Law or Grace

February 9, 2015

The argument over Grace versus Law or a mixture like Graw or Lace has been going on for centuries. That is to be expected because there was such a radical change between the Old and New Covenant it was bound to bring about controversy. The Jews who had been under the Old for so many centuries could not grasp a concept of God changing it. The Gentiles who had never been under it could not comprehend the hang ups the Jews had over having a new relationship with God without a lot of rituals. Besides, why in the world would you want to pass up a ham sandwich or be tied to so many rituals?

We see the conflict and merging pains of the Jew/Gentile church in Romans 14 and 15. Gentiles come to the Lord’s Supper with a dish that was not traditionally washed with a pork roast on it. Jews not touching even a good pot roast because they heard that Lycinius bought it at the vendor who got his daily rations from the temple of Zeus. Both eyed each other with suspicion. The Jews were bunch of Pharisees to Linus and Avril gasped at the blatant lack of holiness of those pagans in the midst.
Those chapters are often taught incorrectly and abused by people trying to justify some sin or get people to back off a “gray” area. Many times they are taught with an attitude of, “Weaker brother, grow up.” That was the title of an article in a major evangelical magazine some years back. Paul is saying in those chapters, “Stronger brother give up your liberty.” If liberty needs to be given up until a weaker brother comes to understanding and strength then so be it. If he never grows up, then for the sake of peace and love then surrender your liberty until death.

Nothing Paul spoke about in those chapters had anything to do with gray areas. Indeed, he was saying the Gentiles had it right in principle, but terribly wrong in practice. Indeed, all days are God’s days and all meats are lawful, but don’t force your liberty on the weaker brother. He also told the Jews to not judge the Gentiles. Indeed, if they thought the Gentiles were the weaker brothers than they were also to walk in love with them. Shoving a ham sandwich in the face of your Jewish brother shouting, “Eat up! You’re under grace” is not loving or the way to teach. Calling your Gentile brother a stinking law breaking pagan is not going to convince him to change his opinion of the ham sandwich or you. Loving, but truthful, dialog and respect will go a long way.

All of this was going on long after the Jerusalem Council made its decree on what was required of the Gentiles. Four things were to be avoided; fornication, idolatry, things strangled and blood. That’s it. No other points of the Law or Jewish traditions, not even the Sabbath. That should be the last word on the issue for Gentiles. They had a chance to drop the hammer. Many of them were going about saying you cannot be saved unless you believe on Christ plus be circumcised and keep the Law.   If James had pronounced that we should be pork free and living in tabernacles once a year then those who want to have Grace and Law merged would have some legal precedence. He said not a word of any of that and yet through the centuries the same questions and battles keep coming up.

We live in an age like many others because as one of my professors said, “Human nature has not changed since the Fall and will not change until after the Millennium.” Humans tend to be active pendulums swinging from one side to the other instead of finding balance.   This is why we have those who are stuck in a dead orthodoxy and others practicing wildfire pietism. One cannot allow the Spirit to breathe His life into the Word of God so that letter does not kill and the other wants to dump all doctrine and sound interpretation for subjective feelings in the name of love allowing the Holy Spirit to have free rein. Sometimes the spirit that is having a free rein is their human spirit or even a dark spirit posing as an angel of light.   God is a god of balance and the Word and the Holy Spirit work in tandem. The Spirit will never contradict the Word that He was a part of writing and the Word will never hobble the work of the Holy Spirit. It is very difficult to find balance these days.

All that leads us to Galatians chapter three, where Paul is actively resisting the Graw they are seeking to bring about in the church due to some folks from Jerusalem teaching this error.   These fellows show up in that century’s version of Armanni suits with glowing pedigrees or degrees. People tend to gravitate towards them because they are taught to respect people like that. Unfortunately, many heretics and con artists can play the role and look the part. Paul, from a human perspective, had a hard time competing with that.   He did not dress like a bum, but he would not have been a “dress for success” type. Many believe he was a short man and after all he had gone through he would have had many visible scars along with bad eyesight. The other lads waxed eloquent when they spoke and sounded very erudite while Paul admitted he was rude of speech. All this would have been the death knell for the average person’s ministry except Paul had the truth and He was handpicked by Christ. With that background, you don’t quit. He was likely better trained then some of the pretty boys that showed up, but he relied upon the Holy Spirit rather than his own pedigrees that he considered as dung.

Paul wins the Galatians to Christ preaching the gospel of grace. The people were growing in that grace and the church was growing. Usually that is when the gainsayers and the naysayers start showing up. Folks see a work growing and either show up to criticize it or find a way they can get in on it though often they want in on it only to benefit their own agenda or line their pockets.   They want to come in and lead, not learn and participate. These lads that came up from Jerusalem were there to bring the Galatians into what they might have called the full gospel. Yes, Jesus saves you by faith, but you must also be circumcised and follow all of the Mosaic law to keep your salvation or to truly grow in sanctification.

Someone asked what a Legalist is and according to Acts 15 it is a Jesus plus anything else gospel. It is not having high standards. High standards are OK unless you make your standards a means of grace to gain favor with God or to keep from losing your salvation. Yes, we are to be sanctified and different from the world, but when you make jean skirts something to avoid there is no biblical principle for that standard. Some people chastise others for using technology like PowerPoint presentations and such and yet use other types of technology. You are crossing into dangerous ground and even over the line into legalism with such a mindset.

The only means of obtaining favor with God is through placing your sins into the hands of Jesus trusting in His vicarious atonement of them by His death, burial and resurrection as the incarnate Son of God. Adding baptism or other rituals including all or some aspects of the Law to that is legalism and you have fallen from the doctrine of grace into something else. You have been bewitched or fascinated by a false representation of the Gospel. (verse 1) You have not lost your salvation, but you have lost the blessing of it and not benefiting from a life of grace.

He asks a very direct question in verse two. Did the Galatians receive Christ by faith or by works of the Law? The obvious answer is by faith. That being true, why in the world are they looking for something else or be willing to take a downgrade?   He says that is foolish and vain. It is always good to look back and take stock of where and who we are now compared to the day we were saved. Have we strayed or added to the message because of experiences? Are we growing in grace or have we substituted something for walking in the Spirit’s guidance. Paul sends them back to day one and says look how you received Christ. Look what you have suffered for your faith and now you want to chuck that for a mutilation of the Gospel.

He then points to himself and asks what was the power in my message, Law or Grace? Did I do miracles by following the Law to the letter or by faith? Does anything those lads from Jerusalem say fit anything you have experienced in yourself or seen in my ministry? Hello! Wake up!!   Don’t be foolish!

If nothing else, look to the father of the faithful, Abraham. He believed God and he was called righteous. I know that James seems to say that Abraham was justified by works, but that is not what he is saying. Faith should manifest in works, but God cut the covenant with Abram and changed his name to Abraham long before the willingness to sacrifice Isaac.   He was saved by faith. The nations are blessed through Abraham because of his faith and we who have faith are blessed with him. Pretty clear to me.

James was dealing with a different issue. Many can say they have faith, but if they do then they will manifest that faith even if it is a weak, mustard seed faith some evidence of that faith will be seen. This is why great care should be taken when leading people to Christ using the “Sinner’s Prayer” at the end of the Roman’s Road.   A great many who have said that prayer never manifested anything. Nothing changed in their life. When Jesus truly comes into a life and the Holy Spirit starts working with the person there is going to be some changes. Will there be baby steps and struggles? Yes, but there will be something. I am afraid, we have chalked up many doorstep or jail house conversions when in reality we have made people twice the child of Hell by our capricious salesman approach. (Matt 23:15)

We go now from faith and blessing to curses. Who is cursed? Those who do not continue to do ALL things in the Law, not just a few. Paul’s argument before the Jerusalem Council was why put a burden on the Gentiles that even we Jews were not able to bear? The Law was holy, but since we are not it was a hopeless case to try and fulfill it perfectly. Each year you had to have faith that God would forgive the sins of the people on the Day of Atonement as He promised. Thus, it was faith that saved even under the Old Covenant.

The rich young ruler thought he was keeping the law and then Christ made it evident that the ruler was indeed covetous and idolatrous when faced with the option of following Christ or selling all he had. Paul thought himself righteous and doing a good job of keeping the Law until he had his Romans 7 experience. If by works of the Law no flesh shall be justified before God then what makes people think that tacking it on to the gospel of faith will justify them or increase their sanctification?

The Law has practical value. If you seek to follow it life will be better for you. Indeed, if you follow the dietary law you will be far healthier and may even live a longer life, but it does not gain you any favor with God to bring about justification.   If you break one commandment you broke them all. Perfection is required. When you think about sins of commission and omission and as David speaks secret or hidden sins plus the deceitfulness of the human heart you should do cartwheels and be glad for salvation by faith alone. Many who appear to be very righteous and are sure they are doing well will be shocked at the BEMA or the Great White Throne when God shows them their heart as it truly was in life. If it happens at the BEMA, the tears will be washed away. If it happens at the Great White Throne it will disastrous. Those tears will be for eternity. Make sure you know at which session of the Judgment Seat you will appear.

The law is not of faith. That should be game point. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law so why do we insist on dragging it into the Gospel? The covenant was four hundred and fifty years before the Law was given and was not annulled by the Law. It was given to bring us to Christ and to have some insight to God’s holiness, His sovereignty, as well as giving guidelines for social and judicial action. We can still learn many things from the Law, but it will not justify us or make us holy. It is either Law or promise; faith or works. The Law was given because of transgressions to teach us until Christ arrived.

God meditated the covenant between Himself and Abraham. God put him in a deep sleep so that he really had nothing to fulfill in the covenant. It was all of God.   The Law came by God, but in reality the people asked for it when they wanted Moses to be the only mediator between them and God. Moses, in that role, was a type of Christ for now there is only one mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ. The Law was only temporary. It lasted from Moses to Christ. Christ fulfilled it and tore down the wall between us and God by “blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;” (Col 2:14) Blotting out or erasing and taking it way should again be game point.   We needed a mediator’s help with the Law and Christ became that. Abraham’s seed, not seeds, came and redeemed us.

Had we been able to keep the Law, we would have been saved by Law, but the Law showed us our wickedness and helplessness. It taught us we needed a Redeemer.   It’s job was to be a schoolmaster to teach us that need. Once Christ came and we received Him the schoolmaster’s job was done. Indeed, the Law left us all in the same category, sinner. No one could exalt himself or get into Heaven by any other way than to receive pardon by placing faith in the Redeemer and His work. We needed grace and it was available by faith, not by works of the Law.

The promise was made to Abraham, while he was still a Gentile for there were no Jews and Gentiles at that time. There were only humans. God called Abraham to be a father of all the faithful and to bless all nations.   His lineage became Israelites via Jacob.   The first person to be called a Jew or Yehudi was Esther’s uncle Mordecai. Gentiles basically means nations and at the time of his call, Abram was one man among the nations. Therefore, it should be no surprise that the nations would be blessed by him or that God would save the nations through faith so that they could enter in a relationship with God like the one Abraham experienced.  Since Christ is the promised seed of Abraham, once we are baptized into Christ we are all children of God regardless of our ethnic background, gender or social status. We are one in Christ. We were once shut up in the stronghold of the Law but now we are the children of promise by our faith in Christ. Accept no substitutes or adulterations for the promise that was given.

We are free from the Law. Do not return to a yoke of bondage. Do not fall away from a life of grace. Enjoy the richness of relationship that it brings and the freedom from fear. There is much more to discuss, but those issues need another sermon lest like Eutychus someone falls out a window from sleep deprivation.   Study and know your freedom. Paul’s epistles fight Graw and Lace all throughout them. Be wise and not foolish. Shalom! Maranatha!!!


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