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Grace Vs. Law.
Written by Randy Constan, Nov. 2000
The topic of grace vs. law is huge, with origins that go back as far as the time the first humans walked the earth. In fact I have procrastinated in writing this article because of the depth of background needed to fully develop this subject, and I'm very sure I will have to revise it many times. The task is further complicated by the fact that it is a subject almost impossible to delve into without stepping squarely on the toes of many religious organizations and their teachings. Yet I know in my heart that I must do my best to share what the Lord has shown me on this important issue. I hope what I present here will prove to be a sensible balance between developed thoughts, biblical reference, and common sense. Even more important, I hope it will both bless you and open up new doors in your relationship with the Lord. To some, these things will already be common knowledge and will serve as a confirmation. To others, it may present a significant new challenge. Whatever the case, I strongly urge you to seek the Lord for your own understanding and balance. It is very important, because grace and law are respectively God's greatest blessing, and man's oldest curse! Know it or not, your views on this subject as a believer will drastically affect your relationships with both God and other people, and profoundly affect your own self-image as well.
Something basically wrong with law
When you hear preaching from a pulpit telling us that we should all be "good" and obey God's law, it is hard to dispute, and yet it is often very disturbing. Sure it's true that we all have a rebellious nature and tend to shy away from rules and regulations, but there is something much deeper going on here. Even sincere believers who've known God for a long time have good reason to be skeptical when someone interprets Gods laws for them. It is simply a gut instinct. As children, many of us felt the same way when an older brother or sister came to us proclaiming something we had to do because "mommy said so". It's tough enough hearing Mom's rebuke directly, but few of us appreciated those rebukes coming through an interpreter. For all we know, that word our Mom had for that older brother or sister was for them alone, and had nothing to do with us!
This same principal disturbs us when we hear "dos and don'ts" preached from a pulpit, and illustrates one of the practical problems with law and legalism in general. Even the best and most sensible law, by its very nature, must apply equally to everyone. If the law says the speed limit is 40 MPH on a four lane road to allow for the most incompetent drivers, then all of us become criminals just by driving at a more reasonable speed. On the other hand, an elderly person whose reflexes are failing might be unsafe driving even below the 40 MPH limit, because the same "one size fits all" law applies.
When you think of the phrase "one size fits all" in clothing, we may comically imagine a pair of sweat pants hanging limp and baggy on a skinny person, but whose seams literally scream for mercy on another person who is obviously too big for the garment. It is not quite so funny, however, when it comes to the legal system of laws in society, and is even less a joking matter when it comes to issues of morality and religious law. No surprise that the number one reason people grow up to reject God after having believed as a child, is having an unbearable burden of "God's laws" loaded upon them, many of which obviously don't "fit", from rigid and unwavering parents, preachers, and religious institutions. Is this what God intended?
That is a fair and important question, so let me set the tone of this article right now with this simple and direct answer: NO! But from that loaded answer you can see that we are headed for an early collision with much of religious teaching! Any casual reading of the bible after all, (particularly the Old Testament) will sooner or later lead the reader to several long lists of laws. Even if you're not very familiar with the bible, you've surely heard of the "Ten Commandments". So if the bible has anything to do with God, it sure seems that God is the maker of many laws. And God seemed awfully demanding to, saying that every bit of that law had be kept 100% perfectly in order to be blessed. (Deut.27:26). But wait! Much later in the New Testament portion of the bible we read that "a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus" (Gal 2:16). This and many other scriptures point out a huge contrast in ideology. What happened between the Old Testament and the new? Just what difference did this Jesus make, and just how and why did all these laws come into being in the first place?
Where it all began
Lot's of questions. To get to the root of this issue, we have to go back to Genesis, the first book of the bible, to the story of Adam and Eve in the garden. Regardless of what you believe about creation, let's just consider this story and see if we can glean some things that are often missed. First of all, God put the man and the woman in a beautiful garden, and there, they were completely free to do just about anything they wanted to do. The bible also says they "were naked and felt no shame"(Gen 2:25). Many people think of this as a wonderful fantasy to dream of, and most of us would be hard pressed to think that God did anything less then a pretty splendid job here! But there were those two trees in the middle of the garden, one called the "tree of life", and the other, the "tree of knowledge of good and evil" (Gen 2:9). The bible records no restrictions given by God to Adam or Eve, so that they were free to do anything they pleased, with the exception of eating from the one "tree of knowledge of good and evil" (Gen 2:16-17). He went as far as to warn that eating from this tree would kill them!
When we consider God in the role of the ultimate "parent", and look at the wonderful environment and near total freedom God gave his "kids", you'd have to conclude that God would indeed make a pretty awesome Mom or Dad. But like all parents with children that don't really know everything (even though they think they do), sooner or later there was something for which God had to say "NO". And we all know how the story quickly turned sour when they finally succumbed to temptation and ate of that tree. As a result, God banished them from the garden and was very angry at their choice.
Just why was God so angry, and what was so bad about this "knowledge" issue? A major clue is found when you consider the first "enlightened" decision these first humans made after taking on this "knowledge of good and evil". What was this monumental demonstration of wisdom? It was to hide their own naked bodies from God in shame! (Gen.3:9-10). Unbelievable!!! Here we had a happy couple that moments ago were totally free, running through the garden together with no shame at all, suddenly deciding their own bodies were something evil to be ashamed of. What better proof that the so called "knowledge of good and evil" was indeed a curse. These poor humans didn't have the foggiest idea how to use their new knowledge in a positive way. Their incomplete human understanding instantly perverted whatever "knowledge" there was to be had, and sin entered the world of humanity. It is worth noting that whenever modern comedians parody the Garden of Eden story, they give the impression that a sexual awakening occurred when Adam and Eve ate of this forbidden fruit, leaving them happier. Yet this is the exact opposite of what the bible said really happened.
Good and Evil… just not our department!
Think about what a "knowledge of good and evil" means. It takes no genius of morality, for example, to discover that romping around naked in the forest can cause you some pain if you don't pay attention to where you put your feet. There certainly is nothing inherently wrong with the process of discovery, where we learn what things are wise or unwise, profitable or unprofitable, smart or just plain dumb. So there must have been something inherently different here, and the essence of that difference is the notion of evil. Certainly if evil exists, it is tempting to think it would be an asset to recognize it. But recognizing it and actually "knowing" it are not the same thing, and the biblical story of the Garden shows us that this is so. Judging anyone to be evil, whether ourselves or someone else, is something reserved for God alone. Conversely and equally errant is the egocentric judgment that we (or someone else for that matter) are either totally good, or at least better then someone else. In any case, mankind's decision to take on this knowledge has certainly proved to be his downfall.
The history of bad "good and evil" decisions obviously did not stop there. Cain, one of the first children of Adam and Eve wrongly judged his brother as evil, and committed the first murder as recorded in the book of Genesis. Within Generations, humankind's ongoing decision to decide good and evil for themselves had led to a point where there was so much evil in the world, that God actually said he grieved that he had created man on the earth! (Gen 6:5-6). The result of people continuing to ignore God's council resulted in a world completely full of evil. The bible describes people sacrificing their own children on altars to idols. War and survival of the fittest rather than loving kindness became the order of life. Man who was created in the image of God, with the higher capacity to become just like God, had instead chosen the patterns of the wild beasts of the jungle. An evolutionist would almost have to conclude that humankind was going backwards at that point, and likely has had similar thoughts about the present when they hear a daily news broadcast. Had God not taken several drastic measures to limit the expansion of human evil, it is likely that all human life would have been eradicated long before the present day.
The need for the law.
There is a lot of biblical history that I won't go into for the sake of brevity. But it is important to understand that even though God eventually brought about some clearly written laws for people to follow, it was only in answer to man's choices, which resulted in so much evil in the world. As we will see, living by a list of rules was not God's original plan, nor is it His ultimate future plan for His children.
Let's consider a little more about the nature of law, and what a law means. It is a theme I'll return to again and again in this writing. A law details a specific distinction between a right and wrong path or action, and invariably infers association with rewards and penalties. From that first law concerning the tree of knowledge, we can see that God's primary concern was to forbid something that was ultimately self-destructive. True to that point, the bible says "the wages of sin is death" (Rom:6:23), which may sound pretty severe until you put it in the context that God, once again, is only interested in forbidding what will lead to death! And punishment too is a factor. Consider a parent finding their child up on a rooftop and thinking of trying to fly off. If defied, the law of gravity certainly could lead the child to death! The parent will quickly issue another law as a command to the child to back away from the edge! Should the child ignore this command and jump anyway, he or she may be fortunate enough to have their parent catch or break their fall. But the threat of death was still very real, and you can rest assured the child will be in for some discipline! So in a world of increasing evil, laws simply draw a distinction between right and wrong, and should represent an improvement over a world where everyone does any evil they please at any time.
So there came a time when God separated a people from the world and through them gave 10 basic laws we all know as the 10 commandments. All of these had their place in and beyond the Jewish society in which they were first given, and few could argue against forbidding people from murdering and stealing from each other. But laws result in more laws, and sure enough hundreds more followed. This is the natural process of never ending exceptions and clarifications that must be made, all of which are subject to human limitations and error. It is an endless process. We can see this today in modern legislature, when someone finds a loophole in a law allowing them to get away with breaking it, causing additional and more complex laws to be required. In addition, almost every law has unintended negative effects on one or more individuals, and so more amendments are required. Then there are always the problems associated with interpretation of large bodies of law in which the innocent are sometimes wrongly prosecuted and vise-versa. Law after all simply measures actions, and cannot interpret the intent of the heart. And finally, while man's laws may involve stiff penalties, breaking laws given by God always carried with them the recurring and dreaded notion of a death penalty!
And what of mercy?
Was there no mercy here? Yes…. Absolutely yes. In fact it is difficult to find instances where people came to God seeking mercy, with a humble spirit for wrongs done, where no mercy was given. In those instances where this does not seem to be the case, most biblical experts agree that it is a matter of missing details. The system of laws also included various "sin offerings" and sacrifices, which allowed people a way of demonstrating their willingness to make right their wrongs, and "atone" for their misdeeds. Later in the new testament, we'll see that the Lord knew that man would not be able to live up to or be justified by law (Gal.3:11), because anyone seeking to be justified by the law would, after all, have to follow all of it perfectly, all the time(James2:10). But despite man's failings, the Lord did bless his people abundantly, providing them victory over their enemies when threatened, wealth and abundance of resources, and pardoning their errors (Ps.86:5). The Lord's mercy always took priority over justice for anyone that would seek him (Isa.63:9, James2:13). Students of the bible should take note that it was no coincidence that the "mercy seat" was placed above the "arc of the covenant", which contained the written laws, in the holy temple (Ex.25:21). God's mercy was always the priority, and it was only when people would blatantly start worshiping other gods that the Lord's anger returned.
The curse of the law
Even with mercy, you can see where the aforementioned "one size fits all" nature of law, together with a growing number of laws carrying severe penalties would make for a stifling society. Because of the whole issue of getting the word second hand, many individuals struggle to this day with one phrase in the biblical "law" written over 3000 years ago, to a completely different civilization, and whose translation might not even accurately convey the original meaning. What a curse to have to worry about all this law. Law with no exceptions. Law with death penalties. Law written on tablets of stone that you cannot reason with. And returning to a key question, what is law after all? Law my friends is the "knowledge of good and evil" in written form! The very curse that humankind had chosen by choosing this path had now been defined in no uncertain terms… on literal tablets of stone! The law was the very fulfillment of our choosing to take on this forbidden knowledge. Mankind wanted it, and indeed it was a curse. Many years later in the New Testament, the bible itself calls the law a burden, which their forefathers were unable to bear (Acts.15:10). If only there were some way to undo it all. Some way to get back to the garden. Back to the time where there was only one simple command to obey. Well my friends, there is! Remember that back in the garden there were two trees, and the second one, the choice not taken, was called the "tree of life".
Forgiveness… the first step
Jesus Christ certainly infuriated the religious people of his day claiming to be the very personification of God on earth. And when teaching on the law, Christ made sure that anyone judging themselves better than another for having followed the law so well was put in their place, by elevating the requirements of the law to even greater difficulty. He mentioned for example that maintaining anger against your brother was the equivalent of murder (Matt.5:21-22)! And said that anyone divorced who had married again was guilty of adultery (Matt.5:32). Surely God does desire perfect relationships and committed marriages, and in a perfect world this would be the case. But Indirectly, Jesus was trying to show everyone that no one can live up to the requirements of the law. In one case, after suggesting that is was harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven then for a camel to pass through a needle's eye (Matt.19:23-24), his disciples wondered and asked whether anyone could be saved. To this Christ replied, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible" (Matt.19:26). Everyone is less then perfect in some area, and anyone who is honest will admit further that they are much less then perfect in many areas. To everyone who was humble enough to realize this, Christ would demonstrate healing and mercy. Whenever given the opportunity, Jesus would simply forgive people for their sins (Luke.5:20-21). Naturally, this would infuriate the religious people even more, and sadly this is still too often the case today.
Forgiveness! What a concept! One of Christ's followers asked how many times a day he should forgive someone who sins against him. "Seven times?" He asked? But Jesus said no, saying instead that you should forgive someone 70 times 7 times in a day (Matt.18:21-22)! Obviously the intended meaning was to have no limit on forgiveness, and few of us can imagine being that tolerant of anyone's continued misdeeds. Yet we may be sure from this example that there is indeed no limit on how much forgiveness we can count on from God!
Forgiveness arguably seems to be the best example of mercy the bible has to offer, but no… the best is yet to come! In fact it is sad that the understanding of God's mercy often stops at forgiveness. You see, we know the bible says that Christ offered himself a living sacrifice to atone for all the sins, misdeeds, and even the outright evil that anyone has done, if they simply receive him in humility and recognize Christ as their Lord and savior (John.3:16). But as wonderful it is that God is willing to reconcile with us and forgive our sin, there is something even better that God has for those that seek him in this way. That "something better" is called GRACE!
Grace… God's best for us!
Throughout this discussion, I've tried to illustrate how law, even good law, is an incredible burden to bear. But did you know the bible actually says that the law itself was both "weak and useless", simply by virtue of the fact that no one could keep it? (Heb.7:18). It's true! Forgiveness is indeed a perfect remedy in all the situations where we know we've done wrong, and do not want to do this wrong any longer. But if we are honest and take note of everything in the law, every requirement ever written, sooner or later we will run into the ultimate conflict. It is the unspeakable conflict, which few believers would dare to even confess to another. All of us who are on the journey of following Christ and have been really honest with themselves know exactly what this is. Think about it for a moment.
The problem and conflict comes when we run into a scripture that seems to identify sin for which we know we're really not sorry! What????!!!! Dare we approach God for any kind of mercy on any issue if we are not willing to change our thinking and start following his law? Most people think not. Most religious teachers would preach not! In fact, most would advise you that such rebellion would place you in even greater risk of Gods wrath and judgment, and will even recite scripture to prove it. Some would ask you to either change your attitude or leave the church! Some would fill you with guilt and keep all your attention focused back on yourself and your perceived shortcomings. Shame shame shame on you! They say. Often they even succeed in convincing the believer he/she is no longer even God's child, and cause them to leave the faith! This is satan's work at it's worst. It demonstrates a huge lack of understanding of what really is the greatest gift of God's mercy, and that is grace!
Paul certainly was very well acquainted with God's emphasis on His grace being all He needed. In 2 Corrinthians chapter 12 starting at verse 7, he speaks of a demonic oppression and a "weakness" which he refereed to as a "thorn in the flesh", but never quite explained. He did however ask God to remove it several times. God's reply? "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2Cor.12:9). As a result, Paul took an entirely different attitude toward the situation saying: "Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me". He certainly refused to hold on to any shame or feelings of failure over the matter, and finally concluded "When I am weak, then I am strong" (1Cor.12:10).
So what is the truth? The truth is that because of God's grace, we can come to him with all our faults and with all our weaknesses, and even with areas of our lives where we may not be willing or able to change. As long as we've given over our hearts to our loving Lord, we may rest in the understanding that His grace is certainly sufficient for all of us. What am I saying? What heresy am I trying to propagate? Am I inferring that people can come to the Lord and still go out and willfully commit evil deeds because of grace? No No! Not at all. Let's have some common sense here. I am simply pointing out what the bible already acknowledges, which is that regardless of how much imperfection you may think is in your life, God's grace will simply increase to meet you wherever you are (Rom.5:20-21), if you simply come to Christ with a humble and contrite heart. It is the condition of the heart, which has always counted most in God's eyes. "For man looks at the external appearances, but God looks upon the heart" (1Sam.16:7). But this is such a radical idea that even as I write this, I know I still have to back up and re-emphasize some key points to help many readers approach this with confidence.
Beyond forgiveness… Grace sets the law aside!
Yes, I know you're probably tired by now of my re-referencing the inadequate "one size fits all" nature of law, but please bear with me just a little more. Surely it is obvious that stealing is wrong. But what of the man who stole bread to put food on his family's table, is not sorry for doing so, and will probably steal again for tomorrows meal. Well that of course is a very benign example of things that most people might agree are "questionable", but it does illustrate my point. Let me challenge you further. What about all the individuals with sexual orientation or gender issues that see language in some bible translations that seem to condemn their situation, or feel they are banished to a life of loneliness? What about all the divorced and/or re-married people whom Jesus warned were guilty of adultery? What about all those who've accumulated wealth, when the bible speaks of it being harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God then for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle? What about anyone who has ever, in any way, held a grudge against his neighbor? Taken food from a child on public assistance by shortchanging the IRS at tax time? I could go on until anyone and everyone who would cast a single stone at anyone would finally put their stones down and walk away. Because if we are really really honest, each of us… each and every one of us, has "issues". We may have obvious ongoing sin, or we may simply have questionable issues which the bible does not seem to adequately address. And let no one dare point out any such issue claiming themselves better then another (Luke.18:9-14)!
Realize too that the justification path, of continually re-interpreting law and the bible to make the law more palatable is often a dead end. As we've seen, trying to find ways to judge ourselves (or others) as "good" based on biblical law is just as much a pitfall as judging ourselves evil. If anyone considers the prior paragraph and concludes that they themselves have no ongoing issues or problems, they should note the clear warnings in the bible, that it is the man who thinks he is innocent that is really in trouble! (John.9:41, Isa.64:6, 1John1:8). And once again, God save us from prayers in which we thank God we are not as bad as someone else! (Luke.18:9-14).
Yes, there are many issues where people have legitimate reasons for questioning whom various biblical laws were actually directed to. There are also many valid issues concerning the accuracy of bible translations. Any serious study reveals more than a few issues whose ultimate legalistic resolution seems indefinitely illusive. How, after all, does a layman know for sure which, if any, bible version has been translated correctly, and which laws are applicable today? We might ask the so-called "experts" who have gone to bible school, studied the original languages, and maybe even call themselves teachers. But we can not escape noticing how many issues on which all the experts, churches, and religions disagree? Those issues invariably lead to a bunch of finger pointing over who is right and wrong. But doesn't this sound too familiar? If the words "tree of knowledge" come back to you, you're right on the money. Yes, believers should do what they can to learn about original languages and research which translations are clearer and of greater accuracy. But if in the end this is done as a path to self-justification, it leads right back to that tree of knowledge mentality. Better to just acknowledge that we are all less then perfect, trust the Lord, and leave Him in charge of the details. Certainly if God is both a loving father and a nurturing mother to us, we can count on getting a direct and personal word from him on concerning any human baggage we carry. We just need to continually seek and trust him. That is the real answer, and the only answer that works!
So we see that forgiveness is wonderful, but that God's grace is indeed even more wonderful! When we trust in the grace of God, we are actually entering into an entirely new state of being. Those with narrow vision see the unchangeableness of God and cannot fathom that there is any real change in man's relationship with God brought about by grace. But I maintain and testify that grace changes everything! Can you dare to imagine a relationship with our creator in which all the "written" laws are completely set aside in favor of a personal relationship with a loving God? A relationship, in which we would each be treated as individuals instead of all being forced into the same mold, knowing that God would not deprive us of anything unless it was hurting us? And imagine a God that would favor giving us the freedom and liberty, even to make our own mistakes, knowing that we would not be condemned for our errors? Sound too good to be true? Sound like we're just re-inventing God to suit our own desires? My friends, this is simply a description of God's best for us.
Grace… a state of being!
You see, forgiveness is a single and individual act. But Christ gave a clue about the true nature of grace when he spoke about forgiving 77 times 7 times in one day (one translation actually said 77 time 70!). Any reasonable person would rightfully question the sincerity of someone asking forgiveness for the same thing 490 times in one day. It's almost absurd! Assuming you are awake for 16 hours out of the day, that would be like a person asking forgiveness more than 30 times each hour for the entire 16 hour period. Crazy? Maybe not! Let's take a real world example. Common sense tells us that doing something destructive to your own body is obviously wrong, and we should not even need a scripture to confirm this. But in case you do, the bible does say that the body is a temple of God's spirit (1Cor.6:19_20). Well, so what if someone has an addiction to cigarettes? Everyone including the smoker knows it is bad for him, as well as bad for the family that loves him should he die of cancer. We all hope someday he will quit, and will give him encouragement to do so. Until then, however, we have two choices. We can accuse and make him feel guilty and ask forgiveness with every single puff, or we can simply give him that forgiveness on an ongoing basis. That would transform forgiveness, a momentary single act, into an ongoing state. That indeed is an example of grace! Grace is not just an individual instance of forgiveness, but a continual state of being! Under grace, we no longer beat up others or ourselves with guilt and shame about every moment's shortcomings. We choose instead to love the person (and ourselves!) in spite of everything. That is the state the first human pair enjoyed in the garden, and that is what the Lord is extending to us through Christ.
A very important scripture, which is often misinterpreted, says "For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under Grace" (Rom.6:14). This is speaking to believers who have entrusted their lives to Christ, and have received the free gift of His righteousness, and so are no longer bound by law (Rom.10:4). The scripture is often interpreted to mean that since we are under grace, sin can no longer control us, and so we no longer sin. But this interpretation is flawed, for the bible (again speaking to believers) says that "If we claim to be without sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." (1John1:8). Clearly, the acceptance of God's gift does not mean we suddenly become perfect people. The more accurate meaning of the scripture is that the reason sin is no longer master over us is that if we sin, there is no longer any penalty. Bottom line: for the believer, the law itself has been done away with! I mentioned recently in a short tract (entitled "Sin! Sin! Sin!"), that it is one thing to be pardoned for a single instance of speeding, and quite another to have a judge declare that the speeding law no longer applies to you! Could it be that God really want's to trust his children with such freedom? Let's consider some more scriptures. In Romans 4:14 we read "For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless. Because law brings wrath, and where there is no law, there is no transgression". So it sounds as if God understood full well that the only way to eradicate sin was to literally eradicate the law!
Did God actually do away with the law? At first glance it seems not, as Jesus said, "I did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Matt.5:17)". But what is seldom understood is that fulfilling the law was what Christ accomplished in and by his life. In his death on the other hand, he literally took the law with him to the cross. For the bible says: "When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive in Christ. He forgave us all our sins. Having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and stood opposed to us, he took it away nailing it to the cross (Col.2:13-14). This is very strong teaching my friends! It is right there in the scriptures lest I be accused of making this up! God is saying that through the law, we were already dead! But the good news is that God is making a complete, permanent, and irrevocable escape for anyone interested, so that the law is literally crucified for those that receive Christ. A few verses later starting at verse 20, the bible even goes as far as to question why a believer would waste his efforts trying to follow laws that are totally useless. In Col.2:20-21 it says: "Since you died with Christ to the basic principals of this world, why as though you still belonged to it do you submit to it's rules, 'Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!'? " Then finally, it declares in Vs. 23 that "Such regulations have the appearance of wisdom, with their self imposed worship, their false humility, and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence".
Understand that God is not saying that restraining self-indulgence is not a wise thing to do. Both the bible and common sense warn repeatedly against overindulgence, and most of us learn this lesson by the school of hard knocks. The bible further declares that we still reap what we sow (Gal.6:7), and even under grace you may rest assured that stealing from your neighbor may both land you in jail, and cause your heavenly father to have a word with you. What God is pointing out however is that if anything is going to help people curb their excesses, it certainly is not law! Law, once again, is a written documentation of the "knowledge of Good and evil", which God has already told us was a curse for man to take on. Like a broken record I've repeated over and over about all the pitfalls of law, but I am a mere human observer. Now, those statements are compounded by an even simpler and more final truth about law right from Gods own word. How much value do such laws have? According to the scripture, "They lack any value" at all! (Col.2:20-23).
Let's verify this some more. Go back to some earlier chapters in the book of Romans, and in Chapter 3 vs. 21-24 we read: "But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the law and the prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through Jesus Christ." And over in verse 28 of the same chapter, "For we maintain that man is justified by faith apart from observing the law". How about Galatians 2:vs.16, which says: "know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified". So you see I'm in good company in being repetitive. The bible also repeats these principals over and over, because God it trying to get us to understand this point. And considering how religious organizations love to burden us down with laws, it really can not be emphasized enough! So, in Galatians 5:4 we read "You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace". Strong words.
Such teachings are banned. This web site will be banned too!!
Now I'm well aware that many of these words are bound to get this article completely banned by many religious organizations, which will call my words heresy. They will even point to a long dissertation in the bible's book of 2nd Peter warning against people who preach such freedom as an excuse for people to live irresponsibly and continually defy God. So I am beholden to back up what I'm saying with scripture, which I've tried to do without stuffing these paragraphs with too many references. We will indeed continue to look at more of what the bible has to say, but realize that this kind of teaching scares religious leaders and organizations to no end. After all, it seems to make sense on a human level that if you throw out laws, then there will be total chaos, with everyone doing what they want to do, even at the expense of the destruction of themselves, the church, and others.
Yes, this would be a fair accusation if we were just talking about people in general, but we are not! We are talking about people who have entrusted their lives to the spirit of God, and have literally invited that Spirit to live within them. That is the key. If they really believed the spirit of God was living inside His children, they would realize that God's presence makes all the difference. They would also refrain from judging their fellow believers (Matt.7:1-5), knowing that God treats his children as individuals. The bible goes as far as to say that those that invite the Lord into their lives become new creations (2Cor.5:17) and literally have God living inside them (Rev.3:20). The failure of religious organizations to trust God to fulfil such promises reveals how many issues of fear, and particularly fear of losing control, are really at the heart of their leader's teachings. They are loath to put up with anyone inspiring their flock with the confidence to challenge their "status quo" preaching, and have the courage to use their own God given sense. But regardless of such teachings, The scriptures certainly and repeatedly bear out a path of liberty for God's children (Rom.8:21, 2Cor.3:15-17, Gal.5:1). Indeed as the bible says, the truth will set us free (John.8:31-32).
Perhaps one of the best explanations and proofs of why God can do something so apparently radical is found in the 8th Chapter of Hebrews, beginning at verse 7. Referring to the system of laws as the old covenant, the word says: "For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said: 'The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant and I turned away from them, declares the Lord. This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them in their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor or a man his brother saying, 'Know the Lord', because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more". Then finally, in verse 13, the writer says: "By calling this covenant new, he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear".
Can you see the awesome implications of this scripture? This is God's plan for his people. He will individually write his laws in our hearts. Clearly, each one of us will get his/her instruction first hand, and will refrain from telling their brothers and sisters the "proper" way to know the Lord, because everyone will know Him. There will come an awareness that God is the personal instructor of each of us, and we can finally and completely lay aside the issue of "knowing good and evil", and give the matter entirely back to God. How do we do this? By laying judgment aside, as much as we are able. By extending to others the same Grace God extends to us. By making obsolete our own list of "one size fits all" expectations for everyone else to live up to, just as God has made his Old covenant laws obsolete for us. This is his New Testament command, that we love one another (John13:34-35), as He has loved us. And the bible further declares that we must, above all, love each other deeply, because "Love covers a multitude of sins" (1Pet.4:8). The devil and religion will tempt you to compromise on this matter, by mixing some grace with some law, under the guise of a "balanced" teaching. But the bible's council on this is very clear, saying that any mixing of grace with law is not grace at all! (Gal.1:6-7, Rom.11:5-6 ).
All of us, this writer including, long to be in an environment where believers give us the same grace that God promises us. But giving such grace to others is often our greatest challenge and is not quite so easy. This is no surprise when we consider how difficult it is for believers to even allow themselves such grace! The failure of religious leaders to give grace to those in their care exemplifies this fact, and as the life of Jesus proves, opposing their teachings does not make things easier. But make no mistake. Adhering to an unwavering faith with total dependence on God's grace, and extending this grace to others as well is the high calling God has for all of us. It is a major part of the narrow road to the kingdom of God Christ spoke of, which many do not find (Matt.7:13-14). This road may seem impossible at times, but as we'll see, it need not be!
Love… the greatest command!
Consider the words of the "greatest commandments" Christ spoke of. Love God with all our hearts, and then Love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Matt.22:37-39). The actual wording and order are indeed significant. We have to start by loving God, and trusting Him. But first, we must take the time to look and meditate on the many scriptures declaring Gods love for us, such as Jer.31:3, Rom.5:5, Rom.8:38-39, Eph.3:17-19, and certainly 1John.3:1. It is crucial that we continually grow in our grace and knowledge of Him (2Pet.3:18) and in our understanding of the depth of God's commitment and love for us. Because it is only by our absolute confidence in His love for us that we actually learn to love ourselves. While that may seem selfish, the bible says that "We love, because He first loved us" (1John4:19), and true to the order of scripture, it is only as we love ourselves that we, in turn, are able to effectively love others.
Jesus not only called loving God and our neighbors the greatest commandments, but also insisted that all of the law is summed up in those two commands. Similarly what we call the "golden rule" today is actually from the bible, where Jesus says that treating others as we would like to be treated also sums up the entire law (Matt.7:12). Yet one point that often goes overlooked is the very use of the word "command" in the bibles' repeated exhortation to love. Surely it must dawn on us that you can't simply command anyone to love!
People can do things that seem loving, like giving to the poor and such, but Paul's well known explanation of Love (1Cor.13:1-7) reminds us that such actions apart from real love are worthless. "Commanding" love almost seems like a contradiction, as well as a prescription for failure until we realize that just as with Christ, it is God Himself, living within us that does the work! (John.14:10) The bible tells us that "we love because he first loved us", remember?. This turns the matter completely around! Instead of a prescription for failure, we now have a guarantee of success. Yes, we are only human and will still miss the mark. But ultimately, when we allow the spirit of God to dwell in us, we will become more loving because God is Love (1John.4:7-8), and because "Love never fails" (1Cor.13:8). As you dwell on these things, you will see how all this together with countless other biblical principals come together, and you will never again be fooled into the guilt laden yoke of bondage fostered by legalistic preaching (Gal.5:1). Eventually, you will not even entertain an argument with such teachers, knowing it is a waste of time (Titus.3:9).
A challenging road, but His burden is light!
Jesus said for us to take His yoke upon ourselves, saying "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Mat.11:29-30). And indeed the burden is light, only as we lean on His grace on a moment by moment basis, and trust Him to do the work through us. For He actually promises to be the one that both starts and completes the good work that has begun within us (Phil 1:6). We are also encouraged by the fact that any time we fail, question, or even have ongoing issues in our own lives, we are encouraged to "Boldly come into the throne room of grace for mercy" (Heb.4:16). Not timidly, mind you, but boldly! Further, we can finally give up the awesome burden of judging our neighbors and fellow believers. Christ, by offering us His life, is in essence offering us a continual, eternal, and moment by moment "new chance". Having laid aside the "tree of knowledge", we may now come and partake of the other choice left behind in the garden. That is, the "tree of life!" (Gen.2:9, Rev.22:14). This is awesome my friends. Eventually we will get back to the garden, and Christ invites us to this wonderful journey back. But more likely it will be an even better garden (1Cor.2:9), and this one comes with the gift of eternity! (1John5:13).
I would encourage everyone to find one or more bible translations they are comfortable with, at least in terms of the translation and language being readable, and to read the books of Romans, Galatians, Colossians, and Hebrews. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you as you do, and don't be afraid to chew up the meat and spit out the bones. The bible is not God… God is God! Ask in prayer, and the Spirit of God will himself instruct you (John.16:13-15) as you read, and will reveal certain scriptures, that you will recognize as being personally for you. God will also speak directly to your heart as you prayerfully put all issues in your life into His hands. Understand too that when God does not speak to you on a matter, it is often because He is giving you the grace to explore this for yourself. Listen intently to the council of other believers, but let no one put their yoke of bondage on you, and forgive them if they become irate if you don't "repent" and bow to their rules. The Lord will ultimately bring you into all truth, and will always do so in Love. If and when you need correction, The Lord himself will do it. The Lord and anyone truly representing Him will gently lead you, unlike the devil masquerading as God's servants who instead will try to drive you. Learn to recognize the difference!
At the introduction to this article I spoke of how your understanding of Grace, and the difference between living under grace rather than law would significantly affect your relationships with God, people, and profoundly affect the way you see yourself as well. There is no escaping the challenges and many ongoing issues raised, some of which require separate writings to explore. But wise King Solomon once said that "of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body" (Ecc.12:12). It is much more important for me to encourage the reader to seek God alone as the "author and perfector of our faith" (Heb.12:2), rather then rely on anyone's writings, certainly including my own! So in closing, I leave you only with my own testimony, which is simply that as I've entrusted my life to the grace of God, through the manifold turmoil that has come my way. He has never let me down, and has always given me grace, even during my biggest errors and failings. I have seen it to be true and fully concur with the expression of freedom, wisdom, and joy found by St. Augustine when He explained his simple formula for life: "Love God, and do what you like".
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