21 December 2012

Law or grace?

On the one hand is law and on the other grace. Can I base my daily living on either of these? Is there any other way to live my life? We look at obedience in the life of the believer, based on Christ's love within and the actions that stem from this.


Tetrahedron
Sometimes things are not as clear as they seem.

Some followers of the Way are bound by rules and regulations; in other words they are
convinced there are standards we must meet in our lives.

Others may say they are free in Christ to do all things since he dealt with sin once and for all. Perhaps the former are in the majority although it's hard to tell.

At the absolute extremes we would be so law-focussed that we might rely on our own purity, or so grace-focussed that we might treat continuous forgiveness as our right.

It's unlikely that anyone could be found at either extreme, but some might come close. The rest of us are spread out in a continuum between law and grace. So who is right? How should we live our lives?

It doesn't often occur to us that both might be far from the simple truth.

Law - If I depend on the Law I'm like the Pharisees who criticised Jesus for allowing his followers to harvest and thresh grain on the Sabbath. As they were walking through the fields they took ears of grain and rubbed them between their hands to extract the seeds to eat (Mark 2:23-24). It was hardly an industrial-scale process! The Pharisees also prided themselves on meticulously tithing even the smallest quantities of herbs and spices like cumin (Matthew 23:23).

Meanwhile, for all their complaining about others and pride in their tithing they failed to help the poor or take pity on those in difficulty. Adherence to the law is not sufficient. Or more correctly, it would be sufficient if I had never sinned and could continue to lead a sinless life. But I haven't and I can't.

It's already far too late for me to depend upon observing the Law.

Law is a gift from the Father.

Grace - But if I look to grace am I any better off? Perhaps that depends on how I understand grace. If I see it as a precious gift it is all I need. If I treat is as a licence to sin without further consideration then I lose its true value.

Grace came at great cost, it is a precious, precious thing. It enables us to stand confident in the presence of the Most High, to see him as a loving Dad, to recognise we are forgiven, special, precious, loved, honoured and glorified by the Creator of the universe.

I dare not abuse it, I am called to receive grace as a gift but also to offer it freely, to forgive as I have been forgiven, to love as I have been loved, to honour as I have been honoured.

Grace is a gift from the Son.

Obedience - Law is too rigid. It's not the right place to look, I can never earn forgiveness and justification by obeying the Law. Yet grace (if I mistreat it) is too flexible.

But there's a third alternative, rarely considered, and it transforms everything.

Obedience is good, but obedience to the Law is impossibly hard. It is unachievable. It is already lost. However, grace opens the way, not only to forgiveness, but also to life in the presence of the King.

Jesus sent the Holy Spirit precisely so that I could hear what the Father is saying to me moment by moment as I live out my life on this Earth. So rather than a vain attempt to live by obeying the Law, I can now begin to live by obeying his voice, just as Jesus did. This is truly revolutionary!

There is nothing I am not allowed to do - as long as I'm told to do it. It's hard to see the freedom and opportunity wrapped up in this statement. Paul writes that even eating food sacrificed to an idol is OK, providing I don't cause others to sin by eating  (1 Corinthians 8:1-13). In other words my care for others trumps the law and is made possible by grace. Love wins. It's no accident that Paul judged love to be the greatest thing (1 Corinthians 13).

It's not that there are no longer any rules, but in Jesus those rules have been fulfilled and now I'm free to look away from them and focus my attention on Jesus instead. And he'll guide me by the power of the Spirit. It's just as written by Isaiah, 'This is the way, walk in it!' (Isaiah 30:19-21) and by Jeremiah to a disobedient people, 'Where the good way is, ... walk in it' (Jeremiah 6:16).

Obedience is a gift from the Spirit.

Conclusion - Everything comes from the Father, Son and Spirit. Just as they are inseparable, so too are law, grace and obedience. We cannot pick them apart, we need all three. But the amazing truth is that Jesus ministers all three to us. He is the way, the truth and the life; do you see that those three concepts have the aroma of the Father, Son and Spirit? We can lay them out here.

  • The Father provides law and has the aroma of the truth.
  • The Son provides grace and has the aroma of life.
  • The Spirit provides obedience and has the aroma of the way.

But because they are one, you can mix and match and every statement you make remains correct. The Father, Son and Spirit are all about law, grace and obedience and all have the aroma of way, truth and life. There is a wonderful symmetry about the great Creator King, a multidimensional knot that holds the universe together and cannot be unpicked.

As an aside, the tetrahedron is an interesting geometric shape in three dimensions. There is a base (think of it as the universe or the world). High above is an apex, think of this as the Almighty. There are three faces (Father, Son, Spirit), three edges connecting the apex and the base (law, grace and obedience) and the base has three sides (way, truth and life).

The law had to be fulfilled and Jesus does that. Grace is sufficient for me and Jesus provides it. Life needs to be lived and Jesus shines a spiritual light onto my path. He is all in all. Jesus says, 'If you have seen me you have seen the Father'.

Jesus came to set me free. And I am free indeed! But he set me free to obey him in everything.

Questions:

  • How large a part should traditions have in church life?
  • What does it mean to be 'free indeed'? (John 8:36)
  • Is Jesus the way, the truth and the life for you, personally and daily? (John 14:6)

See also:

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