RECONCILING LAW, FAITH AND GRACE
Definition of ‘the law’: According to Oxford advanced learner’s dictionary, law is defined as a RULE usually made by government, that is used to order the way a society behaves, or the whole system of such rules.
‘Government’ in this context implies God’s leadership and rule over a person or his people. Whereas, ‘society’ here implies the community of God’s people.
According to biblical interpreters, ‘law’ is referred to as commandments, collections of regulations and ordinances, customs and legal judgments. It refers to the entire commandment and system of rules as contained in the covenant God made with the ethnic Jewish nation as a means of their response in gratitude, devotion and relationship to God’s grace. Also, for his love and deliverance from the cruel bondage of slavery from Egypt.
Egypt in this context is indicative of the slavery of Sin which corrupted the human nature, finally gravitated to utter depravity.
The Jewish nation: Covenant and the law
What is a covenant?
A covenant is an oath-bound promise whereby one party solemnly guarantees to BLESS or SERVE another party in some SPECIFIED way. The keeping of the promise solely, sometimes, depends upon the meeting of certain conditions by the party to whom the promise is made. A covenant can exist between humans, between a spiritual being and human. It can also be established between two equals or between the weak and strong.
God established a covenant with Abraham also called Abrahamic covenant (Gen 12:1-3; 15:1-19; 17:1-14; 22:15-18).God called father Abraham from an idolatrous family, out of Ur to go to Canaan, promising to make him a great nation which in turn would bless all nations. He promised giving him a son even at his old age. Abraham responded by believing God, contrary to the laws of nature.
It was specifically established that through the ‘seed,’ not ‘seeds’ but ‘seed’of Abraham shall the nations of the earth be blessed.
In Genesis 17:1-14, when God appeared to Abraham, he told him that he is God almighty and that Abraham should walk before him in holiness and blamelessness. God went further to establish a covenant of circumcision with Him as a sign of ownership. It is quite worthy to note that Holiness, grace, faith and obedience preceded the law. The law was an external manifestation and response of an inward devotion and commitment towards the grace of God.
Also In Genesis 17:7-8, God chose Abraham and his descendants among various nations of the earth to be his covenant chosen and beloved people (Israelites or the Jewish nation).That is the work of grace. Why did he not choose the Amorites, Amalakites and Palestines? The Israelites or Jewish nation became God’s only chosen nation among all the nations of the earth. By implication, the promise and salvation was from God to the Jews, through the Jews and For the Jews (Romans 9:4-5). If you are not from the ethnic tribe of the Jews or from the common wealth of Israel you are not expected to take part or share in the promise, hence, termed as the ‘GENTILES’. Even if you are from Asia, Europe, Africa, America etc, and not from Israel you are a complete Gentile.
May I submit to you for further evidence, that the westerners or the whites and their lifestyle or culture is not the standard for God’s righteousness or kingdom ethics and behavior- we all are gentiles. The bible is the standard. Remember that Christianity is not a modern religion but an ancient one. So trying to modify it or create our own standard of righteousness has resulted to GENTILE-ABUSE of God’s law; which is a grave sin.
We are trying to establish a connection between the covenant and the law. This effort is made ceaselessly to locate the origin of the law and the root of the Jewish nation for which it was established, thus determining its implication and application for a wider trans-generational society beyond the roots and common wealth of Israel.
In the course of time, Abraham’s descendants were enslaved in Egypt. They kept crying out to God for liberation. Jehovah-God, because he is a covenant keeping God, remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, he sent a deliverer in the person of Moses (Exodus 2:24; 3:6-10).After their deliverance from their task masters, God through the mediation of Moses established series of covenant that encompasses the following (Exodus chapter 19 to chapter 30):
1. Love for God and love for neighbor
2. All moral obligations
3. Civil rites
4. Ceremonial rites
5. Dietary rites or regulations
6. Tabernacle ordinance
7. Holiness code etc.
The features of the covenant includes:
· Historical initial remarks examining the past relationship between God and Abraham.
· Statement of obligations the party (God and the Jews) have to each other (Deuteronomy 28).
· Condition of reading the covenant publicly as a constant reminder.
· Lists of blessings (reward) and curses (consequences) to follow from keeping or breaking the covenant agreement.
God’s original design and intention for the nation of Israel was that through this covenant which is also called the LAW, he will reconcile them back to himself by receiving their total devotion and surrender to him in righteousness and in a loving and working relationship. He delivered them that they might worship him in truth and spirit not for their lustful consumption or gratifications.
The Israelites rather perverted this given Law which was an embodiment of all obligations and ceremonies obtainable in the established covenant. They now used the keeping of the law as a way of receiving blessings and accepting favor before God instead of a heartfelt devotion. They did not care about God but the technicalities through which they can obtain blessings hence, thorough devotion and worship of the law rather than God. At the same time ignoring God and their neighbor to whom the law was to benefit. They saw the law as an end instead as a means to an end.
The law did not rescue them from their task masters; it was God who delivered them from their most powerful enemies. The law was supposed to be their outward expression of an inner gratitude towards God’s salvation and grace. They thus worshipped the law neglecting the law giver. This was the only fault of the law.
They made sacrifices, fulfilling all the ceremonial laws and dietary laws and severally or blatantly breaking the moral laws (abstaining from fornication, adultery, stealing, lying, cheating, diabolism, witchcraft, idolatry (that is, bowing down to graven and molded images in the church or at home), incest, homosexuality, lesbianism, alcoholism, envy, backbiting, murder, wickedness, covetousness and their like). For example: the law of Sabbath was made for man so as not to overwork himself, thus not being in good shape or health to serve God, himself and his neighbor. But this was abused and taken too far to the extent that if one’s neighbor is sick, in danger or in labor pains on Sabbath, they prefer to keep the Sabbath and let their neighbor die or suffer. Consequently, making the law that was good and given for good intension to produce bad results and effect. The law now produced curses and death as a consequence of their inability to keep up with the terms of the covenant due to their fallen human nature and insatiable inclination towards sin and evil. The covenant is same as the law as explained previously.
Another law, ‘the law of sin and death’ was operational in them by function of their corrupted human nature inherited from Adam (Romans 8:2-4). It ended up making them hypocrites with a form of religious piety and godliness but lacking the power of God’s righteousness. Because of this nature they do not have the capacity to keep up with God’s covenant laws (Romans 8:7&8), thereby making the law useless for salvation.
The New Testament and the law
The law was good as we explained earlier but due to the evil in us, we were not able to keep up with the law. God is love and a holy God. He expects his people to love freely and live in holiness. That was the essence of the law. The law was not hard, but a response to God’s grace and love towards us, not merely endless lists of rules. It seemed difficult for us because we do not want to love or live righteously. We want to do our own thing. We want to live life as we please not minding the consequences (Romans 7:7-12).
Jesus Christ did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17-20). To ‘fulfill’ in this context means to achieve its desired goal or intention. Christ even added that our righteousness must exceed that outward hypocrisy of godliness as obtainable in the lives of the religious leaders of their time.
He made it in a way that unless you are born again and regenerated (2 Corinthians 5:17; John 3:3) you cannot find it easy with the law (Matthew 5:21-48; Chapter 6, 7:1-14). Hence, having a restricted access to God.
Note that ‘Testament’ means covenant. The difference between old and new testament is Jesus, a fulfillment of the covenant or the law and the suspension of the ceremonial, dietary and customary laws binding on the nation of Israel as a means to salvation. But the moral laws were untouched and binding on all who believes in the Jesus Christ (Faith is portrayed here again as seen in Abraham’s stance).
Through God’s promise, the gentiles were now incorporated or included in God’s salvation plan on the basis of their faith in Jesus and not by adherence to ceremonial and dietary laws apart from the moral laws as it were binding on the Israelites before Christ came (Romans 9:23-26).
Consequently, dietary law and ceremonial laws are no longer in
operation for the New Testament believers. You may eat
whatever you want to eat and worship God whenever and
wherever you want, but always in a manner that is pleasing and acceptable to him (Romans 12:1, Colossians 2:16-17,Romans 14:2-6).
You can worship on a Saturday (Sabbath) or on a Sunday (first day of the week).
New Testament believers: Understanding faith, grace and the law
Jesus Christ is the end of the law, righteousness to as many that believe and also a righteous requirement of the law (Romans 10:4). This implies that if we come to him in faith, we become saved (Romans 10:9-10). His blood redeems us and justifies us from our past sin making us new creatures, holy and righteous. All these are made possible because of the gospel preached to us which came with God’s righteousness revealed unto us through our faith in him (Romans 1:17). However, the moral laws are still binding on us because morality is an element of godliness. We are not for any reason permitted to steal, fornicate, commit adultery, kill, fight, dress naked, and accuse people falsely.
But the laws that pertain to food or diet and ceremonial laws, and tabernacle ordinance such as keeping the Sabbath, burning of incense, making blood sacrifice has been abolished or cancelled and constitutes a sin if we continue in it after the sacrifice Jesus made on Calvary. This was made possible because Jesus came to give us a better covenant that is intended to change us inside out and engage our continuous faith, obedience and total commitment and a loving relationship with God.
In this new covenant, it is our faith in Jesus that makes us righteous. So there is no need going about declaring yourself a sinner because Christ had paid the price for your sins, washed and sanctified you by his blood. Going on to sin would constitute ignorance on your part.
What is grace?
Grace could be referred to as an unmerited favor. It can also mean an approval or kindness shown to someone. God in his
infinite mercies granted us an approval by showing us kindness when we do not deserve it. He loved us not because we have done anything to deserve it. He did it for love. We are the object of hiss love (John 3:16-17).
God’s grace does not give us license to sin or maintain our liability of sin, it rather gives us the enablement to avoid and overcome sin! Titus 2:11: “for the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age”.
It is faith that grants us access to the grace of God. The grace of God would not make any meaning unless one first believes (Romans 5:1-2).
What is faith?
Hebrew 11:1; “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”.
To be precise, Faith is believing whatever God has said and promised in his word even if we cannot see it. Faith is trusting God. Believing that his promises will come to pass. Romans 10:17 says that faith comes by hearing and from the word of God. Faith rooted in righteousness, and worketh by love is the basis of our belief and the very foundation of our Christianity. This is the only tool that grants us access to God’s provided salvation plan.
Hebrew 11:6 says without faith, it is impossible to please God. This makes it an invaluable tool in our spiritual work with God.
When we get born again a particular law is set in motion in our life to guarantee our success in our spiritual journey. That law is the ‘law of the spirit of life’ in Christ Jesus. This is a law that works in us and ensures that we have life and power to overcome sin. It is quite important to know that anything, promise, property, work or statement not backed up by law at that level of its inconsistency with a law is rendered null and void. Glory be to God our salvation, our spiritual walk, our faith, our hope, our blessings and our inheritance are all backed up by a law-LAW OF THE SPIRIT OF LIFE.
The law, faith and grace were reconciled by Christ’s coming and his death on the cross. His redemption brought grace and our faith in him produced God’s righteousness in us and established a higher law which works by the spirit. We are not under the law but under God’s grace because the grace of God makes us say no to sin which if subject to the law will bring judgment and death.
“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.”
Faith which gives us access to God’s grace enables us to live beyond the limitation of the law because the knowledge of the law is the bondage of sin. How do we know what is sin if not that the law says so?
According to Ezekiel chapter 11, God removes from us the heart of stone, gives us sensitive and responsive heart of flesh; he pours his spirit upon us and causes us naturally to obey his statues willingly. This is typical of what happens during the new birthing process. We become new creatures, old things become an ancient thing of an infinite past (2Corithian 5:17). Glory to God!
Therefore those who are genuinely born of God (Born again) are not under the law. The law is meant to restrict sinners in their unrepentant nature. The law of God is written in the heart of a believer! He needs nobody to tell him that fornication or stealing is a sin, therefore unacceptable before God. He knows beyond that. He even has the higher law of not lusting in his heart or even mentioning it. He knows he has been delivered from sin and therefore cannot continue in it. Let me close with this illustration: If the president of Nigeria declares kidnapping as a capital offence, of which anyone caught doing so, will face a firing squad. As a believer I am not under that law. I cannot be reduced or subject to that kind of law because I have been redeemed from such acts and its tendencies. It is not in my nature to steal or kidnap so why should that ‘law and its penalty’ be meted out on me? That is improbable, not just impossible but improbable. I am not under the law. I even do more than is required beyond the letters of the law.
In same way, through faith in God’s grace and in his son we are not under the law of sin but under grace because the interpretation of the law of sin and its penalty cannot find us around its premises. We carry the righteous nature of God as believers.
Our sin problem has been settled. Praise God!