For many centuries, a debate has existed in the church. This issue has been debated amongst theologians and scholars as well as layman and brand new believers. This debate is the war between law and grace.
The basic idea behind the debate is that God laid out for His people quite an extensive law through Moses when He was establishing the nation of Israel to be His people and to represent Him on the earth. When Jesus came, He fulfilled that law and also paid the punishment for breaking it on our behalf. So now, for those who put their faith in Jesus, do they also have to live by the law? The heart of the debate is whether salvation is by God’s grace alone or by God’s grace on His part and our obedience to His law on our part.
Bear with me for a little while, then we’ll get to the really good stuff that God’s been revealing. 🙂
Now the law given by God came in three parts. There was the moral law, which include the common sense right and wrong parts of the law including the ten commandments. There was also the ceremonial laws that defined the culture for Israel including their feast and festivals and how to approach God. There was finally the civil or judicial law that served to govern the people of Israel. If your ox gored a man, the civil law called out how you were to respond to that to make restitution.
Now, just on a side note. It’s mostly agreed on that this debate is about the moral law specifically. It’s commonly agreed upon that all of the ceremonial laws pointed toward Jesus and that they were no longer required to be followed after His resurrection. Jesus is the perfect Lamb of God sacrificed, so we no longer need to sacrifice pigeons, bulls, rams, and lambs for our sins to worship God. The blood shed by Jesus is all sufficient. It’s also commonly agreed upon that the civil laws applied to Israel as a nation and are not required to be followed by Christians. This isn’t saying that the ceremonial and civil laws were bad, they were very good and we can learn much about God through them.
This debate was especially heated when the church was first established because both Jew and Gentile (non-Jew) were being saved as evidenced by them being filled with the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. Did those Gentile people now need to obey the law handed down through Moses? Guys, can you imagine putting your faith in Jesus, being completely set free from your sin, being filled with the Holy Spirit, and then walking into church and being told that now you need to get circumcised to be a true believer? It’s funny now, but that literally was what was happening! Paul wrote about it to the church in Galatia:
6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
7 You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? 8 That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. 9 “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” 10 I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty. 11 Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. 12 As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!
This debate started when people began to realize that Jesus was the promised Messiah who had come to free His people. If people could be saved from their sin through simple faith in Jesus, then did they have to go on and continue obeying the law? After all, it was the law that called out their sin and sentenced them to death! Jesus was setting them free from it and giving them life! Jesus tried to calm down this debate from the very beginning.
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus then goes on through a whole series of, “you’ve heard it said, but I tell you” statements that seemed to actually tighten down and worsen the law for those who believe in Him. He said that if you someone an idiot that you’re in danger of the fires of hell, that to be angry with someone is equal to murdering them, that to look on a woman with lust is equal to committing adultery with her, that if you divorce and remarry, that you commit adultery with that person, that instead of, “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth”, you should turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile, give the shirt off of your back.
For the past several months, God has been speaking to me a lot on this issue and I know that He has been doing so to others, too. I feel that what He’s revealed to me is this. The whole debate can be boiled down to reveal the condition of our heart. If our hearts are right, then following the law of God will be a joy and a delight. We’ll quickly trust and obey God knowing that His law is for our ultimate good and benefit.
Although our salvation is not by our works, not earned by following the law but by God’s grace alone, our salvation is revealed through our works. Our salvation is through our faith alone and not by our works, but our salvation is revealed through the lives that we live. We don’t change things on the outside to masquerade as a believer. God legitimately transformed us on the inside and it reveals itself on the outside through our lives by the works that we do. We follow the law of God out of gratitude for what He has done for us and out of trust that He truly does love us and desire the best for us, not to earn salvation.
If our hearts are beginning to harden, then following the law of God will cause a sense of rebellion to rise up within us. We’ll doubt God thinking that His ways are not necessarily better than ours and that His law is stealing from us in some way. Just as our faith is revealed through our works, so our doubt and rebellion toward God is revealed through our works as well; through the lives that we choose to live.
David wrote often about how he meditated on God’s law and how it was a joy and delight for him.
66 Teach me knowledge and good judgment,
for I trust your commands.
67 Before I was afflicted I went astray,
but now I obey your word.
68 You are good, and what you do is good;
teach me your decrees.
69 Though the arrogant have smeared me with lies,
I keep your precepts with all my heart.
70 Their hearts are callous and unfeeling,
but I delight in your law.
71 It was good for me to be afflicted
so that I might learn your decrees.
72 The law from your mouth is more precious to me
than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.
1 Samuel 15:22
Samuel replied: “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”
What God began to reveal to me was this powerful reality. Law is designed and established for one primary purpose, to protect individuals from each other. This is the case from pre-school classroom rules to township ordinances to national legislation. Law exists because trust does not. I can’t trust that individuals aren’t going to steal from me, or destroy my property, or kill me. Therefore, law is created so that if they do such things, there are consequences put in place and law officials established to be sure that they are followed through with.
In pre-school, maybe there is a law that if I hit someone, I lose 5 minutes of recess. In a township, maybe there is a law that if I let my grass grow beyond 6″ high, that I have to pay a fine. In a nation, maybe there is a law that if I murder someone, I am killed. The consequences are appropriately defined to deter individuals from doing something that the law defines as being wrong. Contracts are a more intimate form of law that also setup terms and conditions between two people that also include consequences of those terms and conditions are not met.
Law is designed and established to protect individuals from each other.
God designed and established His law to help us realize that we aren’t God. God told the prophet Isaiah:
8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
God’s law helps to reveal just how selfish we can be and just how selfless He is. He freely gives us reign over all of His creation and we act like it is ours and that we somehow earned it. He requires of us a sacrifice and we act like it actually costs us something. In reality, we are just giving back to God what is God’s and He is allowing us to continue stewarding everything else. Even our very own lives are not truly our own!
1 Corinthians 6:18-20
18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
You are not your own, you were bought at a price. Remember last week what God said in His law when we learned about a kinsman-redeemer?
The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers.
God’s law protects selfish people like us from Him. After acting so foolishly toward God and acting like we own or have earned something that He has freely given us, we deserve much worse than we receive.
Here is the good news and where things start get really, really awesome for us! Jesus fulfilled the law. He didn’t abolish it, He didn’t rewrite it, He didn’t shove it under a rug. Jesus fulfilled the law! Law exists to protect individuals from each other. Relationship chooses instead to cover each other’s wrongdoing. Love covers sin and pays the price that someone else owes.
Relationship breaks the power of the law! Jesus died and rose again to life, sending the Holy Spirit so that the power of the law separating us from God can be broken and that we can enter into a relationship with Him as His children. Relationship breaks the power of the law!
No longer does God need to be protected from us and us protected from Him. God chose relationship and trusts us with His Kingdom as His children. God is the author of the law and is also the judge of the law. If God chooses a relationship with us and to trust us, then who can ever charge us according to the law?
Our enemy accuses us day and night, reminding God of our transgressions of the law, but Judge Jesus simply says, “Forgiven!” If the author and judge of the law finds us not guilty, then no one can bring accusation and condemnation against us before Him! You are forgiven, set free, and more than a conqueror if you so choose to be! Trust in Jesus, accept His invitation from criminal to child! All that it takes is simple faith in Him and this radical transformation takes place!
After all, if my child steals from my wallet and someone brings an accusation against him to me, how will I respond? Will I bring my child before a judge to decide between the two of us? Will I report my child to the authorities and have the fullest extent of the law brought against them? Surely not! I’ll defend my child before their accusers and then have a discussion with them about this offense. Will there still be consequences? Absolutely! God also disciplines the one that He loves! However, those consequences will be loving discipline and not lawful wrath.
So it is with us, God’s own children. He took on the punishment that we deserve. He paid the high cost on our behalf.
4 Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
Paul wrote in the book of Romans a highly detailed response to this age-old debate of law versus grace and I urge you all to read that whole book. We find a bit of a summary of this debate and the awesome truth of our freedom from the law found here skipping around simply for time’s sake:
21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.
31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This morning, it is time for us to end this debate within our own lives. God’s law is a joy and delight and there are life and blessings for those who choose to follow it yesterday and today, always and forever! However, God broke the power of the law and instead desires a relationship with us. He chooses to no longer be protected from one another and to instead be covered by one another in trust. As the day of Christ’s return draws near, lawlessness obviously continues to increase. Let us break the power of the law by introducing people to Jesus! Let us lead them away from rebellion and into the grace of God that transforms them from the inside out! Let us choose to be ones who break the spirit of rebellion in our hearts by choosing to meditate on God’s law and finding joy and delight within it!