Living Within the Tension of Law and Grace
Many Christians do not know how to live the Christian life. The joy of when they first believed is replaced by the angst of whether they are pleasing to God or not (2 Cor 5:9). Some feel the weight of guilt because they remain sinners after becoming saints. Others misinterpret grace and live a bit too loose. How does God want His people to live in response to their becoming aware of His salvation?
Paul wrote to the church at Rome, “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace (Rom 6:14).” Sin is a problem for the sinner because of the wages being death (Rom 6:23). If you have sin, you will die as a result. It is appointed once for a man to die and then comes the judgment (Heb 9:27). Sinners have already been judged (Jn 3:18) because of unbelief. The day of God’s judgment, when all the resurrected, unredeemed shall stand before the judgment seat of God (Jn 5:28–29; 2 Cor 5:10; Rev 20:11), to receive recompense for every deed done in the flesh, includes a sentence of eternal punishment in fiery hell (Mt 25:41, 46; Jude 7; Rev 20:14–15).
Sinners must deal with sin in their lives. They must also deal with the law of God. This was revealed to humanity through Israel. God gave Moses the law, which was purposefully given to inform and expose men as criminals under God’s judgment. Far from convincing and convicting men of sin, the law actually made people want to sin more (Rom 5:20). Without the law people lived ignorant of their offensiveness to God, but with the law, people have the knowledge of their repugnancy. This knowledge does not make one willing or able to be right with God, however.
There is no hope for sinners without the grace of God (Eph 2:8–9, 12; Col 1:27). Sinners are not willing to repent of sin because in their flesh, they prefer sin (Jn 3:19). When police records on the famous pop singer, Michael Jackson, were released. His cache of child pornography, homosexual books and videos, and violent sexual torture paraphernalia simply corroborated the numerous charges of child molestation brought against him during his life. No doubt other names will be added to the likes of Jeffrey Epstein and his friends.
The law makes some people live morally. These live in fear. They fear the judgment of God or the humiliation of public shame, but others have been turned over to a reprobate mind to fulfill a course of evil (Prv 16:4; Jn 3:19; Rom 1:18–32).
The reprobate sinner has resisted the law and the conviction of the Holy Spirit with reckless abandon, so that God simply turns this person over to the consequences of his own actions. It cost Michael Jackson $22 million dollars to make the family of thirteen-year-old Jordan Chandler go away in 1995. Paying for sins is costly, but when God is the offended party, it is even worse. People simply do not understand the extent of their offense, nor the required cost of the penalty for sin, because they do not believe the witness of the law, pertaining to their guiltiness before a holy God. The day of reckoning is coming.
Without salvation, the just punishment of the guilty sinner, under the justice of God, is an eternity of torment in hell. Most people do not believe in a literal place of fiery suffering, where there is gnashing of teeth, darkness, and unquenchable thirst. They claim, “My god is a god of love, and he would never subject anyone to such torture.” The only apt response is, “Then your god is not the God of the Bible.” Yahweh is just in pouring out His wrath on unrepentant sinners. May I encourage to see Jesus in Revelation 19. This may be the Jesus you never knew.
Jesus Christ was the most prolific preacher of eternal damnation, but the essence of all dissension from doctrinal truth is simple unbelief in the authority of the Scriptures. People do not believe the Bible; therefore, an unbeliever rejects any teaching of the Bible which does not prove convenient to her opinion. In her opinion there is no hell, no judgment, and no sin against God because there is no God like the God of the Bible.
The Christian, through the regeneration of the Holy Spirit, under the preaching of the Word of God, is made aware she has been forgiven of her sins. Salvation is of the Lord (Ps 3:8; Jon 2:9; Rev 19:1), and it is all of grace (Eph 2:8–9). Grace means God does all the work. A Christian evidences the reality of her being made aware of her salvation by expressions of faith.
Blind men, given sight, do not wear t-shirts at their baptism, boasting, “I have decided.” They wear t-shirts proclaiming, “I was blind, but now I see.” Salvation is a miracle from a truly born again believer’s perspective. It is not a man-centered boast of something she did. It is a humble testimony of the great grace of God, who chose to have mercy on her (Rom 9:15, 18).
Salvation includes a number of doctrines besides regeneration, repentance, and faith — all of which are works and gifts of God. It also includes adoption and justification. God has chosen us for adoption (Eph 1:4–5). The Christian is made to be a child of God (1 Jn 3:1). She has right legal standing before God. The judgment against her is “not guilty,” by reason of imputed righteousness. She received a righteousness, not her own, but a right standing of another. The only person who has eternal right standing with God, by merit, is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Those who are transferred into His kingdom have righteousness, a right standing in the presence of our holy God.
Salvation also includes sanctification (Rom 15:16; 1 Thess 5:23; 2 Thess 2:13; 1 Pet 1:2). This is the position of holiness, whereby a Christian is made holy, by God’s Spirit, who purifies each saint with the Word of God (Jn 17:17). Sanctification is Christian living manifest, or we might say, it is the life of God being lived out in the Christian (Gal 2:20).
Paul wrote, “you are not under the law.” This means a Christian is no longer looking to the law for salvation. This Christian is also not worried about condemnation (Rom 8:1). The law was never designed to bring anyone salvation. It was simply the light of God being turned on sinners to expose us for what we are — wretched and totally depraved. The law is good, holy, spiritual, and just. People are not. There is no condemnation for Christians because Jesus Christ satisfied the requirements of the law on our behalf (Mt 5:17).
The regenerated soul is one who is going through the lifelong process of renewal, “under grace.” God saved us by His grace (Eph 2:8–9). Grace chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. Grace paid for our sins on the Cross of Christ. Grace applied the merits of Christ’s work to our account. This is verified by the gracious indwelling Holy Spirit (Rom 8:9, 11).
The Spirit teaches the Christian about God’s holiness through the law. Knowing God is holy and we are not holy, the Christian has the God-inspired desire to close the gap. We are commanded by God to be holy, but we still struggle with sin (Rom 7). It must be the grace of God that closes the gap between our unholiness and the holiness of God. This is what it means to be under grace.
The Spirit of grace is working to accomplish what we could never accomplish. Within the Spirit-filled body of Christ, that is, in the communion of saints, we have fellowship with God in the Spirit. Just as the Spirit made us alive in Christ (Eph 2:5; Col 2:13), so the Spirit is making us live the life of Christ (Gal 2:20). The goal is Christlikeness (Rom 8:29). We are being brought into conformity to Christ. Our Lord Jesus is the perfect God/man. Being the perfect man, He alone is the standard for what pleases God the Father. Hence, we cannot please God in any other way than by faith in His Son (Heb 11:6).
Our goodness is a myth and a lie (Rom 3:10–12). Our good works are filthy and useless. Our faith in the Son of God is priceless. Faith is granted to Christians when they are caused to be born again by the Spirit of God (Phil 1:29; 1 Pet 1:3). Paul claimed, “It is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me (Gal 2:20).” This is the life of God in the soul of man. It is Christ living out the Christian life within us by His Spirit. Believers are led by the Spirit (Rom 8:14; Gal 5:18, 25), on the path of righteousness.
God’s salvation, sanctification by the work of the Spirit, is a life to be lived. The purpose of the law of God in the life of the Christian is to be a constant reminder of God’s holiness and our sinfulness. We need the moral law of God to be preached to us from the pulpit. The law exposes our sins. We need to know what God demands of us, a demand only Christ fulfilled (Mt 5:17). This is one very humbling aspect of the Christian life. It is why we keep our eyes on Jesus, who is perfecting our faith (Heb 12:2).
We confess in full agreement with the Scriptures, “I am a guilty sinner, exposed by the righteous standard of the law of God, and I place no confidence in the flesh for my salvation. I will not boast in my goodness, nor my good works, and not even in some alleged decision I made to execute my salvation. No, my only boast is Jesus Christ. Only by His shed blood, and righteousness imputed to me, do I have right standing with God. He is the Potter, and I am the clay. He is making me into a Christian, a little Christ. My Christian life is His work. I am trusting in His eternal design and daily providence to accomplish all that concerns me.”
In brief form and summary, we have seen the plight of the sinner. We have also seen the tension of the saint. The law of God condemns both sinners and saints. The grace of God saves the sinner, who is given the identity of a saint, and who is also being crafted into the image of Christ. Saints struggle in the tension between law and grace.
In conclusion, the tension of living between the law and grace is a matter of trust. The just shall live by faith; therefore, the Christian has no trust in the law to accomplish anything other than exposing God’s holiness and his sinfulness. The Christian fully trusts grace to finish the good work begun in him.
Therefore, we bear witness of the purpose of the law and of grace. We value both as good works of God, who is to be praised for both. We must know the law but grow in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Pet 3:18). Grace grows us by His design.
The knowledge of Jesus Christ comes by illumination of the Spirit teaching us the Scriptures. Our simple task is to submit ourselves to the Spirit, who accomplishes His purposes for us (Phil 2:13). Child of God, rest in Him. He is working everything for good for you (Rom 8:28), and He will finish what He started (Phil 1:6). Watch and see, as you trust and obey.
David E. Norczyk
Spokane Valley, Washington
May 10, 2021