Law and Grace – Differentiated but not Separated

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Previously we have discussed that there is no syncretism between law and grace in the economy of God. There is a clear distinction between God’s law, the foundation for all of our relationships “beneath us” on the earth, and God’s grace, the sole component of our relationship “above us” with God, and they do not mix. Obedience to the law and living by faith are, in fact, exact opposites. The law is what God tells us to do; grace is what God has already done.

That differentiation formed the basis of Martin Luther’s theology—the theology that changed the world. However, though law and grace have very different functions in our lives which we must recognize, they both are crucial and neither can function as God intends without the other. They are distinctly different but not separate when they operate as God intends. They always work together.

For example, discovering our need for the grace of God is not possible until we recognize our overwhelming sin, not just as a theological idea, but as an actual, real-life experience. That grace becomes a reality, shockingly, only by God’s law. As Paul says in Romans 7, “I would not have known sin except through the law” (vs. 7), and, furthermore, he saw that even he, Pharisee of the Pharisees, could not consistently obey it: “For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice“ (vs. 19), and “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (vs. 24). The law did it’s job in Paul’s life. Then and only then did he experience God’s grace: “I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (vs. 25). 

Therefore, being a real, live, hopeless sinner is a prerequisite for initially and then continually experiencing the grace of God. This comes only from the law constantly exposing me as such a sinner, providing the opportunity for me to face that fact, repent, and rejoice in God’s forgiveness. So, both law and grace are critical, not only in my conversion but in my daily walk with the Lord “above us” as I learn to live here on earth by faith. 

By the same token, both are again necessary in our relationships “beneath us” in God’s kingdom in the world. For example, if the grace of God has not yet captured my sinful, wicked hearts in my relationship with God “above us” as I try to parent my children, the law that I must exercise as the one in authority in that parenting process will be applied legalistically, and the law always “kills.” “For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life”  (2 Corinthians 3:6). I will very naturally parent as I was parented, or, by extension, how I think God is parenting me—not based on a love relationship but on a set of laws to obey, drawing His disapproval when I disobey—and I will “kill” my relationship with my children.

However, if God’s grace has captured me, I will naturally love my children and communicate that to them, irrespective of their obedience to my laws, yet I will firmly uphold those laws with godly discipline. Love and firmness, the irreplaceable hallmark of kingdom rule, will be evident in the family and produce happy, well-disciplined children, impossible without both law and grace on full display.

So, in the kingdom of God 1.) the law of God, acts as a mirror to expose our sin and bring us to repentance so the grace of God can do its job of saving and sanctifying us, and 2.) the grace of God gives us agape love for those under our authority so the law of God can do its job of guarding us until faith comes. Law and grace—differentiated but not separated.

How many of us had parents who lived out this combination of compassion and firmness as they raised us? How can we escape the trap that most Christian parents fall into, i.e., substituting leniency for compassion and harshness for firmness?

Leniency is not love. Letting our children grow up with fuzzy or flexible behavioral limits and catering to their wishes in order to “win their hearts” or to “get them to love me so they will obey me” does not achieve the desired objective and is not love. True agape love is not based on anything our children do or do not do, but never wavers no matter the circumstances. 

True love—concern only for the loved one and not ourselves in any way—recognizes the need every child has for his/her innate rebellion to be broken by a firm demand for standards to be followed, and appropriate, biblical discipline to be applied when the child deliberately does not do so.

In like manner, harshness is not firmness. Firmness is not an attitude of anger, frustration, a raised voice, displeasure, or disappointment. Firmness is an attitude where all directives are attainable ones, spoken in a normal, calm, loving voice, and given clearly, understandably and positively. There should be an opportunity for questions, clarifications and appeal, but when the one in authority makes the final decision, whether or not to follow the directive is not an option. 

I have used the family as a model for demonstrating kingdom rule, but any authority structure functions in the same manner, be it a business, an athletic team, a classroom, a government agency, etc.—anyplace there is someone officially in charge. Firmness (the law) and compassion (grace) are different, even opposites, but not separate. The two are cornerstones for the kingdom of God being established successfully in any situation.

This is a new and strange idea for the majority of society. Paul discusses the process of learning this new reality and how to walk in it throughout his epistles. He calls it “the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2), “the inward man is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16), “be renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Ephesians 4:23), “put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge” (Colossians 3:10). This new way to think is what Paul references in these verses.

While we are learning to think and live more and more consistently in this new way (as our minds are “being renewed”), there is a learning curve, a reprogramming of our personal hard-drives. A part of that curve is realizing that God’s end result in our lives is not for us to be “free from the law to do whatever I want,” even though that fact is gloriously true! 

However, It is not the ultimate goal of the gospel in our lives. That goal is not our personal freedom, but now that we are completely free, what is God’s eternal purpose for us? What did He created us to do, and He shows us what that is by changing our hearts as we learn to walk by faith so that we “want to” pursue that unique goal. His “want to” for us becomes our “want to” as well. How does that work? Next week we’ll see.

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