The Puzzle Of Law And Grace

By A. E. Reinschmidt

    "For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" (John 1:17).

The Law

    What is meant by "the law"? As the term is used theologically, it means various things, some of which are hardly related to each other. This is causing much confusion in the minds of many people. First, there is "the law" as it refers to certain rules which were "given by Moses" for the express purpose of training the children of Israel, in preparation for the coming of their Messiah. "The law of commandments contained in ordinances" (Eph. 2:15):  Such things as circumcision, diet, which day of the week the people must rest, etc. These things were only for Israel, and have been "abolished."

    Again, "the law" refers to things which were purely typical of the coming of Christ: “the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very [substance] of the things," etc. (Heb. 10:1). All such types and shadows were also abolished when, in the fullness of time, Christ, the Antitype, came. Many times these typical things, and also those rules which concerned the disciplining of Israel, are referred to in the New Testament as "the law." This law "was given by Moses" himself, under the direction of God, for a specific purpose and was intended to pass away when that purpose was accomplished.

    Once more: "The law" has another meaning, quite different from those we have mentioned above: "The law of the Lord" (Psa. 19:10). This law, though enunciated in part by Moses, was not "given by Moses." This law is for all mankind – not "for the Jews" only. This is the moral law, and it is changeless and eternal. It is the law of love, of obedience, of holiness, of justice and righteousness, etc. This law is no respecter of persons or times.

    The integrity of the Universe depends on this "law of the Lord" – which "is perfect, converting the soul" (Psa. 19:7). This is "the law" of which Jesus spake when He said: "Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:18-19).

    It is with this law in mind that the Scripture says, "Sin is the transgression of the law" (1 John 3:4). Of this law the Scripture says: "The law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good...the law is spiritual..." (Rom. 7:12-14). This is "the law" which is partly enunciated by Moses in the Ten Commandments, and more fully by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, especially in the Beatitudes – Matthew, chapters five, six and seven.

    We may not speak of this being "legal ground"! This is not the law that was "given by Moses." It is the law of Jehovah – Jesus Himself. It was not for attempting obedience to this "law" that Paul told the Galatians that they were "fallen from grace" (Gal. 5:4). It was for their turning back from grace to circumcision, observing "days," etc. – "the law of commandments contained in ordinances" (Eph. 2:15), which were only "for the Jews," while they awaited the coming of the Son of God, which "ordinances" are now abolished. It was these things Paul had in mind when he wrote about the believer being "free from the law."

    But we must carefully discern between those things which have been "done away in Christ," and those things which shall "never pass away." Failure to do this is fatal to any true understanding of Law and Grace. In this article we are thinking of "the law" as it refers to those moral principles, taught in all the Scriptures, which are as ancient and eternal as God Himself. From these laws we are never "free" nor does any true child of the Father desire to be free from them. They are His will for us. They are the cords that bind us to Himself when we are obedient to His will. "O how love I Thy law! It is my meditation all the day" (Psa. 119:97). "Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law" (v. 18). "The law of Thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver" (Psa. 119:72). The Psalmist was not "free from the law" evidently.

Grace Versus Law

    "Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ."  Law and grace appear to be set in contrast with one another in this text. But the contrast is between grace and the "law of Moses" concerning Israel, and not the "law of the Lord" (Psa. 19:10). This law is a part of His Word. God's Word is like the sun (Psa. 19:3-7). It has many "rays." His law is one ray; His grace, another.

    Some of "man's work on the Word of God" has tried to divorce His law from His grace, so that we are badly off. As between the two, it is better for man to have "the law of the Lord" without much grace, than (if it were possible) to have grace without His law. Both His law and His grace issue from His Word. They balance each other. But "the carnal mind" has made an awful mess of these things!

Did Jesus Ever Preach "The Law"?

    No and yes. He did not preach "the law" which Moses gave to Israel to prepare them for the coming of Christ. But He most certainly did preach the laws of His Father, the moral law. Those laws which affect the relationships between man and God and between men themselves: The law of grace and forgiveness. The Sermon on the Mount is a summation of those laws or principles which are always in force, not being held in abeyance until "the kingdom" shall come.

    In His teaching Jesus contrasted "the law" which He taught, with "the law" which Moses gave to Israel only. He said, "Ye have heard that it hath been said [in the law of Moses], an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, that ye resist not evil [injury] ..." "Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you [this is His own law], Love your enemies, bless them that curse you" (Matt. 5:20-48). Let us not call this "legal ground."

What Was Jesus Preaching?

    Mark tells us that in "the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God Jesus came…reaching the gospel of the Kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel" (1:1, 15). Could Jesus have been preaching "the law of Moses" while He was telling His hearers to "believe the gospel"?

    The Gospel combines "the law of the Lord" and "the grace of God." It does not set grace against God's law and make obedience even to Jesus' own commandments (John 14:21-24), a sign that one is on "legal ground." Because of a false interpretation of law and grace, we are being told that any Scripture (even a promise of God) that carried with it a condition of any kind to be fulfilled by us, is "legalistic," "of the law," "to the Jews," etc.

    When Jesus conditioned our being forgiven of God upon our forgiving one another (Matt. 6:12, 14-15; 18:21-35; Mark 11:25-26), was He on "legal ground," contradicting Himself by making statements which "times and seasons" would annul? Though it is not so intended, this teaching is seized upon as an excuse by many for not forgiving "men their trespasses," nor asking forgiveness of those whom they may chance to offend. God's own terms of forgiveness are ruled out as being "legalistic." These teachers say we are forgiven "for Christ's sake," unconditionally, and that we should forgive only because we are forgiven.

    But we know some churches where this doctrine is held by every member and there is so little of forgiveness among them, that any revival is absolutely impossible there, unless a few of the "pillars" may get converted from their false idea of grace. This theory does not produce forgiveness, but rather causes people to search for excuses for not being "kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven [us]" (Eph. 4:32) – a favorite text among some of this school of thought. "Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ," that we might come into at-one-ment with God, His law, and His grace, that through obedience to His will, they might have restored to them that eternal life which they lost through disobedience (Gen. 3).

    But even in the first century, there were men who were "turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness" (Judges 4) – just like those in our day who teach that for one to consider any "commandment" as binding, is to descend to "legal ground," and thus violate the meaning of grace, making the grace of God of none effect, emasculating "the Gospel of our salvation." Any condition is anathema to this school of thought.

    But before anyone may "have grace," there are some very stiff conditions to be met. First, God "giveth grace to the humble," only (1 Pet. 5:5-6).  Also, "By grace are ye saved through faith." Faith is to believe and obey God. Pretty stiff conditions would you not say? Is the Lord on "legal ground" here?

    One reason why some reject the teaching that we must forgive others as a condition of being forgiven of God, is the false notion that this would be earning our forgiveness – which is not possible. We are only accepting forgiveness of God on His terms. To think of this as a price is inexcusable. The Jews thought they were earning justification by their works. Paul exploded this whole idea, especially in his epistle to the Romans.

    But all of God's gifts are conditional. Believing is a condition, and no one can receive the least thing from God without meeting that condition. To reject this condition is to reject His gifts – even His gift of grace.  But some are so foolish they think that to put forth a spiritual effort to believe would be trying to earn something!