The Controversy Between Law and Grace -- Part I

by Joe Crews

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What is all this talk about the Ten Commandments being abolished? You have heard about it just as I have, I am sure. Perhaps you have even heard a preacher make this statement. It’s very common now to see a lot of religious leaders running to get on the bandwagon of this new permissive psychology. It is supposed to be a new approach to the modern mind, you know, and especially to young people. Listen! Nobody can deny that moral principle has been almost entirely set aside by the vast majority of this liberal generation of the twentieth century. If anything, the tide is growing stronger to liberalize the old standards of absolute right and wrong.


One can understand, of course, the frustration of youth counselors, college chaplains and church pastors as they struggle to meet the needs of young teenagers, but have they any right, my friends, to do away with the Commandments of God? Have they found the answer in this new theological move to abandon the Bible definition of sin? The fear of losing the respect of young people is actually leading many religious leaders to do the very thing which will cause the loss of respect on the part of the youth. Do they actually want their parents and pastor to comfort them, (these teenagers), in their course of open transgression against God’s holy law? I don’t believe it for a moment, friends. Absolutely not! Deep inside their mixed-up hearts, they long for somebody to draw some lines of authority for them. They want to be told what is right and wrong. Too early most of them were thrust into making decisions alone, decisions which had to be based on the emotional appeal of a materialistic society. They weren’t really mature enough or practiced enough for choosing for principle’s sake.


The blame for this present moral mess must be placed directly on the misguided parents, teachers and preachers who did not teach their youth that there are unchanging laws of decent conduct. The transgression of those laws brings automatic inevitable results, both now and in the hereafter. No one can be completely happy by violating the basic laws of God laid down for human society. And those laws are summarized in the Ten Commandments. The problem becomes more serious when we realize that lawlessness also reaches into the area of religion, and affects millions who would never think of killing or raping. It is probable that the great majority of church members in America today carry few convictions against breaking at least one of the Ten Commandments. A very insidious doctrine has been developed in both Catholic and Protestant theology which has tended to minimize the authority of God’s great moral law. It has led many to look lightly upon transgression, and has made sin to appear unobjectionable. In fact, sin has lost its horror for multitudes and has become an acceptable mode of life for both youth and adults. Witness the current trends in lifestyle which support this view. How many young men and women are living together without benefit of marriage! Yet they do not believe such living arrangements should be designated as sin. A large portion of shoplifters are professing Christians, and most of those who belong to churches believe that there is no sin whatsoever involved in violating the seventh-day Sabbath of the fourth commandment.


Oh, listen to me, we need to understand what God’s attitude is towards sin. Do you know what the Bible definition of sin is? Let’s read it now in 1 John 3:4, “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” Now I don’t care what the young people want to call it, and you can put all kinds of new labels on immorality that you want to put on it, but God says it’s sin, S-I-N, and it always will be. Now let’s ask, which law is this talking about? It says, “sin is the transgression of the law.” Let’s go back to Romans 7:7 where Paul tells us just which law is involved.


“What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” Notice, Paul is quoting right out of the Ten Commandments and he said it’s the breaking of this law that constitutes sin. He said he wouldn’t know what sin was except the Ten Commandment law had spoken. So the purpose of the law then is to point out sin.


Let’s understand something very clearly, friends. There is no pardoning grace to save us in the tables of the law. It can’t take away our sins or pardon our iniquities. Its work is to condemn and point out transgression. It’s like a mirror that shows us if our face is dirty, but it can’t take away the spots. In fact, the Bible actually does call the law a mirror, or a looking glass, in James 1:23: “For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.”


So when we look into God’s law and see our sin, we must turn aside to the foot of the cross to be cleansed. The law points us to Jesus. Here we find abundant grace freely bestowed without price or money. Don’t let anybody ever tell you, friends, that there is salvation by works. It just can’t be. In fact, in Romans 3:20 we read this, “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” There it is. So no matter how well we might work to obey God and produce these good works and good fruits, it will never, never save us. It will never justify us. There’s only one way to be justified before God and that is to come and accept His pardoning grace as a free gift. We can’t buy it. We’re not worthy of it. We’ll never deserve it. It’s something He gives and we must accept. It’s free. We’ll never earn it by works.


Now, Jesus came into this world for just one purpose, as revealed in Matthew 1:21: “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” Now notice, it doesn’t say to save them in their sins but from their sins. And sin is the transgression of the law, we read it a moment ago. And which law was it? Well, of course, the Ten Commandments. So Jesus actually came to save us from breaking the Ten Commandments. He didn’t come to take the Commandments away and abolish them by any means. Now I realize there’s a strange teaching abroad in the world today that Jesus actually came to fulfill the law, and then people try to make that word “fulfill” mean to “destroy” or “abolish,” but that isn’t so. He did not come to destroy the law. The Bible says not one jot or tittle of that law would be done away with. If there had been any other way of justifying man and saving man, instead of sending Jesus to this world, God would have certainly done it that way. If He could have taken away the law and saved men by that method, God would have done that rather than give up His Son, Jesus, to die that terrible death upon the cross. No, the law could never be changed. “By the law is the knowledge of sin” and “where there is no law, there is no transgression.” Paul tells us that in his book of Romans. So we have the Ten Commandments then to show us that there is sin. It reveals sin to us. Then Jesus came to take away that sin. It was the only way it could be done, by the free gift of His grace, by the offering of His own life. But that law stands there, friends, and it always will, demanding death, and the wages of sin is death. Somebody had to die for sin. Either you had to die or Jesus had to die to take your place. The fact that He did take your place and He did die proves that the law could not be changed. It couldn’t be displaced at all. It stood there. The demands of it had to be wrought out upon somebody. Since it wasn’t wrought out upon you through death, it was wrought out upon Jesus in His death. The wages of sin could never be changed.


Now no one should try to keep the law, of course, in order to be saved. But rather, we keep the law because we are saved. Don’t misunderstand me here. We must obey the commandments, those Ten Commandments, if we are going to live the life of a true Christian. But we do not do it for the purpose of being justified, but because we have been justified and saved. Notice how David puts it in Psalm 119:146, “I cried unto thee; save me, and I shall keep thy testimonies.” So you see obedience and good works follow salvation. We let Jesus in. He cleanseth the life. He forgives us. We love Him so much then that we will do anything for Him. In fact, we are glad to obey Him—to keep all His commandments. So these good works of obedience will simply always follow a genuine “grace-saved” individual if they have been truly converted. It’s a spontaneous result of receiving Christ into the heart. But again I tell you, friends, that we are not justified by works it’s only by trusting in Jesus Christ. Let me try to illustrate how impossible it would be for anybody to be saved by works. For example, let’s say that a man has been found guilty of stealing. He has been put in prison and finally he’s sentenced to ten years in jail. Now can that man be justified by works? The answer is yes, he can. He can serve his time. He can serve out his years and then be perfectly justified in the sight of the law. He could walk out of that prison a free man with no guilt attached to him anymore. He’s no longer under condemnation. He has finished his sentence, worked it out, and now he’s free. Freely justified by works.


Note by Ron:  We are not justified by works of our own, but we are justified by the works Christ performs in and through us via belief and sanctification:


Rom 4:2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath [whereof] to glory; but not before God.

Jam 2:21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?

Jam 2:25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent [them] out another way?

Gal 2:16 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

Jam 2:24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.


The only way one can reconcile all these verse so as not to make scripture and Paul contradict is to conclude that Paul and James meant that we are not justified by self-works in an attempt to earn salvation.  However, works performed out of a motive of love for and faith in Christ, are very different.  Such works of obedience are imputed unto us as righteousness as was the case with Abraham.

Rom 1:5  By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name:


Grace for obedience is just as much a gift of grace as is pardon for sin.  This is why when we obey by the gift of grace, it is imputed unto us as righteousness, because the empowerment is meritorious because it is the grace of Christ that empowers the obedience.  This power was as much a gift of His Incarnation as was the cross the gift of pardon.  We must accept the package of grace—grace for pardon and grace for obedience. 


Rom 4:19  And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara's womb:



 Rom 4:20  He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God;



 Rom 4:21  And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.



 Rom 4:22  And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.



 Rom 4:23  Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him;



 Rom 4:24  But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead;



 Rom 4:25  Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.

1Cr 1:30 But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:

1Th 4:3 For this is the will of God, [even] your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication:

1Th 4:4 That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour;

2Th 2:13 But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth:

1Pe 1:2 Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.

Jam 2:23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.

End note.


Now suppose a man is found guilty of murder and he is sentenced to 50 years in prison. Can he be justified by works? Yes, he can. He can serve that time. He can fulfill his sentence of 50 years and then he’s also free. He could go out without any condemnation. No policeman can lay a hand on him. He has been justified by his works. But now let me put it this way. Suppose a man who has murdered is found guilty and sentenced to death. Can any amount of work justify that man in the eyes of the law? Absolutely not. He could work for 50 years. He could work for 100 years, were it possible, and still the law would not be satisfied. The law says “the wages of sin is death.” Now this helps us to understand our relationship to Christ and God and to His law. We are also under the sentence of death. We have broken the law. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. And so because we are under the sentence of death, we cannot possibly work out our sentence by serving ten years or fifty or a hundred years. If so, of course, we might be able to justify ourselves and win our freedom and our justification that way. But no, because the sentence is death, we could work the rest of our life and it would never change our standing before God as far as our justification is concerned. In order to get out from under this condemnation, there’s just one thing to do. We must open the heart to Jesus and let Him in freely to pardon and forgive us. It is a gift of God’s love and grace.


Click here to Continue to part II