Grace and Law

Image by Sapphire Dream Photography

I understand that a lot of employers are having trouble hiring these days. It is tough to get good help. However, even before the pandemic, it was difficult to get good people into the priesthood, I’ve been told. Every profession has its challenges, to be sure, but I can see where that might especially be true for a Catholic priest.

An old priest overheard a new priest’s comments in the confessional and called him in to talk about improvement. The old priest said, “You need to learn to be gracious. People coming in for confessionals need grace and mercy. “ He suggested saying things like, “I see, go on, and I understand, and how did you feel about that?” The old priest said, “Now don’t you think that’s better than slapping your knee and saying “Wow, I can’t believe you did that, what happened next?”

What is grace? In this world, there are many biblical concepts that get twisted around and distorted so that they very often do not resemble what they were supposed to mean in the first place. Grace is not only no exception, but it is one of the leading challenges many Protestants have with biblical definitions. It has been used and abused by far too many in the history of mainstream Christianity.

Still, let’s not go to the other extreme. Grace is a word in the English Bible. Grace is not a dirty word. If you come away with nothing else from this message, I hope that this will be it. It seems sometimes that just because a certain segment of society abuses a topic, we will either try to avoid it completely or sidestep it somehow.

I have heard, and I am not sure it is true, that mainstream Christianity’s emphasis upon Sunday worship was why Mr Armstrong for many years was reluctant to accept a Sunday Pentecost. For many years, the Church kept a Monday Pentecost. I can tell you it was an excuse given by some to leave after he officially changed it to Sunday. They could not reconcile changing the day to keep because of what other people had done to pervert what the Bible said. Let’s not be like those who left back then and jump from one ditch into the other. Let us clearly look at what grace really is and ignore what outsiders may or may not think of it for a moment.

Grace in OT is chen (khane), H2580, חֵן

It primarily means “favour, grace, charm”, but it can also mean “elegance” or “acceptance”. It can refer to appearance, such as of a woman, doe or precious stone. It’s root means “good will”.

Abraham asked the three travelers to rest under the tree and refresh themselves “if now I have found favour in thy sight” (Ge 18:3). Joseph begged Esau to take his gifts when he returned to Canaan and begged to find grace in Esau’s sight (Ge 33:10, 15). It can also work from lower status to a higher status. Israel before he died asked to find grace in Joseph’s sight and not bury him in Egypt (Ge 47:29).

We usually think of grace as top-down, but it can work the other direction as well. We will consider Pr 3. You can find favor in either direction, and this is important because we will see in the New Testament the same idea.

Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart:

So shalt thou find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man.

~ Pr 3:3-4

Grace in NT is very similar. It is charis, G5485, χάρις

It means “grace, that which affords joy, pleasure, sweetness, charm, loveliness”. It also means “good will, loving kindness, favour”. It can also mean “benefit” or “bounty”.

Charis normally refers to God’s favor towards us mortals. However, we can find favor in man’s eyes, as we have already seen. In fact, in Lk 2, we see Jesus receiving favor from God and man. Like chen, charis works in both directions.

52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.

~ Lk 2:52

Sometimes in the past, we have tried to distinguish the idea of grace differently than the Protestants view it, and it is understandable. Not all, but many Protestants have good definitions of grace but fail utterly to understand its role in action and in salvation. In an attempt to flee the notion of “cheap grace”, sometimes members and even ministers in the church have swung a little too far in the other direction. I think we’ve matured a lot as a church, but sometimes old attitudes can resurface.

I remember a time when grace was defined as “unmerited pardon for sin”. I submit to you, however, that grace is broader than that. It is more of an appropriate definition for mercy, rather than grace. The dictionary says mercy is “compassionate or kindly forbearance shown toward an offender, an enemy, or other person in one’s power; compassion, pity, or benevolence”.

Mercy is about forgiveness, while grace is a much larger view of things like kindness, even towards people we don’t know. Grace is dealing with a stranger who may or may not be having a bad day, but mercy is being kind even to your enemy. In fact, mercy is a necessary component of grace. However, mercy is more about not receiving the punishment we should receive, whereas grace is the pouring out of blessings upon an undeserving group of people. says about the difference between grace and mercy:

Although mercy is certainly an aspect of God’s grace, grace is a broader, more extensive concept than mercy. Grace comes from the Greek word charis, which has multiple meanings, including gift, favor and kindness. It refers to the unearned favor of God that is extended to us to pardon our sins upon repentance and to enable us to have a healthy, happy relationship with our Creator. Our sins being forgiven by God’s grace leads to salvation (Titus 2:11).

I will press it even further to state that we are called to be gracious, even as God Himself is gracious. Turn to Ex 34:6. We see that even in the OT, God is described as gracious.

And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness

~ Ex 34:6 (NIV)

Gracious is one of God’s attributes.

If you look at the fruits of the spirit and sum them up, what word would you use to sum them all up? Love is certainly a good choice, but it is considered bad form when you try to define a word with that word.

It is a familiar passage, certainly, but let’s let Galatians 5 sink in. This chapter contains many things about the works of the flesh vs the fruits of the spirit, but this list certainly is a good summation of the attitude that a Christian should have.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 [a]gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.

~ Gal 5:22-23 NKJV

Love is one of the fruits, so what is a unique word to describe all of the fruits of the spirit? I don’t know about you, but I would sum them up with the word graciousness.

As a precursor of things to come, too, also “against such there is no law”. If these are the components of grace, then there is no law against them, which means that grace and law are not diametrically opposed to one another. Grace and law can and do coexist quite well, in fact.

We are told to grow in grace. Notice the tone used in 2Pe 3. It is written in the imperative. That means it is required.

18 But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.

~ 2Pe 3:18

The law was given through Moses, and grace was given through Jesus Christ. Remember, Jesus is God in the flesh, so does it make sense that the same being would give the law and then come and do away with it? Of course not. More to the point, these are good summations of the two covenants. One was based upon law, and the other was based upon grace. One was given to a physical people, and the other was given to a spiritual people. However, they are not diametrically opposed to one another.

Moses was the human that God used to give the Law to Israel. Likewise, Jesus was the human God the Father used to give us grace.

17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

~ Jn 1:17 ESV

One interpretation of this verse is that the old covenant was law-focused but the new covenant is grace-filled. You had grace in the OT era, and you still have law in the NT era. The difference is the phase of God’s plan.

When did grace begin? Does it make sense that if God is gracious that it would have suddenly appeared in the NT? Of course not. Turn to 2Ti 1:8-9.

So don’t be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, or of me His prisoner. Instead, share in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God.

He has saved us and called us
with a holy calling,
not according to our works [works cannot save us, giving everything away to the poor cannot save us, and even keeping the law cannot save us],
but according to His own purpose and grace,
which was given to us in Christ Jesus
before time began.

~ 2Ti 1:8-9 (HCSB)

Grace existed before time itself! Think about the implications of that. Once the physical universe was created and set in motion, there was time. Time existed as soon as the big bang, if that was the method God used, took place.

Jesus Christ Himself came to be gracious and show us the grace of God. It should be clear then that if Jesus Christ presented Himself in a gracious manner, and if we are to take on the mind, heart and character of Our Savior, then we ourselves should be people of grace.

I am clearly talking to myself as well as to you, BTW. I often utterly fail to be gracious, particularly when driving down I-25. It is something I am working on, and it is a combat I experience far too often. I am sometimes embarrassed when I come across someone not even in the church who acts far more graciously than I. Yet, if outsiders are to know us as disciples of Christ by our love, then doesn’t it follow that we should be gracious? Can we exhibit love properly if we are not being gracious towards others?

It reminds me of the time when I was a teenager that one person said they went to the school and gave them “what for”. He presumably went to the school and told the teacher bluntly that he was taking his kids to the Feast and that was that. I remember wondering what the teacher thought of this attitude. Was the teacher left with the impression that this was a reflection of the love of Christ? To this day, I hope that something was left out of the story and that this wasn’t just a case of someone using their spiritual knowledge to prove how superior they were.

It is important as well just for the aspect of getting along with one another. When you sow kindness and compassion, you are more likely to reap kindness and compassion. When you act entitled, pushy or take out your frustration on someone else, the chances of receiving those things back in kind are very high. Ro 12:18 tells us that if possible we should live at peace with others. Being gracious is far more likely to achieve that result.

Being a person of grace does not mean being a pushover, though. Jesus became angry at times, and His was a righteous anger. Still, He stayed fixed upon the goal and did not lose sight of His mission. Remember as well, Jesus made a whip and ran the merchants out of the temple because of what they were doing. Preserving the sanctity of the temple was more important at that point in time than being a kind person. Still, that was the exception rather than the rule.

Now, many will take passages, particularly in the Book of Galatians, out of context to pit the ideas of grace and law against one another. This is far from the view Jesus had, however. Turn to Mt 23:23. Remember what I said about mercy being a part of grace? Mt 23. Jesus says mercy is actually part of the law rather than being opposed to the law!

23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.

24 Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.

~ Mt 23:23-24

Jesus told the Pharisees and scribes that they would strain at a gnat but swallow a camel, and He starts off with a practical example of that. It’s good to be a diligent tither, and He does not fault them for this diligence, but how much better would it have been if they were to practice judgment, mercy and faith?

Mercy is part of the law? You bet it is! Woven into the tapestry of the Law were all sorts of examples of mercy. Servants and even animals were expected to rest on the weekly Sabbath. Slaves that could not stand their masters and ran away were spared from having to return. In ancient times, merciful behavior towards slaves and beasts were pretty uncommon. Over and over again, Israel was warned that if a brother was mistreated by a fellow Israelite, his cries would be heard and God would judge. After all, if we are not merciful to our brethren, why should God be merciful to us? Everywhere you look, some aspect of mercy and grace are woven into the law.

“Cheap grace”, though, is not a new concept at all. It was one of the heresies of the early church. Please turn to Jude 4. Jude warned of men who turned grace into license. Jude called this attitude a perversion of grace.

For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about[a] long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

~ Jude 4 (NIV)

Grace is not an excuse to do whatever you please. In fact, the Law teaches us much about how to love and how to have grace and mercy. If Moses brought us the law and Jesus brought us truth and grace, then think about this so-called dichotomy for a moment, and I think you will come to the same conclusion that I have: Namely, that law and grace are not only not opposed to one another, but they are two sides of the same coin.

Now, like any coin, you can look at one side or the other and think that is it. Some people concentrate upon the grace side of the coin, whereas some will concentrate upon the law side of the coin. Neither extreme is healthy, though. Grace is the act of God pardoning us and working with us, not to mention blessing us. Law is how we ourselves become righteous and even loving towards God and others, if we put it into practice.

Some accuse us of trying to “earn salvation”, but nothing can be farther from the truth. If you go out and are a good person from this moment until the day you die, there is nothing about keeping the law that will save you. You are still guilty of your past sins. It is by grace that God extends you mercy and pardons your sins.

Protestants like to say they are “under grace” as though that means one is no longer under the law. What does it mean, though, to be under anything?

6 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?

12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

Slaves to Righteousness

15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves,[a] you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.

~ Ro 6:1-2, 12-18 (ESV)

I don’t know how anyone can read this in context and come up with the idea that the law has been done away with. Clearly, Paul is talking about something having dominion and power over another. We have a choice. We can be under the law or we can be under grace, but that does not translate well into our 21st century English speaking culture. Notice in verse 14 that he writes sin should not have dominion over us. Let’s turn to Ro 7:14 and compare that statement.

14 For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.

~ Ro 7:14

So, if we are carnally minded, are we under the law as in being obedient to the law or are we under sin as in being slaves of sin? I think this verse is key to the rest. “The law is spiritual” means Paul, in spite of what many say about him, believes that the law is a good thing. So, what is sin? Sin is the breaking of God’s law (1Jn 3:4). What does it mean to be “under sin”? To be under its sway and influence. It means to be slaves of sin.

So, if the point is about being slaves of sin, what is this “under law” stuff about? Very simply put, it is about being under the penalty of the law for breaking it. Turn back to Ro 3:23, a very familiar verse where we clearly see this. In fact, this is what sets the stage for what we have already read in Romans 6. It sets up the idea that we are, in our natural state, under the penalty of breaking the law, that is, sin.

23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

~ Ro 3:23

None of us can claim to be “under law” as in being obedient of the law because every one of us has broken that law. Therefore, the only possible way to translate we are no longer under the law is that we are no longer under the penalty of the law. Instead of being guilty under the law and having criminal charges against us, we are under the unmerited love and grace of God. Instead, God has forgiven us if we ask and try to turn our lives around (that is, repentance). Col 2:13-14 makes this clear.

13 You were dead, because you were sinful and were not God’s people. But God let Christ make you[a] alive, when he forgave all our sins.

14 God wiped out the charges that were against us for disobeying the Law of Moses. He took them away and nailed them to the cross.

~ Col 2:13-14 (CEV)

IOW, we broke the law, which came through Moses, and therefore we are condemned to death as the penalty until God forgives us and takes away the legal charges against us.

Jesus brought grace, true enough. However, much of that grace was in the form of payment by the sacrifice of His life and shed blood. When Jesus said He fulfilled the law, this is what He meant, not that He somehow “done away” with the law. Turn to another familiar Scripture.

17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.

18 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.

~ Mt 5:17-18

Quite simply Jesus did not come to destroy the law, but many will read exactly that in it. They will act as though Jesus “did away” with the law, but what is the practical difference between throwing something into the trashcan and destroying it? It is semantics! It is an idea that allows one to not feel guilty in doing what they please. That is not what Jesus intended. No, Jesus “fulfilled” the law because He kept the requirements perfectly and gave them spiritual meaning. He kept them so well that even in forgiveness of our sins, the payment has been made, thus fulfilling the legal requirements of the law. The law requires payment for breaking it, and He fulfilled that requirement by dying in our stead.

Now, I am somewhat of a logical person. When I read the Bible, it generally makes sense as long as I am not reading other ideas into it. We were made in God’s image so that we can relate to Him, and He gave us this book to communicate His will to us. Does it make sense that Jesus would come to the earth and even die so that the penalty stipulated in the law would be fulfilled in its entirety if the law were unimportant? Would you or I do something like die for a cause if we knew the cause itself would disappear? If the law were that important, would it have been “done away” with? How would that even make sense?

Now, I said grace and law are two sides of the same coin. One side is the letter of the law, and the other side is the spirit of the law. You cannot keep the spirit of the law by breaking the letter of the law. Likewise, you cannot keep the letter of the law unless your heart is right. Jesus criticized the Pharisees over and over again because of their selfish ambitions and hypocrisy.

Yet, many people don’t understand this because they have not truly repented. What good is the law? For one thing, it shows us what sinners we really are. It shows us the need to change, that is, to repent. Repentance forces us to turn to God.

What good is grace? It shows God’s love and mercy. It shows us that God wants to draw us to Him rather than drive us away. And, you know, the law in the OT was basically based upon fear. Break this law, and you will get this penalty. However, fear only works for a little while, which we clearly saw even as Israel was coming out of Egypt. Instead, Christians are to be driven by love, and love drives out fear (1Jn 4:18).

In both cases, it should bring us closer to God, and that is exactly the point. The two sides of the coin have the same purpose, just like a single coin has a purpose. In this case, the coin is a relationship with God. Like most relationships, it has rules, it has etiquette, and it has a customary way of acting, but it also has an emotional bond that is usually only found in family.

In fact, we understand that God is building a family, and I submit that law and grace are instruments He is using to build that relationship. Just as in any other family, breaking the rules weakens the bonds of the relationship. Just as in any other family, becoming emotionally distant causes the rules to get out of wack and not enjoyable. A relationship requires both in order to work.

Grace and law are not opposed to one another, and mercy is even written throughout the law. They are two sides of the same coin of having a relationship with God and with Jesus Christ. We ourselves are supposed to be gracious people, even as Jesus was gracious, and as both God the Father and Jesus Christ are gracious and merciful towards us. However, the law shows us how to be gracious people if we read it correctly and put it into practice in our lives. We receive grace, and we are to pass it on to others. Grace is a word in the Bible, and it is not a dirty word. So, let us be law-abiding people of grace.

Have a gracious Sabbath, brethren.

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