Grace and Law - The Ten Commandments

Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. He said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:1–5

Implied in the serpent’s statement is the thought that not only is God somehow benefited at man’s expense by his obedience but also tremendous advantages can be gained through disobedience.

Oh, it is worded a little differently now, but the same story is still around—eternal life is not dependent on obedience, but it is rather a matter of grace. According to this view, the individual becomes the recipient of this divine benefit based on a one-time experience. This experience is an awareness of being in a lost condition and the recognition of the fact that salvation is found only in Jesus. Too often his response is one which leads to merely giving a mental assent to the fact that Jesus died to save him.

The law?—Oh, that is no longer binding; we are not under the Law but under grace; Jesus did away with the Law on the cross.

This raises a question. Is there any scriptural evidence that eternal life will be granted irrespective of obedience? Is there any source, aside from the serpent, that has promised man life while he disregards God’s expressed will? We must examine the evidence carefully, for our eternal destiny is the issue at stake.

Grace and Future Obedience

Suppose you are driving down the highway. The speed limit is clearly posted, but, as can so often happen, your speed creeps up. Everything is fine and you have almost lost track of the discrepancy between your speed and the posted limit. Suddenly you come around a corner and there is the officer with radar. Of course, you make an adjustment in your speed; and by the time he gets to you, you are again going the speed limit.

Can your adjusted obedience to the speed law save you from a citation? Of course not, you broke the law and neither your present obedience, nor for that matter your future obedience, will save you from the penalty of having broken the law.

Next, let us suppose that you go into court and explain your situation to the judge. After listening to you, the judge believes that you have sincerely repented of your mistake and he has compassion on you. He decides to set aside the penalty that the broken law demands. He has not changed the law in any way; he has merely exercised toward you what we might call grace. This he has the discretion to do. While the law makes no allowance for mistakes, grace can.

If much of Christian theology is correct, we must carry this story to its logical conclusion. You leave, greatly relieved, and return to the highway. Being the recipient of grace, you now appreciate that you are not under the law, but under grace.

Realizing that you are no longer under the law, but under grace, you resume driving as you were when you had your first encounter with the officer. Eventually you again meet the same officer under similar circumstances. The officer in carrying out the duties of his office, again stops you. Is this your opportunity to explain that you are no longer under the law, but under grace? Do you believe that such an explanation will impress him? Going beyond that, do you think that the judge will recognize you the day you walk in before him and that he will gently inform the officer that you are not under the state speeding laws? He has extended grace to you and you chose to accept it.

I believe that we have carried this story far enough to appreciate that this concept of grace cannot work with human laws.

Jesus’ Attitude Toward the Law

Jesus said: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:17–19. Later when approached by one who desired to know the secret of eternal life, He answered: “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” Matthew 19:17. Jesus very clearly linked obedience with life.

Jesus plainly taught that He did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. Lest we be led to believe that having fulfilled the requirements of the Law in His own life, Jesus had satisfied its claims and now it was no longer in force, notice what we are told in 1 Peter 2:21–22: “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth.”

We find in Revelation that at the end of time, the anger of Satan is particularly kindled against those who keep God’s commandments—not just those who profess a relationship with Jesus. “And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” Revelation 12:17. The gates of the heavenly city open to those who were obedient, not to those over whom the flesh reigned. “Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.” Revelation 22:14

Grace—A New Dispensation?

We are not left to wonder if this were a new dispensation, for Paul tells us that it was not by works of the law that Abraham received salvation, but by faith. Romans 4:13. We find that the question of obedience was never the issue in Paul’s thinking. Men will obey; it is just a matter of whom they will obey. “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” Romans 6:16. Neither was there any question whether or not obedience to the law was related to salvation, but rather, how it would be kept. “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.” Romans 2:13

What then does it mean to be under grace? Simply put, it means forgiveness for past sins and strength to live the life that Christ lived—perfect obedience to His Father’s will. “He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked.” “Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work.” 1 John 2:6; John 4:34. (See Psalm 40:8.)

On the one hand, we have a law that man in his fallen condition cannot keep. See Romans 7:14–29. On the other, we have salvation that cannot be obtained without obedience. (See Romans 2:13.) How do we reconcile these two things?—By grace. Grace does not make void the law. (See Romans 3:31.) Instead it enables the sinner to live out its principles fully, thus establishing that this perfect standard of conduct has been inscribed on his heart in fulfillment of the new covenant promise.

“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them.” Hebrews 10:16. What is to the natural man an insupportable burden is, to the born again Christian in Christ, a yoke most easy to bear. (See Matthew 11:29-30.) In the place of bondage, it brings liberty—not liberty to disregard the Law but freedom from the power of sin that prevents him from living out the Law’s principles in his life. (See James 1:25; Romans 8:7–10; 6:6–7.)

If, however, the Law was not to be the standard by which our conduct is to be measured, it becomes an irrelevant document. Following from cause to effect, there can then be no sin; for the only definition we have of sin in the Scriptures is transgression of the Law. “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the Law: for sin is the transgression of the Law.” 1 John 3:4. The next logical question would be: Of what purpose, then, is grace?

Salvation From Sin

We must recognize that Jesus came to save us, not in our sins, nor only from the just reward of sin—death (See Romans 6:23), but from sin itself. He does not accomplish this by removing the standard but by writing its very principles on our heart so that even our thoughts and motives are in harmony with its precepts. (See 2 Corinthians 10:3–5.)

Inherent in any rebellion is the allegation that the rebel would establish a better way of doing things. As God’s rule of government is His Law, this then becomes the pivotal point in the great controversy. If Christ came to condemn (do away with) the Law, He would have thus given credibility to Satan’s charges against God’s Law. Instead, by living out its principles in weak flesh, He condemned the sin that existed there. “For what the Law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” Romans 8:3. The problem was not with the Law but with the weak flesh. Christ, in that flesh, overcame the power of sin, thus enabling Him to impart to us His power which enables us to live lives of obedience. (See Romans 8:3–4, 37.)

Love’s Relationship to the Law

Men fail to realize that the action of the will that despises the external restraint of law in favor of self-determination is an act of self-deification. That is to say, when men believe that they are no longer under the restraint of God’s Law, they no longer have a standard of right and wrong. Though they may not realize it, they have set aside the divine standard for one of their own choosing. In essence, they have proclaimed that they are as God, able to determine good and evil. The idea that Christian love can be used to make of no effect the requirements of the Law, thereby freeing men to decide for themselves good and evil, is but an echo of the words of the serpent—“Ye shall be gods, knowing good and evil.”

The Law—Good Advice?

If the Law of God is something we are to recognize as merely good advice and generally to be appreciated for its value, while retaining an inability to follow its precepts, we might more appropriately title that Law the Ten Suggestions.

We cannot expect to follow the dictates of our natural hearts here, living a lifetime of disobedience and rebellion against God’s expressed will, and still have Him recognize us as belonging to Him when He returns. “Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name? and in Thy name have cast out devils? and in Thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from Me, ye that work iniquity.” Matthew 7:21–23

When Christ returns, there will be only two groups of people upon the earth—the obedient and those who are not. In which group will you be?

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