Grace and Law?

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You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace” (Gal. 5:4). When one becomes a Christian there are certain changes that usually take place in his life. It was my privilege to witness God draw an Air Force general to Christ over a two-year period. When I first met this veteran of World War II he was an atheist, and his language was as “colorful” as his personality. I soon realized that his strong words misusing the Lord’s name were permanently sewn into the fabric of his everyday life. However, even though he was over eighty years of age when he was converted, his speech was modified as the Holy Spirit transformed his heart. The ungodly expressions of habit that had become part of his routine disappeared in a short time. Was my friend made righteous by his faith in Jesus or by the cessation of his cursing God? Was He saved by grace or by his “good work” of cleaning up his speech pattern?

You may think this question is too elementary for you. As a regular reader of Tabletalk you probably affirm the biblical truth that we are justified by faith alone in Christ alone. Indeed, I do hope that you know you are a wretch of a sinner whose only hope is in grace alone. In Galatians 5:4 Paul explained that if you trust in obedience to the Law to save, you have cut yourself off from salvation through Christ. He was saying to the Galatians: “You cannot trust in Christ and in the Law to make you righteous.” In terms of salvation you must choose between the two. If you trust in the Law, then Jesus is of no use to you. You cannot work for some “pay off” from God and call it “grace.” Paul was saying you must choose between Christ and the Law.

I have come to believe that many of us, even those of us who subscribe to solus Christus and sola gratia, are not consistent in applying these incredible truths. Many times in our evaluations of other Christians and in our evangelism we choose the Law instead of Christ; we choose the Law instead of grace.

A young friend of mine was working for a Christian institution that professed to adhere to biblical orthodoxy. She came from a godly home. Her parents taught her and her siblings to celebrate daily God’s wonderful grace in their lives. She was a thinking young lady who lived an exemplary life through high school and college. One evening she came home with a young man she had been dating for some time to tell her parents with tears of contrition that she was pregnant. Her parents were crushed but reached out to her and the young man in grace. They wanted to marry, and after much counseling to confirm their commitment to each other, their vows were made and the union was celebrated in a worship service. The evangelical institution where she worked let her go a few weeks later. By the testimony of her employers her work was excellent, but they were under pressure from their constituents to let her go. Before a watching world this organization that gave allegiance to the doctrines of the Reformation chose the Law over grace. They had an opportunity to demonstrate grace and failed.

We live in a fallen world where life is messy. Legalism “shuns” the mess; grace meets the mess — grace embraces the prodigal and throws a party. So I ask you, reader, and I ask myself, have we really chosen Christ over the Law, or is it Christ and the Law? Have we chosen grace over the Law, or is it grace and the Law? What was it Paul said? “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law.” We can’t have it both ways.

Time and time again, as Christians evangelistically approached my friend, the Air Force general, they wanted him to clean up his life and become a Christian. They got the proverbial cart before the horse. They would rebuke him about his language instead of telling him about Jesus. In fact, one day he asked me why I had not said anything about his blasphemous words. I told him that he could clean up his mouth and he would be a “properly spoken” sinner still on his way to hell. 

O, dear reader, we must learn, “Jesus saves” and Jesus alone. The unmarried couple living next door to you, do we go and tell them they ought to be married, or do we tell them there is a Father who gave His Son for sinners? Jesus and the Holy Spirit not only save, but they clean up lives much more thoroughly than we can.

Am I not giving license to the Christian to sin with abandon? You know I am not! Usually people who make such accusations are evangelical “closet legalists” running in their pride to the Law because they think it shows them to be superior. When he denied Jesus in that courtyard, Peter did not say, “Well, Jesus told me I would do this, and I know He will forgive me. This is no big thing.” We read that he went out and wept bitterly. Jesus did not fire Peter. Instead, He met him for breakfast on the shore in Galilee.

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