Law and Grace

LAW AND GRACE

By Wayne S. Walker

     There has been quite a bit of loose talk, both in days gone by and in more recent years, concerning law and grace.  Some confidently affirm that keeping God’s law has absolutely nothing whatever to do with being saved—we are under grace, not law, they say—and then turn too passages like John 1:17 to substantiate their claim.  Others, in reaction to this, may leave the impression that men are saved only through law-keeping, thus adding more fuel to the fire.  This would occur, no doubt, unintentionally.  But if such be true, then we may need to be more careful about what we emphasize in our preaching.  That the Christian is under law, at least in some sense of the word, should be incontrovertible.  Such passages as 1 Corinthians 9:21, Galatians 6:1, and James 1:25, etc., plainly demonstrate this fact.  The question is, to what extent does keeping Christ’s law play a part in our salvation?

First, we need to understand the nature and purpose of law in general.  Law is somewhat like a boundary, out of which those bound by the law must not go.  We all understand this in relation to civil law (Romans 13:1-7).  The most obvious aspect of law is the punishment of those who decide to break it rather than keep it (1 Timothy 1:8-10).  But this aspect is really based upon a more fundamental fact, which is that law is a communication from a person or persons in authority to those in subjection concerning what the latter must do to be acceptable.  This is the positive side of law; it provides guidelines so that those who want to do well may know how to live properly.  God’s law is no different.

So, are we saved merely by law-keeping?  I know of no gospel preacher or any other faithful Christian who does now believe, or has ever believed, or hopefully ever will believe, that salvation comes solely by observing rules and regulations.  That is why the Old Testament law was repealed.  Of course, that is how God designed it to be in the first place—to show men that they cannot be justified simply by law.  If such were true, there would have been no need for Jesus’s sacrifice.  Those who are unlearned and too lazy to study God’s word for themselves may have misunderstood what others have said concerning this matter and reached a wrong conclusion about what we teach.  But this is not the real issue.  Everyone agrees that we are saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Yet, we are saved by grace through faith; and faith, to be of a saving nature, must include complete and trusting obedience to God’s law (James 2:14).  In fact, it is by submitting to God’s law that men enter into and remain within the sphere of His grace.

No one keeps the whole law perfectly.  Again, if we did, Christ need not have died.  All have sinned (Romans 3:23), and sin is a transgression of the law (1 John 3:4).  Remember, if there were no law, there could be no transgression, and, hence, no sin (Romans 4:15).  This is where grace comes in.  God has devised, in His grace, a plan to make up for our imperfections by forgiving them (Ephesians 1:7, Hebrews 8:12).  But receiving that grace and forgiveness is conditioned upon keeping certain laws ordained by God—i.e., obedience to His will regarding the gospel terms of pardon (Hebrews 5:8-9, 1 Peter 1:22, 1 John 2:3).  Therefore, we may say that we are saved by grace, understanding that we depend solely upon God’s grace for a plan of redemption, and not our own human good works; and that we are saved by faith, in that salvation is based not on a system of perfect rule-keeping, but on a trusting, obedient faith.  Likewise, in a very limited sense, we are saved by keeping God’s law, meaning by meeting the conditions of faith set forth in His law.  But none of these things saves exclusive of the others.

—taken from Vanguard; Mar. 23, 1978; Vol. 4, No. 6; p. 10

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