Reading 3 – Sunday, December 3, 2006
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” Ephesians 2:8.
Again and again we meet Christians to whom the concepts of the law and the gospel, or obedience and grace, present difficulties. They believe that a life under grace frees one from obedience to God’s law. Others fear that obeying the commandments of God brings about less reliance upon the mercy of God. The reason for these difficulties comes from not understanding the right relationship between the law and the gospel, or obedience to God’s commandments and the proffered grace of Christ. One does not give grace and obedience the proper place in a life with God.
A person may possess a treasure of great value; but if he is not aware of its value, the treasure is useless. A story will illustrate this: A poor old mother, living in the country, had a son in America. The mother, who had no relatives other than this son, was so poor that she almost starved to death. The neighbors said it was a shame that the son had forgotten his old mother and did not help her. Finally the pastor of the village was commissioned to investigate the matter. He visited the woman and asked whether she had heard anything from her son in America. “O yes,” said the woman, “he writes a letter now and then, and includes a strange-looking slip, but I do not know what it is all about; I cannot write myself to ask him what those slips mean.”
Following this, the woman went to get “those slips” and showed them to the pastor. What were they? They were not unimportant slips at all, but valuable American currency that the son had sent his mother for her support. She had carefully kept the valuable banknotes because they were from her son, whom she loved. She was rich but did not know it.
This story is symbolic of many ignorant Christians who own a large treasure. This treasure is hidden in God’s Word with its many precious promises. Whoever does not know how to apply the Word, and what its true value is, remains poor in the blessings of the Lord. A further result of this ignorance is that the spiritual life becomes dwarfed, for the hunger of the soul is not stilled. Just what is the clear, distinct relationship between grace and obedience?
What the law does for the sinner
“By the law is the knowledge of sin.” Romans 3:20. The apostle refers here to the Ten Commandments, because he later mentions the tenth commandment, “Thou shalt not covet.” Romans 7:7.
The law of God awakens a sense of guilt in the heart, as Paul says in Romans 3:20. An example helps explain this. If anyone drives his car through a red light, a policeman will stop the person and explain his violation of the traffic rules. Ignorance does not save him, or make him innocent. It is the same with the divine law, the transgression of which places all people, without exception, under guilt before God. Romans 3:23.
The law is a mirror
God’s law is a spiritual mirror. James 1:23, 24. The apostle James uses this illustration and describes what it means for the sinner to look into this mirror. “But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, … is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass.” James 1:25, 23.
The law of God, being perfect, is a clear mirror. Without it, a man cannot really visualize his sinfulness. He is also not really conscious of his guilt and does not feel the need of mercy and of a Redeemer.
David says of this law, or looking glass, that it is perfect. Psalm 19:7. Here every spot in a person’s character is shown, no matter how small it may be. In a fruit-packing plant, where apples were sorted, there was a slogan: “A spot today is a rotten apple tomorrow.” Thus God’s law tells us, “A small sin today lays the foundation for greater sins in the future.”
We all can see that God’s wisdom is revealed in giving us His law so we may become acquainted with our sinfulness and seek refuge in the Source of our redemption.
Without the knowledge of God’s law, man is like someone suffering from a terminal disease but not aware of it.The heart of man is not able to receive the healing power of the gospel, unless he is first pierced with the arrows of the law.
We have now seen that the law is an absolute necessity and that the mirror of the law is indispensable to awaken in us a feeling of need, so we will avail ourselves of divine grace.
What the law is not able to do for the sinner
The law cannot forgive any sin, or justify the sinner. And yet the sinner must be justified from sin. Of the publican in the parable, Jesus said: “This man went down to his house justified.” Luke 18:14. Paul declared, “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” Romans 3:20. Even though the law is perfect, it cannot make man perfect, but places all men under the curse, “under the law.”
Only the Lawgiver can forgive the transgression of the law. The law is not a needle that can sew up the wound that was caused by sin. The law is also not able to give the sinner power to conquer sin. Victory over sin is called “sanctification,” and this cannot take place through the law, but only through love and the reconciling power of Christ. Therefore Paul wrote, “If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.” Galatians 3:21. As it is impossible to clean oneself with a mirror, it is also impossible for the law to cleanse man from sin.
The meaning of grace
When a sinner has become convinced through the law of his guilt and sinfulness, he seeks for an escape. This escape is in Christ. That which the sinner cannot obtain through the law, Jesus Christ imparts to him as a gift. This is what was experienced by the woman who was caught in adultery. The law on which the Pharisees relied could not save her from death, but the grace of Christ was her only salvation.
John, the beloved disciple, said, “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” John 3:17, 18. Furthermore, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9.
“For what the law could not do,” wrote Paul, “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. Thus Jesus Christ was “made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” 1 Corinthians 1:30.
An example from life illustrates the meaning of grace: In the nineteenth century, many people migrated to America to search for gold. One emigrant became very rich in a short time, so he wrote to his wife that she should come to America with their eight-year-old son. Their journey went smoothly to Cape Horn. There the ship encountered a terrible storm. The passengers had to leave the ship and take their places in the lifeboats, for the ship began to sink.
The woman and her son were some of the last to reach the lifeboats. There she saw that all the boats were filled except for one place. It was the last moment, and quick action was essential. The mother did not hesitate – but placed her son in the boat and bade him farewell. The boat was launched, and the woman, with a few others, remained on the sinking ship. Her last words to her son were, “When you come to your father, tell him Mother died for you.” Then she sank down into the furious waves of the ocean.
What power love has! It is always ready for sacrifice! And yet Jesus revealed an even greater love, for He died for us when we were still His enemies; He died so we might find grace before God.
What is the law’s role in the lives of those saved by grace?
This is a very important question. What does the law have to do with the person whose sins are forgiven and who is saved by grace? Some people say, “Nothing whatsoever!” Is this correct? No! “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets.” Romans 3:21.
How simple and beautiful this truth is! The sinner looks into the mirror, the law, and recognizes his sinfulness. Then he goes to the place where he can obtain mercy—to Calvary—and asks for forgiveness and cleansing from his sins. He receives forgiveness and cleansing and, through the righteousness of Christ, is pronounced justified. Following this, he again looks into the law, into the mirror, and here he is assured that all is now well, that he is clean.
The same law that before declared him guilty and unclean tells him now, “I, the law of God, give witness to your righteousness which I, myself, could not give you; I acknowledge the righteousness which you have received through Jesus Christ.”
The new life – the life with Christ
Law and grace have now found their rightful place in the life of the believer. This is the beginning of a new life, and joy thrills the soul. The imputed righteousness now becomes an energetic righteousness because the converted man will put forth efforts not to fall into sin again by transgressing the law of God. Once he felt the curse of the law, but now, justified by grace, he will attempt to walk in the way of obedience to honor his Redeemer. “Let him that stole steal no more,” and so on.
The glory of redemption consists of having close communion, and living in harmony, with the will of God.
Love – the fulfillment of the law
Grace and the law are not two hostile concepts in the plan of redemption. They are two inseparable necessities for eternal life. This is why Paul says, “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.” Romans 3:31.
Grace, faith, love, and the law all have the same origin: God. All of them together come from God Himself and are placed into His service for the salvation of the sinner, to grant him eternal life. If a criminal or felon has been pardoned and his guilt is canceled, he does not thus receive license to commit new crimes and remain a convict.
Faith may be compared to a hand that is stretched out to accept the proffered grace. It also imparts to the believer strength to walk in the commandments of God. 1 John 5:4.
Love is the fulfilling of the law. Romans 13:10; John 14:15. Salvation by grace means a life in harmony with the will of God and activated by love.