Are grace and law opposed to one another? Since we are under grace, do we still have to keep the law?
Grace is God’s unmerited favor which He bestows upon all those who repent and trust in Christ. Grace has been called; God’s riches at Christ’s expense. God gives us what we do not deserve. If grace were merited, then it wouldn’t be grace anymore but salvation by works and no one is saved by works. Paul clearly defined this in Romans 11:6 writing “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace” and “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8-9). That’s good news for us because no one can possibly keep the law perfectly. Only Christ could and did so He kept the law for us who couldn’t so that we could receive eternal life by faith.
Is the Law Void?
Since we are under grace, does this mean that we don’t have to worry about the law? Paul answers the question about the law by telling the church at Rome, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it” (Rom 6:1-2)? Further, he says “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness” (Rom 6:15-16)? Just because we are not under the law but under grace doesn’t mean that we are free to break the law. The truth is that we should desire to obey God because we love Him as Jesus said “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Love is equated with a desire to live an obedient life. We should want to obey God because we love Him and we are indebted to Him by His freeing us from the eternal death penalty that we all deserved and that the law had brought. When Paul writes about the law, he is not referring to the Mosaic Law which was nailed to the cross by Christ but he was referring to the Ten Commandments which have never been voided. How can we say that God has done away with “You shall not murder, you shall not bear false witness,” or “You shall not commit adultery?”
The Purpose of the Law
The Ten Commandments are intended to show us what sin is and we wouldn’t even know what sin was except by the law (Rom 7:7). John writes that sin is transgressing the law because “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4) but just because the law has been lifted, this doesn’t mean that we don’t strive to obey it as much as humanly possible and by the power of the Spirit of God. Here is where we must have gratitude for Christ’s sacrifice because He “appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin” but it’s important to note that “no one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him” (1 John 3:5:6). We are not saved by the law or by law-keeping but anyone who is living a lifestyle of breaking God’s law is obviously not saved. John makes this clear by writing “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:8-9). The key word here is “practice” because if you are learning to play an instrument or playing a sport you continue to practice it because you love it so anyone that continues to practice sin, as a lifestyle, cannot truly be a person who has been born again because “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning.” That doesn’t mean that believers still don’t sin. We all sin and stumble and fall but that’s not the same thing as continually diving into it or practicing sin on an ongoing basis. We are not sinless but we strive to sin less! Just like Paul we “have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out: (Rom 7:18). Like Paul, you and I “do not do the good [we] want, but the evil [we] do not want is what [we] keep on doing” (Rom 7:19) even though we “have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out” (Rom 7:18).
Freed from the Law
Paul reassures us that we are no longer under the law by saying “when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness” (Rom 6:20) and “now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life” (Rom 6:22). Furthermore, “you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God” (Rom 7:4). Does this mean “That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet” (Rom 7:7).
Don’t lose heart if you continue to fall into sin. The only true concern is that if you continually practice sin as a pattern or a lifestyle. If there is no conviction of sin, that is a warning sign that your conscience may be getting seared because the more you sin, the less you care that you sin. Like a callous forms on a hand that is continually working and then becomes less sensitive, so too does sin have the effect of desensitizing us that something is wrong. Like Paul, “I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” and like him, I cry out “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” but then we can give “Thanks…to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (Rom 7:23-25). That is good news because if you are waging war with the flesh, you at least know you’re on the right side of the battle. If there is no war against sin, if there is no conviction of sin, and if there is no godly sorrow or repentance, take warning because “whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10b) because “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil” (1 John “8a) and “Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:4).
Another Reading on Patheos to Check Out: What Did Jesus Really Look Like: A Look at the Bible Facts
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon