Does Grace Abolish the Law?

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We live today in a world characterised by an epidemic of crime. News stories each day tell of gruesome acts perpetrated by humans to fellow humans. We hear of machete gangs terrorising defenseless individuals, gun violence and robberies, illicit amassing of wealth, rape, incest, the list is endless.  And just when we think we have hit rock bottom, we are again shocked by report of even more brutal crimes. It seems the moral fabric of society itself is crumbling. However, not only is this lawlessness a feature of secular worldlings, but even among professed Christians such crimes are reported.  A young man and woman can now stay together without the blessing of marriage, in what is known as co-habitation or civil partnerships. Marital infidelity is on the increase. Some shoplifters are even members of Christian denominations in good and regular standing. Could there be a cause for such a condition of things amongst Christians and the world at large?

The Word of God says, “for as he thinks in his heart, so is he” Proverbs 23:7. It is what we believe that shapes our behavior. In other words, it is the teachings, beliefs or doctrines we hold that mold our practical life. Could there be a teaching today fueling the moral decadence in modern day society? The answer is most certainly yes. An insidious teaching has made great inroads into Christianity over the years and perverted God’s Word. It is the now common belief expressed as ‘because we are now under grace and not under the law, we do not need to obey God’s law anymore’ or put simply, ‘grace has abolished the law’. To this doctrine can surely be traced the current state of affairs in modern society. The teaching removes virtually all moral restraint from God’s Word and prompts humans to act at the dictate of their carnal hearts.  A Bible text used to sustain this teaching is the passage in Romans, where the apostle Paul says “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” Romans 6:14

What does it mean to be under grace? What does it mean to be not under the law? Does it mean we no longer need to obey God’s Law, the Ten-Commandments? Let’s explore these questions, as they are vital to our salvation. Firstly, we need to understand that the Bible tells us clearly that we are not saved by obeying the Law, “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight” (Romans 3:20). There is reason why we cannot be saved by obeying the law. Suppose a person was found guilty of theft and was sentenced to five years in prison, that person could indeed justify or save himself by works. By serving his jail term, the individual can satisfy the claims of the law and be considered perfect and innocent. But suppose the person was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. Can the prisoner justify himself by his works? Absolutely no! Even if he worked fifty years hard labor, that will not suffice as the law still requires his death. As human beings we are in a similar condition. The Bible says “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The word “all” means all, everyone, including you and me.  And then we are told “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), “sin is the transgression of the law,” 1 John 3:4. To leave no room for confusion or excuse, the apostle identifies the law that has been broken, “I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet” (Romans 7:7). Thus it is the Ten-Commandments, God’s moral Law, as we read them in the Old Testament (Exodus 20), that has been broken.

Because God has pardoned our trespasses through Jesus, rather than making us disobedient, it actually makes us more careful to obey His Law

As humanity we find ourselves under death sentence for transgressing God’s law, for we all have sinned. But thankfully God has provided a way out through His Son Jesus, who came and died on our behalf. “Without shedding of blood is no remission. … so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many” (Hebrews 9:22–28). The question then comes; if the works of the law cannot save us, is it therefore necessary to keep the law? This, apparently, was also a burning question in the days of the apostle Paul. He addresses it in Romans 6:1 “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?”, in other words, does grace give us a license to disobey the law of God? His answer is very clear: “God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (verse 2). That’s an emphatic no. Suppose you are stopped by a policeman exceeding the speed limit on the highway. Suppose you were indeed hurrying for a valid emergency, and you try to give your explanation- as the policeman writes your ticket. Then slowly he folds the ticket and tears it up. And he says, “All right, I’m going to pardon you this time, but …” What do you think the policeman means by that word “but”? He means, “but I don’t want to ever catch you speeding again.” Does this pardon (grace) open the way for you to disobey the law? Certainly not! On the contrary, it adds more urgency to your decision not to disobey the law again. That is the same scenario with God’s grace, because God has pardoned our trespasses through Jesus, rather than making us disobedient, it actually makes us more careful to obey His law. “If ye love me,” Jesus said, “keep my commandments” (John 14:15)

God’s law is like a mirror, when we look into it convicts us of our condition as sinners and transgressors (James 1:23-25). And just as a mirror cannot remove the dirt on your face but points you to the sink for washing, so the law also cannot save us but points us to Jesus for cleansing. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8, 9). The apostle further emphasizes, “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ … for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” Galatians 2:16

What then does the apostle Paul mean when he says we are not under the law but under grace? Millions suppose that he means we should no longer obey the law. In the very next verse after Romans 6:14 the apostle explains that grace does not give license to sin (breaking God’s law). “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!” Romans 6:15. The apostle explains in Romans 3:19 what he means when he says Christians are not under the law. “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.” Romans 3:19. Here Paul equates being under the law with “being guilty before God.” To be guilty means you have done wrong. Those who are under the law are guilty of breaking it and are under the condemnation of it. True Christians are not under the law in that they not breaking it, they are not condemned by it.  Rather they are under the power of grace, which being greater than the power of sin, forgives the record of their past sins and enables them to live obeying God’s law. Hence the apostle emphatically says “Sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.”

Far from being abolished, God’s Law is still binding today. “All His commandments are sure. They stand fast for ever and ever.” Psalm 111:7,8. God’s grace enables us to obey His Law and some day we shall all be “judged by the law of liberty.” James 2:12.

Perhaps you have been living in violation of that holy and righteous Law, and the burden of sin (transgression of God’s law) threatens your soul with infinite loss. There is hope! Christ, with open arms, invites, “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28. You can take to Him all your burdens and sorrows, choose Him to be your Saviour and not only will He wash away your sins, He will give you a new heart to live a new life of obedience.

Key Text : “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age” Titus 2:11, 12

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