Bible Study Helps and Lessons
By Pastor George Rice
One of the most misunderstood teachings of the Bible is the complementary role played by grace and Jesus’ law in the plan of salvation. Two pointed question must be asked that relate to the relationship between grace and law.
1. Can a sinner be saved by keeping the law while rejecting Jesus and His grace?
2. Can a sinner be saved by accepting Jesus and His grace while disobeying the law?
These questions can be answered and the confusion over the relationship between grace and law can be resolved by looking at the role each plays in the God’s plan for the salvation of sinners.
First the role of grace:
1. Sinners are justified by grace - Romans 3:21-24. This is often called imputed righteousness. This act of justification on Jesus’ part can be looked upon as a legal transaction where the death penalty demanded by the broken law is satisfied by the death of Jesus who is the Originator of the law.
2. Sinners are saved by grace - Ephesians 2:4, 5. This is often called imparted righteousness. Jesus’ grace and righteousness are given to the repentant sinner. Jesus’ robe of righteousness covers the sin-defiled person and Jesus’ grace empowers him to live a life of victory.
This two-part role of grace is laid out by Paul in Romans 5:10, “For if when we were sinners we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”
Now the role of the law in salvation:
1. It is the responsibility of the ten commandment law to point out where sin exists - Romans 7:7; 3:20. Once the sinner is aware of the presence of sin in his life, he flees to Jesus in an attitude of confession and repentance for forgiveness and His grace. It is not the responsibility of grace to identify sin. This is the work of the law. Nor is it the responsibility of the law to empower the sinner to live a victorious life and to be save. This is the work of grace. So law and grace work together in the experience of salvation, each complementing the other and carrying out their functions in God’s great plan.
2. The law also defines what sin is - 1 John 3:4. Sin is the transgression of Jesus’ ten commandment law. Also in James 4:17, sin is defined as knowing what the ten commandments requires of us and refusing to obey.
3. A third role of the law is to be the standard of judgment. All humans will face the requirements of the law whether clothed in Jesus’ righteousness or not - Ecclesiastes 12:13, 14; James 2:10-12. It is in connection with the third responsibility of the law that Paul makes an interesting statement in Romans 2:13, “Not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified.” As we have seen above, we are justified by grace. Being empowered by Jesus’ grace we live a life that is in agreement with and not contrary to the requirements of Jesus’ law. Being in agreement with the ten commandment law by the power of Jesus’ grace, we stand justified when judged. That is to say, our behavior is in agreement with what Jesus asks of us because He has empowered us to obey by His grace.
On the basis of what has been said to this point, we can make the following observation, You cannot be saved by keeping the law, but you cannot be saved unless you keep the law.
A logical question arises at this point. What does Paul mean in his many statements that there is no salvation for those who keep the law? These statements must but understood within the historical context of the experience of the church in his day and together with what is presented above. These statements can be divided into two groups:
1. First, there existed in the early Christian church a group of Jews who believed that Gentile converts to Christianity were obligated to keep the requirements that God gave to the Jews through Moses. They saw Judaism as a big umbrella covering several different groups. There were the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes, the Herodians, and the Scribes. Now a new group emerged, the Christians. Being seen as under the umbrella with the other groups, Christians were expected to behave and live like Jews. Of course the Gentile Christians were expected to keep the ten commandments, but they were also expected to keep the other requirements which were given to the Jews and known as “The Law of Moses”-- the cultural and ceremonial regulations. Among them was the rite of circumcision. The debate over what to require of Gentile converts to Christianity became so intense, the first church council was called to resolve the matter (Acts 15). The hot issues was circumcision - Acts 15:1, 5. The council finally decided that this ancient rite was not to be required of Gentile Christians. However, the council did ask them to adhere to the four requirements listed in Acts 15:20, 23-29.
2. Second, Paul points out that Jews in general were trying to gain righteousness apart from God’s proscribed plan for obtaining righteousness - Romans 10:1-4. As we have seen above, this cannot be done. By strict adherence to the ten commandment law without Jesus and His grace all attempts at righteousness are a failure. For this reason Paul says in the context of his remarks in Romans 10:1-4 that belief in Christ brings an end to attempts to gain righteous by obedience to the law without Christ. Paul is not saying that the ten commandment law was done away with, but that attempts to gain righteousness by the law without Christ were futile. Remember, the function of the law is not to do what grace is designed to do.
Paul states clearly that Jesus gave the ten commandment law at Sinai. In Galatians 3:19, he says that the law was given through the hand of a mediator. Then in 1 Timothy 2:5, he tells us there is only one Mediator between God and man–Jesus Christ. The record in Exodus 20 makes it clear that Jesus was the law giver. The law was introduced with the following statement, “I am the Lord your God” (Exodus 20:1). Lord, in caps, is used to translate the covenant name of God, YHWH. YHWH comes from the Hebrew verb “to be,” thus expressing God eternal existence. Jesus claimed the name “I AM” in John 8:58 (YHWH or the eternal existing God). It was this “I AM” who spoke to Moses from the burning bush (Exodus 3:14), and is YHWH in the Old Testament, or the Lord.
As the Author of the ten commandment law, Jesus tells His followers, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). And again in John 14:21 “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me.” If a person does not love Jesus he will not keep His commandments. Concerning this person, John says, “He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:4).
Therefore, love for Jesus, His grace, and obedience to His ten commandment law cannot be separated. Law and grace work together as a dynamic duo and producing the end result, a genuine love for Jesus.