UNDERSTANDING LAW & GRACE
Your ability to walk in the fullness of God’s grace depends greatly upon your ability to understand the difference between Law and Grace. Almost from the beginning of the New Testament, Christians were confusing and mixing together these two very different Biblical concepts. In fact, much of the New Testament is written to define and draw clear lines of distinction between the two.
Often, a Christian will read the Old Testament and become confused about his relationship with God. This confusion occurs when the two covenants are mixed to form a hybrid that God never intended. In the book of Galatians, Paul confronted this issue head-on. “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort (Gal.3:1-3)?”
Do you think Paul was pleased with the wisdom displayed by the Galatian Christians? Absolutely not. Had the people been taught clearly? Yes. Paul himself had preached Jesus Christ to the Galatians as crucified, emphasizing that the cross was to separate them forever from the curse and bondage of the law. How could they return to the law and thus regard the cross? What was Paul asking them? He asked, “Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? How do you think the Galatian Christians answered that question? By faith in Christ or by observing the law? How about you? How did you receive the Spirit? Why did Paul call them foolish? Earlier, Paul brought the gospel to them and the Spirit worked in them. Yet now they were reverting to flesh-works in the hope that a combination of faith (Spirit) and works (flesh) would work more easily or better – they had taken a step backwards when they decided to insist on keeping the Jewish laws. What are we, if after beginning our Christian life by faith in Christ, we try to continue that life by trusting in our own effort? Are we no different than the Galatians that Paul called foolish? We must realize that we grow spiritually because of God’s work in us by His Spirit, not by following special rules or any other fleshly efforts.
THE LAW REQUIRED ABSOLUTE PERFECTION
“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it (James 2:10).” How much of the law do you have to break before the law finds you guilty of sin? Just breaking one point or any of it. Now, how much of the law, then, do you have to keep in order to be found righteous by the law? All of it – at all times – 100%.
According to Hebrews 7: 11-16, was it possible for God’s goal of perfection for man to be attained through the Levitical priesthood? Absolutely not. If so, would there have been a need for another priest to come? Yes. Now, from what order did this new priest come? Was it Melchizedek or Aaron? It was Melchizedek. Since God changed the priesthood, what else had to be changed? Obviously, the law had to be changed. That there has been a change in the law is evident from the fact that the Lord Jesus belongs to a tribe which was barred from performing priestly function by the Levitical law. It was from the tribe of Judah that our Lord was descended. The Mosaic legislation never authorized anyone from that tribe to be a priest. Yet Jesus is a Priest. How can that be? Quite simply because the law has been changed in the New Covenant.
CHRIST MADE US PERFECT
“Because by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy (Hebrews 10:14).” What did Christ do for us that the law could not do? He made us holy – He took away our sins permanently, never to be seen again. Now, if God sees you as “perfect,” can you do anything to make Him like you more? Accept you more or be more pleased with you? No, absolutely not. How long have you been made perfect? The verse says forever. If your perfection lasts forever, then how long is God going to be pleased with you? He is going to be pleased with us forever – for all eternity. If that is true, is there any reason for you to ever be afraid of God again? No, never.
Just look at what God has accomplished for us in Christ Jesus. In Christ we are: (1) Forgiven (Eph. 4:32); (2) Sanctified, washed, and justified (1 Cor. 6:11); (3) Complete (Col. 2:10); (4) Saved and alive (Eph. 2:5); (5) A new creation (2 Cor. 5:17); (6) Seated with Christ (Eph. 2:6); (7) Sons of God (Gal. 4:7); (8) The temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16); (9) An heir of God (Gal. 4:7); (10) Given eternal life (1 John 5:13); (11) Cleansed of all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9); (12) The righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21); (13) Joint heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17); (14) Redeemed from our lawless deeds (Titus 2:14); (15) Citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20); (16) Partakers of His divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4); (17) Blessed with every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3); (18) Those who overcome Satan (Rev. 12:11); (19) Heirs of the kingdom (James 2:5); (20) Free from the law of sin and death (Rom. 8:2). There are many more but I’m going to stop here.
The word “perfect” carries with it the idea of being complete. We have been made perfect because Christ’s work on our behalf is complete. There is nothing more to be done in order for me to have a full relationship with God. Just look at the above list that I just gave you. How much of this did God do for you? Obviously, all of it. How much of this did you do for yourself? Nothing, none whatsoever. If God did it all, is there anything left for you to do? Absolutely nothing – Christ Jesus did it all for us.
“And in Him you have been made complete…. (Colossians 2:10).” Question: If you are in Christ, are you complete? Yes. If you are complete, is there anything left to add? Absolutely not. Let us now go on to Hebrews 10:11-12 which reads: “Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest (Jesus) had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” Now, according to Hebrews 10:11-12, how often were the Old Covenant sacrifice offered for sin? It says day after day. They repeatedly offered the same sacrifices. It was a never ending routine which left sins untouched and the conscience unrelieved. Now, how many sacrifices did Christ offer for sins? Our blessed Lord offered a single sacrifice for sins. How much time does that one sacrifice cover? For all time – forever. If that one sacrifice for sins covers all time, how many of your sins have been taken away by Christ? Obviously, all of them. The purpose of the priest is to offer sacrifices to God for man’s sins. What did Jesus do after He had finished taking away all our sins? His mission was finished – He sat down at the right hand of God, the Father. An Old Testament priest was never allowed to sit down in the temple because his work was never finished. What is the significance of Christ sitting down after He offered sacrifice for our sins? To signify that His work was finished and there was no longer need for day to day sacrifices – Jesus cries out from the cross “It is finished.”
In Hebrews 7:26-28 it just says that Christ meets our need as our high priest. How is Christ described in these verses? He is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. We learn from Scripture that the same attributes can be applied to us, as children of God. Through our identification with Him we have been made: (1) Holy (Heb.10:10); (2) Blameless – He chose us to be blameless in His sight (Eph. 1:4); (3) Pure (1 John 1:7); (4) Set apart from sinners (1 Cor. 6:11); (5) Exalted above the heavens (Eph. 2:6); (6) Perfect forever (Heb. 10:14). As stated above, do these attributes of our high priest meet our needs? Obviously yes. What did other high priests have to do before they were able to offer sacrifices for the people? They had to make a sacrifice for themselves. Did Christ have to offer a sacrifice for Himself? No. How many of your sins did God deal with through that one sacrifice of Christ? All of our sins – past, present, and future sins. What kind of men did the law or Old Covenant appoint as priests? Weak men. According to Hebrews 7:28 we read: “For the law appoints as high priest men who are weak but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.” We see here that the law appointed priests who are personally imperfect – characterized by weakness and failure; they are only ritually holy. Now, what kind of priest has been appointed for us under the New Covenant? A holy priest, our Lord and Saviour, who has been perfected forever.
OUR SALVATION IS COMPLETE
“Now there has been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, He has a permanent priesthood. Therefore, He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them (Hebrews 7:23-25).” What prevented Old Testament priest from continuing in their office? Their physical death. Was their priesthood permanent or temporary. It was obviously temporary. Will Jesus ever die? No. Then how long will He remain in office? Forever. Now, if Jesus has saved you “completely,” can you ever lose your salvation? No, absolutely not. We see that Old Testament priests interceded for the people because of their sins. How often does it say that Christ intercedes for us? All the time – perpetually. What does it mean that Christ “always lives to intercede for you?” Our eternal security rests on His perpetual intercession for us. He is also able to save us for all time because His present ministry for us at God’s right hand can never be interrupted by death.
Previous verses stressed the superiority of the blood of the New Covenant to the blood of the Old. This leads to the conclusion of verse 15 – that Christ is the Mediator of the New Covenant. We read: “For this reason Christ is the mediator of a New Covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance – now that He has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” What does this New Covenant promise that you will receive? Eternal inheritance – eternal salvation. How long will that promised inheritance last? Eternally – forever. Now, what has Christ set you free from? Free from the sins committed under the first covenant found in the Old Testament. How does this fact affect your relationship with God? We are no longer under condemnation. Christ’s death redeemed us from transgressions under the law. We can now have an intimate relationship with God – it’s called love.
We know from Scripture that the apostle Paul was the minister of a New Covenant. Everywhere he travelled, he preached the gospel of Jesus Christ and in doing so made clear distinctions between the New and the Old Covenant. “He has made us competent as ministers of a New Covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts (2 Cor.3:6-11)!”
What does the phrase, “of the letter” refer to? The letter stands for the whole Mosaic law. Are we ministers of the law? No. As ministers of the New Covenant what are we ministers of? The Spirit. It says that the law kills, what does the Spirit do? Gives life. What is the ministry that brought death? The law – the Ten Commandments. Was the law glorious? It was a display of the holy requirements of God, and in that sense was glorious. According to the above verses was the ministry of the law fading? Yes. What is the ministry that condemns? Here the Old Covenant is called the ministry of condemnation. It brought condemnation to all men, because no one could perfectly keep the law. What is the ministry that brings righteousness? The ministration of righteousness is that ministration which reveals a righteousness by which men are justified, and thus freed from the condemnation pronounced upon them by the law. Another way we can look at it is that the glories of Calvary far eclipse the glories of Sinai. Finally, which ministry is more glorious: The ministry of the Spirit? Or the ministry of the law? Obviously, it is the ministry of the Spirit that is more glorious. When the two covenants are placed side-by-side, one completely outshines the other, that is, the New Covenant surpasses the Old.
Walking in the fullness of God’s grace cannot be accomplished by trying to live up to something which God says is obsolete and is fading. To walk in the fullness of His grace is to fully trust in His love and what He accomplished for you. For this to make a practical difference in your daily life, you must come to the firm conclusion that “there is nothing left for you to do.” This conclusion empowers you to live in righteousness under a New Covenant whose glory is the unquenchable glory of God Himself.
CONCLUSION: REST FROM YOUR WORKS
We read in Hebrews 4:9-11 that “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from His. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest.” What remains for you under the grace of God in the New Covenant. A Sabbath-rest. Earlier we discovered that Christ was sitting at the right hand of God. If He is sitting, is He working or resting? Obviously, He is resting. Now, what does this verse say that God is doing now? Is He working or resting? He is resting. If God’s work of redemption, sanctification, forgiveness, and salvation is so complete that He is resting, what is left for you to do? We also should be resting. Resting in what Christ accomplished for us sinners on Calvary’s cross. How do you enter that rest? Can you rest by working harder? No, absolutely not. What does this verse say that you have to do in order to enter into God’s rest? It tells us that we should make every effort to enter that eternal rest.
In the Old Testament, there was a huge veil (3 inch wide) that separated the people from the presence of God in the Holy of Holies. The only person who could enter into the Holy of Holies was the high priest after he had sacrificed for his own sins. This veil symbolized our separation from God because of sin. If anyone other than the high priest entered the Holy of Holies, God would strike him dead. As Christ died on the cross, the temple veil was ripped apart from the top to the bottom (Matt. 27:51). Today, under the New Covenant, there is no such separation between God and man.
According to Hebrews 10:19-23, how do we enter the Most Holy Place? Do we enter through our works? No. Who is our high priest? Jesus Christ of course. Do we draw near to God with a sincere heart or through our “Christian activities?” We draw close to God with our sincere heart. Who sprinkled our hearts to cleanse them? It was Jesus. Who washed us with the pure and living water? It was Jesus. Does any of this grace and salvation depend upon your actions? No, it doesn’t. Who is faithful according to this passage, you or God? Obviously, it is God. Are you willing to rest in His faithfulness? Yes, absolutely.
Many Christians are like a hapless novice trapeze artist who swings back and forth, holding on to his bar. Finally, he musters all of his courage and reaches out with one hand and grabs on to the other bar. “I did it!” He thinks proudly to himself. Then he realizes that he is still holding on to the first bar. In fact, now he is holding on to two bars and he is suspended in mid air and his condition is now worse than when he started. There are many Christians like this novice trapeze artist who are stubbornly clinging unto the law while reaching out to God’s grace. They find themselves suspended in an existence of rules and regulations always trying to do just a little more and finding that it is never quite enough. They ask themselves, “Where is the rest and peace that Jesus promised?”
The answer to our dilemma is the same as that of the novice trapeze artist. We must let go of the OLD and hold firmly to the NEW. Only then will we experience the freedom of flying safely to the other side. In closing, let us turn to Galatians 5:1 that says, “It was for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Christ has set us free from the law which condemned us of sin and death so that we could walk in the fullness of God’s grace. Once again, let go of the OLD and grab hold of the NEW.
F/B – Signs Of Our Times
Understanding The Signs Of Our Times.com
Transforming Power; The Work of God on Behalf of Man
Lian Muan Kim –
Koinonia Baptist Seminary, Yangon