|God's Amazing Grace
Paul, the Apostle, regularly began each of his letters with an introduction of who he was and who he was writing to. Then he would say, "Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." Why would this thing - grace - be so important for Paul to include it in the very beginning of virtually every letter he wrote? Because the grace of God is the most important thing that any of us will ever receive.
But God's grace - this one thing that is so important - is also perhaps the most difficult concept to for us to understand. It is something for which we have no point of reference in our own lives. It doesn't fit in with our human conception of reality. Perhaps that is why God began to teach us about Himself by first giving us a list of rules to live by -- the Law of Moses. By giving men these laws (over 600 of them!), God began to illustrate how truly impossible it is for any man to live by them. Through thousands of years and countless lives, God illustrated how very much we all need His grace.
And now, through Jesus, the law serves to demonstrate God’s character and standards—and more to the point, how we can never measure up to it. The law is not the means of obtaining righteousness; rather, it enables us to understand what sin is, and how much we need God’s grace through Jesus! Paul reiterated this concept again and again, but perhaps he said it best in Romans 3:20 (NIV), "Therefore no one will be declared righteous in His sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin."
Rules and regulations make us comfortable. We know what we can do and when we can do it. We know what we can't do and what will happen to us if we do. This gives us a feeling of security. But God's grace... now, there's something scary.... risky... insecure. You and I don't want to be dependent on anyone for anything, even God. So we keep our rules and regulations and merely flavor them with grace. We want to keep God 90% in control, with us 10% in control... just in case. So if God fails to come through with his 90%, we can step in and somehow influence Him to get back on the job!
But God is not a puppet. He is not someone we can control by our wit or charm. We can't influence how much grace He pours on us by doing only those things that tickle His fancy. We cannot manipulate God by trying to follow all the rules. Instead, He says to us -- "There is absolutely nothing you can do to obtain my grace... nothing." And He also says that all those good works we’re doing, trying to rack up enough “Brownie points” for God to allow us into heaven, are but “filthy rags” to Him. (Isaiah 64:6 NIV)
And we say, "But surely there is something, something I can do. If I serve more in church... if I give more than my tithe... if I teach Sunday School... if I witness more... if I don't drink or smoke... if I follow all the rules..." We are constantly trying to EARN favor with God. But we can't earn it. And we can't UN-earn it. There is nothing that we can do - right, wrong, or indifferent - that will influence God to give us more or less of His grace. So, He says to us, "Just bow down to me, and be grateful."
Like the Galatians, so many of us are quick to turn away from God's grace and toward a lifestyle that is dependent upon our own merits rather than what God can do and has done for us through Jesus. It's so very hard to comprehend that He would love us just because He loves us. No, we must have to do something to earn His love. We must have to do something to get to heaven on our own. We must have to do something to obtain His favor. And if we don't do right, we'll lose His love. Our salvation will go down the tubes if we don't follow the rules. God only takes care of us if we're doing everything according to the rules. Right? Wrong!
This may be the way the world operates. We study hard hoping for good grades. We work diligently hoping for a raise or a promotion (or even just to keep our job!). But this is not how God operates.
Why are we, like the Galatians, so quick to abandon grace? Again, it is because you and I are so very unwilling to depend on anyone else - including God - for our well-being. So, instead of freedom, we choose slavery. Instead of peace, we choose worry and fear. Instead of God's grace, we choose to depend on ourselves, and thereby thumb our noses at Jesus' sacrifice for us on the cross.
But what about the Ten Commandments? Surely they are still in effect, even if the other 600+ laws were nailed to the cross. The answer is, no, not when it comes to what “supervises” us. And it’s a good thing! The truth is, there is not one person who can manage to observe the Ten Commandments wholly and completely. In fact, most people can’t get past the FIRST Commandment, much less fully comply with the other nine. The First Commandment is, "You shall have no other gods before me.” No person has ever gone through his or her life without allowing something or someone to come between that person and God. And if something or someone comes between you and God in any way, you have broken the first Commandment. James 2:10 (NIV) says, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” Whew! That’s rough, isn’t it? But that is the absolute truth.
So, were the Ten Commandments nailed to the cross along with the rest of the Law? And even so, aren’t we required to follow them as Christians? The truth is, the whole Law of Moses has been rendered inoperative by the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus.
This is evident in three ways.
First, from Romans 10:4, "Christ is the end of the law, so there may be righteousness for everyone who believes." Jesus is the complete end and fulfillment of the law's 613 commandments, ending their jurisdiction over us completely. We are no longer justified by law keeping of any kind.
Galatians 2:16, "... know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified." And in Hebrews 7:18-19, "The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God."
God’s rending of the veil in the temple at the moment of Jesus' death was a powerful demonstration that the Old Testament covenant had been done away with, and that God was beginning a new and superior covenant with His church. Matthew 27:51 says, "At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split." God showed in a wonderful way that the way to Him was opened (Hebrews 10:14-16). No longer is there a need for priesthoods, altars, temples, rites or sacrifices. Jesus has finished, once for all, the works of salvation by His death on the cross. (Hebrews 7:27, 10:10; Romans 6:10).
This earthquake is parallel with the earthquake at Mt. Sinai when God gave Moses the Law. (Exodus 19:16) The earthquake at Calvary signified that the demands of the law were over and curse of the law forever abolished. (Hebrews 12:18-24) The torn veil indicates He conquered sin; the earthquake that he conquered the law and fulfilled it.
A careful study of the Scriptures will show that the law was never intended to be a permanent administration, but rather a temporary one. Galatians 3:19 states, "What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred (Jesus) had come." Here, Paul is showing that the Law of Moses is an addition to God's covenant with Abraham. It was added for the express purpose of revealing the holiness of God and the sinful nature of man, in order to make men know just how sinful they really were. Paul said in Romans 7:7, "Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law."
So the law was meant to be a temporary measure—to point to Christ, until Christ came. Now that He has come, the law is no longer in effect. Take a look at Romans 3:20-21, "Therefore, no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify."
Every bit of the law was nailed to that bloody cross at Calvary, having been completed and filled in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. Colossians 2:14-16 says, "...having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration, or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ."
The "written code" was the Decalouge, written by the finger of God himself, representing the whole law. This handwriting opposed us in that it only amplified every man's guilt and unworthiness before God. Jesus blotted out this handwriting by His triumph at Calvary. He rendered it null and void. The Greek term used by Paul in verse 14 is "exaleipho" - "to totally wipe and wash away" or "to wipe off, wipe away, to obliterate." God used such a strong word to emphasize in unmistakable language the fact of the law's obliteration for the Christian.
Since Christians have been freed forever from the whole law, we must resist any temptation to become legalistic and thereby to become ensnared into new bondage to legalistic requirements. Believe me, I spent enough time under the law when I was trying to "earn" my way to heaven, and now I am totally and eternally grateful to Jesus for freeing me of that bondage. Although I could never do enough to "pay Him back" for the gift He's given me, I will spend every day of this life serving Him as best I can, in my own meager way of showing Him my gratitude.
What God has shown me through His word - and through a lot of tough learning experiences - Paul addressed again and again in his letters, hitting the subject particularly hard in Romans and Galatians. Over and over again, the New Testament scriptures teach us about the freedom of God's grace versus the bondage of the Law. In Galatians 3:23-25 he said, "Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law." Any time that we try to enforce "rules and regulations", God's grace goes right out the window in favor of bondage. Paul summed it up the best in Galatians 2:21, "I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing."
Is God's grace a license to sin? NO! As Paul said in Romans 6:15-18 (NIV), "What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey - whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness."
So what about the person who claims to be a Christian, but not one evidence of it shows in his life? This is something that confuses a lot of people, especially in light of James 2:14, 17 (NIV), "What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?....In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." But if you look at those verses in James, and then read 1 John 1:5-10, the picture of how faith and works go together becomes much clearer. 1 John 1:5-10 (NIV) says, "This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives." (Emphasis mine) So, in other words, if a person claims to be saved, and yet there is no evidence of it in his life, then that person is a liar, plain and simple. And if a person says that he is or can be without sin, then he is making Jesus out to be a liar.
So that's God's grace. It is not only un-earned, it is undeserved. Because not one of us is capable of earning the right to stand before God - not one. And no matter how hard we might try, every good thing we do is nothing but those "filthy rags" in the eyes of God (Isaiah 64:6 NIV). Perhaps Paul said it best in Ephesians 2:8 (NIV), "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” Even the very faith that we exercise to accept God’s grace is a gift from God!
If you've been depending on yourself to get there, stop. Let go. Relax. Accept the free gift of grace God has given you. Accept the freedom that you can have through Jesus Christ. Don't abandon God's grace. Accept it, and be free!
"I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing." Galatians 2:21 (NIV)
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