August 12, 2017

Law? Or Grace?

Several ‘Christian’ denominations stress the importance of keeping God’s Law, usually citing the Ten Commandments. At least one of them teaches that a person is not saved that way, but if they are not keeping those commands by the time they die, they will be lost.

In other words, most denominations say we are not saved by keeping the Law, yet add that it is the rule for Christian living. The problem with rules is that we try to keep them ‘in the flesh’ intending to please God and become more ‘godly’ but the Bible is clear — our justification and sanctification is in Christ, not in law-keeping. Besides, if we cannot keep the Law to be saved, how can we keep it to be righteous?

As today’s devotional reading points out, the apostle Paul is dismayed by such reasoning! He says, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3)

He also plainly says that he died to the Law so he could live to God. His reasoning? It is also in the New Testament book of Galatians.  

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” (Galatians 2:20–21)

To those Galatians, and to all who turn to the Law as their rule for life, Paul also says: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)

Since Christ is my righteousness, relying on what I can do to make my redemption visible is contrary to grace. If I try to please God by rule-keeping, I have fallen from grace and Christ has no value in my life.

This was a difficult concept in the early church because it was mostly Israelites that had converted. They loved the good news that Christ died for them, but they also understood the Law as a covenant with God. How could they abandon what had been so important to them?

Paul used an allegory to illustrate what these Galatians were doing. He reminded them that Abraham (the father of faith) had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Here is the allegory:
“These women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written, ‘Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband.’ Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. But what does the Scripture say? ‘Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.’ So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.” (Galatians 4:21–31)
Their big question and ours: If I am not bound by the Law, does that mean I can sin without any problem? No, because I have been crucified with Christ and He lives in me, giving me His faith to trust God, His love for God, and His love for humanity. He also is my righteousness and sanctification and I trust Him alone for my entire acceptance before God and for the motivation and ability to do what is pleasing in His sight. To go back to rules is to go back to bondage.

Jesus, I’m continually amazed at the freedom of living by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is not always easy because in pride, I want to ‘do something’ to earn my acceptance. This is especially difficult for those raised in a home with lots of rules. One of my friends knows that law-keeping is not the way of salvation nor is it the way to win victory over sin, yet she struggles daily with those voices in her head that insist “you should . . .  you must, God expects . . .” along with a long list of rules. My prayer for her and for others in bondage to law-keeping is that they will be set free from that and fully live in the freedom and glory of grace.

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