Grace vs the Law

Law vs grace

Law versus Grace => mixed messages

The amazing grace of God is a spiritual truth we can have a hard time truly comprehending. We read the verses about being saved by grace1 and can quote them prettily enough, but how much of a reality is that truth in our lives? Our human nature clings to rules and regulations like they’re our lifeline, never realizing they are actually the chains binding us from experiencing true freedom in Christ.

We are taught from a young age by school, society, family, and even the Church what we can and cannot do – the Rules. We are praised for obeying the rules, and lashed with condemnation when we miss the mark. Get an “A” in school and your parents are likely to buy you something; get an F, and say goodbye to your friends for a while as you and your room become reacquainted. We are promoted at work for excelling at doing the right things, but mess up too bad and you’ve lost a job.

The worst of it all is when we hear the law preached from the pulpit in our churches. Whether overtly or inadvertently, human nature always gravitates toward following the rules and living with a works mentality. And while in some parts of life this is a good thing, when it comes to how we approach God it becomes a huge stumbling block. Many well-meaning pastors who desire to encourage us to live Godly lives set us up for failure in the end because of how they present the law and grace.

When you look at the law, what are we talking about. From the most straightforward we are talking about all the old testament rules and regulations. This includes the ten commandments all the way through all the animal sacrifices and rules on mold. Beyond this, is also all the rules and regulations that others would put on you in the name of religion. Don’t drink or dance, women don’t where short skirts or guys don’t have long hair. Any of things have the outward appearance of looking Godly, but they put us in a works mentality of if I follow the rules I am living a godly life. This misses one key piece of living a Godly life…God. Living in Grace is a relationship guided by His unmerited favor that is all about Him not us. Not our ability to comply with rules, not our ability to earn rewards. We can’t, it is all Him. If you ever see otherwise, time to stop and refocus.

In Revelation2 God makes a proclamation on the church at Laodicea. Here in this declaration, God through the Apostle John famously communicates His desire for that church to be either hot or cold. Instead, He finds them lukewarm and decides to spit them out of His mouth. I had always understood this to be about the level of our passion and zeal for Christ, but another way to look at it may be found in light of Scripture itself.

Much of the Old Testament is spent documenting the story of Israel, and whether they followed the law or not. That’s a very over-simplified way of looking at it, but bear with me for the sake of illustration. On the other hand, much of the New Testament is spent telling the good news of what Jesus did for us on the Cross, and the grace that is available to us because of His work. Now, with that in mind, let’s go back to our passage in Revelation.

Could it be that the person God describes as “cold” is really describing someone walking according to the law? This person has not felt the touch of God and has no understanding of grace, but if he truly attempts to seek God through the law only, he is bound to come to the conclusion that he cannot do it on his own and needs a savior. Conversely, could the person God calls “hot” really be referencing a person who fully understands the message of the Cross, embraces grace with his whole soul, and chooses to rest in the finished work of the Cross?

If so, then the lukewarm person God despises would be someone who mixes grace and law in their relationship with God. These people live in the cycle of repenting for deeds that have already been atoned for, who are more concerned with their actions (works) than their relationship with Jesus. This person is the schizophrenic Christian we talked about earlier, whose life is such a mixed bag of grace and works that Jesus is prevented from being able to fully work in his life. Looking to the law – be it the 10 Commandments, or any other way of measuring ourselves up – will only lead to failure, each and every time.

By contrast, looking to grace means we only need to find ourselves in Christ3. As such, when God the Father looks at us, He sees us in Christ and therefore doesn’t see our failures OR our works but instead sees Jesus. In Christ, the price He paid fulfills our punishment and negates all our attempts at gaining righteousness on our own.

Remember the time in my life when I was constantly examining my relationship with God the Father to see if it was broken or not? That is the result of mixing grace and law: we become unclear on where we stand with God. And as far as Scripture tells us, we have a secure place with God through Christ Jesus. I knew I was saved, but when I looked at how I lived up to my idea of what a Christian should look like, I always fell short. This sucked me into that cycle of repenting in an effort to restore a relationship that was never broken in the first place. Instead of living a victorious life in Christ, I settled for lukewarm. I was so distracted by trying to make sure I was performing correctly and fixing my works that I missed out on the true reality of knowing God better, walking with Him, and becoming “hot.”

Beware of the sneaky ways this message of works over grace is communicated to you, even from the pulpit. Sometimes it’s subtle, something to the extent of: “you need to position yourself to receive God’s blessings by…” and you can fill in the blank with your favorite rule: don’t cheat, don’t steal, don’t murder, etc.

Now, grace is no excuse to simply do whatever you want. The book of Galatians deals extensively with Christian freedom, but in chapter 5 verse 13, Paul very directly commands them not to use their freedom in God’s grace to indulge their sinful desires. So don’t go overboard with it!

In theory we can sin and it does not affect our standing with the God of the universe, so why not? Grace does mean that it is not counted against you and there is total freedom so we don’t need to follow a bunch of rules. But it does not erase the consequences of sin. If you are married and have sex outside of marriage, then there will be consequences! Maybe your marriage will end, trust is lost etc. Kill a person and you will find yourself in jail with a less than great future ahead of you. While God can use all these things to His glory, a little common sense will go a long way in saving us from heartache and pain. Joseph knew this and he didn’t even have the law yet to follow!

But the point of it all remains the same: YOUR BLESSINGS DON’T DEPEND ON YOU! THEY DEPEND ON JESUS AND THE PRICE HE PAID! Because of His work, we are in Him, and therefore as He is, so are we. Embrace this unbelievable grace and learn to rest in Him, leaving the law behind you.

1 Ephesians 2:8

2 Revelations 3:16

3 Colossians 3:3