Law and Grace


by Mason French

Without question, all salvation is based upon the grace of God (Eph. 2:8-9). It is also true that we are saved by faith. Faith is how we have access to the grace of God (Rom. 5:1-2). Not only is it how we get to the grace of God to be saved, it is how we stay in the grace of God and remain saved (Acts 13:43). This faith that allows us access into the grace of God can only come through hearing (understanding) the Word of God (Rom. 10:17). I doubt if many would disagree with that.

The problem comes when we do not understand the grace of God, and fail to understand the kind of faith that saves. The grace of God is essentially that redemption of man was provided by the sacrifice of His only begotten Son (Rom. 3:24). Let it be understood, being saved by grace excludes being saved by law or works (Eph. 2:8-9; Gal. 3:21). The grace of God gives the basis for salvation in that it provides the plan for man to be saved. Of course, salvation is based upon our sins being cleansed, and this is done by the blood of Christ (Matt. 26:28; Eph. 1:7). We must remember that man was under the wrath of God because all had sinned (Rom. 3:23). When Christ died, he became the bouquet of roses to God for man. That is, like a man getting on the wrong side of his wife, the man holds a bunch of roses out to appease her, her heart melts, and she looks favorably on him. That is propitiation — a peace offering, and Christ is every man’s propitiation (I John 2:2). Now, when man fully puts his faith in the offering of Christ’s blood for the remission of sins, he will be saved (Rom. 3:25-26). However, this faith must be an obedient faith (Rom. 10:16). This requires that man’s faith comply with the teaching of Christ in order to be saved (Rom. 6:16-18). In order to receive the blood of Christ, we must be baptized into His death to receive the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; Rom. 6:3-4). So, from the beginning, our faith must be obedient to receive the gift of God, which is His grace.

When some say, “We are not under law, we are under grace,” they usually mean that God does not hold us to a legal requirement. Is that really what the Word of God teaches? If, as some say, “grace excludes law,” then it also excludes obedience. Let’s face it, law is essential to obedience. One must have something to obey. You cannot obey something that amounts to nothing. There is no difference between law and a command. If grace and commands harmonize, grace and law also harmonize. Doesn’t the Bible teach that the Lord is the “author of salvation to all those that obey Him” (Heb. 5:8-9)? Now, to those that argue that you cannot live by law and grace at the same time, what does the Christian obey if it is not law?

The problem exists because of a misunderstanding in what Paul taught. When Paul said: “Ye are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14), Paul was making a contrast between “under law” and “under grace.” To be “under law” without grace would put man under the dominion of sin. No man has ever kept the law perfectly (Rom. 3:23). This is true whether you are under the Patriarchal law, the Mosaic Law, or the perfect law of liberty. Law condemns the law breaker. I know that many do not like to believe we have a legal law to obey under Christ, but we do (I Cor. 9:21).

A look at law and what it does is important. Law does many wonderful things. First, law commands and demands; it declares what the will of God is. Law demands those under it, for justification, be right in thought and conduct just as God is perfect.

Second, law pronounces approval and blessings upon conformity with its demands. The commandment was ordained to life (Rom. 7:10), and the one that does the things of the law shall live in them (Gal. 3:12).

Third, law pronounces condemnation on every infraction of its precept. If you break one commandment, you are cursed (Gal. 3:10).

Fourth, law convicts and exposes sin. The law is Spiritual, and, as the Word of God, it is living and powerful, searching the thoughts and intents of the heart (Rom. 7:14; Heb. 4:12). This law is the light that shines upon the depraved heart and shows how much we need justification without perfect law keeping.

But, what the law cannot do is very powerful. Law cannot justify a person once he has sinned. It has no grace! There is no forgiveness! There is no mercy!

This is why, when Paul said, “Ye are not under law but under grace,” the import becomes evident. We need grace that God provides. This is not something new in the New Testament; it has always been. Any man that has ever been saved has been saved upon the basis of grace and man finding grace through his faith. Remember when God said to Israel: “And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments” (Gen. 20:6). Now, think about that! If Israel would have kept the law perfectly, they would need no mercy. God has always extended grace to those that were striving to live by His law in the way that God prescribed. It is the same today. And, this grace was extended because God looked forward to Christ dying, just as our grace comes from looking backward at the death of Christ (Rom. 3:25; I Cor. 15:1-4).

Consider what it would mean if we have no legal system to define our conduct and thinking. It would mean that we could not sin since sin is the transgression of the law (I John 3:4). That would fly in the face of I John 1:10, where John states we do sin. The fact is that without law, it would be impossible to sin (Rom. 4:15). Obedient faith must have a law to obey or there can be no obedience.

Paul affirms that we do have a law in the New Testament when he says, “And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law” (I Cor. 9:20-21).

Paul is simply saying he did not offend in customs to the Jews or Gentiles. But, notice that he did say that there is a New Testament law. Not the law of Moses but the law of Christ. Paul’s statement shows that he is under law to God and this “under law to God” finds its explanation in his being under law to Christ.

Now, there are some senses where a Christian is not under law. First, law is used in the sense of being under dominion of sin. The believer has been freed from the law (Rom. 7:6): he has been put to death to the law through the body of Christ (Rom. 7:4), and therefore he has died to the law (Rom. 7:6). If he died to law, he died to sin (Rom. 6:2), and sin no longer has dominion over him (Rom. 6:14).

Second, we are dead from the curse of the law which was accomplished by the death of Christ (Gal. 3:13). So, when we finish with all this, we are saying that we are freed from the condemning effects of law.

If sin is the transgression of the law (I John 3:4), righteousness must be conformity to law. This is really what Paul is arguing in Romans 7:12-14. Since the law is Spiritual, that is to say, divine in origin and nature, and holy and just and good after the pattern of Him who is its author, this is what shows righteousness. Remember Zacharias and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist, they were righteous because they walked in the law blameless (Luke 1:6).

Man has never been saved by perfect conformity to law. Salvation has always been found in obedient faith in God. The idea of salvation in the Old Testament being based upon works without grace is simply not true because no one competely kept the law perfectly. We fail to recognize that obedience under the Old Testament is principally identical to the same demand under the gospel. If grace was not under the Old Testament, how in the world could the Old Testament saint say, “O how love I thy law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97). David could say that because he knew that grace would be extended by God. And, “Noah found grace in the eyes of God.” Why? Well, because Noah was obedient to God’s law.

Finally, we do not have law (which, by definition, is a legal term) how can God write His laws upon our hearts? (Heb. 10:16). May I suggest that none will be saved without the grace of God; but, if you depend upon grace without obedient faith, you are going to be lost. Our faith must reach that grace in order for us to be saved (Rom. 5:2), and faith must work or it is useless (James 2:20). For faith to work there must be a law. If there is no law, how can you have faith?