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In grace,Justin Wishart,law

For the Love of the Law: Some Thoughts on Law and Grace

by Justin Wishart

If one is involved with apologetics long enough, or even if one simply has Christian conversations in general, the question of how one is to reconcile God’s law and grace will eventually come up. At first glance, they seem to be very difficult to square with one another. Are we saved by obeying God’s commandments, or are we saved by accepting God’s gift of salvation through the work of Jesus? Are these two ideas contradictory? The purpose of this article is to give some of my thoughts on how a Christian might understand these two seemingly contradictory concepts. Before we begin, we first need to establish a couple of principles by looking into scripture to find out what it says about God’s law and His grace.

Salvation By Faith Alone: Grace

The scriptural witness is clear that we are justified by faith alone. Here’s a quick sampling.

“For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” (Romans 3:28, ESV)

“… yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” (Galatians 2:16, ESV)

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9, ESV)

It seems axiomatic that we need to accept that we are justified outside of the law. So, what are we now to do with the law? It is now certain that the law is not needed for Salvation, but does this mean that the law is bad and we must throw it away?

The Holiness of the Works: Law

The scriptural witness is clear that God’s law is good and holy. Here’s a quick sampling.

“So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” (Romans 7:12, ESV)

“If you love me, you will keep my [Jesus’] commandments.” (John 14:15, ESV)

“The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple” (Psalms 19:7, ESV)

It seems that God’s law is good and we dare not throw such a gift from God away. We must find some way in which to understand how these two concepts work together.

Here are our two propositions we have established so far:

            1. We are justified by faith apart from fulfilling God’s law.

            2. The law of God is good.

When we understand these two propositions as stated, we can now see that the two concepts of God’s grace and law are not contradictory. By grace, we are given salvation through faith. This accomplishes a goal. The law, on the other hand, is simply good. But, what is it good for?

The Beauty of God’s Law

While we have established that God’s law is not needed for our salvation, we dare not conclude that God’s law is good for nothing. It would be very odd for God to give us His law, which while being good, doesn’t really serve any purpose. Large sections of the bible would be a description of something good, but really a waste of space.

Since we are now freed by grace, which secures our salvation, we have no requirements of the law for salvation. This simple, yet profound, step shifts the law from a drudgery obligation to a joyful act of worship. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15, ESV) It is as our affection for Christ grows, so our natural desire to follow God’s law deepens. Obedience to the law is simply an outward expression of the developing inward reality of our soul. It is our love for God bursting forth, and we love the law because we love the Law-giver. We don’t need to scratch God’s back with obedience so He will scratch our backs with salvation. We are obedient to God because He gave us everything already.

If we look at God’s law for our salvation, God seems petty and somewhat vindictive. But, if we look at God’s law as an act of worship founded on our love for Him, God’s law becomes something rather beautiful. It becomes a means by which we express our love for Him, but also a means by which we can learn more about our God. As the things which are important to God become important to us, we find a profound kinship with our Maker. We discover a bond which continues to draw us ever closer to Him.

The Bible often uses marriage as an analogy to express our relationship with Jesus, so I will do likewise. When a husband and wife become more like-minded, they discover a bond which enhances their relationship. They become so close that they discover knowledge of one another that they didn’t previously know. In a similar way, things work like this with our Lord. Our obedience to Him, as an expression of love, will give us insight which was previously hidden from us.

The Bible and Obedience

I don’t want to give the impression that obedience is the foundation for knowledge of God. The Bible is, and we discover God and His law within the pages of scripture. What I am trying to say that obedience to God’s law will produce an intuitive knowledge of its own. It will give you a deeper understanding of the words found within Scripture. As God’s law permeates into every aspect of your life, you cannot help but intuitively recognize and understand the God you serve within the pages of Scripture.

Conclusion

I have been expressing God’s law in very favourable terms, but don’t mistake what I’m saying by thinking that I am saying adherence to His law is easy. God’s law can be very difficult, monotonous, and counter-cultural. However, His law is always right and it is always true. What I am saying is that instead of the law’s being a task-master, bringing you into bondage, the law is more like your friend and guide.

God’s law, as is His grace, is a gift to us. His law gives us so much more than it demands, as long as we don’t foolishly look to it for salvation. We learn morality, discipline, character, and a host of other wonderfully advantageous things. Most importantly, we deepen our understanding of our God and increase our relationship with Him. Obedience to God’s law is not the fundamental part of the Christian life, but it is a necessary aspect for those who desire to be close to Him. If we truly love Him, we wouldn’t want to do any less then to obey His commands. This understanding gave my reading of Psalm 119 a whole new depth, and I commend it to you to read afresh. Look to God’s precepts as something precious, as something beautiful, and as the gift they truly are.
  • Good article. Could you comment on what you mean by “law” are you referring to the moral, civil and ceremonial law?

    For example do you suggest we should be striving to follow all the dietary and sacrificial laws?

    Can you expand?

  • Good question. The idea of “God’s law” can take many forms. First, this article does not have the laws which govern theocracies in mind. Even modern Jews reinterpret Torah Law to reflect the reality that there is no Tabernacle or Temple, which simply eliminates many Torah Laws. However, the Jews understand the paradigmatic nature of Torah law. Christians should do likewise in light of Christ as all ancient laws, without exception, write their laws paradigmatically. The Torah is no exception. Each specific law is an example of a paradigm, or overarching principle, which must be uncovered. The specific situation can change, but the principle is everlasting. Thus, we are not bound by the specific contextual situations discussed in Torah Law simply because we do not live in a pre-Incarnate Jewish theocracy. However, the principles which governed the specific statements in the Torah apply still.

    So, when “God’s law” is used here, what is meant is the principles of Torah Law and the principles found in the rest of Scripture. God also places these principle in more general form within us, so even those who have never read Scripture can have a good general sense of God’s paradigmatic law.

    Hope that helps.

  • Isn’t this the truth? We do wear our busyness as a badge – I do, for sure. I’m going to think twice about givnig that answer with a roll of the eyes/weak smile again, “Busy!” It is of my own doing and it’s not how God asks me to live. Thank you for the gentle nudge 🙂