Just a precursor before I get into this post. There has been a pretty big discussion surrounding a certain well known pastor who has been accused of overemphasizing grace above the law, or maybe it is better to say that the critique of him is that he emphasizes only one aspect of grace while ignoring the progressive sanctification that happens in the life of the Christian. This is not a post about him or his theology. This scenario has certainly got me thinking about these things, but I am not attempting in this post to defend him.
This post is also not a theological treatise per se on the relationship between law and grace. I don’t intend to quote tons of scripture, and I am not going to give this subject a full treatment. This is simply what the title of the post says it is. Random thoughts on law and grace. What follows is simply what has been rolling around in my mind, and will now roll off of my fingertips.
As I sit around and mull over the law and what it’s about, it seems to me Jesus has already given us a pretty good definition. When Jesus was asked which is the greatest commandment in the Law Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”(Matthew 22:37-40)
When I read this, it seems to me Jesus is saying, when we are rightly keeping the Law, this is what it looks like. You are loving God with all that you are, and you are loving your neighbor. It’s simple in theory, but all of us can agree that it’s rather hard in practice. You see, we have that little problem called Sin.
This is the beauty of grace. Apart from grace we would never love God. We can’t even understand who God is apart from grace. God in his infinite kindness and mercy reveals to us who he is. He gives us eyes to see Him. By grace we are able to understand what God did for us through Christ on the cross. What God is still doing in us through the Holy Spirit. Obviously as we continue to see this more and more, and understand it in deeper and deeper ways…Our love and affection for God grows. But it goes even further.
The grace of God allows us to love our neighbors, love each other, in ways that we couldn’t before we came to see who God revealed in Christ is.
Galatians 5:14 says, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Further down in Galatians 5 (verses 22-23) Paul talks about the fruits of the Spirit. These fruits are all things we need in order to love our neighbors, and even I would say love God and rightly serve and worship him.
So from what I’ve written, what is the relationship between law and grace? Well, it is grace that enables us to keep the law. It is grace that enables us to love God and to love our neighbors…apart from grace it is impossible. But is that it?
Well, I now ask myself a question. I am a saved Christian. But do I love God with all that I am? Do I love my neighbor as myself? Sometimes…kind of…sort of…maybe. Most times probably not.
So what does this mean? For me, it means I am still completely dependent on grace. Not just in allowing me to keep the law…because even though I’ve received the grace of God, I’m still failing quite miserably at it. But I am completely dependent on grace because I don’t keep the law, and can’t…not perfectly. I think Paul in Romans 7 is speaking to this problem that so many of us experience. How many of us read that chapter and give Paul a hearty “Amen!”? I know I do. But thankfully Paul doesn’t end Romans at chapter 7. He comes in at Romans 8:1 and tells us, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Thank God! Amen?
So, grace points us to the law, and enables us to keep it. I do believe this. I believe that as we grow in grace, we will continue to get better and better at keeping the law. I believe as we grow in faith, and our love of Jesus deepens, the fruit of the Spirit becomes more and more obvious in our lives…But, I also know myself and other Christians well enough to know that it doesn’t ever get perfect on this side of eternity…So where does this leave us?
Well, I see here the purpose of the law. As we see how far we still fall in our keeping of God’s laws and God’s commands, we are pointed again and again to the grace of God. We are pointed straight to Jesus. This is what Paul tells us time and again in Galatians. The purpose of the law is to point us to Christ. The law points us to grace.
So, I will end things here. I can’t imagine accusing anyone of emphasizing grace too much. I said earlier today via social media that preachers of radical grace have always been accused of not taking the law seriously. These same charges were leveled against both Jesus and Paul. That’s pretty good company in my book. This though, in my estimation is the beauty of the Gospel. As we look at this radical grace of God, as we see the unbelievable mercy revealed to us in Jesus, as we become more and more enamored with grace and the God who has shown it to us…that’s where life change comes from. To preach radical grace isn’t to minimize the law…it is to point us to it. Progressively we do indeed become more and more Christ-like. We do begin to love God more and more. We do indeed love our neighbors in ways we couldn’t before…Romans 8:9-11 tells us this is the way it should be. But, in revealing the law to us, we also continue to see just how far short we fall of God’s standards…even after we’ve received this grace…So we fall right back into the arms of a merciful God…completely dependent upon him for it all.