Grace and Law in the New Testament

Tuesday, July 24, 2012
I wrote an article a few years back on instrumental music in which I made the following statement:

"There were instruments of music used in Old Testament worship. Why was it okay to use them? Because there was word from God approving such under the Law of Moses (read the Psalms). Why is it wrong to use them today? Because there is no word from God approving such under the law of Christ under which we live today."

One would think a statement like that would not cause any controversy among my brethren but one of my progressive brethren wrote about it on his blog. He wrote, "Some authors want to argue that 'law of Christ' means we're still under law, just a different law from the Law of Moses," and then gives my name and quotes what I wrote above and says that is not true.

He says, "But if that's true, then how do we fulfill the law? Well, Paul says we fulfill the law of Christ by bearing one another's burdens. He doesn't say 'sing a cappella and so fulfill the law of Christ'! You see he'd just said in chapter 5 that love compels us to serve one another. He's just giving us an example of how to do exactly that."

I thought I would deal with my brother's objections in this article. The phrase "law of Christ" is found only once in the NKJV of the Bible and that is in Gal. 6:2. I want to quote it in context as follows:

"Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass [the NIV, NET, and NLT translations use the word 'sin'-”DS], you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." (Gal. 6:1-2 NKJV)

What is a trespass if it is not a violation of the law of God (of Christ)? I ask that in view of the declaration by my brother that we are not under law today. I could say case closed right here and now, point proven, but there is more. If I bear my brethren's burdens have I fulfilled the law of Christ in its entirety or have I only fulfilled that much of it which relates to my relationship with my brethren in the matters under discussion? Is this an exhaustive fulfillment of the law of Christ mentioned here in Gal. 6:2?

Here is a quick answer in the form of a question. Is there anything in the law of Christ about worshipping God or is all the law of Christ exclusively about man's relationship with his fellowman and brethren? God does require your worship does he not? Did not Jesus say (the law of Christ) that "those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." (John 4:24 NKJV) Is that law or is it just a kindly suggestion?

Let me ask a question-”can grace and law co-exist? I get the idea sometimes that some of my progressive brethren think they cannot but the fact is if there is no law there is no sin and thus no need for grace. What is sin? "Sin is the transgression of the law." (1 John 3:4 KJV) Law has to exist for sin to exist. "For where there is no law there is no transgression." (Rom. 4:15 NKJV) "Sin is not imputed when there is no law." (Rom. 5:13 NKJV) Most versions say sin is lawlessness. Lawlessness is a failure to obey the law. If there is need for grace it is because of sin and sin only comes as a result of breaking the law of God. If I wrote no more this is all I would need to write to prove that Christ does have a law in existence today that men live under and must obey.

Having said that I want the reader to understand I am not saying the Bible teaches we are under law as the saving principle of our salvation. Paul cannot make that any plainer than when he says, "You are not under law but under grace." (Rom. 6:14 NKJV) However, Paul immediately goes on, "What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?" (Rom. 6:15-16 NKJV) Where there is sin or the possibility of sin there is law by God's own definition of sin (1 John 3:3 KJV).

Paul, in talking about his relationship to those he taught, said he was under law to Christ. He said he became, "To those who are without law [a reference to the Gentiles-”DS], as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law." (1 Cor. 9:21 NKJV) The ESV says in this passage, "under the law of Christ." The writer of the book of Hebrews says, "For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law." (Heb. 7:12 NKJV) Law is changed but law itself is not done away with. Man is thus under law from God but not the kind of law as was found under Moses where salvation was dependent upon perfect law keeping and grace (forgiveness) did not exist. When Paul says we are not under law that is the kind of law he is talking about.

Here is another passage teaching we are under law. Paul says we are to be spiritually minded. "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit." (Rom. 8:1 NKJV-”see also verse 4) Then he says in verse 6 that to be carnally minded is death "but to be spiritually minded is life and peace." (Rom. 8:6 NKJV) What is wrong with the carnal mind? "The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be." (Rom 8:7 NKJV) So, the spiritually minded man is in subjection to the law of God as sure as two and two is four and we thus have additional revelation showing we are under law.

Many of the progressive brethren think, without cause, and I don't know why they think it, but you can tell them a thousand times and they will not change their mind, that conservative brethren in the church think we can be saved by law keeping. We can read the same as they can. We went to school, even college and graduate school sometimes, and we can read passages such as Gal. 3:11, "But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for "THE JUST SHALL LIVE BY FAITH" (NKJV) and we understand it. In fact, the word "the" in the phrase "the law" in this passage is an added word not found in the Greek. God never gave a law that could give life. "For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law." (Gal. 3:21 NKJV) No such law exists. We will not be saved by a law keeping principle which would require perfection as under the Law of Moses but it is certain we will not be saved by law breaking.

One is either going to obey sin leading to death or obedience leading to righteousness (Rom. 6:16) like it or not. Why? Because those are the only choices God offers. Jesus is the author of eternal salvation to all those who obey him (Heb. 5:9) not to all who don't want to obey the "rulebook of Christ" as my brother refers to it thinking I think that is what it is. He says, "Does the 'law of Christ' mean the 'rulebook of Christ'? No. It means submitting to the Spirit's work in us to become people who express their faith through love." Those are his words.

I would like to know how my brother would propose to submit to the Spirit's work in us to express our faith through love without submitting himself to the spirit's commands. Jesus said, "If you love Me, keep My commandments." (John 14:14 NKJV) Where are those commandments to be found if not in Christ's law, if not in Christ's rulebook; where are those commandments to be found if there is no law today from God? Is a commandment a suggestion or a law?

Do I think the New Testament is a rulebook of Christ? Suppose I say no, what then? Has my brother thought it through? He says no it is not a rulebook. So then there are no rules? Is that the idea? I don't think you will get a progressive to go that far with it for they know they cannot so that puts my brother in the position of saying on the one hand "no it is not a rulebook" but then on the other hand "yes it is." Well, it either is or it isn't.

Here is my answer. Yes, I think the New Testament has rules I must obey or else sin. Now what is the difference between the Law of Moses as a rulebook and the law of Christ as a rulebook? There was no grace to be found in the Law of Moses, there is grace in the law of Christ. Much of the book of Galatians is telling the Galatians over and over again forget it you cannot be saved by the Law of Moses, it is impossible. Paul even talks about the curse of the law (Gal. 3:13). Why could not a man be saved under it? Because "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23 NKJV) and no provision was made in that law for forgiveness. "It is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins." (Heb. 10:4 NKJV)

Christ's rulebook is described as "a better covenant" than that of Moses and his law. (Heb. 8:6-7) It is better because it has Christ in it, a perfect sacrifice for sins. As for the law, "the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices (that of bulls and goats-”DS), which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect." (Heb. 10:1 NKJV) I emphasize the words "can never" in that passage. But as for Christ and the new rulebook, or covenant, the Hebrew writer says, "By one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified." (Heb. 10:14 NKJV) The Law of Moses did not have Christ in it, nor his sacrifice, and thus had no way of delivering forgiveness to man.

Grace does not mean one does not have law to obey. When Noah found grace in God's eyes (Gen. 6:8) he still had a boat to build, one that had specifications that had to be met, if he was to be saved. The fact we are saved by grace does not mean we can be disobedient. Jesus is "the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him." (Heb. 5:9 NKJV)

But the progressive element in the church leaves me with the impression sometimes that they think their obedience is motivated by love whereas the other part of the church, that part with the old mean conservatives, obey out of a desire to effect perfect law keeping and obtain salvation that way. Well, men can dream wild dreams if they want. I cannot prevent that. However, here is something all ought to keep in mind and the Holy Spirit said it, not me, "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments." (1 John 5:3 NKJV) "This is love, that we walk according to His commandments." (2 John 6 NKJV)

The Greek word for "love" in the two passages just quoted is "agape." It is the common word found in the Greek that is translated by the word love in our language. This Greek word does not mean what we Americans generally think of when the word love is used in our culture. Love to us means emotions, feelings. Agape is a word of action, of doing, of acts, not of feeling. It is more a will, a determination, than an emotion. I will obey, I will help my brother, etc.

Maybe this will help explain it (from W. E. Vine's An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words), "Love can be known only from the actions it prompts. God's love is seen in the gift of His Son, 1 John 4:9, 10. But obviously this is not the love of complacency, or affection, that is, it was not drawn out by any excellency in its objects, Rom. 5:8. It was an exercise of the Divine will in deliberate choice, made without assignable cause save that which lies in the nature of God Himself." We are to love as God loves. Note what I just quoted, the phrase "an exercise of the Divine will." Jesus did not want to go to the cross. We know his agony about it even before being arrested from his prayers in the garden. He chose to go through with it. Not an emotion (the emotion was to avoid it), but a will, a decision, a determination.

Why is this important? Because the progressive will place great emphasis on love without explaining to you that love is basically the will to obey. Love is obedience, obedience to commandments which is obedience to law.

There is more I would like to say but it will have to come in a follow up article, Lord willing. (I am required to keep my articles under 2500 words to post on certain web sites.) I am glad we live under grace not law for I have broken the law of God countless times to my shame and those sins have had consequences in my life, hurtful ones, and they haunt me just as Paul's memories of persecuting Christians remained with him (1 Cor. 15:9 NKJV). I know I can never live up to God's standard as I have failed too many times already but I know I do not have to be the perfect Christian in obedience. I just have to give it a full faith effort and then leave it in the hands of a gracious God.