What the Bible says about
Law and Grace
(From Forerunner Commentary)
The key to understanding the leaven of the Pharisees (Matthew 16:6, 11-12) does not hinge on their zeal in keeping the law, but on their zeal in finding loopholes to twist it to their own ends. Their motto could have been, "How close can we get to the edge without going over?" We could refer to this practice as brinkmanship (pushing a situation to the limit to force a desired result) or marginalism (taking an extreme position on an issue).
A former homiletics teacher, also an avid skier, conveyed to his class an analogy of the Ten Commandments as the boundary markers along the ski trail. Every year, when contemplating the boundary markers at Vail or Aspen, he reflected that only an idiot would ski as close to the edge as he could. Yet this describes many practices of the scribes and Pharisees!
The legalist and the lawbreaker both have a morbid curiosity about those boundaries rather than concentrate upon the vast latitude of choices between those markers. This is reminiscent of our parents Adam and Eve developing a morbid curiosity about the one tree that God forbade, ignoring the thousands upon thousands of varieties that He did not forbid (Genesis 2:16-17; 3:1-6). This behavior dwells on the negative and ignores the positive.
These examples point out that the spirits of legalism and lawlessness are twin siblings. When we place the critical points of the law/grace and legalism/lawlessness issue in proper perspective, law and grace are powerful allies opposing legalism and lawlessness. They give Christians great freedom to do good for others while also doing what is right.
David F. Maas
Righteousness from Inside-Out
Why is mercy so weighty? Those who teach "grace only" apart from the law do not even see a need for mercy, since, to them, grace cancels any need for mercy. By their definition, mercy is automatic once they are "saved"! In theory, they can breeze through a "happy, happy, joy, joy" life with no fear of eternal consequences.
If that were true, why did Christ not make "grace" one of the weighty matters and leave out mercy? The Pharisees believed in keeping the law perfectly and being saved as a result. Modern Christianity teaches the law is done away, and all they need is saving grace, given when they "accept the Lord." Neither of these opposing approaches will work!
The Weightier Matters (Part 3): Mercy
What did Jesus Christ establish to be taught in the churches? What He brought - in what we consider to be the New Testament era - is not at all contradictory or fundamentally different from what the Old Testament teaches. His message is complementary, completing the teaching of the Old Testament, rounding out and finishing God's revelation to mankind.
The word "but" in verse 17 has been inserted by the translators. In those Bibles that use the convention, it is in italics, which shows that it is a word added by the translators to clarify what they believe is the sense. Why did they choose "but"? The translators' fundamental belief is that Jesus came to change what was taught by Moses. However, if they had put together what the rest of the New Testament says, Jesus came and added to and completed what Moses and the other prophets preached. There is a better word to insert there: "and." Thus, "For the law was given through Moses and grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." They are complementary, not contradictory. Perhaps the word "supplementary" would better explain it, though what Jesus brought is both complementary and supplementary.
"Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill" (Matthew 5:17). Consider a candy jar, which is filled only an inch. That represents what Moses taught, the law. But Jesus filled the rest of the candy jar full! Jesus brought the spirit of the law. He filled to the full the revelation of God.
What Moses taught in the law is the law of the Kingdom of God. It cannot be separated from the gospel of the Kingdom of God that Jesus brought because the Kingdom of God needs law to function. God's Kingdom is a real entity. It is designed to function, and it will only function through law and, of course, grace, as they work together.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Jesus announces to them that He is leaving. Because they want to be where He is, they want to know the way to get there. When He says, "I am the way, the truth, and the life," He is basically saying that it is through a unique combination of a relationship with Him, which consists of being justified through Him, following His example, and obeying what He commands.
Christianity is a way of life. The disciples ask, "Show us the way." Where was Christ going to be? In the Kingdom of God. How does one get to the Kingdom of God? There is a way! It is not "all roads lead to heaven," but there is one way to get there.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 2)
If we take to its logical conclusion the statement that "justification by grace through faith does away with law," then there is no such thing as sin any longer, for the law defines what sin is (see also I John 3:4). If that is true, Christ died in vain.
In addition, it violently flies in the face of two clear facts: 1) Two thousand years after Christ shed His blood to pay the penalty for sin—providing the means for justification—we still must repent of sin to be forgiven. That has not changed, so sin must still exist and law still exists. Thus, the Ten Commandments still exist, as sin is the transgression of that law. How can this be if there is no law to transgress? 2) The New Testament record of Jesus Christ's and the apostles' exhortations to Christians not to sin, especially after one is forgiven.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 4)
Paul is quoting here from Deuteronomy 27:26, a principle echoed in Jeremiah 11:3.
"Of works," like "of faith" in verses 5 and 7, shows a person's origin—their source or basis of their spiritual life, and what they depend on. This follows the theme that we are justified and glorified (saved) by grace through faith, and not by our own righteousness. So Paul is saying here that those people who have their basis of spirituality in their own works and righteousness, rather than in their Creator, are under a curse.
In this verse, as with much of the rest of his letter to the Galatians, Paul is addressing the problem of justification by works—he is not condemning the law. It is evident from his other writings that Paul is not in any way anti-law (Romans 2:12-16,26; 3:31; 6:12; 7:12,22,25; 8:7; I Corinthians 7:19; I Timothy 1:8-11; II Timothy 2:5; Titus 1:16; 2:11-14; Hebrews 1:8-9; 8:10; 10:26-29), but rather in this epistle he is endeavoring to show the place that law and works should hold in a Christian's life. He is against the misuse or abuse of law. God's law plays a vital part within the sanctification process, because it is during this time in a Christian's life that character is being built, that we are growing, overcoming, etc.—all of which require that a standard of conduct (law) be present.
James explains this further in James 2:10-12:
For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.
This shows that our own righteousness could never suffice for the purpose of justification, because we all have sinned. But after we have been justified and entered into the New Covenant, the law is still very much valid for the purpose of sanctification. We are told in James 2:12, as in other places, that we will be judged, and the standard for that judgment will be the law of God.
David C. Grabbe
These verses confront us with a list of spiritual-sounding words: grace, saved, faith, gift, works. Even those who have been in God's church for many years and who may clearly understand each of these words individually are slowed down in comprehension when faced with such terms presented one after the other.
So, let us take a very brief Greek lesson. Here are the key terms contained in this scripture in English and Greek, the Strong's Concordance reference number, and, to make the meanings clearer, other English terms translated in the New Testament from the same Greek words:
- Grace (#5485): charis (khar'-ece). Also translated as favor, thanks, thank, pleasure.
- Saved (#4982): sozo (sode'-zo). Also translated as make whole, heal, be whole.
- Faith (#4102): pistis. Also translated as assurance, believe, belief, those who believe, fidelity.
- Gift (#1435): doron. Also translated as present, offering.
- Works (#2041): ergon. Also translated as deed, doing, labor.
Ergon is the original Greek for the English word "works." It does not appear to be a very difficult, ambiguous, or confusing term. But what do the many people and churches who claim that works are not required perceive "works" to be?
Opinions vary. One group perceives works to mean the whole law in general. A second group perceives works as specific portions of God's law, which they look upon as being "Jewish" or"Old Covenant," or that they are just not willing to keep and teach. A third group, amazingly enough in their rejection of it, perceives this term as meaning works of charity in general!
Individuals or groups who choose to substitute the word "law" for the word "works" in Ephesians 2:8-9, and who thus say that New Testament Christians do not have to keep God's law, do not appear to mean it totally and literally. Instead, most of them reserve the right to choose which parts of the law they wish to keep ("You shall not kill," "You shall not steal," etc.) and those that they do not wish to keep ("Remember the Sabbath," holy days, tithing, clean and unclean meats, etc.). God has nowhere given authority to His people to be selective in these matters, thus this stance toward the law is inconsistent and even hypocritical.
The church of God has always agreed one hundred percent with those who say that salvation is a gift, and that a Christian cannot earn salvation by charitable works or by obedience to God's law. However, obedience is a condition we must meet before God will give us His free gift of salvation. New Testament evidence is overwhelming on the matter. Here are just a few verses:
» And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit, which God has given to those who obey him. (Acts 5:32)
» He who says, "I know him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. (I John 2:4)
» So He said to [the rich young ruler], "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments." (Matthew 19:17)
» If you love Me, keep My commandments. (John 14:15)
The apostle Paul, in Ephesians 2:8-9, does not say that works are not required at all. The purpose of his statement is to show that works do not save us, but that grace and faith do! In fact, the very next verse, verse 10, shows that God calls members of His church for the very purpose of performing good works: "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10).
The apostle's language is very clear. God desires us to walk in good works, and He has prepared our spiritual educational process so that we will learn to do them. Doing good works in the name of Jesus Christ is a major part of the purpose for the life of each true Christian. We cannot truly be Christians without them!
Faith Without Works
2 Timothy 2:15-18
In this era of the church, the one that we are living in, we have our own problems with certain doctrinal matters. The first century also had problems with certain doctrines that they had to deal with. The very first bridge that they had to cross had to do with justification—justification by faith in the blood of Jesus Christ.
This was a new concept, which is why God commissioned the apostle Paul to write so much about justification by faith—not by works, not by earning justification, but by faith in what God said and what Jesus Christ did. This doctrinal instruction takes up much of the books of Romans and Galatians.
The second bridge they had to cross was law and grace. Even today, people like to separate the two, as if a Christian cannot believe in law and grace at the same time. The apostles had to convince the people that law and grace are not opposed to one another, but work in harmony to complete the process of justification and then sanctification. God not only forgives us, but He also gives us gifts by His Spirit by which we can be sanctified unto holiness, the middle part of the process of salvation, which absolutely cannot be left out.
The third thing is the second coming of Christ. As time passed, the pressure mounted and the return of Jesus Christ became increasingly important in the minds of people. It naturally led people to believe that they had plenty of time to overcome, and it seemed to work to cast them adrift. This is why Paul says that the Hebrews were neglecting their salvation.
In Matthew 24:42, we find that Jesus anticipated this. He really understood human nature. Incidentally, do you want to know what it is that causes people to go to sleep spiritually, so that you can be aware? It is not a hard principle at all to understand. It is having to face so many difficulties, so many pressures, that one becomes weary with facing them. This is a simplification, but it is true. When people have to face so many stresses, they become apathetic and say, "What's the use?" We need to stir ourselves up and recognize that this can happen to us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Don't Be a Prudent Agnostic
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