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

Chapter 10 – Law and Grace

(Part 2)

Standing in Grace

One of the great privileges that we Christians have, besides peace with God, is standing in grace [Romans 5:1-2].  What does this mean?

It means that not only is the legal justification Christ obtained for all men now made effective in us who believe so that we have peace with God and full assurance of salvation, but much more, we are now standing in a special way in the realm of grace.  That is to say, now while we still possess sinful flesh we also possess a power within us through the indwelling Spirit of Christ which is able to reproduce in us the righteousness of Christ and overcome every temptation.

This is a truth of which all Christians must be aware.  Not only does grace mean that we stand perfect in Christ but it also means that through Him we possess the very life of God so that now He is able to work in us both “to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” [Philippians 2:13].

Thus, as Christians we can “rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Before, while under law and living in our own strength we all were coming short of the glory of God [Romans 3:23]; but now, under grace, this situation has been entirely changed so that we have the hope, not only of heaven, but also of experiencing the glory of God — this life of self-sacrificing love.

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” [2 Corinthians 3:17-18].

Paul often referred to this word “grace” in terms of divine power that fitted him to do the work and will of God.  Note some of his statements:

This is what it means to stand in grace, and this privilege belongs to all believers.  During a Week of Prayer which I was holding at a Christian College in Ethiopia, an Egyptian senior student asked, “Is it a sin for Christians to bear arms and kill?” He was soon returning to Egypt to serve in the army as his country was at war with Israel.

In reply, I asked if he knew of any dead Egyptians fighting for his country.  When he replied negatively, I reminded him that as a Christian he was dead and his life was hid in Christ [Colossians 3:3].  Unfortunately, he refused to accept this Biblical fact.  Two weeks later he met with an accident when the school tractor he was testing capsized, pinning him underneath.  After an examination at a nearby mission hospital, he was pronounced dead.  A nurse went over to cover his bcdy with a sheet.  He blinked and she cried out in amazement, “He is alive!”

Further examination revealed that he had regained life — a miracle in answer to the prayers of his fellow students.  He was transferred to our mission hospital in Addis Ababa.  When I visited him sometime later, my first question was, “How are you?” Between bandaged lips he whispered, “I am dead and my life is hid in Christ.” I have always cherished that experience as an example of God’s Spirit working in a human life.

As Christians, we are debtors not to the flesh to live according to the flesh but to the Spirit [Romans 8:12-13].  This means we have no business to live, even trying to be good, in the power of the flesh, which is our natural strength and ability.  It is the Spirit of Christ which must live in us by faith.  The life we now live in our bodies must be the life of Christ, which has been received by faith [Galatians 2:20].  This is all part of God’s program of being under grace.

Grace demands that we have no right to live in and of ourselves, but Christ, who by His Spirit dwells in us, lives in us by our daily exercise of faith.  The grace that has saved us from under the dominion of the law in Christ will now continue to live in us so that it may produce in us the fruits of the Spirit, which are:  “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” [Galatians 5:22-23].

Against such, says Paul in verse 24, “there is no law.” It is in harmony with God’s law.  So, under grace, the law which we were incapable of keeping in our natural strength is now actually being fulfilled in us [Romans 8:4].  As believers we should realize that while we have been saved in the sense that we stand justified before God so that He looks on us as we are in Christ, perfect, we still live in a wicked world.  The law, or prompting of sin, still lives in our bodies [Romans 7:22].

But this law of sin cannot reign in us or dominate us as we are not under law but under grace [Romans 6:12-14].  Yes, in our own strength we are no match for the law of sin.  Paul made this clear in Romans 7 — but the power of grace is greater than all the power Satan can muster through our sinful flesh, and that is part of the Good News of grace:  “I can do all this through him [Christ] who gives me strength” [Philippians 4:13].

To be under grace is to be under the reign of Christ’s life and this life has conquered and condemned sin in the flesh [Romans 8:3].  Paul also says:  “Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” [Romans 7:24-25].

The law of sin whose residence is in our mortal bodies will always seek to dominate our bodies, and dominate us through the flesh.  This is how we experience temptation [James 1:14].  Taking advantage of the self principle of our sinful nature, Satan turns the natural desires of the body (which are God-given) into lust, so that we become slaves to these natural desires instead of being masters of them.

But, being under grace, we possess the life and power of God by which we can “escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” [2 Peter 1:4].  Daily, hourly, by faith we allow Christ to live in us and “do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh” [Romans 13:14].  So we Christians standing in grace have the hope of the love of God being shed abroad through the Holy Spirit [Romans 5:5].

Every believer must realize that in becoming a Christian he has undergone a radical change.  The apostle Paul declares: “Therefore, if any man be in Christ he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new” [2 Corinthians 5:17].  Christians are not just people whose sins are forgiven so that we may have a ticket to heaven.  Much more than that, we are people in whom everything that belonged to the old has passed away.  Our old position under the law, our old lives of sin, all have passed away on the cross of Christ.  And now through His resurrection we have become a new creation in a new position which is under grace.

This means we possess a new life and are partakers of the divine nature [2 Peter 1:4].  When we know these things, we shall know the constraint of His love to allow these truths to work in and through us so that we no longer act and behave as members of this world controlled by “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” [l John 2:16]; but as sons and daughters of Gcd.  We will be walking in the Spirit, reflecting the character of Christ.

The Law As Standard

In view of all this, how should a Christian view the law? Is it still binding on believers?

As a means of salvation, the answer is an emphatic No! But as a standard for Christian living, the answer is a most definite Yes!

To appreciate this fact we should remember the distinction between the old and new covenants.  The measuring stick for righteousness in both covenants is the law.  But in the old covenant it is man’s promises that he thinks qualify him for heaven, but in the new covenant it is God’s promises and righteousness realized in the holy history of Christ that save — and man’s part is to believe as did Abraham, to exercise faith.

As already observed, the reason why the old covenant was faulty was not because of the law but because of the people [Hebrews 8:7-9].  For this reason, man’s hope of salvation is in God’s promise of grace offered in Christ through the new covenant.  But the new covenant did not do away with the law as some believe and teach.  Search as much as you will, you will not find a single text in Scripture supporting that idea.  What God does in the new covenant is to write the same law in the hearts of the believers, so that it becomes part of our new nature and not just a set of rules as under the old covenant.  This is how the author of Hebrews puts it:

“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 8:10].

One reason why there is so much misunderstanding and antagonism towards the law among many sincere Christians is because of misunderstanding Paul’s statements about the law.  On the one hand, there are passages which superficially appear to imply that the law was done away with [Romans 7:1-10; Galatians 2:19; 2 Corinthians 3:4-17; Ephesians 2:14-16].  On the other hand, Paul can be quoted to prove that he upholds the same law and totally rejects the idea that the law was abolished through the means of faith.  Note the following:

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.  The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command:  ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  Love does no harm to a neighbor.  Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” [Romans 13:8-10].

Another of Paul’s passages is:  “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].

How do we solve this apparent contradiction in Paul’s writings? Much of the problem over his use of the word “law,” says C.E.B.  Cranfield, editor, International Critical Commentary, comes from our failure to realize that Paul had no separate word-group or term to denote “legalism.” He used the identical term for both his positive references to Old Testament law (which he upheld) and his negative statements about the law when it was used by humans to produce their own righteousness (which he condemned).  See, for example, Philippians 3:9.

Consequently, while Paul upheld the law as a standard of Christian living, he condemned anyone who used it as a substitute for faith, or as a means to gain that righteousness that can only come from God.  It might be helpful to note that when Paul condemns what we call “legalism,” he often uses the phrase translated in the KJV as “works of the law,” which in Greek is “works of law” [Romans 3:20; 9:30-32; Galatians 2:16; 3:10].

Falling From Grace

In concluding this vital study of law and grace, it would be well for us to consider the great danger of falling away from grace, which every believer faces.

There are too many Christians who think and teach that once you are saved in Christ through faith nothing whatsoever can remove you from this saved position.  This is a great deception, for Scripture does not support it.

It is true that the righteousness that saves us is always in Christ (and since He is in heaven where no thief can enter, it cannot be touched).  But the faith that makes that righteousness effective is in us, and can be forsaken or renounced.  This is why there is so much admonition in Scripture for believers to hold on to their faith at all costs [Matthew 10:22; Acts 20:24; 1 Corinthians 15:58; Galatians 6:9; Hebrews 3:6; 4:14; 10:23].

In becoming a Christian, every believer becomes a traitor to Satan, the prince of this world.  He will not stand losing one of his subjects, and will increase his efforts sevenfold to regain any believer lost to his domain [Matthew 12:43-45].

How does the enemy of souls, the arch-deceiver and father of lies, do this? There are three ways he can tempt a believer to fall away from grace.  He will try one or another, or even all three methods if he thinks necessary.

1.  Perverting the Gospel. The first method is by misrepresenting some portion of the gospel truth so that he succeeds in turning our eyes from Christ our righteousness to ourselves.  In doing this, he makes it appear that salvation comes not by faith alone, but to some degree on our own works or behavior.  This was the method the devil used to deceive the Galatian Christians [Galatians 1:6-7; 3:1-3].  Satan cannot succeed in this if we will simply believe the truth.

Having entered into the wonderful experience of righteousness by faith, the Christians of Galatia were led astray into believing that they had to improve their standing before God by their own works of the law in order to be saved.  The enemy of souls succeeded in turning their eyes from Christ and focusing upon themselves.  They were in danger of falling away from grace.  So Paul warned:

“You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.  For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope.  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value.  The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” [Galatians 5:4-6].

According to the truth of the gospel, to be under grace means that Christ is our righteousness in every way and in every sense of the word.  The gospel gives us the righteousness of Christ both as an objective fact (i.e., imputed righteousness) as well as a subjective experience (i.e., imparted righteousness).  Further, both are to be received by faith alone and nothing can be added [Romans 1:17].  So any believer who tries to justify himself before God, even in the slightest degree, in terms of his own actions or works, is really denying Christ to be his righteousness at that point and is fallen from grace.

In this sense, falling from grace means that we think we can make our own little contribution towards our justification by adding our goodness or works of the law.  But this can never be.  Such a believer, once trapped into this subtle form of legalism, is in a dangerous situation of losing Christ entirely.

You cannot have it both ways.  It is impossible to receive Christ by faith (acknowledging you are spiritually bankrupt and cannot save yourself) and then add your good works towards your salvation, claiming that you can save yourself.  Salvation as offered to fallen sinful man in the Good News of the gospel is not partly from Christ and partly our contribution.

To be under law and under grace are opposites, they cannot be mixed.  You choose one or the other.  Man is not saved partly by grace and partly by keeping the law; that is impossible.  Either we receive Christ by faith as our total righteousness both in terms of our standing before God as well as in our daily Christian living, or we must try to justify ourselves entirely by our own works of the law, which of course, is impossible.  You cannot have both, nor some of each.  It is either one or the other.

2.  Love of the World. The second way Satan tries to cause believers to fall from grace is by dangling trinkets of this world before them, thus causing them to be gradually drawn away from Christ and back into the world.  This was Demas’ situation.  According to Paul: “For Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me” [2 Timothy 4:10].  The world is full of attractions which Satan uses to allure the believer.  Money, materialism, position, self-glory, and fleshly enjoyments are but some of the devil’s bait.  But, again, Satan cannot succeed in this if we have seen and appreciated the glory of the cross, “the boundless riches of Christ” [Ephesians 3:8].

The believer whose hold on Christ is weak can be drawn away [note Matthew 13:22].  For this reason we should understand that even though we enter the experience of salvation by faith in Christ, it does not mean that our eternal destiny is forever secure, unless we cherish faith, love it unto the end.  Having come under grace, faith becomes a fight [l Timothy 6:12].  Only those whose faith endures to the end will receive the crown of life [Mark 13:13; James 1:12].

It is true that as long as we are united to Christ by faith our salvation is guaranteed.  But this does not mean that our faith itself is guaranteed.  Unless faith is allowed to grow, develop, and be strengthened by Bible study, prayer, fellowship, and witnessing, we will find ourselves objects for the devil to attack.  He will try one way or another to snatch us out of Christ.  Such a person who has forsaken Christ and the church and returned to the world has fallen from grace and is therefore in a lost state [Hebrews 6:4-6].  But don’t forget: the Lord still loves him, and the Good Shepherd is still seeking for His lost sheep!

3.  Persecution. The devil may use persecution to try to get us out of Christ.  The flesh does not like suffering, and Satan knowing this takes advantage of this fact.  A Christian may be persecuted in various ways — physically, socially, and mentally.  But, again, Satan can never succeed with this temptation if we prize “fellowship” with Christ in his “sufferings” [Philippians 3:10].

Persecution may even come from within the church, from the world, or even from our own family.  Mistreatment, discrimination, or unfair practices within the church can cause a believer to become so discouraged and filled with self-pity that he becomes a target for the devil to try to attack.

Once in this condition, the devil will manipulate the believer so that not only does he fight the church but actually leaves it and becomes its bitter enemy.

Another way Satan persecutes believers is by making life extremely difficult so living becomes unbearable.  The believer may lose a job or be deprived of one.  The family may think it is impossible to stand up to the hardships of life.  So the believer is tempted to compromise with truth and slowly lose his hold on Christ.  But the devil can never succeed in this temptation if we remember how our Saviour had not where to lay His head even though the foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests [Matthew 8:20].  We will never choose to renounce our “fellowship” with Him!

The hostility of the world may include threats of death.  In writing to young Timothy, Paul declared, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” [2 Timothy 3:12].  Note also Peter’s counsel:

“Be alert and of sober mind.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings” [1 Peter 5:8-9].

Finally a warning about the consequences of falling from grace:  “But my righteous one will live by faith.  And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back” [Hebrews 10:38]. However, may this be true of each one of us:  “But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved” [verse 39].

Now as you rejoice in this wonderful truth of salvation by grace in Christ, “may God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.  May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.  ...The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” [1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, 28].

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