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Does Grace Makes Gods Law Unnecessary

I wonder where the devil is?” pondered my preschool daughter, taking a break from coloring a hippopotamus.

“I don't know,” replied her younger brother, shrugging his shoulders while creating a green giraffe.

“I sure would like to know where the devil is!” Shelly was giving every indication now that she was insisting on an answer from her little brother.

Shaun laid down his crayon in order to give the matter the full benefit of his four years of wisdom. Staring out the window with chin in hands, he deliberated for a moment and then concluded, “I don't know. But I sure hope he's in Africa!”

Satan's Alive and Well

Satan is alive and well and at work all over planet Earth. Ever since the incident in the Garden of Eden, it's been his avowed objective to spread lies that defame God and misrepresent His plan for saving sinners.

He's managed to convince some people that the way to heaven is by works and penance. If you can produce the blood, sweat, and tears necessary to obey God's law, you just might make it. But Satan has also succeeded in getting other people to believe that God's grace makes no room for law. The thought of being labeled legalists so horrifies these people that they almost have heart failure at the mere mention of the word law. With the prevalence of their attitude, it's no surprise that one survey found that only half of all evangelical Christians could name any five of the Ten Commandments.

I think it can safely be stated that most errors regarding salvation can be traced ultimately to defective views of the law and justice of God.

My wife and I have a few rules for our children. Don't hit. Don't grab. Be kind. Be honest. It's not uncommon for our kids to disapprove of our rules. With a little time and maturity, however, they've come to realize that Mom and Dad aren't standing by with a water hose just waiting to douse any fun they might be having. They've learned that we're really interested in their health and happiness.

Just as family rules are designed to guide and protect, not just to restrict, so God gave His law to guide us to the kind of living that brings the greatest possible happiness and fulfillment. The law was made for people, not people for the law.

But is obedience legalism? Of course not. Good citizens obey the laws. It's not obedience to law that makes one a legalist; rather, it's one's motive for complying with that law.

A rank legalist is one who is obeying the law in order to be saved rather than because he is saved. If prostitution is a bribed or illegitimate expression of love, then legalism is an attempt to prostitute God's love. Obedience for the sake of acceptance is bondage. Obedience for victory over sin following one's acceptance is freedom.

Let's make no mistake: We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. The apostle Paul states without equivocation that “no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law” (Romans 3:20). But does this mean that salvation comes by anarchy? Do we “nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law” (verse 31).

No Forgiveness Without Blood

God illustrated the way of salvation for us when He asked Cain and Abel to offer animal sacrifices (Genesis 4). Abel obeyed by placing a slain animal upon his altar, while Cain presented the finest fruit from his fields and orchards. By accepting Abel's offering and rejecting Cain's, God declared early in earth's history that salvation comes by the shed blood of Calvary's Lamb and not by the prize-winning fruit produced in our lives. “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). Jesus is our sin offering. Obedience is our thank offering.

So we are saved by faith alone – but the faith that saves is never alone. Because I am accepted by God's gracious act at Calvary, my astonished gratitude bursts forth in obedience, the fruit of love. Just as a tree cannot long remain alive without bearing leaves, so no Christian can long remain spiritually alive without bearing the fruitage of cooperation with God.

But if law contributes nothing toward my salvation, of what value is it?

Law has instructional value. Think of it as a sin detector. Paul wrote, “I would not have known what sin was except through the law.” “Through the law we become conscious of sin” (Romans 7:7; 3:20).

Love constrains; law informs. Love provides the motivation; law gives the direction. Love would be quite ill-informed and in almost total darkness were it not for God's law. Jesus reasoned, “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15). Love is the why. Law is the how.

A sign attached to a towering fence surrounding a convent read: “Absolutely No Trespassing! Violators will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Signed, Sisters of Mercy.” We can't help smiling at that because it seems so incongruous that mercy would employ law. We picture grace and law as absolute opposites.

As a method of salvation, they certainly are extreme opposites. But there is a sense in which they work together very closely. Because of my sins, the law condemns me, and I stand in desperate need of a Savior. So, in a sense, law makes grace necessary. And grace, on the other hand, would not be safe without the guidance of the law.

It's commonly thought that the Old Testament is a book of law and the New Testament a book of grace. But grace abounds in the Old Testament – see Isaiah 53; 54; 55:1-7; Jeremiah 31:33, 34; Ezekiel 36:25-28. A gospel current runs throughout its entire span, reaching a climax in the prophecies that predict the coming of the Messiah.

The New Testament, on the other hand, respects and upholds the law. Jesus taught its permanent validity (Matthew 5:17-19). Paul declared it holy, righteous, and good (Romans 3:31; 7:12). James warned his readers against transgressing its commandments (James 2:8-11). And John, the apostle of love, defined sin as “lawlessness” (1 John 3:4) and instructed his readers to obey the commandments of God (1 John 5:3).

So regardless of time or Testament, salvation has always been made effectual by God's grace through the shed blood of Jesus, and humans' response has always been lawful obedience.

Punished Like a Criminal

I'm thankful that Jesus lived in such a way that He was able to fulfill the law's demand for a perfect life. Though He was punished as if He were a criminal, He lived every moment in perfect harmony with His Father's will. The punishment He suffered was for our misdeeds. Jesus had sin on Him but not in Him.

We're sinners by nature. But when we accept Jesus as Savior and Lord, His perfect life replaces our faulty records. Then, in a sense, because of our natures, we still have sin in us. But it's no longer on us. Think of it! “There's now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

As long as we remain in Jesus, His perfect life stands in place of our imperfections, and we're shielded from the condemnation of the law. In fact, it's legal for the law to condemn us. Doing so would be like prosecuting someone a second time for the same offense. Does the fact that Jesus fulfilled the law for us release us from applying it as a rule of life? No! Grateful obedience is certainly not the source of life for us, but it should be the manner of our lives. The power of gratitude born out of love enables us to dethrone sin and let righteousness reign. Though our creaturely obedience will never equal that of Jesus our Pattern, God does promise that sin will lose its dominion and power over us (Romans 6:6, 11-14). As a favorite hymn says, His grace can “be of sin the double cure,” cleansing us from both sin's guilt and its power.

Let's remember that sin is the worst thing that's ever happened in all the universe. It's why we're in such a mess. Whatever form it takes, sin is essentially humanity's declaration of independence from God our Creator. It is always self defeating.

A Christian is someone who is receiving a heart transplant from God. The twice-born Christian has pleaded, “Create in me a pure heart, O God” (Psalm 51:10). God's desire is to place His law in our minds and engrave it on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33).

One day, a father stood watching his son play in a puddle. A friend walked by and, remarking that the boy might catch a cold, asked why the father didn't tell him to get out of the water. The father replied that he was trying to figure out how to help his son to want to get out.

The father knew what's important. The only decision making that counts is that which comes from within. With God's law, or will, inscribed on our hearts, our obedience will spring from inward promptings rather than from outward restraints.

The Strongest Evidence

The cross gives us the strongest evidence that the law has not been annulled. The law states that whoever sins must die (Genesis 3:3; Romans 6:23). Having broken the law, we owe it satisfaction by our deaths.

But God wanted to save us. How did He do it? By declaring amnesty for human beings? By rewriting the heavenly constitution? No, He upheld the law by allowing His Son, Jesus, to die in our place. Jesus was “obedient unto death” (Philippians 2:8, KJV). If God could have saved us by doing away with the law, then Christ need not have died.

So, a long gaze at the cross tells us how important God considers His law.

On the Friday afternoon of the crucifixion, God stood to His feet and shouted His judgment of sin in the deafening roar of the thunder. The heavenly gavel hammered its verdict, the earth quaked and reeled in response, and the sun hid its face in horror as the Creator - the Judge of all - was declared “Guilty!” and sentenced to a sinner's death.

On Calvary's cross, Christ bore the compounded wrath of a holy God for every sin that would ever be committed. There, He experienced the rejection that should have been ours. His Father's condemnation of the sin that He bore •in our place caused Him to heave to and fro in anguish as if struck by bolts of heaven's lightning. His spirit was impaled with our transgressions; His soul wracked with the excruciating pain of bearing the punishment of the world's iniquities.

The cross stands as the greatest testimony to the changeless nature of God's law. God Himself respects it. Rather than ignoring it in order to save sinners, He developed a plan that accords with it - despite the cost to Himself. That's why it can be said that “he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins” (1 John 1:9, KJV, emphasis supplied).

Recently, my little son took a picture of me, propped it up against the bathroom mirror, and proceeded to part and comb his hair the way I do. Children identify with their parents by modeling their speech and actions and by reflecting their values.

The deepest longing of those who have become God's children is to be like their heavenly Father. And what is He like? The law portrays His character. So whether it's a matter of telling the truth, keeping the seventh-day Sabbath, or respecting someone else's property the redeemed will “delight in God's law” (Romans 7:22).

Satan continues to tempt people everywhere to challenge God's law. But the issue is simple and decisive: grateful obedience or presumptuous disobedience. It's a matter of life and death. “Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus” (Revelation 14:12, KJV).

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