Of Law and Grace

Sometimes, Christians disagree over the importance of God’s law and his grace in the lives of believers. Some look to the law as God’s unchanging standard for mankind, and some would argue that Christ’s redemptive work has freed us from keeping the law. Others even find it important to keep some of the law while admitting that not all of its principals are still necessary in the life of a believer. What is the purpose of God’s law? Why did he give the law, and why are there some precepts that seem so strange? Has the law been replaced by grace? Is the believer exempt from God’s commandments, or should we live our lives in a manner that is unmistakably Hebrew? These are the questions I hope to address by reflecting on God’s Law and his grace.

Moses and the Decalogue

The Law

While encamped in the desert, at the base of Mount Sinai the newly freed Hebrew were first presented God’s law. God shared the law through his chosen leader, Moses. The law would serve many purposes for the future nation. First God wished to unite them by explaining that it was he who created the universe, he gave their life significance in explaining that all of mankind was made in his image, and they were given purpose in knowing that they and their ancestors were his chosen people. God presented Moses with the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) and over a period of time God expanded his law to Moses. The Law of Moses (as it is often referred) has three main purposes; to provide a special revelation to mankind of God’s holiness, to separate the people of Israel from the rest of mankind, and to demonstrate mankind’s sinfulness and need of a savior.

Much of the law details ceremonial rituals that were mostly for the priesthood (a tribe of Israel that was set aside to care for the tabernacle/temple and the ceremonial relics) and some for the people. These rituals, relics, and even holidays were to remind Israel of where God had brought them from, they explained how to regain a good standing with God, they created a religion to separate Israel from neighboring people, and disclosed the future works of God through the Messiah. These laws include requirements for offerings to God, ceremonies for the priests, instructions for ritual cleanliness and holiness, and convocation of holy ceremonies and celebrations. The ceremonial laws gave a clear depiction of the holiness of God, and revealed his desire for his followers to be different from the rest of mankind.

The law also consists of social law or moral law. Again, these laws were designed to separate the Hebrew from their pagan neighbors. Many of these laws such as the dietary and garment requirements seem strange to us today, but that is because we may not understand the context of which they were written. Many of the oddest laws are not there simply to be a heavy burden but to keep the Hebrew from participating in pagan forms of idolatry and worship. The moral areas of the law also shaped the Hebrew society (not just their religion). In these laws God demands that his people take care of the poor (through practices like gleaning), punish disobedience, live justly with one another, respect human life, and even remain sexually pure.

The third purpose of the law was to be a measuring device for the sinfulness of mankind. The law functions like a mirror, allowing its readers to understand how short we fall from God’s call to holiness. The law represents God’s desires for our lives and how we are to live with him and one another. Despite the knowledge that God is our creator and knows what is best for us, we choose to rebel against his commands just as Adam and Eve did in the garden. We realize by the law that we are not just being held accountable for their crime, but that we ourselves are guilty. It is this revelation of the law that is most beneficial for mankind. It is this knowledge that allows us to see our need for God’s intervention. The law is not evil, it was written by God, but the law condemns each and every one of us. It is in this realization that mankind has the opportunity to understand the importance of God’s grace in his pursuit of those who would love him.

 

The Law In the Bible

Moses first received the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai and this is recorded by Moses in Exodus chapter 20. These ten commands are a summary of the 613 commands to come that are found in the Old Testament Law.  Only the Ten Commandments are structured as rules. The rest of the law is spread among four of the five books (Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) believed to be penned by Moses. The Ten Commandments were the only section of the law that God presented laws in this fashion. The rest of the law seems to be given on a need to know basis, and as Moses was given the law he wrote it down to pass along to the Hebrew people. This further enforces the law as a guideline to lead mankind to God and not as a requirement for salvation. The law teaches about God’s holiness, mankind’s sinful heart, and God’s plan for redemption.

When Jesus was asked which of the commandments were the most important to keep, he explained that all of the law can be simplified into two commands that are of equal importance; “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength (Deuteronomy 6:5)” and “… love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18).” Jesus explained that these two principals were the basis for all of the law and all of the teachings of God’s prophets.

For the present day Christian the law can sometimes be a topic of heated debate. Some believe  that being grafted into the family of God means we are now required to keep the law, some would go and separate the law into parts that we are still required to keep (like the ten commandments) and others that hold no place (like dietary laws and temple worship). I believe the third option is the one Jesus meant when he explained that he came not to do away with the law but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17). Paul wrote to Timothy that the law was useful and all of it was inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16).

 

Practical Application

So if the law is useful and yet we are not bound to it; what place does the law have in the Christian’s life? The point of the law was not to provide a means of salvation but to reveal God’s holiness, man’s wickedness, and God’s grace in providing redemption for mankind. The law reveals to us our rebellion against God, and our inability to be holy on our own. There is no other tool necessary for evangelism than the Law of Moses. Before someone can understand their need for a savior, they must realize they are in peril. That is exactly what the law accomplishes (Romans 3:20). The law paints a picture of God’s design for mankind’s redemption. The law explains the need for blood to purify sinfulness (Leviticus 17:11). So when Jesus shows up at the Jordan River, John the Baptist recognizes that he is the sacrificial lamb provided to be our sacrifice and our redemption (John 1:9). It is the law that leads mankind to the realization that we need Jesus’ sacrifice to justify us before God.

Secondly, if the law is pleasing before God than it should be our hearts desire to do what pleases him. But how do we determine which laws are necessary? Does God really care how we trim our beards? What about the laws against eating unclean animals? (Personally, I love to eat bacon and shrimp). I believe we are not required to go through the law and choose what is required and what can be thrown out. The freedom that we have been granted by Christ’s fulfillment of the law has brought us to a new relationship with the law; one where more emphasis is on the purpose of the law (growing closer to God), and less on the details of the law. This is why Jesus summed the law in two statements; “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-40).

 

Grace

God’s grace has been with mankind since the day Adam and Eve first rebelled against God’s command to never eat from The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. God could have killed Adam and Eve right then just as he had warned them, but instead he allowed them to live until they died at a later time. Instead of justly killing them, God met their needs and continued to bless them. They had broken the only rule God gave them, and yet he still showed them the grace they did not deserve. Grace is God’s favor and kindness that is undeserved. Later, God would spare Noah and his family from judgment not because they deserved to be saved, but because of God’s grace. And after the world was repopulated, God’s grace led him to choose Abraham as the beginning of God’s people who would bring the ultimate expression of his grace, Jesus Christ. In Jesus the full extent of God’s grace is made manifest. Because of mankind’s sinful heart we have never been able to repair our relationship with God. God’s love for mankind is so great that he sent his son to suffer and die, so that the requirement for our salvation would be met. It is by this act of sacrifice that God has offered us redemption from our sins and he has justified us to a right standing with him. This is not accomplished by any act of our own, only a belief in the power of Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection for our salvation. This is God’s gift to mankind, a gift that we do not deserve. Grace.

 

Grace In the Bible

God’s grace is the agent that provides his favor and kindness to the people of Israel throughout their history despite their inability to follow God’s commands. The law, the judges, and the prophets were guardrails to guide Israel to one point in history; the birth of Jesus Christ. The Messiah was the instrument in which God fulfilled his promise of an ultimate blessing on mankind. By sending his son to die for mankind’s sins, God’s grace is offered to all of humanity. Paul wrote in Ephesians that it is “in accordance with the riches of God’s grace (1:7) that we are redeemed by the blood of Christ. Our forgiveness is the result of the work that Christ accomplished by dying on the Roman cross. There is nothing that we can do to deserve this grace, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this is not form yourselves, it is the gift of God- Not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8).” It is God’s unmerited blessing that has redeemed us, justified us, is sanctifying us, and one day will glorify us.

 

Practical Application

God’s grace is the greatest gift he can give mankind. From our very beginning we have rebelled against his plan for us, but still he persists to pursue us. It is only his determination to make a way for our redemption that we have the ability to come to him. And after this we continually renew our desire to be pleasing before him. We can never become righteous by our own works, but out of thankfulness we should pursue lives that are pleasing to our redeemer. We cannot do this by following rules, that is why the law does not save, we can only do this through gratitude for God’s grace. We need to be reminded daily that we enjoy God’s unmerited favor.

 

God’s law and his grace were undeserved gifts to mankind. We are sinful and rebellious creatures that are underserving of our benevolent God. Without his intervention we hide from our sinfulness and would be lost to hiding in darkness. But God in his grace desired something greater for us, so he sent the light of the law to humanity. So that darkness would be evident. But the law was just a glimpse of what was to come in the person of Jesus. God’s grace has shown on man, and although we are undeserving God has chosen to redeem us.

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God is Sovereign Despite Our Faults

The account of Isaac and his family found in Genesis 25-27 is very interesting when discussing the importance of God’s sovereignty, man’s free will, and man’s sinfulness.

We read very little about Isaac in the Genesis account of the Hebrew patriarchs. We know he is the promise given by God to Abraham (Genesis 21). We see that God tests Abraham by requiring that he sacrifice Isaac , and how God provides a substitute when Abraham is faithful (Genesis 22). We read the account of Abraham sending his servant to find Isaac a bride (Genesis 24), we read about his dysfunctional family, and some of his poor decisions in Genesis 25-27.

In the account of the birth of Isaac’s sons, we briefly see that Rebekah has been without child and Isaac is petitioning God to bless them with a child (Genesis 25:21). This seems like a common occurrence with the early patriarchs. God wanted them to understand that he was building this family and the future nation of Israel was by his work.

God is faithful to his promise, and Rebekah becomes pregnant with twins! I am sure Isaac and Rebekah felt like they may have prayed a little too hard. Of course this was before ultra sound and I am uncertain if they were able to distinguish two heart beats, but the twins movements alarm Rebekah. And God comforts them with the news of twins (Genesis 25:22).

With this news there is also revelation of what will take place in the boys future. God actually chooses one of the boys, before birth, to continue his covenant with and also shares his plans with the expecting couple. No mystery here, God’s sovereign plan is clear, the second born will be used by God to bring about his promises to mankind (Genesis 25:23).

We often discuss (and sometimes argue) the roles of God’s sovereignty and our own free will. I think this account is an excellent example of how God’s sovereignty is supreme despite the fact we have free will.

The author of Genesis wrote that Isaac favors Esau (the first born) over God’s chosen twin, Jacob. We also see that Rebekah favors Jacob (Genesis 25:28). This favoritism creates a lot of resentment within the home and should be a warning to all parents on the impact we can make on our children’s futures both positive and negative.

It is apparent that Isaac attempts to give Esau the eldest son’s birth right despite God’s revelation. However, Jacob manages to swindle the birth right from his brother with what must have been the best bowl of soup, ever (Genesis 25:34). Then, Jacob tricks his father, with his mothers insistence, to giving him Esau’s blessing as well (Genesis 27).

From the account in Genesis it is clear that Isaac favored Esau so greatly that he was willing to defy God’s will. Twice Jacob manages to secure what was ordained by God as his, through deception. Despite Isaac’s unfaithfulness in this matter, God was faithful to his promise and again we are left in awe of his ability to orchestrate the outcomes of history.

 

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