Law v. Grace

Did you know the New Testament issues all sorts of commands and imperatives that many of us can’t live up to?

What then?

Let’s lay out the two big themes of law and grace.

If you would like to read these verses in different translations, please go to biblegateway.

Law

The law can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. The Ten Commandments is the grandfather of them all, but unwritten moral law is also important and was followed (imperfectly) long before the Ten Commandments were written down.

In the New Testament (NT), there are thousands of imperatives, which are really commands. Commands are another form of law.

What happens when the NT commands you to do something, but you can’t measure up? Do you slough it off? Do you conclude, “Oh well, I can’t do it, but God sees I try, so he’ll accept me. He sees my heart. I’m putting in a good effort”?

Wrong approach.

You’re not taking the following commands as written.

Here are some sample commands—i.e. laws—in all of Paul’s epistles, who was the Apostle of Grace.

Romans

10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. (12:10-11)

Are you devoted in brotherly love to members of your church? Have you lacked zeal and spiritual fervor?

1 Corinthians

Flee from sexual immorality. (6:18)

Great words to live by, but what happens when you “fall”  into it (i.e. walk into it with your eyes wide open)?

2 Corinthians

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. (9:6)

Would God give you grace if you fell on hard times and were too scared to give?

Galatians

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (6:2)

Carrying burdens—that is, loving your neighbor—is to fulfill the law of Christ? But do you do this every time the occasion demands?

Ephesians

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love (5:1-2)

I’m glad this verse talks about God’s love, but can I imitate it throughout my life?

Philippians

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (4:4)

Always? What happens when I don’t do that always?

Colossians

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. (3:5)

Sometimes I don’t put those things to death. What then?

1 Thessalonians

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (5:16-18)

Do I pray constantly? Do I give thanks in all circumstances (not for all circumstances)?

2 Thessalonians

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. (3:6)

That’s a heavy command. But it has to be done. What if you don’t?

1 Timothy

But you, man of God, flee from all this [love of money], and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. (6:11)

Paul is speaking to one man, Timothy, but it is general enough to hit us in the heart.

2 Timothy

I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. (4:1-2)

Paul is talking to Timothy, but it is a charge (command) that could apply to us.

Titus

Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men. (3:1-2)

Paul is talking to Titus, but the virtues in those verses can apply to us.

Philemon

So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. (17)

This command is to one man, but “him” is the runaway slave who got saved and did his owner wrong. If someone does you wrong, could you welcome him back?

Bottom line question for all these commands: do you–can you–live up to just these samples?

What if you can’t? Then what?

Grace

Paul encloses each of his letters around grace, beginning and ending each one with grace. Those commands we just read must be viewed in the context of God’s grace—his unmerited favor and divine blessings.

Read each one and let grace wash over you.

Romans

7 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. (1:7)

20 The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you. (16:20)

1 Corinthians

3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (1:3)

23 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. (16:23)

2 Corinthians

2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (1:2)

14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (13:14)

Galatians

3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, (1:3)

18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen. (6:18)

Ephesians

2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (1:2)

4 Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love. (6:24)

Philippians

2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (1:2)

23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen. (4:23)

Colossians

2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father. (1:2)

18 Grace be with you. (4:18)

1 Thessalonians

Grace and peace to you. (1:1)

28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. (5:28)

2 Thessalonians

2 Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (1:2)

18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. (3:18)

1 Timothy

Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. (1:2)

Grace be with you. (6:21)

2 Timothy

2 To Timothy, my dear son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. (1:2)

22 The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you. (4:22)

Titus

Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. (1:4)

15 Grace be with you all. (3:15)

Philemon

3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (3)

25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. (25)

And so those commands in the previous section must be read in the context of grace, which surrounds the commands.

Life in the Spirit and Grace

Here is the best way to fulfill those NT commands by his grace.

16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. (Gal. 5:16-18)

Note the last sentence: When you are being led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.

Just walk in the Spirit; keep your mind on Christ, and then the power to live righteously flows out of the Spirit into your mind and heart; and the fruit will grow naturally, without your effort.

Conclusion

Life in the Spirit and grace is on one side; life of legalism and the law is on the other. If you get the two confused, you will eventually wear down. You’ll wrongly believe that God’s grace and love depend on your good works.

If you can’t live up to the commands in the NT, then throw yourself on his grace and love and mercy. Ask the Spirit to flow through you each day.

Once you understand you are the righteousness of God in Christ, then you live from a position of strength—who you are in Christ.

Related:

Law v. Gospel; borrows a lot from a Lutheran

Paul and James on faith and works;

The Ten Commandments: God’s Great Compromise with humanity’s big failure; it explains what happens if your “life in the Spirit” gets confused and you trample on moral law.

Two approaches to Scripture; grace and love or law and commands?

Two kinds of righteousness (your own and an alien one)

Language of law in Paul (offsite); it examines each time the word law (nomos) appears in Paul’s epistles.

Language of Righteousness in Paul’s epistles (offsite); it looks at the various words for righteousness and being justified in Paul’s epistles.

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