rom 8:12) cannot accomplish the task for you!
My third daughter, and fourth of ten children, is now with the Lord. She left the arena of spiritual battle the last of January 1996. When she was very little, she had little pudgy hands. When the children had been especially good, we gave them a little treat. In those days, we really did not have much to give. I struck on this ingenuous (I thought) way of rewarding the children. I place all my pennies and nickels in a large coffee can. When the time of blessing arrived for the children, each one was allowed to reach into the can and take out as many pennies and nickels as their hand could hold. Leah never could benefit much from this little exercise because of her hands. Not only were they small, they were so pudgy simply could not get many coins into her hands. It made her angry, but that did not change the circumstance. The coins were there to be had, but she could not get hold of them.
You probably know already where I am going! Coming to God on the basis of Law, or doing, shrinks your hand. It renders you incapable of receiving much from God. Your conscience becomes defiled, because you know you really have not done enough--and with the contamination of your conscience, your spiritual hand gets smaller. I can tell you, those that live under a system of Law never get much from God. Their joy is generally deficient, and they do not have the peace that passes understanding. Their hope is like a flickering lamp, if it is present at all. And do you know why? Because seeking Divine acceptance on the basis of what YOU have done weakens you. It restricts your ability to receive!
Conversely, Grace enlarges your capacity. Your heart is made larger and more sensitive. Your spirit is strengthened so Christ can dwell in your heart by faith (Eph 3:16-17). By God's grace, you are brought into a realm where spiritual growth takes place. In fact, Grace and personal acquaintance with Christ is the soil in which growth takes place (2 Pet 3:18).
How serious is this subject? Is this merely a theological point to be argued, and concerning which a position is necessary? Not at all! Your salvation depends upon your response to this truth! You know that when you were born again, it was because of Christ's work. There was no doubt in your mind about it then. You came to Jesus because you knew you could not do it on your own! You were not capable of saving yourself! But, alas, you have probably been subjected to teachings and imaginations capable of constraining you to live under a system of doing now. Having been justified by grace, maybe you have been tempted you can now be saved by what you do. Mind you, I am certainly not denigrating doing, but only showing the ONLY way the doing can get done! It will not be by Law--by you getting information, and proceeding to fulfill it in your own strength.
The words of the Spirit are so arresting on this matter, that to say them will be adequate. They are a most suitable conclusion to all that has been send.
"I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing! . . . Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated 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. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope" (Gal 2:21; 5:2,4, NIV).
Now go, saint of the Lord, and rejoice in the grace of God. Love the Law, meditate upon it, and hide it in your heart. But know, it cannot save you. You must trust to the grace of God for that! Know that God desires to show mercy MORE than to receive your offerings (Hose 6:6). The grace of God is wonderfully adequate. Think on these words. "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ" (Tit 2:11-13, NIV). There is no Law--however adequate it may appear--that can accomplish that!
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