Does Truth Balance Grace?

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  (John 1:17)

This verse from John is a watershed verse because in a few simple words, it delineates the Old Covenant from the New; Jesus from Moses. In a very clear way, it summarizes the majority of redemptive history by reminding us that there is a difference between Moses and Jesus and the two were never intended to be mixed together.

Unfortunately, mixing them together is what many of us like to do. Grace scares us so we read this verse as though truth is meant to balance out grace. And of course by “truth,” we mean some sort of law. It can be something we pull over from Moses or some rule or principle we find in the New Testament or in our religious culture. Either way, we read this as though grace needs balanced out by some sort of truth as if grace and truth were two opposing forces doing battle with one another because grace needs tempered by truth. It’s interesting that we never view it the other way around, where grace balances out truth. Our default is always a balancing out of grace with truth.

But this verse is a both-and, not an either-or. Jesus is grace AND truth. John wasn’t issuing an ultimatum here, nor was he reminding us to temper grace with some version of truth as though grace is opposed to truth and truth to grace. Grace is not opposed to truth and truth is not in conflict with grace. John wasn’t offering us a set of balancing scales to make sure we’re balancing grace with appropriate amounts of truth. He’s not telling us to keep grace in check with truth. He’s not saying truth trumps grace. He’s talking about the supremacy of the New Covenant over the Old. The Supremacy of Jesus over Moses. Jesus is the embodiment of both truth (John 14:6) and grace (Titus 2:11-12) in their fullness (John 1:14). He’s not grace tempered by truth, but he’s the very fullness of both. This is the gospel – grace and truth in their fullness are finally and fully revealed in Jesus, our substitute and redeemer.

We can throw away the balance scales and enjoy this free gift we’ve been given because “…from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. “(John 1:16).

-Mike


Photo Credit:
Pau Casals

Giving Sin a Workout

I spent years in a setting where behavior modification equaled maturity in the faith. Where an outward appearance of good behavior and conformity to the rules and standards imposed on me meant I was sinning less and was applauded as progress in the right direction. But woe unto me if I slipped and messed up. At those times, the solution was never grace, it was more law. A reinforcement and reminder of the rules and laws I was expected to follow. In short, the outside of the cup looked pretty good but on the inside, I was dying a slow death. That’s what law-driven sin management does. When the focus of our faith becomes an obsession with policing sin, our natural inclination is to think imposing laws and rules is the solution. But is it? In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul made this short but powerful observation:

“…the power of sin is the law.” 1 Corinthians 15:56

Think about it. If the law – any law – is what gives sin its power, then piling on rules and law to curb or avoid sin actually has the opposite affect. It empowers sin and gives sin more muscle. Wasn’t this Old Covenant Israel’s problem all along? They agreed to the terms of the Old Covenant – a covenant of law-keeping and works righteousness – and yet God “found fault with the people.” (Heb. 8:8). Why? Because they couldn’t live up to the terms of the covenant. They couldn’t do it. No one is made righteous by keeping laws or rules. No one. Law-based rule-keeping leads to one of two things: a self-righteous attitude in thinking I’m somehow pulling it off (i.e. the Pharisees), or an eventual crash and burn because living under that kind of pressure is exhausting and makes you give up.

Do you remember Paul’s conversation with the Roman believers in chapters five and six of Romans? It’s there he said:

“Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:20-21)

Don’t miss this: introducing law as a means to control sin or modify behavior has the opposite effect. It increases sin. How? In the context of Romans 5, the “trespass” refers to Adam’s law-breaking in the garden. Adam was given one command in the garden – don’t eat of that tree – and he broke it. He transgressed it. He sinned and Paul calls that sin of Adam’s a “trespass” in Romans 5. But here’s the rub: when God’s law is Continue reading “Giving Sin a Workout”

Not Under Law

 

I was perusing the web a couple of days ago when I came across a sight that boasted this statement:

The Law of Christ is the law we are under in the New Covenant era.

I threw up a little bit in my mouth when I read that. I haven’t seen that or heard that in a while and it took me by surprise. It’s what I used to believe. Ten years ago, I would have been shaking my head in hearty agreement with this statement. But today, it saddens me. I saddens me because it takes away from the cross of Jesus. It saddens me because it exchanges one moral code (Moses) for another one – a newer one – and it reduces Jesus to little more than a new law-giver, not much unlike Moses. It saddens me because it misses the point of grace entirely. It saddens me because not unlike the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, it gives one permission to tie heavy burdens on the backs of those who embrace the idea, believing it to be true. It saddens me because having zealously believed that myself all those years ago, I know those who hold to that belief can’t see the fallacy of it while they’re in it.

To insist that a believer today is under law, any law, goes against the New Testament. Twice in the letter to the Romans, Paul states that a believer is not under law (Romans 6:14, 15). The lack of the Continue reading “Not Under Law”

A High View of God’s Law

I spent years as a Christian preoccupied with God’s law. Not Moses, but New Testament law. What was commonly termed the law of Christ. I came to the realization in the mid-90s that the Old Covenant was no more and the law of that covenant, the law given to Israel through Moses, was non-binding on the conscience of a believer today. But that didn’t stop me from adopting a new moral code from the New Testament and becoming convinced that my obedience to that code was the test for the genuineness of my faith. I think I understood grace on paper only. The burning question each day was how is my obedience. As I spent countless hours, days, months, and years muscling my way through my sanctification, certain that my obedience was THE barometer for knowing I was a believer and knowing God was pleased with me, I assumed I had a high view of God’s law. After all, I was pulling it off, or so I thought. I was at least doing it better than most of those around me. Or so I thought.

But then I discovered through severe trials that a preoccupation with God’s law doesn’t mean one has a high view of God’s law. Quite the opposite. I found out the hard way that my preoccupation with God’s law actually resulted in my having a very low view of it for the simple reason that I thought I could pull it off. I thought God’s holy standard was attainable by my Continue reading “A High View of God’s Law”

Our Love Affair With The Ten Commandments

We have an ongoing affection and preoccupation with the Ten Commandments. Some cheer and applaud statements like that. This is particularly true of Reformed groups and those tending toward legalism and a legalistic view of the Christian life. Many times, those are the same groups.  But I have a different opinion. I think our preoccupation with the Ten Commandments is not only unhealthy, but has no place reigning in the conscience of a believer today.

Let’s interact for the next few minutes with an on-line devotional hosted by Ligonier Ministries entitled, Teaching the Law. The article begins with a quote from the Old Testament book of Nehemiah:

They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. (Nehemiah 8:8)

The devotional goes on to state the following claim:

God, in fact, wants the Ten Commandments “preached pointedly,” as question 115 of the Heidelberg Catechism explains. The answer to this question tells us why our Creator desires for His people to understand His statutes.

One thing I’ve come to realize about those who adhere to Covenant or Reformed Theology is their tendency to cite their creeds and catechisms as authoritative as though they were on par with Scripture. They would never admit to that or say it that way, but that’s been my observation. This is one example.  The first piece of evidence provided to us is that God wants the Ten Commandments “preached pointedly” because the Heidelberg Catechism says so. To Ligonier’s credit, they do turn to Scripture after citing the catechism:

First, let us consider the biblical evidence that God wants church leaders to preach and teach His commandments. Today’s passage, for example, records Ezra’s reading of the Mosaic law to the Israelites after they returned from exile. The author clearly approves of this act, as well as the Levites’ explanation of God’s rules to Israel (Neh. 8:1–12). In reading the commandments, Ezra and the Levites fulfilled the command to preach and teach regularly the Mosaic law (Deut. 31:9–13).

I believe this statement is misleading because Nehemiah 8 makes no mention of the Ten Commandments. In fact, the entire Continue reading “Our Love Affair With The Ten Commandments”