Considerations on Grace and Law

By: Peter Youngren
From: November 2008
Found in: The Gospel of Grace
Ten thoughts for your meditation on this very important subject

I believe in the Law for the purpose for which it was given: never to save, heal or make us holy, but to show us our need for a savior. The Law of Moses was a fourteen hundred year time period that showed all of us that no one can be righteous by works. That’s what the Law is - human works to please a supposedly displeased God. All religions are based on human performance, and sadly many have reduced Christianity to a religion of works. Christianity without the Gospel of God’s grace (Acts 20:24) is no more virtuous than any other religion.

The Law is what we can do, our performance and effort. It deals with the outside, putting our ability on display. The grace of God is unmerited, unearned, undeserved favor. The favor is based on Jesus’ performance, His finished work on the cross and His ability to save, heal and sanctify those who “came to God through Him” (Hebrews 7:25).

I’ve included ten thoughts for your meditation on this important subject. Let the Holy Spirit illuminate what Jesus has done for you.

1. Reasons and motives

Legalistic religion based on our performance will make us do good things, but for the wrong reasons. Prayer, Bible study, giving and witnessing are all good things, but they only profit us when done in response to Jesus’ finished work on the cross.
Paul tells us that if we gave all our money to the poor, but without love, it would profit us nothing (1 Corinthians 13:3). Obviously, our gifts would profit the poor equally, whether we give motivated by love or not. However, our heavenly Father loves us so much that He wants us to profit.

When we do good things to impress God or people, those good deeds profit us nothing.  Alternately, when we respond to God’s love for us by loving others, those are the good works that will remain. Pharisees, both those 2000 years ago and modern day ones, are always concerned how they look to others. It’s about keeping up appearances, especially to impress those who attend the same church, or who have the same list of rules of right and wrong that we do.
Grace is about enjoying what Jesus has done for us, and responding to His love by walking in the foreordained “good works” He created us for (Ephesians 2:10).

2. Religious cosmetics or honesty

Sometimes when ladies put on their makeup they call it “putting on their face.” Legalism is religious cosmetics - putting on our good Christian face. Jesus told the Samaritan woman “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him” (John 4:23).

“When we do good things to impress God or people, those good deeds profit us nothing.”

In “spirit” refers to the New Covenant, the covenant of the Spirit, which stands in contrast to the covenant of the letter (2 Corinthians 3). The former covenant gives life, while the latter kills. In “truth” means in reality. The Old Covenant was one of outward forms, God on the outside, while the New Covenant deals with true worship, God on the inside. Grace enables us to be real and honest. It is not our merits that are the determining factors, but Christ’s flawless performance is what matters.
God loves you not because of what you have done for Him but because of what Jesus did for us at the cross. No need to be a pretender, to “put on our face.” If there is a lack in us, let it surface to a place where we can allow God’s love to help us.

3. The answer to our lack

Religious legalism in all its forms has some common denominators. There is always another rule to implement, another assignment for us to accomplish, more godly character to build, and always another personal problem we need to repent from - in essence we are never good enough.

“Whether our sins are big or small in the eyes of people, we are equally in need of Jesus.”

While the above may be true, the Gospel is that Jesus has satisfied the just requirements of the Law for us. He accomplished all that was needed, and a genuine godly character is developed by Christ living in us. Good morals do not come by focusing on morality but on the indwelling Christ. “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). How big are you letting Jesus be in you?

4. What about good works?

At the core of legalistic religion is the conviction that if we try harder, pray more, and do more, we will obligate God into giving us more forgiveness, blessing, healing or prosperity. This is an elitist teaching that gives glory to us, not to Christ. This thinking stands in contrast to trusting in what Jesus has done, as stated in the song “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”
Legalism tells you to be more righteous, better, work harder, improve your life, give more, serve more, do more. The Gospel acknowledges that Christ has put His new creation life in us. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).  Good works are not the result of our determination and good intentions, but result from a recognition of why we were born again: we were created for “good works” in Christ Jesus.

5. Hypocrisy or sincerity

In Matthew 15 we read the story of the Pharisees feeling superior to Jesus’ disciples because they involved themselves in the prescribed ritual cleansing and rinsing of their hands before they ate, while Jesus’ disciples did not. The Pharisees used this argument to condemn Jesus and His disciples, but Jesus exposed them as spiritual imposters. While they “cherry-picked” one commandment and used it to accuse Jesus and the disciples, they themselves were guilty of breaking other more weighty commandments. You see, legalism will breed arrogance and condescension. Read the whole story in Matthew 15:1-10.  It’s an interesting sparring match between Jesus and some of the greatest spiritual hypocrites who ever lived.
Grace stands in contrast to legalism because it breeds sincerity. You live who you are. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). When you are enjoying new creation life on the inside, you have no need to find fault with others, but instead your focus is on sharing the new life you have received.

“When we accept that Jesus alone is sufficient we find ourselves repenting of our self-righteousness and self-reliance.”

6. Do we see our need of Jesus?

In Luke 7 you have the story of a “sinful” woman worshipping Jesus in the house of a Pharisee by the name of Simon. Her sins were visible and well- known in the community; possibly she was a prostitute. Simon’s sins were less noticeable: pride, self-righteousness, arrogance and hypocrisy. When we study Jesus’ dealings with the two of them, we notice that Christ makes no distinction between one sin or another. In God’s eyes sin is sin. If anything, Simon was worse off because his self-righteousness clouded his spiritual perception. He did not see his real need for God. Instead he looked at others as needy, while he viewed himself as sufficient.
Once we embrace the Gospel of Grace, our sentiments will echo those of the Apostle Paul, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God” (2 Corinthians 3:5).  Whether our sins are big or small in the eyes of people, we are equally in need of Jesus.

7. Spiritual elitism or equally needy

Spiritual elitism is a terrible trap that has snared many throughout history. One of those trapped in this deception is Simon, the Pharisee whose house Jesus visited. The story in Luke 7 shows us two people who are total opposites. She was a woman known for her immoral lifestyle; he had a public reputation of good morals. Simon seemed to have never asked himself the question, “How much sin do you have to commit to be considered a sinner?” Jesus drives home the point, later on echoed by the Apostle Paul, that if you are guilty in one you are guilty in all.

“Don’t give up on God – He hasn’t given up on you!”

Imagine two people whom in order to save their lives have to jump the Grand Canyon. One is the Olympic gold medalist in long jump, the other one an elderly overweight businessmen who never exercised a day in his life. Undoubtedly the Olympic gold medalist will do a lot better jump than the businessman, but in the end they will both face the same destiny – the bottom of the Grand Canyon. That’s the point of The Scripture, which tells us that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God but the gift of eternal life is by grace to anyone who will believe (Romans 6:23). No one has anything over the other; at the cross of Jesus we are all equally needy.

8. Is this a scandalous grace?

Grace doesn’t make sense. It’s actually scandalous in many people’s eyes. Why would God put His wrath for our sin on Jesus? Why would Jesus be willing to pay a debt He did not owe? Why would this debt load be taken care of before you and I were ever born? Then to top it off, why does God offer us this forgiveness as a free gift? After all, what if we were to take advantage of God’s unconditional love? The fact that he offers salvation, no strings attached, isn’t it scandalous? How can God suggest that forgiveness should be granted seventy times seven daily?

Yes, God’s love is a scandalous stumbling block to the pharisaical mind and foolishness to the theological philosopher, but to us who believe it, it is God’s power and God’s wisdom. It is His grace that causes us to rule in life and overcome life’s temptations and snares and to live dedicated and holy for Jesus (Romans 5:17, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, Titus 2:11, 12).

9. Who gets the glory?

Often people don’t want the good news of the grace of Jesus, at least not at first. Humans normally do not celebrate God’s grace. After all if we receive the unmerited, undeserved favor of God given through Jesus Christ, then we cannot take any credit for ourselves. It means that our salvation and all subsequent blessings are because of Christ’s finished work on the cross, not our own works; no glory to us, all to Jesus.
The Gospel of grace stands in stark contrast to all religion, which is about what we can do. Grace is about what Jesus has done. When we accept that Jesus alone is sufficient we find ourselves repenting of our self-righteousness and self-reliance. Then something marvelous happens - we begin to succeed and soar in life because of the indwelling energy of His grace. That is what compelled the Apostle Paul to greatness. He wrote, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).

10. God’s love and grace never end!

Don’t give up on God – He hasn’t given up on you!  To study Israel’s journeys through the wilderness is at times discouraging, and yet the story contains many encouraging elements. The discouraging part is that the Israelites could have made it into the promise land so much quicker, maybe in 3-4 weeks, but instead they wandered in the desert for forty years. All those years of discouraging results are countered by the fact that God never gave up on them. Do you ever feel tempted to give up? On God? On people? On yourself? Remember God’s love and commitment toward you is unchanging. Jeremiah wrote, “The LORD has appeared of old to me, [saying]: “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with loving kindness I have drawn you” (Jeremiah 31:3). That “everlasting love” and “loving-kindness” is fully revealed in Jesus Christ, and is available to you and me, not because of our merits, but because of Jesus’ qualifications. That’s a reason to never give up - Jesus’ merits have been credited to our account. Legalism always fails in the end; grace wins.

By: Peter Youngren

As founder of World Impact Ministries, Celebration Bible College, Way of Peace and the Celebration Churches in Toronto, Hamilton and Niagara, Canada, Peter is committed to equipping believers to fulfill their purpose before the return of Jesus Christ.

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