Law versus Grace
by David A. DePra
Back to the Goodnews
This article is a transcription of the audio message by the same title: 654-LawGrace5.mp3
We are continuing today with, "Foundations of the Christian Faith," and the title for today is going to be. "Law versus Grace." Now obviously, this is a subject that we all need to discover the truth about -- read the New Testament and you will find that this issue of law versus grace to be front and center as being problematic in the life of the church. And it certainly is today in so many ways that I daresay we probably don't even realize how deep this problem goes. If I don't understand the truth of law versus grace in Jesus Christ, I'm going to have a problem walking with God; understanding God; fellowshipping with God. It's not simply a matter of theology.
Now, this discussion today is obviously not going to be a verse by verse, in-depth study of law versus grace. I want to cover foundational principles so that we can get the core of things -- because once we have that, then all the other verses will make a lot of sense to us.
Now, along the line, what I want to do today is begin by clearly defining both the OLD and NEW covenant -- and showing the distinction between the two. The very first thing that we need to see about the covenants is to realize that from the start, and through BOTH covenants, it was ALWAYS Jesus Christ as the answer. It ALWAYS was. Jesus Christ began to be revealed as the Savior of the world back in Genesis 3, and all through both the old and new covenants. What we find is Christ revealed.
Now, herein we can come up with our definitions and our distinction between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant: The Old covenant was Jesus Christ in type and shadow. The new covenant is Jesus Christ himself -- indeed, "Christ in us, the hope of glory." (Col. 1:27) Now that's it in a nutshell. Very general -- but that's it. The Old Covenant with a type in the shadow of Jesus Christ everywhere. You look at the Old Covenant and what God gave -- the very law that God gave is a type and shadow of the righteousness that is a Person, Jesus Christ. The tabernacle is Christ in his impact on humanity. The priesthood is Christ as our High Priest. The animal sacrifices pointed toward the necessity of a substitutionary sacrifice for man. The holy days show God's plan of redemption through Jesus Christ. And all the ordinances -- the things that we might call, "lesser important points of the law" -- all of those, in one way or another, either spoke of Jesus Christ in His humanity, in His divinity -- but gather it all up and it all boiled down to Jesus Christ in type and shadow in His redemptive work. That was the Old Covenant. But how many see that it all -- when you gather it all up -- was intended to point toward what the New Covenant would be: The reality of the very Person of Christ, come to dwell in his people.
Now, in order to understand law versus grace, we do have to have this (Truth about the Covenants) as our understanding. We have to realize that from the start it was ALWAYS going to be about Jesus Christ. It was always going to be, "by grace through faith" -- that was ALWAYS the truth. There was never any OTHER Truth. God doesn't change. Truth doesn't change. But God began to introduce the truth of Jesus Christ to humanity through this Old Covenant.
Letter or Spirit
Now, there are a couple of other distinctions that we can draw, in looking at the Old Covenant versus the New Covenant. And one of the places that points this out is found in II Corinthians chapter 3. There's some language in II Corinthians 3, that to most of us may seem shocking -- and I want to begin to read there, starting in verse 6 -- it is talking about God. It says about Him: "Who also has made us to be able ministers of the New Testament, not of the LETTER, but of the SPIRIT..." Now, those are terms (letter and spirit) that are referring to each covenant. The LETTER is speaking of the Old Covenant -- just as many times, in the New Testament, God uses the general term, "the law," to refer to the Old Covenant. When we think of the law we tend to think of the 10 Commandments. But in the most general term, "the law," refers to everything that God gave under the Old Covenant. So here's another term (in II Cor. 3:6): "the letter." And he is saying, "not of the letter," or Old Covenant, "but of the Spirit" -- which is a term representative of the New Covenant -- because, "Christ in us, the hope of glory," dwells in us via the spirit of God; His spirit. So that explains this terminology
Paul was saying that God, "has made us able ministers of the NEW Covenant -- not of the letter (of the old covenant) -- but of the spirit -- in other words, the NEW -- and then he says this: "For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life."
Now isn't this shocking -- because the Old Covenant -- "the letter," or Old Covenant -- was given by God to Moses; to Israel? And it was in effect all the way up until the time of Jesus Christ. And yet Paul says here: "The letter kills." Now, he's not trying to be dramatic here. In fact he is going to back up those words with some that are just as, if not more, strong. He says in verse seven, "But if the ministration of DEATH, written and engraved in stones was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses -- for the glory of his countenance -- which glory was to be done away...." -- the Old Covenant was done away -- "shall not the ministration of the spirit" -- the spirit of life in Christ, in other words -- "be all the more glorious?" So there the Old Covenant is referred to as, "the ministration of death." And the New Covenant, of course, "the ministration of the spirit (of life in Christ Jesus). But then again in verse 9: "For if the ministration of condemnation (or judgment) be glory, how much more does the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory? And so there you have again two more terms applied to the respective covenants: "The ministration of condemnation," or judgment, is a term referring to the Old Covenant, and, "the ministration of righteousness," refers to the New Covenant.
And so how do we explain this? How do we explain the Old Covenant that God Himself gave being referred to as, "the letter which kills;" "the ministration of death;" and, "the ministration of condemnation," or judgment?
Purpose of the Law
Well, I think is easily explained if we turn it to Romans chapter 3. Now remember: One of the terms that we can use to refer to the Old Covenant as a whole is, "the law." And Paul is going to use that term here in Romans 3, starting in verse 19: "Now we know that whatever things that the law says, it says to them who are under the law" -- now let me stop right there. Whatever the law says...whatever the Old Covenant reveals...whatever the Old Covenant teaches...Paul is now going to tell us what the IMPACT of what the old covenant reveals will have on those who hear. So get ready, because if you I want to be under the law -- in other words if you want our relationship with God to be based on our works, really, based on anything about US -- THIS IS the IMPACT of what the law speaks; of what the Old Covenant reveals, is going to have on us. And so here it is -- Paul tells us the impact: "That every mouth might be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God."
Now note: You gather up the entirety of the Old Covenant law, and ask the question, "What was God's intent and purpose in giving it?" Paul tells us, right here in this verse. He says, "That every mouth might be stopped, and the whole world might be EXPOSED as guilty before God. That's God's intent and purpose in getting the law.
How often have you and I ever been told that? How often have we ever been told that the intent and purpose of God in giving his law was to shut our mouth regarding our own righteousness, and to expose us as a completely barren and dead sinner? That's what Paul is saying.
Now, of course, all of that has a purpose -- and that is, to bring us into the Truth -- not just about ourselves -- but to bring us into the truth of Jesus Christ as the ONLY righteousness, and the ONLY embodiment of grace that God has for us. This is why God gave the Old Covenant.
And then in verse 20, he elaborates: "Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified." And to, "be justified," means to be, "declared righteous by God." Paul says, "Therefore by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in His sight. For by the law comes the KNOWLEDGE of my sin." We might even say, "By the law comes the knowledge of my SINFULNESS; my true condition."
This is exactly what we just read in verse 19 that when the law speaks it exposes our true condition before God. The law was given, "to stop every mouth," about our own righteousness, and to show us as being guilty. So in other words, the law was given to EXPOSE our sin. That's the, "knowledge of sin," that Paul is talking about in verse 20. "For by the law...," in other words, is our realization of our sin and of our lost hopeless condition.
What is Wrong With Man
Now, it is here that we need to see a fundamental truth -- and I think that most Christians probably understand this, at least in their mind -- but I think we continually need to be reminded of it. I think even though we might understand it intellectually, we really don't get it, or we would be trying to do some of the stuff we do. And that foundational truth is this: What is wrong with man is not -- at the core -- found in what he DOES or DOES NOT DO. In other words, what is wrong with man -- at the core -- is not found in our works. Not at all. What is wrong with man is found in what he IS -- indeed, what he IS in relationship to GOD.
This is really important to see. Our works are merely a manifestation of something -- they are a manifestation of what we ARE in our alienation from God. Our works are a manifestation of the fact that we are spiritually dead. So you have to get past the works to the core problem: We are dead in trespasses and sins. We have no life in us.
If you ask people what is wrong with man they might say, "Well, man is a sinner." But that doesn't really get to the problem. What is wrong with man is that he's dead -- spiritually -- because he's not joined to the Lord. That's the core problem.
There is a verse in first John three that says that, "sin is lawlessness" -- it's I John 3:4. One translation -- I think it's the King James -- says that, "sin is the transgression of the law." Now, even know that is true, that's not what the Greek text says. It's too shallow; it doesn't get at the real thought of the verse. Sin is the transgression of the law, but that verse is actually saying that, "sin is LAWLESSNESS." "Transgression of the law," is DOING -- doing wrong. "Lawlessness," is BEING. And that IS the problem the man has -- what he IS in Adam.
Now, just to follow this term up here -- lawlessness; transgression of the law -- how many see -- and this is what Paul is getting at in so many of his explanations -- how many see the folly of trying to take a lawless creature called MAN and trying to fix him with law? You CAN'T fix a lawless creature with law! The problem is he IS lawless! That's the problem -- you can't change lawlessness into lawfulness by strapping laws on a person. No. In fact, what will happen if you apply law to a lawless creature is exactly what Paul is saying will happen in verses 19 and 20 here out of Romans 3: You apply law to a lawless creature and that law will expose that creature AS lawless, because it'll show, "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." It'll show our sin. It'll define it. It'll expose it. Now, the law will expose us is lawless dead creatures IF -- and this is a big IF -- IF we are honest. IF we are open to God. If we're not -- well, then the law is not going to expose us as being dead in sin. We will, in fact, try to use the law to make ourselves righteous.
So the solution for what we are in is not to give us laws to keep. Most of us ought to know that if we have any understanding of the gospel of grace. But there is legalism everywhere in the church today. We still think that what we need to do is keep rules and laws. And believe me I am not saying we're not supposed to obey God. I'm not saying that all right now I'm simply talking about the core need for people born in Adam. It's not to give them a bunch of rules and laws. That will not fix anybody.
Many Manifestations of Law
Just let me for a second step aside here and expand our idea of what a law is -- a law in the sense of us trying to keep it to fix what ails us; trying to keep it to make ourselves right with God and so forth -- a law is anything we do; any rule, any law, any system we plug into, any program we go through -- anything that comes out of human effort that is intended to do for us what only Jesus Christ can do and be for us. We may not CALL it law. But it IS. It is it's an effort of religious man to do for himself, as a substitute, for what only Christ has done, and what only Christ can be. In that case, it's law. And if we are practicing that, were are then under the law. We may not call it law -- but it is law. It's what we are using.
Paul said to the Galatians, You are under another gospel." That's how important this is to understand. And so Paul clearly states that, "by the deeds of the law shall no one be justified in his sight. For the law is the knowledge of sin." The law, no matter how you try to keep; it no matter how good you are keeping it: no matter what kind of religious program you go to; no matter what the matter what psychological mumbo-jumbo you try to pass through in order to fix what ails you -- none of that can make you right in the eyes of God.
Justification By Faith
Now let's talk, before I move forward here, about a couple of other terms that we read often in the New Testament. There's this term, "justification." What does that mean? It means, "to be declared right before God." Now, that of course is nothing more than saying that God declares you RIGHTEOUS. But what does, "righteous," or, "righteousness," mean? Well, "righteousness," in essence, means to not only be right BEFORE God -- in His eyes -- but righteousness really means to be right FOR God. It is one thing to be right BEFORE God, but it is another thing to be right FOR Him -- because if you're right FOR HIM, how many understand that you can live with Him and fellowship with him? So when God talks about righteousness, He is talking about being of a nature that is able to fellowship and live with Him. You're right FOR Him -- and justification is a declaration unto that end: You are justified, or made, or declared right FOR GOD -- and of course it is on the basis of Jesus Christ.
Now, therein of course, is where we have our doctrine of, "justification by faith." And what is the doctrine of justification by faith? Well, the doctrine of justification by faith states that if we put our faith in Jesus Christ, God IMPUTES to Christ all of OUR sin, and God imputes to us all of HIS righteousness. And there's an exchange there. And so is the imputation to the believer of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. And Paul talks a lot about that and explains a lot of that in Romans. And as far as it goes, it is the truth. Justification by faith is a very true LEGAL explanation of how God is able to declare a sinner righteous because of Jesus Christ.
Now, you will notice that I use the term LEGAL. Paul works at explaining the redemption from a legal standpoint, because he needs to establish what God is doing as being moral, and legal. It helps us to understand what got accomplished through his Son through His death and resurrection.
So -- as I noted -- the doctrine of justification by faith -- wherein God IMPUTES to us the righteousness of Jesus Christ, is true from a LEGAL standpoint. But it does not go far enough. God does not merely IMPUTE to us LEGALLY the righteousness of His Son -- what God really does is IMPART to us Jesus Christ HIMSELF -- to live IN US, and to BE our life. How many see that THAT is true justification by faith? That's true righteousness.
I Corinthians 1:30 states that God has made Christ to be unto us righteousness. How many see that that's more than just having the righteousness of Jesus LEGALLY IMPUTED to you? No, Christ IS our righteousness. If Christ is in you, then you are righteous with HIS righteousness. Yes -- but more than that -- He IN YOU IS RIGHTEOUSNESS.
Now, I don't know about you, but that is an incredible blessing to realize that. To realize that this isn't simply a matter, so to speak, of God stamping you on the forehead with a big rubber stamp, "righteous" -- because of the death of Jesus. It isn't simply a matter of that. It is a matter of Christ in you who is the righteousness of God. And because He is, that's an eternal perfect righteousness -- with which you are one, because when you were saved, you were joined to the Lord and made one spirit with him. (I Cor. 6:17)
And so justification by faith is the IMPARTATION of Jesus Christ HIMSELF. We are joined to the Lord and made one spirit with Him, and He is our living, ever present, eternal, unchangeable righteousness -- completely independent of anything about US or anything that we do.
Righteousness Apart From Works
Now, Paul is going to say that here, starting in verse 21 -- and remember, in Romans, Paul does initially -- at least until he gets over the chapter 6, 7, and 8 -- work at the redemption in legal terms. But the truth, in principle, is here, as far as, “Christ in us,” starting in verse 21. He says there, “But NOW the righteousness of God, completely apart from law-keeping” -- keeping with the picture, there, in the Greek, is a picture of a CHASM apart -- and so what he is saying here is that, “the righteousness of God, completely apart from -- completely dependent of any law keeping -- is manifested, and it’s witnessed” -- in type and shadow, as I said, in the old covenant – “by the law and the prophets, even the righteousness of God which is by the faith of Jesus Christ” -- because that's how we abide in Christ as our righteousness – “unto all, upon all them that believe. For there is no difference -- ALL have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ.
And so again we need to nail this and get it firmly established in our thinking and understanding: That if Jesus Christ dwells in you and I, and we are joined and made one spirit with Him -- if we are saved -- and if we are saved He DOES he does dwell in us -- if that's the case, HE IS the righteousness of God in us. He is our righteousness -- and Christ as our righteousness is absolutely independent of any law keeping or lack thereof on our part. In other words, if we keep all the laws in the world, it does not add to Christ as our righteousness. If we break every law under the sun, it does not subtract from the fact that Jesus Christ is our righteousness. We do not pop in and out of Christ if we are saved. We do not, through the works of the law, either enhance or subtract from Christ as our righteousness. He is not dependent upon us to be our righteousness; He is that regardless -- because He's in us by grace.
We have got to understand this -- that it all comes back to Jesus Christ IN US. Now, what we need to do, it states in verse 22: We need to abide in Him by faith as the only righteousness of God that there is -- the only righteousness of God we will ever have. We need to believe and trust and depend on him as that. Now, if we don't, He is still our righteousness – it’s just that it is not going to do us any good. Like Paul says in Galatians 5, I believe: “Christ is of no effect to you who would be under the law.” And the Galatians were saved. He didn't say Christ walked away from them, or even that they walked away from Christ. No. They were standing aloof from Him. Christ was in them, but their faith was not in Him as their righteousness. It was in their works.
The Law Exposes
And so this is a foundational Truth about the righteousness of God that is in Jesus Christ. If Christ is in you, He is the only righteousness that you will ever have, or that you will ever need. We need to see that Truth. Now, we are NOT going to see it unless our UNrighteousness is exposed -- or unless our self righteousness is exposed. Now, a lot of people don't realize that self righteousness is SIN. Self righteousness is unbelief. Self-righteousness, therefore, ironically IS Unrighteousness. And the law of God, if we are open and true to God -- as much as know to be -- will expose all of this about us when it's true.
Now that exposure may take years, but God who promises us that he'll lead us into the truth, will lead us to THIS Truth. And that is what the purpose of the law on the Old Covenant was -- and despite the fact that were not under the law or under the Old Covenant, how many understand that the law nevertheless still does do that job today? If you're somebody that has tried to make your self righteous through law keeping you may very well -- and I hope you have -- discovered how unrighteous you are. Because the more you try to keep the law, the more ultimately the law will show you how unable you are to keep even the smallest point. But if that's happening -- rejoice -- because it's all unto the intention that you fall to your knees before Jesus as your righteousness.
So, in other words, if you gather all this up from verse 19, all the way through verse 24, what Paul is saying is that the law of God is there -- and what it's speaks it speaks, “that every mouth might be stopped and all the world may become guilty before God.” Because by the law comes the exposure of me as a sinner, and I’m left, if I'm seeing the Truth that the law speaks – I’m left without any hope if I were to look to myself.
Now that, if that's the end of the story, would leave us all nowhere. We would be hopeless creations. And, of course, many supposed Christians feel that way. We feel like we are hopeless, and have no hope. But despite the fact that we are going to see our lost condition, and will, at times, feel a despair and a hopelessness -- that should not govern us -- because side by side with any conviction like that that God brings is going to be a hope in One who is other than ourselves: Jesus Christ.
And so we see that very often if we are LIVING in despair, it’s because we haven't yet seen Christ. It is because we are not believing the way we should. And we need to seek God further for the Truth that sets us free from all of that.
All Unto Grace
Now it takes years for most of us to straighten all this stuff out in our thinking because were so preoccupied with ourselves. For example -- this goes hand-in-hand with what Paul says the law will do -- it's been my observation that for those who are under the law, usually there are two kinds of professing Christians that emerge from being under the law. And both, of course, what I'm saying, are in error. The first kind is a Pharisee. These are the folks who try law-keeping to make themselves righteous, and they think that they have done it. The other kind are people who try to use law-keeping to make themselves righteous, and they are forever frustrated because they don't believe that they have done it. Now, what is the solution to that? Better law? No. The solution to that is to get out from under the law completely -- because you see, somebody who thinks they are righteous by law-keeping, and somebody who thinks they're terrible, and can be saved, because they can’t make themselves righteous through law keeping – it’s the same problem. It's exactly the same problem: We are trying to make ourselves righteous through law-keeping. In one case we think WE DID. In the other case, we think we are forever failing. But these are both unbelief. But these are both the same problem. It's still a matter of trying to RELIGIOUSLY own your life for yourself. And the solution is not better theology. The solution is not to get a statement of faith talks about grace rather than law. No. The solution is to let the law do the work the Paul says it'll do. He says that if you're under the law, and if you are of that persuasion -- if you're honest and if you're true -- your mouth will eventually be stopped about your own righteousness. And you will be standing there fully guilty before God. And if left to yourself -- that is hopeless.
But were not left to ourselves. This whole purpose of the law was given and intended by God to bring man to an end of his own self; to bring man to an end of trying to make himself right for God. You get under the law, and even today, the law stands there and is doing this work. As soon as you approach what Paul calls, "a holy, just, and good," law -- as soon as you approach a law like that -- you're going to be proven to be unholy, unjust, and bad. And that's not a lie is it? The law will speak the Truth about you -- so that you will see that your only hope is to turn to Jesus Christ by grace through faith. This is the outcome that God intended for the law.
In fact, there is a bit of a type and shadow, even in that. You remember how John the Baptist, who was the last and the greatest prophet of the Old Covenant -- he was that -- he was as, "A voice crying in the wilderness -- to pave the way -- to prepare the way for the Lord." How many understand that this is exactly what Paul says the law was intended to do in each human heart? Paul says, in Galatians, "The law was a schoolmaster to lead us to Christ." How? By making us righteous enough for Christ? No. By showing us we can never be. By getting us on our knees and saying to God, "By thy grace oh Lord!" The law was a schoolmaster. John paved the way -- the Old Covenant can be said to have been that which paved the way for Jesus Christ the Savior. Again, NOT by making people righteous enough for God. No. The law exposed us as lost and unrighteous so that by faith we would come and receive Jesus Christ.
And so all this in verse 19 through 24 -- as I noted -- you gather it up: The law is going to speak the Truth -- that you and I have no hope in ourselves -- none whatsoever. The law is going to expose us dead sinners. But then he says there is a righteousness of God -- a Person named Jesus Christ -- Who is apart from law keeping; a righteousness that God gives us by grace in Jesus Christ -- a righteousness that in no way, shape, or form, is based on our works -- really a righteousness that is in no way based on anything about US.
You know, the Bible teaches that we are given the grace of God in Jesus Christ -- we are given Christ Himself -- fully independent of any works, or anything about US. But then we're told once that's established that then the result; the fruit -- will be works. By grace, through faith, unto good works. (see Eph. 2:8-10) That's the Truth. Disturb that order, and get it wrong, and you will be under ANOTHER GOSPEL. Now, this righteousness that is a Person dwelling in you and I -- Who we abide in by faith -- it is witness to buy the law and the prophets -- and like I said, it's in there in type and shadow -- it is the righteousness of God which is by our faith in the Person who is the righteousness of God -- unto all and upon them believe.
So there you have in Romans 3 a tremendous description by the apostle Paul of the intent of God's law. Isn't it amazing how so many Christian people continue to think that the purpose of God's law was to give us a standard of holiness to live up to? I mean, the law is called, "holy, just, and good." Here we are reading that the law IS holy, just, and good, but because it is, it's going to expose us as being anything but -- so that by grace through faith..." But the key here is to understand that if Christ is in us and we are losing our life into His hands -- such that HE becomes our life -- then IN that Christ the righteousness of God will be made manifest in us and through us. It takes work; it takes a lifetime. But our righteousness IS Christ. It is just that simple, and it is no more complicated than that. But if we try to get a righteousness some other way, then we are, in fact, under a law, and we are in unbelief, and we are in error -- because there is no such thing.
All in Christ By Grace
Now having established all of that, I want to talk about some practicalities for the Christian life. As I noted earlier, the Christian church today -- and it's always been the case -- is filled with legalism -- Christians who are under the law. It is also filled with license. BOTH are the result of, either being ignorant of, or of refusing, Christ as our life. But having said that, let's talk about legalism today in the church. In the first chapter of John, in verse 14, it says, "And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father -- full of grace and truth." So this is a description of Jesus Christ. Now, down in verse 16, it says, "And OF His fullness -- He was full of grace and truth -- have we received grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" -- in other words, the law was given by Moses, but when we received Christ, we received ALL grace and truth IN HIM.
The point I want make is this: Grace is not simply a THING that God gives us. Grace is Person. Grace and truth comes to be in you through Jesus Christ. Now, from that we can also see another related Truth -- and it's a truth, really, that if we would wrap our minds around -- would revolutionize our entire Christian walk. And that Truth is this -- and I'll put it in the form of a question: When you received Jesus Christ, did you, or did you not, receive him 100% fully and solely by the grace of God? And of course, I would hope most of us would answer a resounding YES -- we received Jesus by grace, and grace alone. Now, does not the Bible say in Romans 8:32 that God has given us ALL things -- not SOME things -- but ALL things -- FREELY IN Jesus Christ? Absolutely. Therefore, here is the next question: If we have received Christ Himself solely by the grace of God, then is it not also true that we have received ALL that God has given IN HIM solely by the grace of God? Of course we have! You can't escape it: God has given us all things IN Christ -- therefore there is nothing that God has given you and I that is not solely by the grace of God IN Jesus Christ. It is not only an inescapable Truth -- but it IS the gospel. That is the New Covenant.
Can we see -- if that is the truth -- how can there be ANYTHING in the Christian life that we are supposed to get from God through works? That we're supposed to obtain from God by jumping through this religious hoop or that religious hoop? There isn't anything to get by works. We have already received everything that God has to give in Jesus Christ -- Who is given to us solely by the grace of God. You can't escape this Truth.
An Example of Being Under Law
Now, I said there were tremendous ramifications -- let's talk about a couple specifics. One of my favorite topics, when I begin to talk about law and grace, is TITHING --because there are so many churches today who stand up every Sunday and will teach you the grace of God in Jesus Christ -- and some of what they teach is true. But then somehow they turn right around and tell you, as a born-again believer, that you are required by God to TITHE -- and they will tell you, in a lot of cases, that if you do, that your tithing will result in God's blessing. Your refusal, or lack of tithing, will mean at the very most, that God won't will bless you -- but a lot of them will say that God will curse you -- that you'll be under God's judgment.
You cannot find a more direct and clear explanation of what it means to be UNDER THE LAW than what most churches teach about tithing. Here is the law you must keep -- the tithing law -- if you keep it, good things are received from God; if you don't keep it, there are consequences and punishments. That's LAW. That's all it is. And yet, churches that teach the grace of God in Jesus Christ will turn right around and tell you that you need to tithe. And I understand the rationale -- believe me I do. Some of them say, "Well, the law was given through Moses, but tithing was in effect long before that -- Abraham tithed. And they will talk about tithing as a, "separate covenant."
Look, you can create any kind of a theological construct that you want to -- to get money from people. And a lot of people will believe you. But the tithing that is taught in most churches today is error. God Almighty does not require a born-again believer to tithe. God Almighty doesn't even require a born-again believer to GIVE ANYTHING. What God does do is that He reveals Christ in us, we come into a knowledge of His love, and then because we have FREELY received from God -- we freely and voluntarily give -- with no strings attached.
Now you will notice what I said there: No strings attached. Love doesn't have any strings attached. You don't give in order to GET. You don't give in order to avoid punishment. There's no deal here. There's no bargain being struck with God. There is no law that you refer to, or come under, in order to get on God's good side and stay there. How many understand that, "no strings attached," means that you're not under a system of rewards and punishments? How many understand that if you're under a system of rewards and punishments that you ARE under law?
Now, I realize the what I'm saying is absolutely contrary to most people's religious thinking, and you can just hear the shouting in protest, "Well, then we may as well go out and START sinning! Well, here's a clue: You never STOPPED. That's why you need the grace of God.
The, "law of grace," and, "the law of love," in Christ Jesus, is that we love Him because we've received his love for us. Jesus said, "Freely you have received; freely give." That is the only principle that ought to govern -- and it's not, "a law" -- it's a LIFE.
And I realize that there are many well-respected ministers that teach tithing -- I say they are wrong. There is no way on the face of God's earth that these commonly taught doctrines of tithing are compatible with the grace of God in Jesus Christ. It is impossible. It isn't the Truth. If Jesus Christ has been given to us SOLELY by the grace of God, and He is our life; He is our righteousness -- and nothing can change that -- then all this teaching about, "If you do this, this'll happen; if you do that, then that will happen from God" -- such as the tithing law -- is easily exposed as error. The tithing law is an easy one to talk about because it's practiced so often, and it is so easy to disprove.
But there a lot of other teachings in the Christian church today that keep people under bondage. Again -- why in the world do people need that (law and rules), if they really love? Think about that -- it is a really good question. It's really the question we need to answer toward God, and it's what Paul was getting at in so much of his teaching in the New Testament.
Realizing All in Christ
Now, Paul gives us a tremendous clue in Galatians chapter 3 as to just how deep some of this bondage to DOING -- in order to accomplish for God -- can run in our understanding. He says in verse 1 of Galatians 3: "O you foolish Galatians. Who has bewitched you -- or, "mesmerized," you -- that you should not obey the truth -- before whose eyes Jesus Christ has been clearly set forth crucified among you?" He's saying to them, "You have come back under the law" -- it's "another gospel," he calls in chapter 1 -- he says, "You have been mesmerized and bewitched, such that you have lost sight of Jesus Christ crucified." In fact, he goes so far as to say, "You're not even in the truth anymore." He says, "This would I learn of you," verse 2, "Did you receive Jesus Christ by the spirit -- to dwell in you, is what is getting at -- by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?" Well, obviously, they received Christ by the hearing faith. He says in verse 3, "Okay, then why are you so foolish -- having begun the Christian life by the spirit of God, that you think that NOW you are made mature by the works of the flesh?
Now note: He is not here talking about whether you were SAVED by works or grace. That was not the Galatian problem. The Galatian problem was how to live the Christian life; how to become MATURE as a Christian. They thought it was by DOING -- by works of this kind or that kind. He says it: You began in the spirit. You've got that settled: You are saved by grace through faith. But why -- if you believe you are saved by grace through faith -- do you now believe that you can become a mature Christian by doing?
OR -- to get back to what I was saying earlier -- if you know you have received the Person of Jesus Christ solely by grace through faith, than why do you think that you can live in what's given in Christ through human effort? Why do you think that if you received the Person of Jesus by grace, that now you are somehow going to mature yourself in Christ through the efforts of the flesh; through programs -- for all these things people do. It's ridiculous. He says, "Are you so foolish to think this?"
How many see that right there he's describing THE problem in so much of the body of Christ today? I have frankly never met a professing Christian who actually believed that they were saved by works. I've never met anybody like that. I suppose there are some out there, but gee, if you believe you are saved by works the ever read the Bible at all? But I have met many Christians -- and I used to be one of them -- that having believed that I was saved by grace, we turn right around and we try to become mature in Christ through works. We may not call it, "maturity in Christ." We may call it, "staying right with God," or, "walking in His principles." You've got those kinds of things, where if you go through these programs, keep these dos and don'ts, you will develop in yourself Christian character. You'll be the will or blessing of God. This is what is taught. It is exactly what Paul is teaching (against) here: "Having begun in the Spirit, are you now made perfect by the flesh?"
Again -- if we receive Jesus Christ by grace, don't we realize that everything that is IN HIM -- which is all that God has to give -- is ALSO by grace? Why are you now trying to be made perfect by the flesh; by the works of the flesh? The only way that you can come into what's given IN Christ by grace is to come into a knowledge of Christ. It's not by works. You have to lose your life -- so that he might be your life. And as He is unfolded as your life, you'll discover all that has been freely given IN HIM. You can't muster those things up by doing things and keeping law. It's all by grace through faith.
Now, can we see that what were talking about here is not a matter of finding the right theological construct or religious system? It is not a matter of accumulating the right teachings and doctrines, we can believe in them, and hang them up on a wall as a statement of faith. You can do all of that and never come into the reality of Jesus Christ. This is a matter of discovering who God is, and coming to a realization of His Son -- in an inward way. How many understand that if you do that -- all the law, all the rules, are all going to be swallowed up in a love for Him? And you are going to be able to walk with Him -- by grace through faith.
The Type and Shadow of Circumcision
Paul, in Galatians, stated it very well -- for example, in Galatians 5:6, he says, "For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision," And remember -- circumcision was representative of being under the old covenant -- really representative of being under a system of law keeping. He says, "Neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision." Here's what does avail: "Faith which works by love." And then, in Galatians 6:15, "For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision avails anything, nor circumcision" -- but here's what does avail: "A new creation." The new creation in Christ Jesus is the answer to this: "Christ in us the hope of glory." (Col. 1:27) Law keeping won't get us there. In fact, if are not careful, we will find ourselves walking in error.
Now, I think one of the most incredible pictures of all of this is found in the Old Testament -- when God gave to Abraham the covenant sign of circumcision. Circumcision -- in a very real sense of the word -- represented the Old Covenant. And you can read this if you go back -- I'm not going to do this -- and read the story of Abraham. God says, "This is the covenant -- this is the sign." He is talking about circumcision. And in the New Testament, Paul especially also refers to that as a type and a shadow of the Cross of Jesus Christ -- of the shutting out of the old man; of the putting away of the old man, as the means by which we can walk with God.
One of the places that it says this is in Philippians 3. In verse 3 he says, "For we are the circumcision." Now, what do the circumcision do? "Who worship God in spirit, and rejoice in Jesus Christ, and have no confidence in the flesh." Now somebody is going to ask, "What does that have to do with law and grace?" Well any time that we think that we can commend ourselves to God through law keeping, we are having, at that point, confidence in the flesh -- and really, confidence in the flesh is nothing more than faith in the flesh. Faith in ourselves, and self righteousness, are synonymous. It's the same thing -- that we are going to do in ourselves and through human effort -- religious effort, mind you -- what we think God wants to accomplish -- we are going to do it for ourselves, rather than fully rely on Jesus Christ.
As I stated the last few messages, that is nothing but trying to save your life for yourself -- in a religious way. And we do it because we don't believe, and we don't see the futility; we don't see our absolute barrenness. In Philippians 3:3, Paul is talking about somebody -- he's referring to himself and others -- who have seen that there's nothing in themselves that they can hope in, or put confidence in. That is why you don't have confidence in the flesh -- because you see there's nothing there to have confidence in. Again this is in a matter of simply finding a theological point and believing it. This is a matter of seeing the Truth -- because God has revealed it. You have -- and I mentioned this earlier when I referred to what the law does -- you have had your mouth stopped. You have been brought to the place where you see you are guilty; where you see there's no life in you; no truth in you -- and you do not have any way of getting it. And so how could you take confidence (in yourself) at that point?
How many understand that you and I can set up all kinds of systems and laws intended to beat sin down, and beat sin over the head, so that we supposedly don't sin? People have been doing that for 2000 years. You know, "Here's the solution to sin. Go through this program; go on this journey; figure out what ails you." And you know, develop some kind of a religiosity to cure it. ALL of that is the outcome of not coming to the end of yourself. The law, the spirit of God, God's purpose today; the work of the cross -- are going to bring us to the place were we see that we are nothing without God. And at that point having NO confidence in the flesh will be easy -- that's the only way to get to that point -- through the seeing of the Truth about yourself. But, as Paul says here, if you have no confidence in the flesh, you can rejoice in Christ Jesus.
Now, notice; this is important: A mature Christian rejoices in Christ Jesus. They don't rejoice that Jesus Christ has made THEM to be this wonderful specimen. The purpose of God is not to take your flash and make you into a Xerox copy of Jesus. The purpose of God is not to gather up everything you don't like about yourself, and turn it into something you do like. No. Our confidence is never going to be in ourselves, because the life is never going to be OUR life. It is going to be, "Christ in us, the hope of glory." HE is to be our sanctification. HE is to be ALL to us -- because in Him God has given all.
Now, if you have arrived at that point from God taking you into this truth, then you can be called, "the circumcision." "The circumcision," are those people who have had their flesh cut off -- such that they now understand that there's no way that through the efforts of the flesh they can produce life. Circumcision was the cutting off (figuratively) of a body part that produced life. And through that God is illustrating that through the Cross of Jesus Christ all that we thought could produce life -- and of course it couldn't -- but we thought it could -- is CUT OFF through the Cross. All of that Adam nature died in Jesus on the Cross -- and if we take our place in His death, and see it worked out, then, "We are the circumcision, which worship God ins spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh."
So again -- how many see that this is about knowing God? It's about coming into an inward realization of Jesus Christ -- Who IS our righteousness? Of coming to realize Jesus Christ -- Who is received solely by the grace of God -- and all that is in Him? Come into that kind of a realization and you are becoming a full participant -- if I can put it that way -- in the New Covenant. And it is no longer going to be LAW, and type and shadow for you -- it's going to be the reality of Jesus Christ in you: Christ in you, the hope of glory.
And so the difference between law and grace is the difference between the type and shadow of those things which speak of Christ -- that are of the letter that kills; that bring condemnation -- because you cannot measure up to them. The difference between that, and the One that dwells in us -- who is the embodiment of all grace -- that's the difference between law and grace -- the difference between the Old Covenant and the New. It's really the difference between death and life.
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