Law and Grace (part 1)
The Apostle Paul was a man who understood the Old Testament law intimately. He may well have been more knowledgeable of the law that anyone else of his generation. Paul was also a man who had great personal understanding of grace. After all, he had been freely forgiven for his merciless persecution of Christ and his followers. Paul was a chosen vessel of God who was perfectly equipped to teach about law and grace.
If I ask someone if they will be with God for eternity after they die, I often get a response such as, “Well, I hope so. I’ve been a pretty good person.” Of course it is good to do good, and we can please others by doing good, but it is God who will judge us one day, and he has made it quite clear that we cannot do enough good or be good enough to satisfy his requirements for righteousness. The law lays out these requirements and the law also places a curse upon those who do not keep his law:
“For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” (Galatians 3:10)
God tells us that all we have to do is break his law in one point to be guilty.
“For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”
God tells us plainly that sin is the breaking of God’s law:
“Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.”
(I John 3:4)
In chapter three of the book of Romans, Paul quotes from the Old Testament to show us that “there is none righteous” (not one person who meets the requirements of the law). In the following verses in Romans chapter three, Paul goes on to explain the purpose of the law:
19. Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.
20. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
You see, if we could keep the law perfectly, we would be sinless and there would have been no need for Christ to die for our sins. Not one single one of us is that “good”. In fact, God has declared that not one single one of us is good at all. The purpose of the law is to teach us this. Once we have learned this sober lesson, then God will show us the only way that we can be righteous in his eyes:
21. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;
22. Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:
23. For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
This righteousness has nothing to do with our works. It has everything to do with Christ’s work as he suffered and died on the cross to pay for your sins and mine. This is grace. We can have this righteousness through repenting of our sin and simply trusting in what Christ accomplished on the cross for our salvation. To repent means to change our heart’s attitude toward sin – to accept that which God says about our sinfulness is true in a way that causes us to turn from our sin. This is what it means to be “born again” or “saved”. There is no other way. This is why Jesus told Nicodemus “Ye must be born again”.
24. Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
25. Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
26. To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
If you attempt to satisfy God’s requirements through your own righteousness (fulfilling the law) you will fail. In fact, you have already failed. The purpose of the law is to convince you of this.
When you have learned this lesson (and only then) you can learn the following lesson: it is by God’s grace alone that you can be righteous in his eyes and be assured of spending eternity with him. This righteousness is his righteousness and God wants to give it to you freely. There is nothing that you can give him in exchange for it. You must accept God’s gift of eternal life by simple, childlike faith and you must come to him with empty hands.
“For by grace are ye saved through faith;
and that not of yourselves:
it is the gift of God:”