Thursday, February 2, 2012

So If We Are Under Grace Where Does The Law Fit In?

I scratch my head trying to understand the legalists in the Church. I can understand the attractiveness of it. The law is clean, simple, clear cut, easy to know what you are allowed to do and what you are not. On the other hand, love is messy and a bit confessing, very demanding and down right hard, sometimes. I am not saying there isn't a place for the Law. Apostle Paul stated:

We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. (1 Timothy 1:8)

The Law is perfect and it is holy but it is also beyond our ability to live. The reason God gave it was so that we could understand our condition and our need for his rescue. The Law simply points out that we need Jesus. We need him to cover us, to show us grace, to be the big brother who steps in to help us reach an impossible goal. Understanding then that this is the purpose of the Law, to reveal our sin so that we understand that we need God's mercy, grace and forgiveness, we can accept that there is still a need for it. But let us also understand that this place is not in the life of a follower of Jesus, a child of God.

The Law is still relevant and important but not for us to expect to be able to live but instead to reveal to the world their need for salvation. Paul wrote to Timothy:

We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me. (1 Timothy 1:9-11)

We are no longer lawbreakers or rebellious to God. Unfortunately we still break the Law even when we try to live our best for God but he doesn't consider us lawbreakers. As long as we are perfectly open with him, honest about our heart and our failings, he keeps us within his grace. If we harbour our sin, hide it away from him, excuse it or pretend that we are perfect then we can become separated from this grace. Unconfessed sin is a very damaging thing in our lives and there is no excuse for it.

Haven't we already learned how much God loves us? Don't we already know the taste of his grace? Don't we already know the power of his forgiveness and the sweetness of his presence? Then why would we be so stupid as to think he would not cover our failings, our lapses of devotion, our sin? It is possible for us to avoid most of sin by keeping our eyes on Jesus and following the direction of the Holy Spirit but none of us are perfect and we should not be legalistic about our perfection. If we are we will try to hide our sin instead of confess our imperfections.

In saying this, let me add a footnote. Apostle Paul also told us never to use God's grace as an excuse to sin. That is not acceptable behaviour for those who have confessed Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! (Romans 6:15)

We cannot be saying that we love Jesus with our entire being one minute and then in the next be planning to sin. There is a difference between premeditated sin and sins of our passion, or knee jerk sin, like when someone gets you angry and you say something that is not God honouring. We do not want to be grace abusers but neither do we want to live the life-draining attitude of the legalists.

For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace. (Romans 6:14)

Let it be known that those who try to live by the law are trying to justify themselves with God and are removing themselves from the grace of Jesus Christ. This is not a good thing:

You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. (Galatians 5:4)

So there is a place for the Law but it is not found in us. The Law still continues to do what is was meant to do, reveal to the world their need for God's rescue. As for us, we live by the law of God's love because love is a much more powerful life.


Kelly said...

Hey Pastor Paul, wonderful message. I grew up in a dysfunctional home where I learned that I had to earn every bit of love I got.

When I came to Jesus, He reached out to me in a very personal, intimate way. Still, because I only knew how to do relationships one way, as soon as I got into a church, I immediately began the hoop-jumping process. It took me a while to even recognize that I was a legalistic Christian.

Feeling like I had to follow the rules and do everything right for God's (and the church's) love made me resentful of others who weren't following the rules like I was. I was uncomfortable all the time, though, w/my own inability to adequately follow the law and with my negative feelings towards other. I really wanted to love people. It took a few years for God to move me from the law to His grace. It was a process, sometimes a roller coaster.

God used Isaiah 50:10 - 11 to help me understand what I was trying to do. The picture of lighting my own torch to see my way thru the darkness rather than walking by the light of God was easy for me to understand and remember. Now, He simply reminds me that I am lighting my torch, and I know what He means.

I have found, in ministering to people, that the understanding that there is no way that we can earn God's love is a profoundly difficult one to truly accept. Especially since so often, human love is so conditional, even when it comes from Christians.

I have faced some pretty serious rejection from people, Christians, who just didn't think that I was worth it, and it makes grace-living a bit scary. Still, even if I have moments when trusting God's love and care for me feels a bit like a high wire act, I'd still rather live in His love than by the law.

Pastor Paul said...

Wow Kelly, a powerful testimony to the truth and awkwardness of God's grace. Thank you for leaving this comment. It adds an element that was missing from my blog. I pray others will be able to see better by the light of your testimony. God bless.