I want to touch on something I have heard recently regarding grace. I have heard various Christians, from well-known to unknown, make mention of how God’s grace enables us to keep God’s commandments or keep the law. They give strict warning against anything that makes one think grace allows you to just do whatever you want to. While I do believe that grace enables us to walk out an awesome life of passion and obedience to God, I disagree with the way this is being presented.
For instance, it has been said that we should not think that we are free from keeping the commandments because we are under grace. In one particular message I heard, the preacher went on to mention the high standards Jesus set for us in the Sermon on the Mount. You know, hatred is murder, lusting equates adultery, chop off hands and pluck out eyes to avoid hell.
The problem I have with thinking Jesus was explaining the Christian life in that particular message is that He was not :) He was expanding on a statement He had made concerning having a higher righteousness than that of the self-righteousness of the religious leaders of His day. They thought they were keeping the law pretty well so Jesus, in this passage, was fulfilling the law, or upholding it for what it was.
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them… For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:17,20).
So in this sermon, Jesus was speaking to Jews under the Old Covenant about what it really meant to be a Jew under the law. He was silencing the self-righteous Pharisees as well as eluding to a righteousness that would come, not by the works of the law, but through the kindness of our Father (which would later be revealed in Jesus’ sacrifice). As Paul mentioned in Romans:
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.
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify (Rom. 3:19-21).
So Jesus came to those who were under the law and had to first uphold it (see Gal. 4:1-8). And boy what a high standard that was! I’m sure that many mouths were shut after that message. According to the scripture above, that was indeed the law’s purpose. It silences the self-attempt to live for God as it reveals the depths of the damage sin has done to man’s soul.
But then, Jesus would also go ahead and fulfill the law for us. That opened the way for the righteousness apart from the law to be given through faith. That opened the floodgates of grace. The blood was shed; a New Covenant was made. But not before the blood was shed, which means this was not in force when Jesus spoke to the crowd in Matthew, chapter 5.
For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives (Hebrews 9:16-17).
So, back to the main question? Is grace simply enablement to keep the commandments of the law? If so, then we are still living in the Old Covenant, just with a power we did not have before. But the Scripture is clear that the way we now approach God is different, not just the ability vs. inability to keep the law. The book of Hebrews reveals:
The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God (Heb. 7:19-20).
The former regulation in this verse refers to the Old Covenant not having a perfect people and priesthood and how the law was not the solution for this. What this all comes down to is righteousness. The better hope that we have when drawing near to God is that Jesus Christ is now our righteousness.
Rather than approaching God in terms of how well we have met the requirement of the law, we approach Him boldly through faith in Jesus and His work. He met the requirements for us. He qualified us and now we are enjoying and ministering the benefits of the New Covenant.
For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:3-4).
So to say that grace is empowerment to keep the law is to completely miss the point. The requirement meeting of the commandments has been superseded by faith in Him who met them. Through the obedience of the One Man, we have been made righteous (see Rom. 5:19). That means we are also considered as having met the covenant requirements.
Now, that does not mean I can go out and live any old way and still experience a blessed life (as some suppose). It means that I do not qualify for these blessings based on my adherence to the old law system. I am simply trusting that Christ is in me and will live through me. His life (His faith, His obedience, His character) is what we will produce as we abide in Him. Don’t be misled by messages on keeping commandments that do not first mention keeping faith. Blessings!