The Controversy Between Law and Grace -- Part II

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The newspapers are teeming today with the latest reports of last night’s list of muggings, robings and assaults which took place on the streets of our beautiful once-safe city. Friends, isn’t it amazing what has happened in our supposedly enlightened, advanced society? It’s actually dangerous to walk down the street in broad daylight in certain sections of some cities.

What has happened anyway? Where did the old standards begin to break down? Friends, the trouble is that God’s law is being downgraded. Even preachers are talking and acting as if the Ten Commandments are no longer necessary—as though they were written for another generation. I’ve heard people saying this, and even preachers sometimes say it—Oh, we’re not under the law any more, we’re under grace; so we don’t have to worry about those old-fashioned laws of the Ten Commandments. They feel somehow that Christ fulfilled the law for them and then left them free to do whatever they want to without condemnation. Some consider that the Old Testament was the dispensation of law and the New Testament the dispensation of grace, and so they don’t want anything to do with any commandments. What a mistake that is! Didn’t they have grace in the Old Testament? What do you think? Is heaven going to be divided between those who were saved in the Old Testament law and those saved in the New by grace? My friends, no one ever has been or ever will be saved, except by grace. Every Old Testament character who reaches the kingdom of God will be there only because he accepted the undeserved grace of Christ. In Genesis 6:8, we are told, “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” In Genesis 19:19, Lot also partook of God’s grace. It’s the universal channel by which men are accepted into heaven.

Now, it is true that love is the fulfilling of the law. But this doesn’t mean that we’re not amenable to God for keeping the law. Jesus said in Mark 12:29-31 that there were two great commandments: “And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.” But is there anything new in these two commandments, after all? The fact is that Jesus was quoting from Deuteronomy 6:2-5, and it was only new in the sense that the Jews had forgotten it.

Christ summarized the Ten Commandments in the two great principles of love, but He did not cancel the Ten Commandments by so doing. He said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind,” and “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Matthew 22:37-40. And you’ll find every one of the Ten Commandments hanging on those two laws. If we love God with our whole heart, we’ll keep the first four commandments which have to do with our relationship to God; and if we love our neighbor as ourself, we’ll keep the last six because that describes our relation to our fellowman. Without the motive of love, none of them can be kept. Therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

Now, let’s look at a text in Romans 6:14, which has been used by so many to excuse transgression: “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” Now friends, I believe that text with all my heart. But too many have not really understood the kernel of what it says. They’ve not read far enough, in fact. We need to go on to the next verse in order fully to understand what it means. Notice Romans 6:15, “What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.” Paul says, “No, we should never sin.” And what is sin? We discovered the definition of sin in 1 John 3:4, “... sin is the transgression of the law.” So Paul asks, “Shall we break the law or sin because we’re not under the law, but under grace?” He answers, “No, absolutely not. God forbid.”

What does it mean to be under the law? And what does it mean to be under grace? In Romans 3:19 we’re told, “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” Notice, that “under the law” means to be guilty before God, or condemned by the law. In other words, it means that we’re breaking the law. Now, this is why Christians are not under it, friends. We ought not to be breaking it. No Christian should be lying, stealing, committing adultery, etc. Therefore, Paul says that a Christian is not under the law—he’s not under its condemnation. Romans 3:31 reads, “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.” After we’ve been pardoned by grace through the merits of Jesus and through our faith reaching out for that grace, then we are to be established in keeping the law. It is to be even stronger upon us because of what Jesus did for us. Our love for Him will flow out freely and we will do the things that the law requires because of what He has done for us so freely.

So let’s not ever forget the true purpose of the law. It points us to Christ as the Saviour from sin. It can’t save us. There’s no cleansing power in the Ten Commandments, and there’s no justification by works. It is freely given to us through Jesus. But when we’ve received His pardoning grace, then we are going to be obedient to the law. Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” John 14:15. So we walk in obedience to His commandments not in order to be saved, but because we are saved. And as long as we remain in Christ, the law can’t touch us or condemn us, but the moment we depart from Him we need the law to show us our sin and turn us back to Jesus for cleansing. So, friends, that law of God is needed as a continuous watchdog to remind us of sin. We can never discard it as of no further use. The law points out sin; the gospel saves from sin. The law is the will of God; the gospel is the power to do the will of God—they go hand in hand. Law and grace are never opposed to each other, but are the wedded twins of the Bible. In Revelation 14:12 we find them together in one verse: “Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.” Notice that the commandments are there. Law is there, and the faith of Jesus is there, too. They go together.

But someone may say, But I thought works were not necessary in the Christian life. Well, it seems that word “works” has been misunderstood by many. After all, it simply means “obedience.” It’s the natural, after-effect of salvation upon the heart and life. As Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” How else can we prove our love except by willing obedience to the teachings of Christ? If my child professes great love for me and does not obey my commandments, I may have serious doubts of his love. Love is manifested in works of obedience. Notice 1 John 2:4: “He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” Now these are very strong words, but no one can deny that profession is not enough for salvation. “... faith without works is dead,” James says in chapter 2:26. Jesus said, in Matthew 7:21: “Not every one that saith unto me Lord, Lord shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” Under the new covenant, the law is written into the heart, and the crowning motive of love constrains obedience to every commandment of Christ.

Now, let’s read one text which really seals this point in Romans 8:3, 4: “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh,”—let’s pause right here. What was it the law could not do because of its being weak or because of our being weak in the flesh? We couldn’t keep it, could we, in our own strength? So the law couldn’t save us because we weren’t able to obey it. So because we couldn’t keep it, “God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” So, because we couldn’t keep the law, God sent Jesus here, who did keep it perfectly. Then Jesus comes into the heart and lives out His perfect life of obedience in order that we might have the strength to obey it also.

End or article by Joe Crews

Quote by Ellen G. White--Theological prism: "'One source of danger is the neglect of the pulpit to enforce the divine law. In former days the pulpit was an echo of the voice of conscience.... Our most illustrious preachers gave a wonderful majesty to their discourses by following the example of the Master, and giving prominence to the law, its precepts, and its threatenings. They repeated the two great maxims, that the law is a transcript of the divine perfections, and that a man who does not love the law does not love the gospel for the law, as well as the gospel, is a mirror reflecting the true character of God. This peril leads to another, that of underrating the evil of sin, the extent of it, the demerit of it. In proportion to the rightfulness of the commandment is the wrongfulness of disobeying it....

'Affiliated to the dangers already named is the danger of underestimating the justice of God. The tendency of the modern pulpit is to strain out [minimize] the divine justice from the divine benevolence, to sink benevolence into a sentiment rather that exalt it into a principle. The new theological prism puts asunder what God has joined together. Is the divine law a good or an evil? It is a good. Then justice is good for it is a disposition to execute the law. From the habit of underestimating the divine law and justice, [by minimizing] the extent and demerit of human disobedience [eg. ecumenical involvement], men easily slide into the habit of underestimating the grace which has provided an atonement for sin. Thus the gospel loses its value and importance in the minds of men, and soon they are ready practically to cast aside the Bible itself." The Great Controversy, 465, 466.