Thursday, September 3, 2015

Saved by Grace, not Works

“Jesus said, ‘think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.’” (Matthew 5:17 NKJV)

What did Jesus mean? If He did not destroy the Law of Moses, are we still under the law? Are we to keep the Sabbath every Saturday or the Shemitah every 7 years, for example? How about the dietary law in the writings of Moses, or circumcision? No, we are not required to keep the law. Why? Because Jesus Himself fulfilled the law when He lived a perfect life, went to the cross for the sin of the world and rose again three days later. For salvation, the law is fulfilled perfectly and completely in Christ alone. There are certain moral truths that are timeless that will never be destroyed from God’s law, but keeping them does not earn us salvation. That is the primary thrust of the NT. Moral truths of the law like “do not murder,” “do not lie,” “do not commit adultery,” are absolute and eternal, and apply to everyone. Those truths have not changed and that is why Jesus said that He did not come to destroy the law. But, our relationship to God is not through the keeping of the law itself, it is through Jesus. That is what He meant when He said that He came to fulfill the law. Jesus Himself is the fulfillment of the law, making it possible for us to please God through faith in Him because it is impossible for us to keep the law perfectly. Our relationship to God is not based on the keeping of the law, but is now completely based on our faith in Jesus Christ; who He is and what He accomplished at the cross. He is greater than the law!

Echoing Jesus in Matthew 22:40, Paul said,

“For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ... But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.” (Galatians 5:14, 22-23)

The law is fulfilled by Christ alone. We are acquitted of our sin and counted righteous like Christ when we place our faith in Him. The fruit of the Spirit is love. When the Spirit is living in us, and that happens only by faith in the Son of God, then the fruit of the Spirit begins to pour out of our lives.

"For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace." (Romans 6:14)

Saying that we are not under law is not the same thing as saying that we should throw out the ten commandments. Jesus did not destroy them, nor the prophets. The Bible is not saying that people do not need to heed the ten commandments, or the entire OT. What the Bible is saying is that Christians do not base their forgiveness from God and their relationship with God on keeping or not keeping those commandments. The law points us to God’s will. It ought to point us to our miserable failure in keeping it, as well.

“Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin”. (Romans 3:20)

“For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:3-4)

No one but Jesus ever kept the law perfectly. It is impossible for anyone but Christ to keep the law without fail. The law simply gives us God’s will and directs us to call on His mercy and forgiveness as we realize we do not come close to keeping His commands. A person can only be saved by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus alone, because we have all fallen short of the glory of God.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Something else we need to realize is that there were several types of laws in the OT. Today, we do not have a problem eating certain foods that were banished under the law given to Israel. Peter saw a vision from the Lord explaining God’s approval starting in Acts 10:9. But, of course the commandment "do not murder" still applies today. It is a different kind of law. There are dietary laws, civil laws, and there are moral laws. The shemitah, for example, was a civil law applied to Israel alone. They are no longer under that law because the cross was the end of the law for them, just like the daily sacrifices were abolished by Jesus’ sacrifice. The shemitah law was never even addressed to the Gentiles, so applying it to today’s world, as some do, is doubly wrong. One, it was never given to Gentiles and two, the Law of Moses is now obsolete because of Christ! Of course same-sex marriage, murder, lying, these are all examples of universal, eternal moral commands that always apply to all- but not for salvation! The dietary, civil and moral laws, the entire law, given to Israel for obedience to God, has expired. Christ was the fulfillment of all of those laws. The universal moral laws still apply as commands, showing us the will of God and right living, but do not apply toward earning salvation. As Christians, even breaking these will not send us to hell!

“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:18-25)

True Christians won't be able to sin for long without conviction and repentance, but we are saved by grace through faith, not works, and certainly not the law of God to Israel. Those without Christ will sin these sins of the flesh, these are the ones that “practice such things.” But, it is the rejection of Christ that sends them to hell. All people can now be forgiven of any past, present and future transgression through true faith in Jesus Christ. We are under grace now, not law. And the same goes for the Jews. They need to place their faith in their Messiah, Jesus; not work to keep the Law of Moses (which was much more than just the ten commandments).The writer to the Hebrews says that for Jews and Gentiles today, the law no longer applies:

“In that He says, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete…” (Hebrews 8:13)

Now, in case some may want to accuse me of sanctioning sin, which I did not do, I will respond with Paul's answer when some in his time misunderstood the grace of God:

“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.” (Romans 6:1-12)

The law never could save, and it never could make us perfect before God. Only by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus are we made right with our Creator and given the gift of eternal life. This is not a contrivance, this salvation is based on a true heart of repentance and faith toward God and belief in His Son, Jesus Christ. Christ Himself is the better hope, through which we do draw near to God. The law is obsolete, absolutely and eternally fulfilled in Christ alone.

“For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness, for the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.” (Hebrews 7:18-19)