The Dynamics of the Everlasting Gospel
By E.H. “Jack” Sequeira

Chapter 10 – Law and Grace

(Part 1)

During my missionary service in Uganda, a young African approached me with a sincere desire to witness for Christ.  He asked, “Are you saved?”

After convincing him that I was a Christian, I returned his question, “Are you saved?”

“Praise the Lord, I am saved!” he replied enthusiastically.

“If you are saved,” I responded, “then how is it that I can smell pombe [the local beer] on your breath?”

Taken aback a bit, he answered with amazement, “Don’t you know that we are saved by grace and not by works?”

So I asked him to explain what he meant by “saved by grace.”

“Christ did it all,” he said.

“I see,” I said, “you mean that He lived a perfect life instead of you and died instead of you?”

“That’s it, you’ve got it!” he exclaimed.

“If that is true,” I teased, “then He also went to heaven instead of you.” Naturally, he was not willing to buy that.

Many Christians today, like this young man, have failed to understand the Biblical meaning of salvation by grace and, as a result, have accepted what the great German martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, aptly described as “cheap grace.” They believe that, because Christ did it all, a Christian has the liberty to live as his sinful nature likes.  Nothing could be further from the truth, for the Bible teaches no such thing.  How then are we to understand this wonderful truth of being saved by grace? And did Christ, in saving us by grace, do away with the law, as many teach today?

Tension Between Law and Grace

Because of the seemlng tension that exists between law and grace, many Christians find it difficult to reconcile the two.  On the surface, the two seem to be antagonistic towards each other.  The law demands obedience for salvation [Romans 10:5], while grace offers salvation as a free gift without works [Ephesians 2:8-9].  The law condemns the sinner [Galatians 3:10], while grace justifies the ungodly [Romans 4:5].  Consequently, the result is that many who accept God’s offer of free grace reject the law.

The Old and New Testaments, however, do not present grace in opposition to the law.  Both have their source in God, and God is not self-contradictory.

In trying to resolve the tension between law and grace, a great number of Christians today believe and teach the doctrine of despensationalism: that salvation from Moses to Christ was based on man’s obedience to the law, commonly known as the old covenant.  But since Christ came and obtained eternal redemption for sinners, mankind is now saved by grace, the new covenant, and the law has been done away with.  But Scripture does not support this idea.

Such teachings, which divide the Bible into sections or dispensations, not only deny the unity of Scripture but also contradict the clear teaching of the New Testament.  Ever since the fall of man, God has had only one way of saving sinful mankind, and that is by grace, through His redemptive activity in Christ.  In Romans 4, the apostle Paul clearly shows this.  Abraham, the father of the Jews, he says, was not saved by works or through circumcision or keeping the law, but by faith in God’s promise of salvation in His Son.

God never gave the law as a means of salvation; that idea is the perversion of the Jews [Romans 9:30-33].  Paul goes to great lengths to correct this error in his epistle to the Galatians [Galatians 2:16].  God’s purpose in giving man the law was primarily to convict him of sin [Romans 3:20], so that his gift of salvation may become meaningful.  “So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith” [Galatians 3:24].

But because man is by nature egocentric, it does not take much for him to be trapped into legalism — salvation by the works of the law.  At the heart of every pagan religion is the belief that man must save himself by his own good works.  The Bible teaches that this is impossible, and man’s only hope is salvation by faith in God’s redeeming grace [Romans 3:20-22].  “For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law” [Romans 3:28].

Not Under Law but Under Grace

Every born-again Christian must realize that he is no longer under law but under grace [Romans 6:14].  This is the great privilege of all who have accepted Christ as their Saviour.  But what does it mean to be under grace and how does this affect our lives as Christians?

If we are to understand what it means to be saved under grace we must first be clear on the Biblical terms of “under law” and “under grace.” Once we have grasped the true meaning of these phrases, only then will we appreciate the true value of being saved under grace, and will realize how this affects our lives and relationship to God’s law.

Under Law. This phrase means that our standing before God is based on our performance in terms of the law, which is a revelation of the express will of God.  Being under law means justifying yourself in the presence of God by your behavior regarding the law — God’s measuring stick of righteousness.  Law is always something which comes to a person and says, “Do this or don’t do that and you shall live” [Romans 10:5].  Failure to keep the law results in the curse: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law” [Galatians 3:10].

This was the position of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  Having created our first parents with a perfect sinless nature, God placed them under law:  “And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die’” [Genesis 2:16-17].

When Adam and Eve disobeyed this command they came under the condemnation of death, that is, they forfeited their lives.  And since the human race is the multiplication of Adam’s life [Acts 17:26], and all mankind was in Adam when he sinned and therefore was implicated in his sin, this death sentence has passed on to all humanity [Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:22].

Due to the fall, being under the law also means being under the curse or condemnation of the law, and this is mankind’s plight; we are “by nature the children of wrath” [Ephesians 2:3].  No matter how good an opinion we may have of ourselves, the fact is that we were born into a lost race.  This is how Paul describes our predicament:

“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.  Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin” [Romans 3:19-20].

What the apostle is telling us here is that not only does mankind stand condemned under the law but that its demands are also beyond our possibilities.  It was to save fallen man from this terrible situation that: “God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship” [Galatians 4:4-5].  In redeeming us from under the law, Christ put us under grace and this is the position of all who have by faith received Him.

Under Grace. The primary definition of New Testament grace is God’s loving disposition towards sinners that led Him to give “his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” [John 3:16].

This is how the apostle Paul describes grace: “In him [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” [Ephesians 1:7].  The word “grace” itself means a favor done to the undeserving, and since by nature and behavior fallen man is an enemy of God, what God has done in saving humanity in His Son becomes more than a free gift; it is by grace that we are saved [Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 5:6-10].

Because all men were created in Adam, all men are born under the law, and “the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives” [Romans 7:1].  But having united Himself with us in the incarnation and having borne us on His cross, we have become dead to the law’s dominion “by the body of Christ” [Romans 7:4].  Then in the resurrection, Christ raised us up with His eternal life, born anew “into a living hope” [1 Peter 1:3], married to Christ, the second husband, and are, therefore, under His dominion.  This is what it means to be under grace.

So we as Christians are no longer under the law in the sense that our justification or salvation depends upon our personal self-motivated attempts at obedience to the law.  That, of course, is still the position of all who have not received Christ as their personal Saviour.  But for us believers, those who by faith have become one with Christ, we are no longer under the law, but under grace, and Christ has become the end (or fulfillment) of the law for righteousness [Romans 10:4].

Therefore, to be under grace is the opposite of being under law; no longer are we justified before God on the basis of our actions or works of the law; but we are justified entirely on the basis of what Christ has already done in His life, death, and resurrection.

It is Christ’s perfect righteousness which He obtained in His humanity as our substitute that justifies us.  By His positive obedience to the law and His death, which met the justice of the law, Christ forever became our righteousness, that is, to all who will accept His saving grace [Romans 5:17].

Further, to be under grace also means that we have died to the life of sin and our life is now hid in Christ [Colossians 3:3].  The death of Christ on the cross was a corporate death in which all men died in one man [2 Corinthians 5:14].  Therefore, Christians who have by faith identified with this death have become dead to sin and the dominion of the law and are alive unto God.  This is what our baptism was all about; our union with Christ crucified, buried, and resurrected.  The result is that now, under grace, we walk in newness of life [Romans 6:3-4].  This is what it means to be under grace and all this has important implications regarding Christian living.

Living Under Grace

The first truth which we need to understand concerning this privilege of being under grace is that while we as Christians are delivered from being under the law, this does not mean that the law has been done away with.  Anyone who reaches this conclusion and teaches so is perverting the gospel.  Justification by faith does not do away with the law, but establishes it [Romans 3:31].

The law of God is as everlasting as God Himself, for it is codified love [Romans 13:8, 10; Galatians 5:13-14] and God is love [1 John 4:8, 16].  Christ Himself taught in the Sermon on the Mount that He did not come to abolish the law.  “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.  Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” [Matthew 5:18-19].

The problem we faced under the law did not lie in the law itself but in us.  Clearly, the law is holy, just, and good [Romans 7:12], but the fault is with us, for we are by nature carnal, sold under sin [Romans 7:14].

In Romans 7:15-25, Paul clearly demonstrates that God’s holy law and our sinful nature are incompatible.  Hence, “the mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” [Romans 8:7].  It is for this reason that the first or old covenant was faulty, for the writer of Hebrews says:

But God found fault with the people and said:  “The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.  It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord.  This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord.  I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.  I will be their God, and they will be my people.”  [Hebrews 8:8-10].

Therefore, in saving us from under the law, Christ did not abolish the law but He put an end to our sinful lives on His cross.  In the resurrection He raised us from the dead with a new life, the life of the Spirit, that is in perfect harmony with the law.  This He proved Himself in His humanity which perfectly obeyed God’s holy law.

During the 1980 Pastoral Conference conducted by the National Council of Churches in Nairobi, Kenya, the key speaker was the noted scholar and Biblical preacher, Dr. John Stott.  He startled his 1,500 pastoral audience by stating, “We Evangelicals know how to preach the Good News but we have failed to preach the good life because we have done away with the law.”  He then explained that while the law of God was never given as a means of salvation, it always will be the standard of Christian living.

In Romans 6:10, Paul tells us that Christ died to sin once for all, but the life he lives, he lives to God.  Then in verse 11, he applies this same truth to the baptized believer: “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

On what basis are we to consider ourselves dead to sin and alive unto God? As already mentioned, on the basis of what God did to us in the humanity of Christ.  By sheer grace He put us into Christ at the Incarnation when divinity was united to our corporate humanity [l Corinthians 1:30].  This means that when Christ died to sin so did we in Him.  Thus the cross of Christ becomes God’s power unto salvation from sin [1 Corinthians 1:18] as well as from the dominion of the law [Romans 7:4-6].  Note how Paul applies this to his own life:

“So far as the law is concerned, however, I am dead — killed by the law itself — in order that I might live for God.  I have been put to death with Christ on his cross, so that it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.  This life that I live now, I live by faith in the Son of Gcd, who loved me and gave His life for me” [Galatians 2:19-20, TEV].

This brings us now to the second point concerning our privilege of living under grace.  Because Christians are under grace does not mean that we are free to live as we please.  Grace does not give us any such liberty.  While under law, our relationship was to the law.  In other words, the law demanded certain things from us and we were under obligation to meet these demands or else suffer its penalty.  So now, under grace, we are under the dominion and authority of grace.

This means that our relationship is to Christ, the source of grace, and we must live under His dominion and authority.  How does this affect us in terms of Christian living? As Paul would say, “much in every way.” Here are two examples:

“What then?  Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace?  By no means!  Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey — whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?  But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance.  You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness” [Romans 6:15-18].

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free.  But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.  For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command:  ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” [Galatians 5:13-14].

This truth is also expressed by the apostle Peter: “For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.  Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.  Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.  Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.  For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God” [1 Peter 2:15-19].

Clearly then, to live under grace means allowing Christ to live in you through faith.  This is what Christ meant when he said the following: “Remain in me, as I also remain in you.  No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.  Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches.  If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” [John 15:4-5].

The final point I would like to bring out concerning this privilege of living under grace is motivation.  The old relationship under law may be described as a relationship of fear.  This is because the law can never sympathize with our weakness or inability to meet its demands, neither is the law capable of helping us in meeting its requirements.  The law can only demand obedience and condemn us every time we fail.  So our situation under law was always to be in bondage to fear.

How different is our situation under grace! Unlike the law, Christ understands our weakness and inability to be really good; He also is able to sympathize with our struggles against temptation.  He was made in all things like us and was tempted in all points like us so He understands, sympathizes, and is able to help [Hebrews 2:17-18; 4:15].

But more that this, He has delivered us from it all.  He has delivered us from the fear of death, having died for us [Hebrews 1:14-15]; He has delivered us from the bondage of sin, having condemned sin in the flesh [Romans 6:22; 8:3-4]; He has reconciled us unto God so that we have the blessed hope of heaven and eternal life and can call God “Dear Father” [Galatians 4:4-6].  All these are the privileges of being under grace, and this means we serve God “in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code” [Romans 7:6].

In other words, our relationship under grace is one of love and appreciation.  This is opposite to our situation under law.  No longer does fear of punishment motivate our actions, but the love of God constrains and compels us to do right and live for Him [2 Corinthians 5:14-15].  Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commands” [John 14:15; 1 John 5:3].

Furthermore, being under grace delivers us from the self-centered motivation of seeking a reward.  Neither fear of punishment nor hope of reward in heaven can deliver us from the “works of law.” We so deeply appreciate the agape that led the Son of God to His cross for us that we gladly serve Him and our fellow men with no thought of self.

Sinning Under Grace

One of the main concerns haunting many Christians is the problem of sinning under grace.  The big question is: how does sinning under grace affect our relationship to God? Do believers become unjustified every time they sin or fall so that they have to be reconverted each time a mistake is made or otherwise be eternally lost? Those who teach such a yo-yo type of doctrine have failed to understand the Biblical meaning of being saved under grace.

Actually, according to Paul, it is impossible for someone who truly is under grace through appreciating Christ’s cross to go on living in sin [Romans 6:1-2].  Righteousness is by faith; and if the faith is there, the righteousness is sure to be there; and there is no sin in righteousness.  However, many do not understand this pure truth, and think they continue to sin while under grace.

When Paul declared in Romans 6:14, “Sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under law, but under grace,” he did not mean that a believer cannot sin, but that sin has no more authority to condemn or control a believer, since such a person is no longer under law but under grace.

In 1 Corinthians 15:56, we read, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.”  By this Paul says that sin itself has no power to destroy a person without the authority of the law; and since a believer is no longer under law, sin can no longer bring the condemnation of the law (which is eternal death), upon the believer.  He is delivered from the power of sin.

Misuse of Grace

But that is a dangerous teaching, you say, one that will lead to loose living!  Your fears are absolutely right.

That is why the apostle Paul spends all of chapter 6 of Romans warning Christians against the attitude that they can condone sinning.  The gospel is not only Good News, but because of our sinful condition, it is also dangerous news.  It can easily be perverted into licence to sin when faith becomes counterfeit.

The big question which Paul presents to the Christian in Romans 6 is, “Can a Christian condone sinning since grace abounds more than sin and believers are no longer under law?”  The answer is an emphatic No!  Why?  First, because in Christ we have died to sin, that is, terminated our relationship with it [verses 2 and 11].  Second, by our own choice we have become slaves of God who is the author of righteousness and not sin [verse 17].  On these two grounds the doctrine of salvation by grace will not permit a Christian to continue to cherish sin.

This does not mean that we babes in Christ do not stumble and fall.  We all know that this is a problem in Christian living, and because we have not yet learned fully to understand the gospel and to walk unceasingly by the Spirit, we too often fall.  In view of this, how do our failures affect our relationship with God? That question still deserves an answer.

Every believer must be aware that there is a world of difference between sinning under law and sinning under grace.  To understand this we must see the contrast between the law as a written code and Christ as a living reality.  When we ccmpare and contrast them we will discover that in one sense they are the same, yet in another they are opposites.

Let me explain.  According to Scripture the spirit of the law is love [Matthew 22:36-40].  As such it can be identified with Christ, who is love [l John 4:8; Ephesians 5:1-2].

However, when we consider the law as a written code, it becomes a set of rules binding legally on human beings.  As such, the law cannot feel for, sympathize with, or help our weak situation.  All it can do is command obedience and condemn every failure [Galatians 3:10].

On the contrary, Christ is a person who was made in all points like us and therefore feels and understands our struggles and is able to help; for He Himself was tempted in all points like us, except that He conquered every temptation [Hebrews 4:15].  So, in Christ we have one who is a faithful and merciful High Priest, and in this sense the law and Christ differ.

All this throws an important light on the subject of sinning.  To sin against the law means to sin against a moral code or a set of rules, resulting in punishment or the curse [Romans 1:18; Galatians 3:10].

This was our situation before accepting God’s redemptive grace in Christ.  But as believers we are no longer under the law but under grace, and if we sin we are not sinning against a code or a set of rules, but against a Person “who loved us and gave himself for us” [Galatians 2:20].  This realization makes a tremendous difference in our attitude towards sinning.  Why is this so?  Let me explain by an illustration.

Let us say there is a man driving his car along the highway breaking the speed limit.  He is stopped by a policeman and he pleads for mercy, confessing his sorrow for over-speeding.  You will agree with me that this man’s confession and repentance have been motivated by egocentric concerns, and not out of love for the traffic law or the policeman who represents the law.

This same man returns home and unintentionally offends his wife whom he loves and who loves him dearly.  Immediately, he is sorry for his act and confesses in repentance.  What was his motivation?  Not fear of punishment.  He is sorry because he has hurt someone who is dear to him.

Do you get the point?  This is the difference between sinning under law and under grace.  This, incidentally, was the difference between the repentance of Judas who betrayed Christ, and Peter who denied Christ.  One was motivated by self, the other by love.  Those who sin under the law can only repent in terms of fear of punishment or desire for reward, both egocentric concerns; whereas repentance and confession under grace result from a love relationship with Christ.  We must constantly be aware of what our sins did to Christ on the cross — they killed Him.

How then can a Christian under grace condone sin? That would mean deliberately crucifying Christ and that is unthinkable to one who appreciates God’s “indescribable gift.”

The reason why we Christians learn to hate sin is not because we fear our sinning will deprive us of heaven, but because our sins put Christ on the cross [Galatians 3:13].  When we Christians realize how costly it was for God to save us in Christ, we will hate sin for what it is — crucifying Christ and putting Him to open shame [Hebrews 6:4-6].

Because God could not save us by ignoring the demands of His holy law, salvation from sin is costly.  The wages of sin is death [Ezekiel 18:20; Romans 6:23].  In order to save us from the condemnation of the law, God had to meet its just demands.  This He did when He laid upon Christ, our substitute, the iniquity of us all when He offered Him up on the cross as the only valid sacrifice for our sins [Isaiah 53:6, 10].

So while we may say that stumbling under grace does not deprive the Christian of justification, or bring condemnation, it creates a deeper hatred for sinning if we have begun to appreciate the cost of our salvation.  Why?  Because every sin we commit was vitally involved in Christ’s death on the cross.

Two Phases of Salvation

One reason why so many Christians are confused about their salvation under grace is that they have failed to realize that the New Testament speaks of two phases of salvation.

The first phase covers what God did in Christ some 1,900 years ago, and the second is what God is doing in every believer now and at the Second Advent.  The first is expressed in the New Testament by the phrase “you in Christ,” and the second is referred to as “Christ in you” [John 15:4-5].

While the two aspects of salvation are definitely related, like two sides of a coin, they are also distinct in at least four areas.  Failure to note these distinctions is the primary reason for so much confusion in the church today.

  1. Complete versus Progressive. What God did in Christ — the objective facts of the gospel — is a finished work.  In Him we stand perfect, provided with every spiritual blessing pertaining to heaven [Ephesians 1:3; Colossians 2:10].  In contrast, what God is doing in us — the subjective experience of the gospel — is something that continues through life and will continue until the second coming [Philippians 3:12-14; Romans 8:24-25].  This is the aspect of salvation you see on some bumper stickers:  “Be patient, God isn’t finished with me yet!”

  2. Universal versus Individual. What God did in Christ applies to all mankind so that in Him the whole world stands legally justified.  This is the unconditional Good News of the gospel [Romans 5:18; 1 John 2:2].  What God does in us, on the other hand, applies only to the born again Christian who has by faith accepted Jesus Christ as his Saviour [Romans 8:9-10; Ephesians 3:17].

  3. Divine and Human. God’s saving activity in Christ is a work that was accomplished entirely by God without any human help.  This is why it is often referred to as an “alien righteousness” [Romans 3:21; Philippians 3:9].  In contrast, God’s work in the believer involves their cooperation.  For this reason, Christians are admonished to “walk in the Spirit” or “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” or “remain in me,” in order to bear the fruits of salvation [Galatians 5:16; Romans 13:14; John 15:4-5].

  4. Saving and Witnessing. The righteousness God obtained for all mankind in Christ is full of merit.  It is this alone that qualifies us for heaven, now and in the judgment [Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5].  The righteousness God produces in the believer, on the other hand, has no salvic value.  It is the fruits of justification by faith demonstrating and witnessing the righteousness of Christ we have already received in Him by faith [Ephesians 2:10; Titus 3:8].  In many respects this is an important distinction, since many look to their own performance for the assurance of salvation, and this should not be so.

Our righteous performance, even though it is of God and is well pleasing to Him, does not contribute one iota towards our title to heaven.  However, it is a righteousness we must reach for since it is the most powerful witness of God’s saving power.

As the famous pagan philosopher Nietzsche once said, “If you Christians expect me to believe in your redeemer, you will have to look a lot more redeemed!”

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