"and he's not just whistling dixie either!"
A Closer Look at Law vs. Grace
Last month in this column, I believe that in my article about the meaning of "Fulfilled," my quotes from Dale Ratzlaff’s book made it abundantly plain that Christ did indeed fulfill – accomplish – the intent of the Law of Moses through his life, death, and resurrection. The Bible informs us that because of this, the law no longer has any claim against us once we have accepted Christ’s sacrifice in our stead. Therefore, it is very evident that we in this new covenant age are no longer under the law, but under grace (Romans 6:14). But just what does this mean? Are we now free to sin without worry of consequences? Wouldn’t this interpretation of grace lead to lawlessness and anarchy? These and other questions will be answered below.
Grace versus the law has long been a misunderstood subject among the various split-off COG’s. For some reason the concept of grace is not easily comprehended by some, especially if they have had a background of legalistic teachings, such as most of us have had. But if we can eventually get to the point where we can grasp that the law was only meant as a helper, and that REAL Christian growth comes through the love that enters our hearts and minds through God’s grace, then God’s real purpose and plan for our lives can finally start to come into focus.
|Reisinger's booklet "Grace" is available through Amazon|
Because this is such a vital subject to understand, and because I feel that John G. Reisinger has done such a good job explaining it, I have excerpted, with slight editing, portions from John’s booklet, "Grace," (New Covenant Media, Frederick, MD). It is a subject that may require a bit of study with an open mind for former legalists – but once understood the joy it brings is tremendous. Read on, and be prepared to rejoice as God reveals more about his grace toward us, and how our salvation is secure.
Grace in a "Nutshell"
Grace is perhaps the most precious word in the Christian’s vocabulary. There is not a more dynamic word in all of the theology of redemption. The believer sings about grace, he hopes in grace, he prays for grace, and it is upon grace that he depends for his entire relationship with God.
The whole theology of salvation in the New Testament Scriptures is a constant contrast between a religion of works base on obedience to the old legal covenant and the religion of grace based on the new gracious covenant established by Christ. The contrast looks like this:
Old Covenant = Law—Works—Sin—Death
New Covenant = Grace—Faith—Righteousness—Life
There are those who believe that "the law" holds the key to Christian growth, those who would emphasize the law in the conscience as the God-ordained schoolmaster for saints. And conversely, there are those who put their emphasis on what the New Covenant teaches, and believe that a true understanding of grace frees the conscience from the law through marriage to Christ. These conflicting beliefs cannot be both true. Can the fruits of these two divergent views be examined, in an attempt to determine which one really produces a close relationship with God? I believe so.
Let me illustrate what I mean. I think this example sums up the vast differences between law and grace in an easily handled nutshell:
Suppose a newly married man wanted the love between he and his wife to grow and to create genuine faithfulness to each other. Each morning before he left for work, he would remind her that it is her duty not to commit adultery. During a given month, they would study each day the various things that lead up to adultery so she could be fortified against this sin. Would such a climate be the best way to promote love and faithfulness? We are all in total agreement that it is the woman’s duty to love her husband and not to commit adultery. We all want to help her achieve that goal. The real question is this: what is the best way to help the wife grow in love and faithfulness in her heart and life? Will CONSTANTLY REMINDING her of her duty produce sincere love? Is it possible that 30 days of studying the little things that lead up to adultery MIGHT actually plant some seeds in her mind that she would have never thought of?
Suppose instead of the "remember your duty" method, the husband, before he left for work, would kiss his wife and remind her of how much he loved her. At ten o’clock he phoned her and said, "I was thinking about you. I thank the Lord constantly for all you have brought into my life. How about we go out for supper to that Chinese restaurant you like so much." Would love and faithfulness have a better chance in the second atmosphere than the first? I think the answer is obvious.
We all know too many preachers, who although sincere, are exactly like the husband mentioned earlier in the story. They hope to produce love and faithfulness by a constant reminder of duty. They send the sheep home every week with the rod of Moses on their backs. It is little wonder that there is usually little Christian growth observed, but more likely an attitude of "hanging in there" and a constant attitude of the fear of slipping. Not exactly the type of life of joy that Christ came to bring! Not a life lived in conquering, but one lived in the fear of failure.
It should be noted that the more sincere a child of God is in his Christian life, the more he realizes the depth of his depravity and guilt. Unless he grasps in his conscience the glorious truth of justification by faith on the grounds of the imputed righteousness of Christ, it will be very easy to "try harder to please God" as a means of gaining assurance. Such tender sheep are an easy prey for law preachers who use guilt to manipulate and control. The reverse is also true. The more shallow the knowledge of sin, the more the need of a remedy that actually deals with the power of sin until he sees himself as its impotent victim. Such a person is looking for a ministry that never presses duty nor the necessary evidence of a changed life. Contrary to the popularly held belief among legalistic believers, the truly repentant Christian is not looking for loopholes that will allow him to sin.
Are we wrong in believing that grace will finish the job that it starts? Should we not encourage God’s weak sheep in believing that their ultimate guarantee of not falling away lies totally in their Shepherd’s sovereign purpose and power? Or should we constantly be afraid of joyous assurance and do all in our power to make Christians doubt their salvation so they will redouble their efforts to "keep the law" in the hopes of finding peace of conscience?
No one would dare deny that the cross is the starting point for the child of God, but do not some preachers lose the cross and exalt Moses in the Christian life? The real question is this: "Does the believer work and obey BECAUSE of the assurance of his salvation, or does he work IN ORDER TO SECURE assurance of salvation? Which is the ROOT, and which is the FRUIT? A good root will always produce good fruit. Is law or grace the root that produces holy living in a sheep of Christ?
The legalist keeps wanting to say, "Yes, but," and then proceeds to qualify, hedge, and guard grace until it is stripped of its power. In actuality, the basic foundation of the true legalist’s theology is this: he believes that the ONLY WAY to produce holy living is by planting the law in the Christian’s conscience and constantly reminding him of his duty. This will always lead to a believer to try to find assurance of his acceptance with God in the fruits of his sanctification.
Such a poor deluded believer will keep looking inside of himself for evidences upon which he can build his assurance instead of looking outside himself to an enthroned Lord for all of his hope. The theology of Paul is to look away from the law and to Christ alone. True holiness grows out of the assurance of acceptance with God, and that acceptance has absolutely nothing to do with either the law or your obedience. It is rooted in the blood and righteousness of Christ alone.
A legalist is terrified of a happy believer who consistently exhibits "love, joy, peace" and the other fruits of the Spirit. In the eyes of a legalist such a person is dangerous. The legalist sincerely believes that "really Godly people" are never that overly happy and joyous. They are seriously working on their sanctification and constantly groaning under their failure to keep the whole law.
The legalist believes that the proper occupation of a "serious and growing Christian" is to be in constant examination of himself in the light of the Ten Commandments to see how well he is progressing in holiness. Since those commandments rightly demand ABSOLUTE PERFECTION, and the poor soul, despite his sincerity, cannot even come close to sinless perfection, he must therefore ALWAYS be doubting his salvation. The more sincere he is in his efforts to keep the law, the deeper will be his doubt and despair. He must try harder and harder to obey the commandments in order to prove he is a child of God before his conscience will be quiet. If such a person continues to sit under a ministry that constantly emphasizes nothing but law and duty, they will be "of all men most miserable."
Law, when allowed to reign in the conscience in any covenantal sense, can only condemn anything less than perfection. The purpose of the law as a covenant was not to show man grace but to show him his great NEED of grace. True law cannot show an ounce of grace, it can only bless perfection and curse the SLIGHTEST infraction.
A true legalist must, because of his own miserable experience, look at the happy believer as a deceived hypocrite. The poor legalist has NO assurance and joy despite all his efforts at law keeping, and must, as a result, resent and suspect the happy believer of either hypocrisy or easy-believism.
What does Romans 6:14 really mean? It means exactly what it says! The Christian is literally NOT UNDER THE LAW, but in contrast, he is UNDER GRACE. The statement is clear if you will just accept it as written. The law, as covenant law, can neither bless a child of God nor can it condemn him. The law, in no sense whatsoever, can touch the Christian. It has no power to make him holy and it has not power to condemn him. He is free of the law.
Perhaps the best illustration of a Christian’s relationship to the law is to compare it to what is known as diplomatic immunity.
When an ambassador from a foreign country, France, for example, comes to the United States, he is totally free from the laws of the USA. It does not matter what he does, he cannot be arrested. If a policeman would stop him for driving 90 miles and hour, all the ambassador need do is show his credentials and the policeman will apologize for stopping him. An ambassador may shoot and kill a person in front of ten witnesses, but he cannot be prosecuted. He literally is not, in any sense whatever, under the law of the USA. The most our government can do is ask the man’s country to take him home.
Some people may say, "Well, if those people can do whatever they want without fear of punishment, I am sure they must live unruly and riotous lives." Actually, any ambassador worth his salt is always more careful about keeping our laws than many of our own citizens. However, fear of punishment has nothing at all to do with his reason for obeying. If he were a true ambassador he would say, "I am not afraid of anything. However, my job is to represent my government and country in such a way that you, and your fellow citizens, will see what kind of people we are. How I behave has a great effect on your opinion of my country."
This is the exact picture of the Christian. He consciously wants to know God’s will so he can obey it. He is not afraid because he knows he is totally free from the law; however, the child of God wants his good works to glorify his Father in heaven. The assurance that he is delivered from the law no more makes a Christian ambassador careless about his life than it does a secular ambassador. The only people who have a problem with this glorious truth are those sincere, but very misguided, people who believe you can produce true holy living by putting the conscience under the law.
Putting a true ambassador from France under the law of the USA would produce less true obedience to our law than diplomatic immunity. A person who would abuse their immunity is not a true ambassador. He is a phony hypocrite and his country would soon disown him. The same thing is true of a person who professes to be a child of God and lives in willful sin. He is as phony as a three-dollar bill. Such a person’s problem cannot be solved by applying the law. In actual fact, his problem is not law; his problem is that he was never regenerated and indwelt by the Holy Spirit; his real problem is that he never came under the power of sovereign grace.
A man once said to Spurgeon, "If I believed your doctrine of eternal security, I would live like the Devil." Spurgeon replied, "Of course you would. That’s because you are a Devil." A true ambassador of France will live like a law-abiding Frenchman because that is what he is and he wants people to know it for his country’s sake. An ambassador of Christ will seek with all his strength to live a law-abiding life because he wants his Father in heaven to be glorified. That is what sovereign grace accomplishes in those who TRULY receive it. Law preaching can NEVER accomplish the same thing in anyone. If your heart does not earnestly want to obey every known duty to God, then your heart is not under grace. Grace makes men and women to be law keepers. Law stimulates sin in a believer (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:56) and actually is used by sin to push one to be a law breaker.
[Note: some people have a real problem understanding grace simply because they confuse basic salvation (which is through faith in Christ alone) and the rewards for works (which will affect the quality of enjoyment of that free salvation). I Cor. 3:11-15 tells us that "no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he will be saved, yet so as through fire." Clearly, works are not an issue in obtaining salvation, but will affect one’s level of enjoyment of that salvation. In other words, sin will still have its consequences when the eternal rewards are meted out, but will not prevent the true believer from obtaining salvation.]
The most joyful and happy people are always the most holy, and likewise, the most holy people are also the most truly contented and happy. This means that a person professing to love God’s grace while living in sin is the worst of liars. Those two things are impossible if grace is "God’s power unto salvation." Likewise, it means that if a legalist says he "loves God’s grace" while living in fear, defeat, and morbid doubt, he is just as big a liar. Those two things, like the two just mentioned, are impossible unless God’s grace is powerless.
Till next time, here’s whistlin’ at ya!