Grace vs. Law

The Grace vs. Law


Last Shabbat’s Torah portion contains a lot of laws. Exodus 21-23 reads like an ancient legal code. Of the 613 commandments that the sages traditionally derive from the Torah, more than fifty of them are found in this week’s portion.

For some reason, many Christian teachers seem to view the laws of the Torah as if they are a bad thing. It is commonly taught that the law is the opposite of grace. You might hear someone say, “We are no longer under the law. We are under grace.” The implication is that since we have received the Messiah, we need not concern ourselves with the laws in the Old Testament. We can call this idea “Grace vs. Law.” Let’s think about the Grace vs. Law idea. What do we mean when we say that we are not under the law? Does that mean we do not have to keep God’s rules? For example, does it mean that we can commit adultery and theft? Of course not. No one would say that. So what does it mean? The Grace vs. Law concept is derived from the writings of Paul. In his epistles, it seems that Paul pits the two in opposition to each other. He often says things like “Before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law” (Galatians 3:23) and “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law” (Galatians 5:18). One might misunderstand these statements to mean that Christians do not need to keep God’s rules. Of course, that would be absurd. Paul realized that some people might misunderstand his teaching, so he cautioned us not to suppose that grace gives us free license to sin against God:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1-2) Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law. (Romans 3:31)

If Paul was not teaching believers that they did not have to keep God’s rules, what was he talking about? In Paul’s day, many of the Jewish believers taught that before Gentiles could be part of the kingdom of heaven, they needed to become Jewish. The idea that a Gentile must become Jewish before being saved is what Paul calls being “under the law.” Paul believed that Gentiles became sons of Abraham and part of the people of God through faith in Messiah. They did not need to earn that status by becoming legally Jewish. They did not need to first come “under the law” in order to enter the kingdom. The Bible does not actually teach the idea of Grace vs. Law. Grace is God’s free gift of salvation for those who believe in His Son. Law is His loving instruction for how His people should live.

Grace vs. Law is a false dichotomy. They are not opposed to each other. They are meant to work hand in hand.

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