Grace and Law
Many well-meaning Christians today believe that they are under grace, and that Jesus Christ not only died for their sins, but also died so that they no longer need to keep any laws. Some believe that they can break God’s laws, because grace covers all our sins for all time, and we can do what we want.
There is an opposite approach by some, which is to say that we are still under the law, must keep the law, and the better we keep it, the better we can earn our salvation.
The Bible should be the basis for our Christian beliefs, and to that we should look for guidance in how to live, as well as using common sense, and if we have the Holy Spirit indwelling, that should also guide us in our discernment and help us to understand the Bible as well the times we are living in.
The first thing we should do then, is determine where to look in the Bible. Let us start with Romans 6:14–15 (NKJV):
“For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!”
The words of the Apostle Paul to the Christians living in Rome are very clear. “We are not under the law” — how can we argue with that? “But under grace” — so we are indeed under grace and not under the law. But read the whole passage — we should not continue to sin.
This means that even though Christ died for our sins, we have no licence to continue sinning. As Christians we are under grace, but we must not continue to sin, as we read in Romans 6:1–2 (NKJV):
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?”
Grace is God’s mercy: the undeserved, unmerited, and unearned pardon which God grants us when we accept the shed blood of Jesus Christ, our confession of our personal sins, and our acceptance of Jesus as our personal Saviour.
But grace is also the undeserved forgiveness Jesus Christ stands ready to pour out on you if and when you repent of sin.
So what is sin? According to 1 John 3:4 (Easy-to-Read Version): “Anyone who sins breaks God’s law. Yes, sinning is the same as living against God’s law.”
If we repent of sin, it means we no longer continue to sin. Sin is breaking God’s laws, so we must continue to obey God’s laws, as best as we can. But, note carefully, we do not do so in order to earn salvation. We do so to honour our Creator, our Father in Heaven, and His Son, Jesus Christ, who died for our sins. Why would you want to deliberately continue to sin?
Suppose you are a parent and you have a young child. The child does something naughty, and you tell the child off, but you love the child, and do not hold it against him or her. You forgive your child, and you tell the child not to do the naughty thing again. If your child then does that bad act again, you will be upset, you will tell the child off again, and you will forgive the child again — but will you enjoy those naughty acts of the child? Do you want to child to continue to “sin” or to behave in a much better way?
How do you think God wants us to behave? Let us take the Ten Commandments, and look at some of those. If the law was done away when Christ died, then surely it must now be okay to murder? And to steal, and to cheat, and commit fraud, and to commit adultery? If the law is done away, then those things must be okay.
But Christ said to His disciples, in Matthew 5:21–30, that in the past they knew the commandment to not murder, but to take it even further and not even hate a person. And they knew not to commit adultery, but to take it further and not even think about committing adultery or lusting after someone who is not your spouse.
Common sense tells us that murder and adultery are wrong, as well as hating others for no reason, or desiring to take another man’s wife. There are laws in most countries against that. God’s laws are higher than man’s laws, so to think we can get away with not keeping the Ten Commandments is foolishness. What did the Apostle Paul say to that? Look again at Romans 6:1–2, this time in the Easy-to-Read Version:
“So do you think we should continue sinning so that God will give us more and more grace? Of course not! Our old sinful life ended. It’s dead. So how can we continue living in sin?”
In verse 4 Paul writes that “we also should walk in newness of life”. And read on in verses 12–13 (NKJV):
“Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.”
So when Paul wrote in verse 14 about not being under the law, it means being under the “penalty” of the law. To obey the law is to be “within the law”, but to sin is to “come under the law”. We are no longer under the death penalty, as Christ’s death paid for our sins. But we have grace to keep us forgiven of sin. But we should not get so self-righteous about keeping the law, nor can we earn salvation or a better place in the Kingdom by being better at keeping the Sabbath than anyone else.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that obedience to God’s law conflicts with grace. Because you are under grace, meaning forgiven (when and if you repent of having broken God’s law), you are rejoicing in the great liberty and freedom of having the penalty of death removed from you. Jesus Christ stepped forward and asked God the Father if He can shed His own life’s blood, giving His life for us. He was then resurrected, and continues to ask God to apply His sacrifice to us when we sin.
Let us also look at what Paul wrote in Galatians 5:13–15 (NKJV):
“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’. But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.”
We have freedom from the death penalty, and we should not abuse that. But if we do sin, through a bad habit or accidentally, or being weak and getting caught out, then we can repent and be forgiven.
We are not under the law, not under the penalty of the law. We are under grace, which means we can be saved and have eternal life in the Kingdom of God. We should do our best to not sin, but we do not earn salvation through our law-keeping, but keeping God’s laws is pleasing to God, with the right attitude.