Home > Brandenburg, Law & Grace > The Law and Grace: Disastrous Misunderstandings (part one)

The Law and Grace: Disastrous Misunderstandings (part one)

August 1, 2007

I love power steering fluid.  I also love my wife.  Do you see how that the meaning of words can become confusing?   The word “awe” applies only to God and His Word in the Bible, so I want to be careful using that term to describe a skateboard move (“awesome!”).  As I ice down the rolling-pin shaped bruise on the back of my head (maybe I don’t love power steering fluid any more), we will think about this problem as it relates to two other words:  law and grace.

The terminology “the law” appears 320 times in Scripture in 280 verses.  “Grace” is found 170 times in 159 verses.  “The law” doesn’t always mean the same thing, so that does present somewhat of an interpretational difficulty.  “Grace” is usually consistent in its meaning, but has recently especially been perverted into something that it is not.  Both of these words are important to comprehend for us to understand the Bible.

Let me start by clearing up any disastrous misunderstanding of “the law.”

What Is “the Law”?

Sometimes we know that “the law” is the first five books of the Bible, sometimes called the Torah or the Pentateuch.  We see this clearly in Joshua 8:31, which reads:  “as it is written in the book of the law of Moses.”  We also get this usage in the New Testament, as we see in 1 Corinthians 9:9, “For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen?”

On other occasions, when Scripture says “the law” it means merely one particular regulation of God, such as in Leviticus 14:57:  “To teach when it is unclean, and when it is clean: this is the law of leprosy.”

Other times, “the law” is some other place in the Old Testament.  What Isaiah wrote in 28:11, 12 wasn’t Mosaic law:  “For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people.  To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear.”  However, Paul calls it “the law” in 1 Corinthians 14:21 when he targummed:  “In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord.”

That’s not all.  Consider 1 John 3:4:  “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.”  Sin is breaking God’s law and Adam sinned (Romans 5:12).  Adam broke God’s law, so the law was already in existence before Moses.  Romans 4:15 says that “where no law is, there is no transgression.”  What law did Adam transgress?  He ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, an act that God had plainly prohibited.  Romans 5:14 tells us that “death reigned from Adam until Moses.”  Death was the result of sin and sin was the transgression of the law.  Adam broke “the law” before Moses was ever born.

When Jesus said in Matthew 5:28, “[W]hosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart,” that too was the law of God, even though you won’t find it in the Old Testament.

Paul wrote in Romans 7:1, 2:  “Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?  For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.”  Paul states that “the law” says the woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives.  What Old Testament passages say that?  Nowhere in the Old Testament reads what Paul said was “the law.”  It is true, however, that Jesus makes this specific point in Mark 10:9.  At least Paul clearly perceived that Jesus had taught that in Mark, as seen in 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 and then especially v. 39:  “The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.”  We can conclude that all the commands, statutes, ordinances, and judgments of God in the Bible are “the law.”

Are We Freed from “the Law”?

In answer to this question, consider these verses:

Matthew 5:17-19

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.  Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

It looks like we’re to continue keeping the least of His commandments.  Why?  Jesus didn’t come to destroy the law.  Our relationship to the law has changed once we are born again, but it doesn’t mean we’re not keeping the law anymore.

Romans 3:31

Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.

We establish the law through faith.  Faith doesn’t end law-keeping.

Romans 8:4

That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

The righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us.  The law still holds value, even for the Christian.

1 Timothy 1:8

But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully;

So if we use it lawfully, the law is good.  That means we’re supposed to keep using it.

Romans 7:12-14

Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful. For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.

These verses say that the law is holy, just, good, and spiritual.  Sin is still the transgression of the law.  That means we are to keep practicing the law.

Galatians 3:21

Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.

The law is not against the promises of God.  The law can’t do certain things for which it was not designed, but it is good for what God did design it.

Galatians 3:24

Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.

The law continues serving as a schoolmaster.  The believer still utilizes God’s law in evangelism of the lost.

So are we “freed from the law”?  No.  Nowhere in Scripture are we said to be “freed from the law.”  Are we “released from the law”?  No.  The Bible in no place says that we are “released from the law.”  Are we no longer “under obligation to the law?”  No.  We are not and never have been under obligation to keep the law as a means of righteousness, but we are obligated to keep the law.

What Is Our Relationship to the Law?

We’re “dead to the law” (Galatians 2:19-21), that is, we’re no long under the penalty for breaking the law, which is death.  We already died with Christ; we don’t have to face the penalty of the law, so we’re dead to it.  We are dead to the penalty and condemnation of the law.  We are not “under the law” (Romans 6:14, 15; Galatians 3:23; 5:18), that is, we are not attempting to earn salvation by keeping the law, neither are we under that Old Testament system.

Paul would do good, that is, keep the law, but he couldn’t because of the law of sin in his members (Rom. 7:21, 23).  When he succeeded at obeying the law of God, he did because he “delight(ed) in the law of God after the inward man” (Rom. 7:22) and because of the deliverance through the Lord Jesus Christ, who enabled him to “serve the law of God” with the mind of the Spirit (Rom. 7:24).

Paul could obey God’s commandments through “the law of the Spirit of life” (Rom. 8:2a) which set him “free from the law of sin and death.”  The law of sin and death is different than God’s law.  God’s law is good.  Sin, however, perverts the law, turning it into the law of sin and death.  But our salvation in Christ delivers us from this perversion.  This “victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57) allows us to obey the good law of God by saving us from the penalty and power of sin.

Conclusion

God’s saving grace did not free us to perform unlawful deeds (2 Pet. 2:8).  The lawless are the unbelievers (1 Tim. 1:9).  Where grace abounds, sin does not.  By saving us, God does not give us license to break His law.  Instead, by His grace sin no longer has dominion over us (Rom. 6:12) for we are dead indeed unto sin (Rom. 6:1).  On the other hand, a Biblical understanding of the law strikes the perfect balance between pietism and quietism.   The Spirit of the law enables the believer to obey the law and the spirit of it by the grace of God.  Anything else is a disastrous misunderstanding of the law and grace.

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Categories: Brandenburg, Law & Grace
  1. August 6, 2007 at 11:53 am

    Interesting read. Thanks for the thoughts.

  2. T. Ross
    August 6, 2007 at 7:08 pm

    If anyone who reads this blog has also read the book, “Five Views on Law and Gospel,” giving (what are called) the non-theonomic Reformed, theonomic, evangelical, dispensational, and modified Lutheran views on the relation of law and gospel, and has comments on it, I would like to hear your comments on the book.

    What would we say to this: “The law is good, if we use it lawfully, but it is not for a righteous man, 1 Tim 1:8-9, so therefore the law (in the sense of the Mosaic covenant) does not assist us in sanctification, but we are under a new law, the law of Christ, which is different from the law of Moses, which, since it is never explicitly separated into moral, civil, and ceremonial sections, is abolished as a whole (cf. 2 Cor 3, where the ten commandments, written and engraven in stones, are said to be abolished).”

    A somewhat related question–what would we say to someone else (who would take a very different view than person #1 above) who said, “The ten commandments are of eternal validity, including the fourth commandment, which is something established from creation, Gen 2:2-3, so Sunday is the new sabbath, Heb 4, there remains a sabbatismos (rest) to the people of God.”

  3. T. Ross
    August 6, 2007 at 7:12 pm

    One more law-grace question: Do we apply the OT civil code to political ethics today, so that we would be in favor of laws putting sodomites, adulterers, disobedient children, etc. to death? If not, why not? If so, why stop there–why not enforce the laws about putting idolators to death, etc. as well–which would require a state-church union, and would require putting to death practically everyone, since non-Christian religions (Islam, etc.), Romanists (transubstantiation), Lutherans (consubstantiation), neo-evangelicals (rock bands, etc.) are idolators?

  4. August 6, 2007 at 8:58 pm

    Have I answered these questions before, because I know you have asked them? However, I think it is good to have them written down.

    For #2, I believe the law of God, which the law of Moses, happens to be, does benefit the believer, because it strengthen his conscience. A sensitive, right operating conscience is good. Paul delighted in the law of God in the inward man, Rom. 7:22. I don’t see exactly the view that you see out of 2 Cor. 3. I do believe we serve the newness of spirit and not oldness of letter (Rom. 7:6), but I don’t know that this is not just the difference between being unsaved and being saved. Saved people serve the newness of the spirit, because the sin problem is taken care of.

    I am going to probably answer the other aspects of these questions. First, we don’t keep the Sabbath, because that has been rescinded, I believe, according to Col. 2:16. I believe that this relates to the fulfillment of ceremonial laws as well as the shelving of judicial laws, since those were for the nation Israel.

    On your second comment, Bro. Ross, I believe that any nation that wants to follow God’s judicial and moral law as national law is choosing a good standard to live by. What would be wrong with it? What would be wrong with any nations wanting to keep any of God’s laws? I’m not talking as a means of salvation, but as civil law. I don’t believe that a nation choosing to keep God’s laws requires a church-state union.

  5. Thomas Ross
    August 8, 2007 at 7:52 pm

    Dear Pastor Brandenburg,

    Thanks for the reply! I don’t recall discussing these particular verses with you before, and asked about these texts because I am not certain on them, so I am sure our discussion here would help me, and hopefully others as well. In relation to question #2, what in particular does “the law is not for a righteous man” mean? Doesn’t 2 Cor 3 specify that the ten commandments are abolished/done away in some sense–if not, what is it talking about? (BTW, this is the view of 2 Cor 3 David Cloud takes in his book Avoiding the Snare of Seventh Day Adventism.)

    I believe that the sabbath is abolished, Col 2:16. I believe I could give a solid answer to any passage advanced by an SDA, except on Gen 2:2-3. I am not sure exactly what to do with that passage. We could say, “Well, God rested, but nobody knew it until Moses,” but the toldeoth sections of Genesis (these are the generations of) were very possibly written by the people mentioned in them, and then compiled by Moses. We could say, “Only God is recorded as having rested; not man or the animals; and besides, they were not created until right then the day before, so they had not done any work yet,” but how do we know that they had not done any work yet? Also, assuming that God is our pattern, and the patriarchs, etc. had Genesis 2, it would seem reasonable that they would want to follow his pattern–but then we have pre-Mosaic Gentiles keeping the sabbath. (Of course, “sabbath” and the verb “rest” are very, very similar.) Hebrews 4’s use of Genesis 2 should help us–and so I would be happy to hear the thoughts of yours on the connection (as you have preached through that book three times). Also, the people who argue for a Christian sabbath (even B. H. Carroll) use Heb 4:9’s sabbatismos as an argument for it, as does, say, John Owen in his massive commentary on Hebrews. We could argue that the sabbath pertains to this creation, but the Lord’s day to the new creation, but that would seem to leave us with the pre-Mosiac patriarchs observing the sabbath, while Exodus 31:12-17; Nehemiah 9:13-14; Deuteronomy 5:3, 12-15; Ezekiel 20:10-12 seem to indicate that nobody kept it before the wilderness wanderings of Israel.

    In relation to the political laws, can we say that any nation that does not adopt these standards is sinning? If God has given us a particular standard for politics, then we would have to say something. Should the ideal state in the age of grace, then, put all idolators to death?

    BTW, here is what I argued on Genesis 2:2-3. I don’t feel entirely satisfied with it.

    “But is not Saturday worship a creation ordinance, Genesis 2:2-3, Hebrews 4:4?” While the fact of Genesis 2:2-3 was not written down, as far as we know, until Moses’ day, the church is not an institution that pertains to this world and the old creation, but to the new creation, the New Jerusalem, the world to come (cf. Colossians 3:10-3; 2:12-13). Furthermore, God was the only one who was said to rest in Genesis 2:2-3, not man (who, having just been created, had not been working for the previous six days, since he had not existed). If the sabbath was kept from the time of creation to the time of Moses, some 2,500 years, it is odd that absolutely nothing is said about this in the patriarchal narrative. Various mentions and significant emphasis upon sacrifices, circumcision, tithing, etc. appears in the mention of their worship—but no mention of sabbath keeping appears. The Bible explicitly states that legal covenant which included the sabbath was not made with the patriarchs, but with Israel when they were brought out of the land of Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:3, 12-15). It is natural, then, that the church worships on “another day” than the day that pertains to this world and this creation.

    Thanks for the help!

  6. Jeremy John
    October 24, 2007 at 7:56 pm

    My comment is in reply to the writer of this discussion that stated “Nowhere in Scripture are we said to be “freed from the law.”
    In whole books of Galatians and Romans, this question is answer, where we see ONLY BY GRACE are saved through faith, and nothing else. However to answer that question, in Gal 3: 24-25KJV we see that same question being answered, “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.

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