Grace and Law

By Lloyd Ellefson

We are all familiar with the law; some of you may even be well-versed in the Mosaic law! This law was, and still is, very important to the Israelites. It is also very important to most Christians. It remains powerful and it is difficult to think of life without it. It was given to the Israelites - not to the Gentiles - as a preparation for something better - for receiving Christ!

We are not to remain in the law, for the law opposes grace. Therefore we cannot be in Christ and in the law at the same time! Paul upbraided the Galatians who had gone back into the law. After they had received the grace of Jesus Christ, they went back to keeping the law for sanctification and holiness. If a person falls from grace, he falls back into the law; he does not fall into hell.

"For of His fulness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ." (John 1:16) Here grace and law are contrasted. If we are not in grace, we are in the law, in our own righteousness, our own condemnation and all the resulting problems. The more we think of grace, the more we realize how unexplainable it is to us, and how hard it is for us to understand it. For want of a better definition, we call it unmerited favor. There are some things which are just beyond us, and among them are love and grace. It is impossible for words to convey the content and extent of God's love! Even agape does not adequately express His love! The grace of God is also totally foreign to us. That is why we do not know how to receive it.

In John 1:17b it says that grace and truth came by Jesus Christ; they were realized through Him. It almost seems as though there wasn't any grace and truth before that. But Christ existed before He was manifested on earth. Grace has always been present because God is eternal. But His grace was not generally recognized.

Noah was an exception. He found grace in the eyes of the Lord. That struck me one day, because we always look at that verse and think that God extended grace to Noah because he was a good man and therefore He picked him for the job. While that may also be true, it does say that Noah found grace. He was the one who found grace in the way the Lord looked at things. When we begin to understand the grace of God, it will change us! We can only appropriate grace in subjection. It is not forced upon us, nor can we force it on others. If we only understand the law, we will become legalistic, and be either self-righteous or full of condemnation.

The scriptures declare that we are to "receive the adoption as sons". We all know that the meaning of words often changes over a period of time. For example, the word GAY does not have the same meaning today as it had fifty years ago. So the word ADOPTION in the scriptures does not have the same meaning it has today. The scriptural meaning of adoption is the transition from childhood to manhood. When a male was placed as a son in the household, he was no longer under the law and command of servants. At that time he was placed as a son over the servants and they now had to obey him. This is what is meant by adoption. In the dispensation of God, when we come out of the righteousness of the law and into the righteousness of Christ, we receive our adoption as sons. We come out of the law and into the grace of God in Christ. When the Holy Spirit within us cries "Abba! Father!", we know that we have been placed as sons in His household - heirs through God. (Gal. 4:1-7)

In John 1:12 it says, "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right (authority) to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name." God gives us this authority. Authority and power are related and intertwined. If you have authority, you can give power to someone. Christ has been given all authority. It is rather interesting to note that Jesus said, "I can do nothing of Myself." In effect He was saying that His source of power was not in Himself but in the Father! He did nothing independently of the Father!

At some time or other we have all felt that power over sickness, evil, etc., would be the solution to all of our problems! But man is not given resident power like that. All power comes from God and we can only be vessels of that power. If we want power that emanates from ourselves, we would use it according to our own discretion or judgment. If we want to be independent, we no longer need God. If God would give us this kind of power, we would think we could take care of ourselves and our own affairs.

The gospel works very differently! John 1:13 says, "Who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." That does not leave much to us, does it? We were not born of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man; none of these brought the new creation man to birth!

What does birth mean? Is it the beginning of something new? Is it the origination of life? No, birth is a continuation of life. Our birth in the flesh is a continuation of the life of our parents; it is not an original in the true sense of the word. Spiritually speaking, our new birth is a continuation of the life which is in God!

When we are born into the Adamic race, or into the flesh-concept, we become aware of our surroundings and become familiar with them - and that takes a little while. When we were first born, our only desire was to maintain life. We wanted mother every time we were hungry or wet. Gradually we grew in knowledge. In regard to spiritual things, our natural knowledge has to be put aside in favor of a higher knowledge.

"And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father..." (v.14) It is interesting to notice that this glory is associated with the Father; it does not say the "glory of God". Since it also says begotten, which speaks of birth, the reason for this is readily seen! Jesus Christ was the glory as of the only begotten from the Father; that is, all the glory He had, had been birthed of the Father. This glory did not refer to the works of God; this glory has come to birth from the Father. That is a different association, isn't it? Birth is different than creation or formation.

It says, "as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth." Grace and truth belong together in Christ; we cannot have one without the other. We cannot have grace without truth, and we cannot have truth without grace.

John the Baptist brought a message of repentance. He also testified of Jesus saying, "This was He of whom I said, `He who comes after Me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before Me.'" (John 1:15) Since Jesus has a higher rank than John, His message is greater than the message of repentance which John preached. We cannot live in repentance. John said, "I must decrease." If we are growing in the Lord Jesus Christ, He is increasing in us. Consequently, in time, there will be fewer things to repent of. We will not be repenting of the same things on the same level of repentance.

"For of His fulness we have all received, and grace upon grace." (v.16) Although we may not be aware of it, we have all been receiving of His grace because His fulness consists of grace! Where would we be without it? If He did not continually extend grace toward us He would constantly be punishing us. Grace takes us out of the concept of law and power entirely.

"For the law was given through Moses; but grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ." (v.17) The law always displaces grace. They work against one another; if we are involved in law we will have a problem with grace. The spiritual awareness of what grace is, has to come by Christ. He is bringing us into a level of grace which was unknown to us.

What happens when law is the motivating force? Law will motivate us to use our own willpower and strength to fulfill whatever the demand of the law is. Then we are using our own physical power, our determination, discipline and mentality to implement the law. But grace cannot be appropriated through power; we cannot forcefully take or appropriate it - it can only be received. Nor do we have power to bring it into being.

In order to get into grace, we must be willing to get out of the law, for it activates our own endeavors. But our energy cannot fulfill the law. The natural mind always tries to convince us that we have ability, doesn't it? So it is entirely against our humanity to depend on the grace of God. But it works! It worked in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ did not use His own energy for either good or evil. By the grace of God He became a vessel of the energy of God.

Grace came in Jesus Christ, and it was demonstrated by His life. God's grace enabled Him to accomplish and perform what He did! Grace enabled Him to fulfill the law, but the law did not help Him to walk in grace. Grace and law contend against each other. So Christ got out of His subjection to the law and came into grace when He was baptized in the Jordan River.

From that time on, the grace of God was at work in His life to release Him from the law and to implement a change. The law brings bondage, condemnation, and the motivation to establish a righteousness that is based upon the law. This gives people a feeling of self-righteousness. The energy to bring about self-righteousness has to be displaced by a new energy - the energy of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives us the faith to rest in what God has accomplished in Christ! This is the grace God extends to us! If we don't get to the place where the grace of God displaces the law, we will remain in the law.

Let's take a closer look at grace and see what it is. "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast." (Eph. 2:8-9) Grace is not a gift through which we receive God's forgiveness, a release from our sins, or a promise of heaven. If that were the case, then after we had received the gift, we would feel indebted to God. We would feel that we needed to perform because of all His favors.

We must recognize that all religions - including religious Christianity - are based on the principle of punishment and rewards. What happens when we live in the consciousness of a God who punishes and rewards? We will try to be good in order to get a reward, and try not to be bad so we won't be punished. Isn't that where most people live? When the old conscience works in the law, we eventually have to settle for our own judgment on our behavior. We are pleased with ourselves when we have done a good deed, when we think we are not as bad as the world, and are good enough for God. So we try to walk according to our own judgment.

Grace is beyond that! In grace there is no punishment and there are no rewards! That sounds wrong, doesn't it? The rewards and punishment come when we are not in grace. For how can there be either rewards or punishment for something that is not the result of our effort? When we are in grace our motivation does not stem from a desire for rewards nor from a fear of punishment, but from a love to do the will of God! Those who are fully in grace will not be punished by God. Is it hard to understand that God does not punish us when we are in His grace? If God wants to justify us, and He is not imputing our sin, then why would He punish us? We continually think punishment because we do not understand grace. We are so familiar with the law - where punishment comes as the result of our own efforts - that it is hard for us to believe that in grace there is no punishment.

How do we reconcile this with other scripture passages which speak of rewards? Various Greek words have been translated as REWARD in English. Rewards are benefits. In Matthew 6 and in other passages, Jesus spoke of the reward for being persecuted. He also said that those who practice their righteousness to be seen by men, have their reward in full. In 1 Cor. 3;8 it says, "Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor." These are rewards for our labor - not rewards of grace. This is substantiated in Rev. 22:12. "Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done." Again, these are rewards for our labor. God gives us rewards for our labor, but in God's grace there is no punishment nor reward. However we benefit greatly by receiving His grace!

"But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)." (Eph. 2:4-5) Even when sins were predominant and causing death, He made us alive. Our being made alive did not begin after we got out of sins; it began when we were enmeshed in them. This is grace! We are frustrating the grace of God if we expect His grace to work because we have been getting rid of our sins. If that were the case, it would be works - a reward for our works.

To fathom the depths of God's grace is out of humanity's reach. That is why we always think we have to work to obtain it. However God made us alive when we were dead in our transgressions! Just what could we do when we were dead in our sins? We would have to be made alive or resurrected before we could do anything. We are saved by grace; we are not saved by anything we do!

"And (He) raised us with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus." (Eph. 2:6-7) Do you think that we can learn to understand the grace of God, when most of our time here is spent in seeking the things of the world, and in believing the deluding imaginations of our mind? Do you think that we can get to understand the riches of God's grace, when God says that He is going to show us the exceeding riches of His grace in the ages to come?

His grace is so great that it will take more than a lifetime upon this earth to understand it! We have a lot of growing to do. We should never think that we have all truth and that we understand the grace of God. Grace and truth are always present, and God is revealing His greatness to us continually.

The grace we receive is just the prelude to more grace. When we think of how we are being blessed by this grace, what do you think will happen when we get into the exceeding riches of His grace? Won't that be something?! That is awaiting us in the ages to come! Though He is not withholding this knowledge from us, we are very slow to believe that such marvellous grace is possible. It takes ages for us to believe His show of the exceeding riches of His grace, in His kindness toward us through Jesus Christ! Grace came through Jesus Christ. Only His Spirit could accommodate the grace of God. Jesus Christ was the only one who could subject Himself to the grace of God instead of relying on His works to bring Him God's favor. His Spirit is the same Spirit who dwells in us and is our salvation. It is His Spirit who causes us to be subject to the grace of God!

No situation could get Jesus Christ perturbed or provoked to the point where He got out of grace and into His own works. Christ was continually opposed by everyone. It must have been a great test for Him when even His own disciples did not understand Him. If we think we are not quite as bad as the people of that day, we are mistaken. The old man simply does not have any ability to perceive the grace of God. There is nothing within him that can latch onto spiritual realities. The total lordship of Christ in our lives can only take place in the crucifixion of our old life. Everything comes to us through the grace of God implemented in us through the Spirit of Christ. It can only happen through His Spirit.

Only in Christ can we appropriate the grace and truth of God. The grace of God is simply the goodness of God. It is always there for us! It can never be deserved! If it could, it would not be grace, for grace can never be earned. It is present whether we believe it or not! God has given Christ to us as a gift, and He does not give gifts only to take them back again. So He has given us the vessel (Christ), and He can appropriate the grace of God. In Him we can receive His grace.

Our prayers reflect our thinking. So often we think we have to influence God to do something He may not want to do. We fast and do good works so God will answer our prayers. So often we ask Him for mercy and grace that He has already given, instead of asking that we may avail ourselves of the grace and mercy He has already freely given. He has given us Jesus Christ, and with Him He has freely given us all things. (Rom. 8:32) Why do we keep on begging for something He has already given? Why don't we just receive the grace of God? Why don't we just receive the lordship of Christ?

Years ago, when I was in a certain church, all the people were crying and wailing after the Sunday evening service. I wondered what was going on. We Lutherans never did that. I suddenly realized that there was an unfulfilled spirit. Longing, crying, begging - is not the Spirit of Christ; He is a confident, expecting Spirit. The Spirit of Christ who is resident in us, knows that God is good and that God is our Father! God will give us the grace for everything we need!

Because of the greatness of the revelations Paul received, he was given a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet him. Paul was so troubled about this that he asked the Lord three times to take it away. This showed that he really did not want what God had given Him. Then God gave him an unexpected answer. He said, "My grace is sufficient for you!" Some difficulties are not to be removed from our lives, because they are good for us. But He wants us to experience His grace in walking through them and overcoming them! The bottom line is: "My grace is sufficient for you." This means that we do not have to beg; we can relax. We just receive His all-sufficient grace and keep living in it!

The grace of God is so great and so rich that it will give us everything we need. It will not take every difficulty out of our way; it will not get rid of all our problems; it will not grant us perfect health because that is not God's purpose for us. However, He will give us confidence in the inner man - a confidence which knows that no matter what difficulty comes our way, we have God's grace; and God's grace is always sufficient! Therefore, we can abandon our own efforts, and rest in the Spirit of Christ.

"By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves..." We cannot do anything to begin the salvation of God in ourselves; much less can we ever complete it. Paul said that it was God who had begun the good work in him, and he trusted God to complete it. When God does the work, then it will be done to His satisfaction!

People are always looking for peace. Even in Jeremiah's time people were saying, "Peace, peace," but there was no peace. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians that while people are saying, "Peace and safety", destruction will come upon them suddenly. There is no peace in this world. The inward peace of God is the only peace we can have. Grace brings us peace and rest in God. It is more than a sporadic rest when things go well; it is a continual participation of His grace so that we live in His peace and rest; it remains in times of trouble and pressure! When the grace of God is resident in us, it gives us a new sense of being. This is more that a sudden urge to receive the grace of God because of an urgent need. By living in that grace, we have the overcoming of that need resident in us!

Since it is so easy to have the mentality that God is a rewarder and a punisher, a giver of gifts and blessings when we are good, and a withholder of blessings if our behavior does not meet with His approval, it is important to take a fresh look at how grace is working in our own lives. God is the life, and He is bringing us into His life - into His state of being. We are not to live in a syndrome of highs and lows, ups and downs. These highs and lows are the result of fears and fantasies, and a mindset of rewards and blessings. If we find that we are entertaining these concepts, we should begin to live in the grace of God! It is very evident that we don't have a handle on the grace of God the way we should. There is much more grace than we can ever conceive of!

The things of the world will not give us peace. We can pray for financial security, health and companionship, and expect to have peace, yet be disappointed. In the world, everything comes out of the material, the fleshly sense, doesn't it? All the power to lord it over others comes from the earth, from the flesh. But God's peace comes to us inwardly. Fellowship and companionship with Him come inwardly.

The farther we get into God, the more authority and power we will have to do the will of God. From Jesus Christ we learn that the grace of God is sufficient to satisfy and fulfill us. Our problem is that most of the time our wants are not in line with what God wants for us. He knows our needs and gives us what we truly need! But He will not fulfill our greeds.

As we learn to understand that the grace of God is sufficient for our every need we will rest in God's sufficiency. God will take care of our need in the way He wants to take care of it - not necessarily the way we demand that it be taken care of. It is time we quit being beggars in the kingdom of God. Wailing and moaning reveals a spirit that is not confident in Christ's Spirit of peace and grace. Let us begin to rest in the fact that God's sufficiency is there all the time. It is there even before the problem comes upon us, for His sufficiency is always present. It is even there before we begin to pray! God bless you. Amen.

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