Grace Versus Law
Primary Biblical Text: Galatians
After Paul had evangelized the churches of Galatia, he received disturbing news that they were falling away from the gospel he had taught them (Galatians 1:6). Certain religious activists had visited Galatia after Paul’s departure and persuaded Believers that the gospel presented by Paul was insufficient (Galatians 1:7). They sought to entangle them in the Law by insisting a person must be circumcised according to the law of Moses (Galatians 5:12) and must keep the Sabbath and other Jewish holy days (4:10), including the Jewish ceremonial law (5:3). These “troublers” as Paul calls them (Judaizers), taught that both faith and works—belief in Jesus and obedience to the Law—were necessary for salvation.1
While this may not seem to be a relevant issue for the church today, one merely needs to look at the numerous instances of supposedly “free” churches adding their own form of legalism to their membership. Most of us have seen churches who will not marry a couple where one or both were divorced; but the same church welcomes the couple already divorced and remarried by someone else, so they can receive the benefit of their financial gifts—as well as adding one more family to their legalistic aquarium! Or the stringent rules applied to dress and hairstyle—woe to the woman who wears pants to the legalist church, or the longhaired teen who dares to darken their door.
Let’s not be deceived into thinking legalism is dead—it is alive and well today, and it was very much alive in Paul’s day. Most often we deal with the subtle form rooted in traditional excesses; Paul dealt with another form of deadly legalism—the mixing of the Mosaic Law with Grace. We will seek to answer three basic questions to get at the root of the issue:
1. What was the purpose of the Law?
2. Does the Law produce a righteousness that Grace could never produce?
3. Are those who live under the Law more “spiritual” than those who live under Grace?
By answering these questions, my intent is to, (1) cause us to recognize the purpose of the Law and its role within our faith, and (2) to see that other forms of legalism are just as destructive and deadly to one’s faith. We will conclude that salvation that adds anything or any work is not salvation at all—but another, different gospel from the one given to us by Paul. To add to grace, is to place a weight on the shoulders of adherents, which the Lord Jesus Christ neither intended nor taught. Further it distorts the Gospel into just another man-made religion and brings into question the genuineness not only of those who perpetuate it, but those who follow either willingly or blindly!
Question One: What was the purpose of the Law?
The “Believer” Under Law:
The “believer” under the Law sees the Mosaic Law differently from those of us who live under Grace. The Law is a set of detailed obligations that must be kept to please God. Old Testament references are used to support their position while the New Testament is largely ignored. When the NT is referenced, it is only to pull passages out of context, or to misapply biblical truths in ways that reinforce their wrong assumptions.
Old Testament practices are often rigidly applied. The celebration of feasts, festivals and Sabbaths are viewed as the foundation of one’s faith, rather than the finished work of Christ. The Law is viewed not just as a “school teacher” to lead people to Christ, but as necessary for one’s relationship with God. Instead of the Law being the means God used to lead people to Christ, it becomes the way fully to please and know God! They would say in some form, “The Law must be obeyed to know God, apart from the Law you will never come as close to God as I am!”*
The Believer Under Grace:
The Believer under grace sees the purpose of the Law quite differently. The Law served the purpose of revealing to us principles to bring us to the ultimate goal: “…to know Christ and Him crucified.” (Gal 2:20) Paul clearly states the full truth when he says,
Galatians 2:20,21 NLT
20 I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me. So I live my life in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I am not one of those who treats the grace of God as meaningless. For if we could be saved by keeping the law, then there was no need for Christ to die.
Look closely at his statement, “I live…life…by trusting in the Son of God…I am not one of those who treats the grace of God as meaningless…if we could be saved by keeping the law…there was no need for Christ to die.”
He clearly implies that one who replaces the Law with Grace is saying that the grace of God, the Son of God, and the Cross of Christ are all meaningless!
*The Law was a “shadow” of the more complete, which was revealed in Christ: 9,10
16 So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new-moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. 17 For these rules were only shadows of the real thing, Christ himself. (Colossians 2:16-19 NLT)
*Grace pre-dates the Law, and the Law was fulfilled by Christ: 9,10
15 Dear brothers and sisters, here’s an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or amend an irrevocable agreement, so it is in this case. 16 God gave the promise to Abraham and his child. And notice that it doesn’t say the promise was to his children, as if it meant many descendants. But the promise was to his child—and that, of course, means Christ. 17 This is what I am trying to say: The agreement God made with Abraham could not be canceled 430 years later when God gave the law to Moses. God would be breaking his promise. 18 For if the inheritance could be received only by keeping the law, then it would not be the result of accepting God’s promise. But God gave it to Abraham as a promise. 19 Well then, why was the law given? It was given to show people how guilty they are. But this system of law was to last only until the coming of the child to whom God’s promise was made…21 Well then, is there a conflict between God’s law and God’s promises? Absolutely not! If the law could have given us new life, we could have been made right with God by obeying it. 22 But the Scriptures have declared that we are all prisoners of sin, so the only way to receive God’s promise is to believe in Jesus Christ.
23 Until faith in Christ was shown to us as the way of becoming right with God, we were guarded by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until we could put our faith in the coming Savior.
24 Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian and teacher to lead us until Christ came. So now, through faith in Christ, we are made right with God. 25 But now that faith in Christ has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian. (Galatians 3:15-25 NLT)
So if you insist that the Law is a set of detailed obligations that must be kept to please God, and if you insist in practicing Old Testament festivals, sabbaths and feasts, and if you insist they or any combination of them are necessary for a relationship with God—then you are proclaiming a gospel different from Paul and are therefore still in your sins! And in similar manner, any practice, any guideline, any rule or law required to know God or walk with God, other than the grace He has given in Jesus Christ, is also an addition to the grace of God and brings into question the genuineness of what you call faith. To add to grace, is to add to salvation and deny the all sufficient work of Jesus Christ on the cross! You say you are saved by the additional laws and regulations you obey? The scripture says, “…it is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who twist and change the truth concerning Christ.” (Gal 1:6 NLT)
Question Two: Does the Law produce a righteousness that Grace could never produce? To answer this we will look at the work of Christ in Atonement..
The “Believer” Under Law:
The Believer under the Law says the cross did not remove the obligation to keep the Law. In making such an allegation they are also saying that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was not sufficient to cleanse us from all sin, and by keeping the Law I supplement what He failed to do. The Law then becomes the supplement to grace and undermines the work of Christ in atoning for our sin. To add any law or rule is to say by actions, if not by mouth, that Christ alone cannot save! To make such an allegation not only undermines grace and the work of Christ, it enhances the Law with the power to produce righteousness and calls God a liar!
The Believer Under Grace:
The Believer under grace understands that Jesus paid for all sin; Christ alone fulfilled all the requirements of the Law. The Old Covenant was completed, fulfilled, set aside! (Gal 3:15-25) Jesus Christ, not the Mosaic Law, was the sacrifice once for all time and is sufficient to atone for, to pay for, all our sins—past, present, and future (Heb 10:1-18) 6
If I sin, Christ’s blood alone is sufficient to cleanse me (1 Jn 1:8-2:2). Salvation is all grace with no mixture of works (Eph 2:8-9). Works are the fruit of the believer, not the basis of salvation (Eph 2:10). Christ alone did what the Law could not do, what the Law was never meant to do—He saved us!
Sadly, many people will agree that the Old Testament Mosaic Law was never meant to save us—yet in the next breath add their own list of other rules and regulations to grace!
· “If you divorce, you are forever cursed!”
· “If you take a drink, you will go straight to hell!”
· “If your skin color is not the same as mine, God loves you less!”
· “Wear those pants to church and God won’t have a thing do to with you!”
· “If you don’t have 2 hours of prayer every day—God can’t use you!”
· “If you are not baptized by Southern Baptist hands, you are not saved!”
Oh, we may not say these things—that wouldn’t be “loving”. So we hide them inside and meanwhile thank God we are not like other people!
Question Three: Are those who live under the Law more “spiritual” than those who live under Grace?
The “Believer” Under Law:
The Believer under Law sees himself as able to keep the law and the law helps him live for God. The mindset is often, “I am better than others, if only they were as spiritual as I am, the Church would be better off!”
However there is no basis for the belief, other than the “feeling” that God is pleased, or the misunderstanding that every good thing that occurs is because God is blessing them for keeping the Law. And when problems come, they are viewed as attacks from the enemy to discourage them from keeping the Law. Unfortunately, they fail to recognize the fallacy of leaning on feelings, the error of trusting circumstances to determine the pleasure of God, and their own arrogance in thinking themselves as better than those who do not practice faith mixed with Law!
The Believer Under Grace:
As a saved member of the body of Christ, I have come to realize I still can't keep the law, because my "old man", (Ro 7) is still within me, but if I rely on the Spirit, not the letter, I can gradually change (2 Cor 5:17-19). I am in constant need to grow in my faith through my personal walk with God, and an intelligent, deep study of the Word of God (2 Tim 5:17; Ro 12:1,2)
I realize I must obey Christ’s commands and teachings (1 Cor 14:23-31), yet I know the Law was completely fulfilled in Christ, setting me free (Ro 6:15; Gal 4:12), and I no longer must follow a list of dead rules and regulations that cannot save! Only through Christ do I have strength to abide.
What was the purpose of the Law? The Law was a “shadow” of the more complete, which was revealed in the person of Christ. Its purpose was to lead us to Christ, who fulfilled the Law!
Does the Law produce a righteousness that Grace could never produce? No! Jesus Christ alone paid for all sin! Christ alone fulfilled all the requirements of the Law. Jesus Christ, not the Mosaic Law, was the sacrifice once for all time to atone for our sin.
Are those who live under the Law more “spiritual” than those who live under Grace? No, quite the contrary! Under grace we understand that Christ alone provides the strength and even the will to obey. By His grace we grow in our faith, and by His grace we have relationship with Him. All we are is by and through his grace, apart from any works of righteousness we have done!
As with Paul we say, “I live…life…by trusting in the Son of God…I am not one of those who treats the grace of God as meaningless…if we could be saved by keeping the law…there was no need for Christ to die.” I will not replace Grace! The grace of God, the Son of God, and the Cross of Christ are sufficient! I do not need to mix Law and Grace to please God!