Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Under Law or Under Grace?

Following G. Campbell Morgan, Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones preached from the pulpit of Westminster Chapel in the heart of London for 30 years. From 1955 to 1968, he taught weekly on the book of Romans (yeah, that’s 13 years in Romans!). His exposition was turned into a definitive set on the book of Romans. In his book Romans 6: The New Man (a book I would highly recommend for all), D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says,

"There are only two positions, we are either 'under law', or else we are 'under grace.' Being under law [that is, the principle of law, whether it be Mosaic or the conscience, etc...] means this, that you have got to attempt to justify yourself in the presence of God by your own actions, by your own works, by your own deeds. Law is always something that comes to a man and says, 'do this and thou shalt live.' It is the exact opposite to justification by faith. The Apostle [Paul] is very much concerned then to say that we are not under law. Why so? Because that is the only way whereby we can ever see or come to understand the truth which he has already stated, namely, that 'sin shall not have dominion over you (p. 182).'"

A friend of mine recently reminded me of a great passage of Scripture that I have always treasured very much. This particular passage has also been troubling and confusing for many Christians throughout the ages. In Matthew 7:15-23 (NIV), Jesus says,

"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.  Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'"

As a young Christian, when I came across this Scripture I would always pray, "oh Lord, I hope this isn’t me, I hope I have a true faith." It wasn’t until I discovered that we are dead to the law and alive to God now through faith in Jesus that I realized this passage isn’t meant for Christians at all! When you think of it in light of the whole NT, how could it be?

Let’s take a really quick look at this passage in Matthew 7 and try to see just what the Lord was saying. I really want to focus on the "Lord, Lord" section in verses 21-23, but I quoted the previous verses to give a bit more context.

Jesus tells the crowds to watch out for false prophets and that you will know true from false "by their works." I think the first question we have to ask ourselves here is, "who is He talking to and what is the context of the discussion?" Obviously He is talking to huge crowds of Israelites, Jews, there in Israel. All the way back in chapter 5 it indicates that His disciples were there. We see throughout the gospels a mixed crowd following/listening to Jesus. Disciples, interested onlookers, law abiding Jews that doubt Christ’s claims but are open to hear Him, and those that are just dead set against Him. I think it is fair to say that there was a fairly large group of people listening to Him here, and that included the strict followers of Mosaic law who were rejecting Jesus’ claims.

False prophets then, in this context, are those that teach the law and traditions of men, requiring it of the people, and yet not keeping the law perfectly themselves. Those that do not follow God by faith, but by their own standard of works are false God followers. You’ll know them by their bad works, which are works done in their own strength and not by God, and that is why the works are worthless like a fallen tree limb, they are dead and will shortly be thrown in the fire.

So, when Jesus says, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven," we have to view the statement in light of it’s context. Who is he speaking to? Jews. People that have been listening to the teachers of the law for years, many of whom have been teaching salvation by works instead of repentance and faith. So many times, Christians today make it seem like Christians could say, "Lord, Lord" but they may be rejected because they do not have enough good works to support their faith. But I reject that completely as impossible! The text rejects that, not to mention the whole of the New Testament. Those who say "Lord, Lord" in this context, are Jews! Christ rejecting, "law only" Jews! And I would say this clearly applies, not to Christians, but to religious folks (anywhere) that base their right standing with God on their own standard of good works. Jesus says only those who do the will of the Father will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. What is the will of the Father? According to Jesus, the work of God is to "believe in Him whom He [the Father] sent (John 6:28-29)." Notice that the false believers in verse 22 had plenty of works to show for their good standing with God. But Jesus rejects them. Why, because of a lack of fruit or good works? No, no, no. Because of a lack of relationship. He says, "I never knew you."

Oh brothers and sisters in Christ, do not let misinformed Christians condemn you because you do not meet their particular standard of perfection of the day. We are the Lord’s by faith and not by works. Christians are not the target of this Scripture in Matthew 7. The religions of the world are the target because they are all coming to God based on their good works. But the whole of humanity is always falling short of the glorious standard of God and are made right with Him by His grace, through faith and not by works (of the law or conscience or whatever other standard, as Lloyd-Jones said above).

Christ died once and for all. When He died for our sin, He died to the realm of sin and death (He will never die again or be subject to the punishment of sin again). And Paul says in Romans 6 that when we were united to Christ by faith, we also died to sin and the power of sin and death. We are no longer under sin, but under grace. If we were under the law, sin would still have dominion over us. But it does not because Christ died to transfer us from the kingdom of sin, darkness and death, into His glorious kingdom of righteousness, light and eternal life (Romans 5). We were transferred into God’s eternal Kingdom when we were united to (made one with) Christ by faith! If you call yourself a Christian, be sure that you are in the faith that is by grace, and not the religion that is by works.

Once you were dead, doomed forever because of your many sins. ...All of us used to live that way, following the passions and desires of our evil nature. We were born with an evil nature, and we were under God's anger just like everyone else. But God is so rich in mercy, and He loved us so very much, that even while we were dead because of our sins, He gave us life when He raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God's special favor [grace] that you have been saved!) For He raised us from the dead along with Christ, and we are seated with Him in the heavenly realms--all because we are one with Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:1-6).

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1).

If you are a Christian, born again by the power of the Spirit of God, if you know Him and have His Holy Spirit in you, if you believe in Jesus and have given your life to Him, whether you are on fire or backsliding, you are not under law, but under grace. Make a billboard and hold it up high and shout it from the mountain tops, "You are saved by grace through faith and not by works!" You will not hear, "I never knew you," but rather, "welcome home my child." Not because of what you did or do, but because of what Jesus did for you. What a glorious freedom! What a wondrous truth. What a merciful Father we have! Thank you Jesus for the work you did for me. Rest in Him alone. And if you do not already know the Lord, give your heart to Him today.

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (James 4). The love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Rom. 5:5).

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