Though not a major variation from most Eye of Prophecy articles, this week’s post is a slight departure.
Certainly not different in content, as I’ve touched on the Old Covenant of Law contrasted to the New Covenant of Grace through faith alone when it fit the main subject of several articles. In fact, the entire content of three articles discusses this topic in detail. See articles, Age of Grace, Part I, II, III (Posted 1-24; 1-31; & 2-7-15).
With a few revisions, today’s article is a reproduction of a letter I sent to a friend several years ago. Written in (tough) love and with consideration for the person involved; yet a message that unequivocally exposed the age-old error of adding works and law to Biblical redemption. Salvation so great and glorious that it needs nothing else except to believe and receive the essence and object of that grace: the powerful and precious sacrifice of Messiah Jesus to save us from our sins and give us eternal life with our Great God and Savior.
The modifications include paragraph restructuring; some changes or improvements in the wording; the obvious addition of sub-headings and pictures (for visual illustration). However, the heart of the letter remains intact.
If you’re uncertain about or even struggling with a Biblical balance between Law and Grace, hopefully this article (letter) will be of some help.
A Letter to a Friend Concerning the Old Covenant of Law & The New Covenant of Grace
Regarding your regular email commentaries to those on your address list, specifically regarding Grace and Law, I have remained silent. But no longer. Your most recent statement that, “…Some say we’re living in a period of Grace and the laws were done away with, NO, NO,” is simply not Biblical.
In fact, it’s walking on thin ice. It’s the kind of thinking that Paul warned the Galatians and Ephesians and Romans about in those epistles. Over and over the apostle Paul tells us that the Grace of God not only saves us but keeps us saved. Trying to keep the law to get saved or stay saved is not only impossible, but an affront to God.
You frequently quote part of Matthew 5:17 where Christ says, “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the Law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.”
But Paul says in no uncertain terms that Christ, himself, did away with the law. “For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations….” (Ephesians 2:14-15, italics for emphasis).
So, who’s right: Jesus or Paul? Of course, that’s a senseless question because they’re both right; even though they’re saying what appears to be (at face value) opposite things.
Many verses in Scripture are completely stand-alone verses, such as John 3:16.
(Another of many Biblical stand-alone truths)
There are other passages, however, that must be compared, Scripture with Scripture (the whole counsel of God), and not quoted as a means to defend a viewpoint or position that is wrong to begin with; because the verse is used either out of context or apparently (if not adequately explained and understood) contradicts other passages. The Bible never contradicts itself. If there are two or more passages which seem to do just that, then they must be carefully analyzed, correlated, and explained together as a whole. As you well know, all cults are based on a handful of verses that, when not compared to other Scripture, will distort the main truths of the Bible (especially salvation) and create a whole new religion, which Paul calls a false gospel.
Why do you keep repeating Jesus words of fulfilling the law, unless you’re trying to “protect” the law or convince yourself and others that unless the law is of paramount importance in their lives, there’s no way to be born-again and/or successfully live the Christian life?
You went on to say in that email, “If we didn’t have the laws, how would we know when we were breaking God’s commandments, Laws?”
That statement is entirely correct. But the problem is that you are giving your audience the impression that the Law is still necessary to accomplish one or all of the following: (1) stay saved or keep God’s grace intact right up to the time of death, in order that one not lose or forfeit their salvation; (2) gain God’s favor/blessing; (3) those who are unsaved would think that grace without the law is not enough to be born again.
In other words, do you fully understand why Jesus said he came to fulfill the law, which is the Mosaic Law? What did Jesus mean by saying that? A correct understanding will reconcile and balance what Jesus and Paul taught.
Jesus said this to emphasize and fully confirm that it was he, and only he who fulfilled the law. Which totally qualifies him as the only one who could make the once and for all sacrifice for our sins. Christ said this to reinforce the fact that no human being could ever fulfill the law either as a means of salvation or to keep us saved, or to gain favor/blessings during our walk with the Lord. When he says, “I came to fulfill the law,” the emphasis is on “I,” … Christ, himself.
He didn’t say or mean that he fulfilled the law in order that we, too, must strive to fulfill it. Just the opposite: he fulfilled it because we couldn’t. He did that in our place, then paid the penalty for our sins by dying in our place.
Once he fulfilled the law, there was no need for any of us to try or keep trying to satisfy it ourselves; we can’t … never could and never will. The New Covenant of Grace focuses on Jesus alone. Conversely, for us to stop relying on (impossible or at least inconsistent) obedience to the Law that could never save us in the first place, nor guarantee our salvation … keep us saved. Daily and life-long obedience to the Lord and His Word will then come more naturally (supernaturally).
The Moral Law of God Will Always Remain … But Not as The Means of Redemption
Christ is saying that the law itself will never be abolished.
“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain,” and other commandments will always be God’s moral standard of conduct; however, no one can or ever will keep the whole law. Break one law and you break them all, as you know. Of course, the Ten Commandments are still a moral standard and compass that is every bit as applicable today as it was when the law was given. But what about the hundreds of years before the law was given, going at least back to the time of Abraham? How were those folks made right with God, when there was no law?
You are thinking and saying that the Ten Commandments are still relevant, which they obviously are. However, you are mistaken when you think that Christians (me or any other believer who emphasizes Grace) deliberately sin because Grace is always there to forgive and forget. Of course, we shouldn’t see Grace that way or abuse it. However, most wrongs that we all do does not involve an elaborate mental process of thinking that I’ll go ahead and sin, knowing that God will forgive. I (and most Christians I’ve talked to or read) simply do not think in those terms, any more than you do.
According to Jesus and Paul, the most grievous sin of all is the sin of the Pharisees, whom Jesus called sons of the devil, sons of hell, hypocrites. Why? Because not only did they consider themselves righteous by keeping the law, they also were making others “sons of hell” by telling them that the only way to gain God’s favor and forgiveness was by keeping the law of Moses. And not just the Mosaic Law, but dozens of requirements that they added to the Law. That’s why they rejected him; to them the Mosaic Law was the only way to God.
Jesus told the religious leaders: “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life” (John 5:39-40).
Then he made this startling statement (indictment) about the self-righteous religious leaders: “Yet it isn’t I who will accuse you before the Father. Moses will accuse you! Yes, Moses, in whom you put your hopes. If you really believed Moses, you would believe me, because he wrote about me” (John 5:45-46).
How could Moses condemn anyone for keeping the law? Because they placed the law above the only way of true righteousness—faith in Christ (and before Jesus came, faith in the promise of his coming).
The only thing abolished is: keeping of the law or fulfillment of the law to be saved and to stay saved.
In fact, that never existed in the first place … meaning salvation through the law. But neither is trying to live the Christian life ever successful or even recognized by the Lord through self-effort attempts to conform to the law. That’s why Paul told the believers in Galatia that they were “foolish.” (Galatians 3:1).
He went on to say, “Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the Law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ (grace through faith) … How foolish can you be … why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?” (Verses 2-3).
Paul continues: “Why, then, was the law given? It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins. But the law was designed to last only until the coming of the child (meaning Christ as a final prototype of Isaac) who was promised….” (Galatians 3:19). Scripture is crystal clear that the law was only temporary. It’s purpose was to show us just what sinners we are, so that we will stop trying to keep the law as a means of salvation or as a means of trying to please God and keep in good standing with him after we’re saved.
We can try all we want to “fulfill” the law or any rules and regulations that we impose on ourselves and others, and it will do us absolutely no good, whatsoever. In fact, it only leads to frustration and failure.
Unbelievers in general as well as Mormons, Catholics, Jehovah Witnesses, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and even some born-again Christians are constantly trying to earn God’s favor by keeping/fulfilling the Mosaic law or whatever precepts they follow. Frankly, that’s an insult to God because it contradicts and replaces the source of a right relationship with God … Jesus Christ. Paul tells us that when we make the law our primary focus and falsely believe that maintaining it will keep us in good standing with God, we are “crucifying Christ” all over again.
The Apostle Paul had much more to say:
“But suppose we seek to be made right with God through faith in Christ and then we are found guilty because we have abandoned the law. Would that mean Christ has led us into sin? Absolutely not! Rather, I am a sinner if I rebuild the old system of law I already tore down. For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me. So I died to the law–I stopped trying to meet all its requirements–so that I might live for God. My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die” (Galatians 2:17-21, italics for emphasis).
Keeping the law is a result of our salvation, not the means. When we trust in the Lord, we acknowledge that his grace is more than enough for us to be born (again), to live, and to grow in Christ.
Legalism v. Living by Grace
Christians who have a legalistic mindset are those who live by a list of do(s) and don’t(s), including the law and other things they think must be followed. They (erroneously) believe that God’s favor is earned by good behavior.
True Christianity is expressed by those who live in gratitude for the (free) gift of grace and eternal life. They realize that “keeping the law” or “fulfilling the law” is impossible on anything approaching a consistent and regular basis. For you to tell others that Christ came to fulfill the law without explaining what that means or without explaining that both salvation and the Christian life, itself, is through grace and grace alone, is to confuse and mislead them. Cults do that all the time. They take one or two verses and make an entire doctrine out of them, without fully explaining them or without comparing them to the whole counsel of Scripture.
A few years ago, during a two-hour conversation I had with a devout Mormon, that’s exactly what he was preaching. He maintained that the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross (which true believers accept as a gift, through the grace of God) is simply not enough. To enter God’s complete favor, this man insisted that: “the commandments must be kept.” For him, the commandments were the Mosaic Law plus all the rules/regulations/requirements of the Mormon church.
But it doesn’t matter whether this man was a Mormon or Catholic or misguided Protestant; the fact is he placed the “law” above the grace of God. The Age of Grace is nothing more than completion of the ancient promise God made to Abraham; this promise of the Messiah and redemption through him (by faith) would come through Isaac. Not through Hagar’s son Ishmael, both of whom were symbols of the law. You know that, but unfortunately you still want to mix law with grace.
Paul explains the ultimate purpose of the law: “…The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we would be made right with God through faith. And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian” (Galatians 3:24-25).
Going back to the last part of what Jesus said concerning the law and the prophets: “I have come to accomplish their purpose.” His statement is that he came to fulfill the purpose of the law. That purpose is presented in the verse just quoted in Galatians.
Absolutely, Jesus fulfilled the law. Only the Son of God could do such a thing, which qualified him to be the one and only perfect sacrifice for our sins. He fulfilled the law so we wouldn’t have to, either to get saved or to stay saved; or to earn his favor or anything else that we try to obtain through our merit, worth, good works, or whatever. God knew that we could never, ever in a thousand lifetimes completely keep the law. That’s why the Levitical sacrificial system was given as a foreshadow of the ultimate sacrifice for sins through Messiah, himself … the only sinless person in all humanity.
Nor did Jesus abolish the Law. What Jesus replaced (did away with) was the purpose of the Law.
Is obedience better than sacrifice? Yes, but only when we understand what obedience truly is. Which is: we obey because we want to obey; not just because the Law tells us that we must. In that respect, Paul said that the Gentiles didn’t even need the law, because conscience was their law. Innately we know right from wrong. What the law did was to make it “official.” Meaning that if we have any doubt as to the consequences of breaking God’s moral laws, the law will erase all doubt that (for example) it’s wrong to steal.
We obey because we love the Lord, and we love him because he first loved us. We also realize that we disobey (all too often). And then we even better comprehend why Jesus kept the entire law … to qualify as the absolute, perfect sacrifice for those who could never even come close to keeping (fulfilling) the law. Which includes complete forgiveness for breaking God’s laws for those who have placed their trust in Jesus.
There is no condemnation whatsoever for those who are (born-again) in Christ Jesus, including condemnation for failure to keep/obey the law. (Romans 8:1). Jesus took that condemnation for us; the penalty of sin was poured out on him.
Technically, it’s not our sins that will send us to hell; rather it’s rejecting the perfect sacrifice for those sins. That’s crystal clear in Scripture. The legalistic Galatians were giving people the impression that the law (and fulfilling it) was as or even more important than God’s grace. In doing so, they were preaching a false gospel.
Please, don’t get me wrong or misunderstand: I am NOT saying that the Law is unimportant. I’m just saying what Paul said (and what Jesus pointed out to his disciples and to the Pharisees).
Here’s how Paul puts it: “…You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ. Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you” (Galatians 1:6-8). Then he goes on to explain in detail what that different gospel was/is. In a nutshell: mixing law with grace. The two simply do not go together.
That doesn’t imply the law is invalid. It only means that when you add keeping of the law to salvation through faith in God’s grace, then you have a destructive hybrid that will send those who mix the two straight to hell. Millions of people down through the ages have sadly died in their sins because they wouldn’t let go of works (keeping or fulfilling the law or just doing good deeds in general) as the way of achieving a right relationship with God.
So, when someone tells a believer (and certainly an unbeliever) that keeping the law (because Christ did) is imperative to, in some measure, earn God’s favor or forgiveness, then they are doing exactly what the legalistic Galatians were doing. They were imposing impossible standards of obedience to the Jewish laws, with the insidious implication that salvation and staying saved depended upon performance as opposed to our position in Christ.
God doesn’t measure us by our performance. If he did, no one could possibly measure up. He relates to us exclusively through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son; then our faith to believe and receive that gift which is exactly what the Grace of God and the Age of Grace is all about. Same thing with the Christian life. He doesn’t grade us based on how well we keep or don’t keep the Mosaic Law. It is our position in Christ and Christ (through the Holy Spirit) in us that guarantees the eternity of our salvation.
The Lord doesn’t look at us as law-keepers. Rather as fruit-bearers.
Said Jesus: “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5, NASB). Meaning … can do nothing right (in God’s sight).
There’s Danger in Adding Law to Grace
Paul also told the Galatians that he, “feared for them.” Those who were trying to put the fear of God into others for not meticulously complying with legalistic rules and conduct, best be afraid for themselves. As Paul described it: “…fallen away from God’s grace” (Galatians 5:4).
For sure, abusing and misusing God’s grace is wrong. Deliberate, planned sinning just because God will forgive when confessed, is a serious error. But the falling away from God’s grace was a twofold danger about which Paul warned the legalistic Galatians. (1) Falling from grace does not mean loss of salvation to those Galatian believers who truly had been born again. Rather, it means a falling away or departure from the Grace of God as the basis for Christian living, in favor of legalistic rules and behavior. (2) However, it also applied and was a warning not to mislead unbelievers who were/are on the bubble of whether to rely exclusively on the grace/mercy of God. Or to take matters into their own hands and devise ways to help God show his favor (grace) to them … by first observing the Law of Moses.
(A pause here before continuing this letter to my friend with a notation that the following was italicized for even more emphasis).
The best thing any of us can possibly do is to say, “Lord, I can’t do this (meaning keep His law); please, you do it through me.” And, yes, that is possible only when we yield to Him, but that yielding is not a matter of keeping rules, whether imposed by the law or by ourselves or by others. By the very fact that we say that we can’t do this on our own, we are yielding to the grace of God that says he will do it through us. That’s the difference between Works and Grace. Works (keeping the law and doing good) says, ” Thanks anyway, but I’ll do this myself, because it’s up to me to see that it’s done.” Grace says, “I’ve tried, but I can’t do it. Thank you, Lord, for doing it for me, all the way to the Cross. Your grace is sufficient to get me through this day, no matter what happens.” (And that also means if I mess up, i.e. disobey).
Once more, read what the Holy Spirit through Paul says, “You are trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years. I fear for you … I plead with you to live as I do in freedom from these things, for I have become like you Gentiles–free from those laws…” (Galatians 4:10-12).
What an astounding statement! Paul is telling the legalistic Jews that the law no longer had any hold on him; he was free from the law just like the Gentiles who made no effort whatsoever to keep the Jewish law in the first place. Thus, the only thing that would/could save the Gentiles and condemn them if they refused, was believing in and accepting the Grace of God through the gift of salvation … by Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection. Paul wanted the Jews to understand the same thing (salvation was by grace through faith plus absolutely nothing else) regarding redemption and as the means of living the Christian life.
The observance of certain days, etc. was just one example of many that Paul could have given. In fact, he also talked about Galatian Jews who had demanded circumcision for the Gentiles to be saved or stay saved. In other letters he wrote (such as Romans), Paul talks about eating certain food and drinking (wine). In other words, he includes all those things that legalistic Christians impose on themselves and others including the Law of Moses.
Paul rebuts that by explaining that if the Galatians are going to insist on circumcision (or anything else that they demand obedience to), then they must keep the entire law ALL THE TIME. (Galatians Chapter 5). And if they can’t (which is obvious), then stop trying to convince themselves and others that they must continue keeping the law in order to be righteous and stay righteous through their own effort, merit, or self-worth, including good works. Good works and obedience are a heartfelt RESPONSE to and RESULT of our salvation, not a means to it; nor a means of maintaining a right relationship with the Lord.
Trusting in the Grace of God Is A Much Better Way—It Is the Only Way of Redemption & Living the Christian Life
We are not only saved by GRACE, we live by it every day, or at least we should. There would be no need for grace or forgiveness if each of us could “fulfill the law.” The Lord, through Paul, is telling us to stop trying to keep the law as a condition before, for, and after salvation by grace.
Jesus blasted the Pharisees for their self-righteousness which they claimed was achieved (exclusively) by adhering to the law. But especially their mindset that the law was above (more important and more rewarding) and better than the Son of God, himself; who introduced a whole new “law” … the Law of Grace. The Law of Grace says that the old law is no longer the way to righteousness with God; in fact, it never was. Instead, it was trust in the Lord’s forgiveness via shedding of innocent animal blood, a forerunner of the ultimate sacrifice through the blood of Messiah Jesus.
Faith in Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice is the NEW WAY, the new law. In fact, Paul terms it: “the law of Christ.” The Law wasn’t even given to the Jews until Moses, hundreds of years after Abraham died. It was Abraham’s faith that was credited to him as righteousness.
“And it is impossible to please God without faith…” (Hebrews 11:6). If that precept applied to obedience, the verse would read: “without obedience….” But it doesn’t say that.
For example, should we expect a special blessing or God’s favor or the certainty of our salvation just because we obey the commandments such as, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbor.” No, it’s expected that we keep the commandments. But in the age of Grace, it’s imperative that we do not insist that our relationship with the Lord depends on our law-keeping performance. That’s exactly what the legalistic Jewish Christians were doing and why the Holy Spirit through Paul reminded and warned them that the Christian life (from start to finish) is lived in, by, and through the grace of God.
Trusting the Lord IS obedience. Because it comes from the heart, not from an external, superficial sense of obligation to keep the law to obtain God’s favor.
Of course, obedience is important; but because we, in fact, disobey, then how much obedience is necessary (considering our frequent disobedience) in order to please God? Do you know how much, does anyone? But even a little faith (trusting the Lord) as small as a mustard seed can move mountains … meaning that God will honor that faith and do great things for/through us.
I truly am saying these things for your benefit, not to condemn you. You do well in your emails when you talk about Jesus as our source of salvation. Unfortunately, you dilute that when you constantly tell your family/friends that grace is not enough (that is what you are telling them whether you realize it or not). That they have an obligation to obey the Ten Commandments and the laws of the land (which is true). BUT NOT AS A MEANS OF SALVATION OR STAYING SAVED OR GETTING TO HEAVEN or any other favor that the Lord might bestow on them.
(My letter ended with some kind remarks to my friend and an invitation to dinner)
Things to Ponder
Though this friend has since departed the earth, I believe the letter did help clarify the balance between Law and Grace.
As recorded in the Bible, God’s letters to us are far more important.
Listen to the Jewish Apostle Paul … a devout Pharisee and defender of the Law of Moses until he met the risen Messiah:
“If the old way (Covenant of Law), which brings condemnation, was glorious, how much more glorious is the new way (Covenant of Grace), which makes us right with God! In fact, that first glory was not glorious at all compared with the overwhelming glory of the new way. So if the old way, which has been replaced, was glorious, how much more glorious is the new way, which remains forever! (II Corinthians 3:9-11, parenthesis mine).
It was God’s very Son who established the everlasting New Covenant foretold by Jeremiah.