What is the relationship of law to grace? How do we reconcile the commands in the Old Testament law with grace? So many people say, “Grace is there to keep the law”, but in the Old Testament, the Bible states that if you fail to keep every law, then you have broken them all. This is the very reason we are under grace.
Grace was under the surface of the law in the Old Testament, but grace rules over the law in the New Testament. Under the Old Covenant, if you failed to keep a commandment, it was dealt with by sacrifice. Under the New Covenant, our aim is not to keep the law of the Old Testament through grace, because the scripture makes it clear that no one can. It is Jesus who kept the law; where we could not. He kept it absolutely perfectly. Christ lived a perfect, righteous life, even to the point of his death on the cross. Every requirement, small or large, was kept in the absolute way God required of man. We are under grace because his righteousness is given to us.
So many people misunderstand which Covenant they live under and they become confused. They feel condemned because they do not live up to the perfect standard required by the law. The purpose of the law is to show us our guilt and the need for a sacrifice. Under the New Covenant, we have the ultimate sacrifice in Christ Jesus, the Lamb. So many people do good works because they think it is demanded of them, rather than allowing good works to flow from a natural lifestyle of faith and love. The Old Covenant was for the Jews only, but the New Covenant is for both Jews and Gentiles. In Ephesians 2, Paul said that when we believe in Christ we become part of the body of Christ—not part of Judaism. God made a whole new entity called the Church—the body of Christ—by filling individuals with himself.
But now hath He (Jesus) obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also He is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. (Hebrews 8:6)
The New Covenant is NOT a covenant of works but of rest in His work. The Church is not under the condemning ministry of the law (2 Corinthians 3:9; Romans 8:1-2); as believers are not under the law; they are beyond its grasp to condemn (Romans 3:19). Paul stated in Romans 6:14, “For you are not under law but under grace”. He also made it clear in Galatians 5:18, that “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law”. The law is not given to the Christian as a standard to live by, but it is to show the unbeliever that he falls short of God’s standard, as written in Romans 3:20: “For by the law is the knowledge of sin”. Paul stated in I Timothy 1: 9, “The law is for the unrighteous”.
Today, faith and law are mutually exclusive. In Israel’s dispensation of law, faith and law were equally beneficial; one needed both (Romans 10:5-6, 10). Without faith, the requirements of the law would not be acceptable. Paul stated, “Without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). Therefore, the Lord said that He rejected the sacrifices, for they were not mixed with faith. If the law is not of faith, by what do we live? Thus a Christian sins if he puts himself under the requirements of the law. Remember, Paul said in Romans 14:23, “Whatever is not of faith is sin”; he used the example of food to express this concept.
Righteousness cannot come from the law because the law demands perfect obedience. God’s standard is perfection, something we cannot understand since we never see or experience it. It is impossible to please God by following the law because the law is not of faith (Galatians 3:12). Righteousness pleases God, but in the New Covenant, it cannot come from doing the works of the law. It can only come from faith, as stated in Romans 4:5: “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness”. Paul further made it clear, in Galatians 3:21, that “For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law”.
In the past, with Israel under the law, righteousness and the law went together (Romans 10: 5-6, 10). Paul wrote that the righteousness of God is revealed apart from the law (Romans 3:21). We know that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes because He fulfilled every single requirement that God asked (Romans 10:3-4). So, there must have been a time in the past when Christ was not the end of the law for righteousness.
But before faith came; we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith, which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. (Galatians 3:23-25)
Israel as a nation, was under the law. When God moved from law to grace, Israel resisted that move. They preferred the old program of rules and regulations from Moses. This demonstrates the danger of the law. It looks appealing, but those who embrace it are separated from the Spirit of grace.
In Romans 10,Paul writes:
“For [Israel] being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. For Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law… but the righteousness of faith speaks in this way… with the heart one believes to righteousness…”
“There is no point upon which men make greater mistakes than upon the relation which exists between the law and the gospel. Some men put the law instead of the gospel: others put the gospel instead of the law; some modify the law and the gospel, and preach neither law nor gospel: and others entirely abrogate the law, by bringing in the gospel. Many there are who think that the law is the gospel, and who teach that men by good works of benevolence, honesty, righteousness, and sobriety, may be saved. Such men do err. On the other hand, many teach that the gospel is a law; that it has certain commands in it, by obedience to which, men are meritoriously saved, such men err from the truth, and understand it not. A certain class maintain that the law and the gospel are mixed, and that partly by observance of the law, and partly by God’s grace, men are saved. These men understand not the truth, and are false teachers. … The coming of the law is explained in regard to its objects: “Moreover the law entered that the offence might abound.” Then comes the mission of the gospel: “But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”
The law came through Moses; grace came by Jesus Christ. The law is synonymous with Moses, just as grace is synonymous with Christ. Our relationship to Christ is by His death and resurrection in the New Covenant. We are made into a new creature; we are prepared for a new heaven and a new earth. No law or act of obedience can help us to prepare, for it must be by grace. We obey Him because we love Him and we don’t like to hurt the ones we love. If we are disobedient, it is because we love something else rather than Jesus. As God allowed Moses to see the Promised Land from the mountaintop, so we can see the promises by faith in His Word.
The law killed Moses because of his misrepresentation of God to the people; for example, by striking the rock twice in anger in Numbers 20:7-12. An entire generation of Israelites died in the wilderness except the two men with a different spirit who entered the Promised Land. The Old Creation could not enter the Promised Land under the law because of disobedience. The two men, Joshua and Caleb, had faith and believed that God had given them the land. True, successful, Christian living cannot occur if one continues to look to the law for guidance. If you live this way, you run the risk of consciously or unconsciously thinking that you have obtained or that you have maintained your salvation by the works of the law. This actually separates you from Christ. As Paul said, “You have fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4). When Stephen was arrested, he was charged with speaking blasphemous words against both Moses and God. They accused him of speaking against the law because he spoke of grace. They also stated that they heard him say that Jesus would change the customs instituted by Moses, which included both the Torah and the Law of Moses.
Stephen was preaching that the law had come to an end with the Messiah’s crucifixion, and that Judaism—as they knew it—had been replaced by faith. Those who love legalism will always persecute those who hold to pure faith. Paul states that we are “…servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3: 6-9). Therefore law-keepers condemn those who live under the New Covenant, because they themselves live under the wrong covenant. The letter is the law and it only makes you feel guilty. Unless you depend wholly on grace, you continue to strive by the commands given to Israel. In the dispensation of grace, the law is not of faith.
Today, it is important to understand that faith and law are mutually exclusive (Galatians 3:1-3). Under law, faith was required; under grace, law is prohibited. A believer of the body does not become more spiritual by keeping the law, but actually sins by putting himself under the law. So, are we without law? Absolutely not. We are under the law of Christ, that royal law of the spirit of life. The Holy Spirit becomes our instructor in the Word and in our personal lives. How are we to be accepted by God, if not by obeying his commands? It is by the work of Christ that we are accepted, not by anything we do.
This is the Gospel. It is written in Acts 20:24 that it is a Gospel of grace. We find the disciples were preaching Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection throughout the book of Acts. Jesus’ work was meant to do for us something that we could never do for ourselves. Why does Islam hate the cross? Is it because Muslims do not believe in sacrifices? No. It is because they do not believe that we can have such grace from God without intense religious duties. Why do Mormons twist the scripture to say that our sin was not dealt with at the cross but in the garden of Gethsemane when he suffered? However, his suffering at Gethsemane is insignificant compared to his suffering on the cross. The cross is where all our sins were laid upon Him and He felt the judgment and penalty of sin. He wrestled with his decision to go to the cross at Gethsemane, knowing what it involved. Yet it was written in Hebrews 2:2, “For the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross”. Mormons simply want to prove their own righteousness by their works. Why do Jehovah’s Witnesses hate the cross? They call it pagan and say that God would never sacrifice His Son on a pagan symbol. But the Romans were pagans; this is what they used to crucify those guilty of heinous crimes.
The fact is that no religion has ever recognised the cross. It makes no sense to the natural man that someone could suffer in the place of another, take their deserved penalty, and serve their sentence. They do not understand how, out of mercy, Jesus would give them His life of freedom and riches while doing no work for themselves. To the Jews, a suffering Messiah was repulsive. As the son of Joseph, He was weak. The Jews wanted a conqueror, a ruling king who would overthrow their enemy, Rome. They wanted the Son of David or nothing at all. Why does Roman Catholicism attempt, through the sacraments, to obtain what the cross achieved almost 2,000 years ago? The cross is on display everywhere, but they do not tell the people that the cross represents the finished work for their sins. The Catholics depend on today’s sacrament of the wafer as an ongoing sacrifice for their sins. However, there are no longer any propitiatory sacrifices offered for the forgiveness of sins because one sacrifice of Christ, upon the cross, pleased God forever. The sacrifice is never to be repeated because it paid the full penalty demanded by God’s justice and made it possible for God to be “…just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Romans 3:26). So now, “…there is no more offering for sin” (Hebrews 10:18).
In every religion of the world, why does man have a deep longing to know his creator, yet attempt to find God in his own way? Jude stated that the “…grace of God has appeared to all men”. Why do people look to their own works instead of accepting God’s grace? It is easier for them to look at their own obedience to gauge how they are doing spiritually, than to rest in Christ’s work. If we stop trying to live in our own strength and let Christ live through us, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can see the results of the new life. We will understand it is all by that grace which is found by Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross. The cross is hidden to those who think they are wise. It is foolishness to those who are perishing, but we who are saved by faith know that it is the power of God. The cross became God’s highway to Himself. As Jesus said, “I am the way the truth and the life no one comes to the Father except by me” (John14:6). However, it was a certain way. It is neither merely following Him as a good example of someone who has a greater set of ethics and morals, nor is it following Him as a wonderful teacher, the greatest prophet, or a miracle-maker. It takes going through the cross, and the One who died on it, for one’s relationship to be restored to God. This is exactly to where Jesus pointed and to where all the apostles pointed as well.
Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved. (John 10:9)
In v.11 Jesus told them, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep”. The night before, at the Last Supper, Jesus revealed the prophetic meaning of the Passover to his disciples. It spoke of Him in His crucifixion. John introduced Him to the people as the Lamb of God, and now he would become the lamb. Judas sat at the table and allowed Satan to enter him, betraying the Son of Man after he ate the bread. However, he did not partake of the wine, which was His blood. The bread was His body, and it would be broken for them. Again, he did not partake of His death the blood that could cleanse him of his sin. Satan hates the cross with which and where our sin was dealt. He tried to have Jesus killed in His ministry before He went to the God-ordained altar. If Jesus had died any other time or way, it would have annulled the atonement for our sins.
“We can enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh.” (Hebrews 10:19-20)
He became a living tabernacle. Just like the Old Testament tabernacle, there was only one way to get inside. The first things anyone saw when they went into the outer court were the sacrifices on the brazen altar. The only way to God today is through the sacrifice of Christ. It is written in Matthew 27:51, “…behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom”. The old temple, which no longer had either the ark or the presence of God, was dealt the deathblow at the same time Christ died. The way was made open for all by the person of Christ and His sacrifice. The Cross was a symbol of shame to the Romans, but glory to the Christian who is saved through it. This is why so many cults focus on their works; they do not see the glory that is in the cross. The fallen nature loves religion. The Gospel is the opposite of religion. Religion is man’s answer to God; Christ is God’s answer to man. The fallen nature of man tries to justify itself by performing good deeds to prove its worth. If we could reform ourselves by law or works, this would mean that Christ died in vain. Consider the prologue of Paul to the Corinthians.
For Christ did not send me to baptise, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God– and righteousness and sanctification and redemption– that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:17-31)
The Jews requested a sign. They asked for a display of power throughout Christ’s ministry. Even in His last living moments, we find, in Mark 15:31-32, that “…the chief priests also, mocking among themselves with the scribes, said, He saved others; Himself He cannot save. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe”. God’s way was to look at the cross, see the sacrifice, and believe. Man’s way is to take Him down and ignore it. We don’t ignore it today; it is even worn as jewellery by non-believers, rock stars, and Hollywood. The cross is more popular than ever—big crosses, small crosses, beautifully plated crosses. Unlike the cross that Jesus died on—a plain piece of wood, stained with the blood of others before his own blood spilled out to cleanse our sin.The cross has become the universal emblem of Christianity, yet those who hate Christ the most are able to wear it with no conviction, mocking the very event that can save them. The Bible states it is the “…preaching of the cross…” that contains “…the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Are we preaching Christ crucified? Have we made revisions in the ancient story to fit it to our contemporary culture? It has become so popular to preach Christ without the uncomfortable-ness of the cross.
But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14-15)
God took what was most precious to Him—putting Him to death—so that life could come to all who would look toward His death. To boast in another’s work is to take your eyes off yourself and give glory to someone else. This humility was what Paul encouraged the believers in Philipi to have so that the mind of Christ would be in them as well.
Let this mind be in you which was Also in Christ Jesus”…”but made himself of no reputation”…And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:5)
It was not just great bravery that had Christ fulfil this task, nor was it a legal obligation; it was being a servant and the willingness to do the Father’s will. He was completely innocent of the crime of which He was accused; and He was willing to take the brunt of punishment, not for a few, but for all. He did it for those on His side as well as those who opposed Him—those who were enemies. What religion has this kind of sacrifice or idealism? Can any other live up to this? There are many who were crucified, but who went with the intention to die for others? Who actually rose from the dead—just as they said—to prove that He died for others? The cross had an eternal purpose.
…and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. (Colossians 1:20)
The world searches for peace by making agreements with kings, presidents, armies, and countries. However, it never lingers as a solution. Here is the solution: Christ died for all mankind’s sin and thereby made a way to have peace with our Maker. This is a better sacrifice than any man has made in a war, no matter how valiant, yet it is ignored. It is scoffed at, just as during the day in which it happened. Consider the humiliation that comes along with being accused of a crime that you did not commit. You have traded places with a criminal in order to die for those who hate you and everything for which you stand. Not only did He endure the wrath and mocking of his brethren, but God the Father turned away while He poured out anger and punishment against our sin (Romans 3:25; l John 2:2; 4: 10).
Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us” (Titus.3:5); “for by grace you are saved, through faith…it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
This is God’s work done for us, moved by love, so He can have mercy upon us. Our part is to simply believe. Instead of works, the Gospel requires faith. It is the power of God unto salvation to those who believe.
Now to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Rom 4:5) …”that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
How can they hear unless someone is sent? We have a mission field all around us.