Getting to Grips with Grace
Do you really understand what God’s grace is and why we need it? Do you know what it means to be under the law and what role the law plays when we are under grace?
There is a lot of confusion in the Christian community about grace and the law. Some say that grace does away with the law while others insist that the Ten Commandments are still in force even when we are under grace. Some maintain we only need to keep the moral law which excludes the Sabbath commandment as it is supposedly “ceremonial” in nature.
Why all this confusion when the Bible says that God is not the author of confusion (I Corinthian 14:33)? It is time we understood the truth about grace!
What is grace? The word grace simply means favour, blessing or kindness. God’s grace is an expression of His love for mankind. We are all in effect recipients of His grace because He created everything for our benefit, “He hath made the earth by his power, he hath established the world by his wisdom, and hath stretched out the heavens by his discretion.” (Jeremiah 10:12).
What God has done for man in the physical realm is a mere shadow of what He intends for us the spiritual realm that He inhabits. Life on this planet is only a starting point for what God intends to give us in the future, “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” (I Corinthians 2:9). He has plans for us to become part of His very family, “…I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” (II Corinthians 6:17-18).
All of this is made available to us by the grace of a benevolent and generous God.
Although we are created as physical beings we have a spirit that gives us life and intellect, “…there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding.” (Job 32:8). That spirit is our human nature, or psyche that enables us to think, analyse, draw conclusions and make choices. God gave us freedom of choice in the hope that we will choose good over evil. Good being a positive moral driving force that will increasingly enhance life for individuals and those associated with them, whereas evil is a negative driving force that will inevitably bring suffering, death and destruction to everything that succumbs to it.
Given the freedom of choice meant there was always the possibility that we would make wrong choices so God created us from physical elements that have a temporary existence to limit the damage we can cause. Consequently we are all subject to physical death, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:” (Hebrews 9:27). We are also subject to judgment by God who knows the thoughts that motivate our actions, “The LORD knoweth the thoughts of man…” (Psalm 94:11). He is able to judge whether we will be worthy to be part of His family for all eternity, or not (for more information about how that judgment takes place see our article entitled “On Trial”).
Fall from Grace
Our first parents, Adam and Eve, were placed in the Garden of Eden and given a choice between good and evil that was symbolised by two trees. The ‘tree of life’ represented eternal life that would result from choosing good, and the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ represented eternal death that would inevitably result if they succumbed to evil. They were commanded by God not to eat of the latter tree and as their God and creator of the universe His word was the law.
In the garden they met Satan who had been a leading angel prior to the creation of man and had fallen from God’s grace when iniquity, or evil, had been found in him (Ezekiel 28:11-19). Because of his iniquity Satan had been condemned to an eternal death that is to take place at the end of this age, “And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone,” (Revelation 20:10). He greatly resented the creation of mankind who had the potential to be part of the family of God and sought to destroy them, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:” (I Peter 5:8). In addition to the ‘adversary’ he is also called the ‘destroyer’ (Psalm 17:4).
Satan knew that if he undermined their faith in God and caused them to sin they would also be condemned to eternal death in the Lake of Fire, which is the punishment for disobeying God’s law. He cast doubt in their minds about what God had said by saying they would not die if they ate of the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ (Genesis 3:4). Given a choice between what God had commanded and what Satan said they chose to believe Satan. It was their lack of faith, or disbelief in what God had said that led them to an evil act that was punishable by eternal death. Their wilful disobedience had an adverse affect on their human nature (‘spirit in man’). Everything God created including the ‘spirit in man’ was ‘good’, but now they had succumbed to evil their human nature became a mixture of good and evil (Genesis 3:5). This enabled Satan to accuse them of iniquity before God and demand they be condemned in accordance with the law. This is why he is called the accuser, “…for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.” (Revelation 12:10).
Because God created the ‘spirit in man’ to be inherited by all humanity it meant that all of the descendants proceeding from Adam and Eve’s have also been corrupted with evil.
That is why all of humanity has fallen from God’s grace. Eternal life is no longer an option for us unless God intervenes to give us a new spirit that has not been corrupted with evil to bring us back under His grace.
The consequences of man’s fall from grace had a tremendous impact on the quality of life for us all. By yielding to Satan Adam and Eve became his servants, “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” (Romans 6:16). A servant, by ancient definition, became the ‘property’ of their master which meant that everything that belonged to Adam and Eve became Satan’s. That included the dominion that God had given them over the earth, “…Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” (Genesis 1:26-27).
It was a very cunning and devious plan on Satan’s part. It not only gave him control over humanity but it also gave him dominion over all the earth. It meant that he could assume the position of the ‘god’ of this world, “In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” (II Corinthians 4:4). As the ‘god’ of this world he was able to keep mankind in a perpetual state of iniquity, “Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.” (Ephesians 2:2-3). He became the ‘prince of the power of the air’ meaning that his dominion included both the earth and its atmosphere.
This gave him power to establish his own spiritual minions in positions of authority behind the various thrones as they became established throughout the earth. Daniel got an insight to this when he was told about spiritual ‘princes’ withstanding God’s angels, “But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days: but, lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me; and I remained there with the kings of Persia… ...Then said he, Knowest thou wherefore I come unto thee? and now will I return to fight with the prince of Persia: and when I am gone forth, lo, the prince of Grecia shall come.” (Daniel 10:13 and 20). Paul also indicated that evil spirits have been established in positions of power under the dominion of Satan, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6:12).
God made it clear to Adam and Eve that under the influence of Satan who was intent on destroying them, the world would quickly became a harsh and cruel environment in which many of the species that He had created as ‘good’ (i.e. pleasant and agreeable) would become aggressive, carnivorous and venomous making life more difficult, “Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.” (Romans 8:21- 22).
Through yielding to Satan, Adam and Eve committed the earth and all humanity to an existence of misery, pain and suffering that would inevitably result in eternal death and destruction, “And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect’s sake, whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days.” (Mark13:20). No wonder God said, “What is this that thou hast done?” (Genesis 3:13). He knew that their actions would eventually result in total annihilation of all life including mankind from the earth. The corruption of the ‘spirit in man’ not only affected their relationship with God, but also future relationships between husband and wives and between parents and children for all generations to come (Genesis 3:16). It also affected the relationship between mankind and their environment (Genesis 3:17-18).
Death and destruction are the inevitable outcome unless God intervenes, “And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.” (Matthew 24:22).
These were the consequences our first parents brought upon all of us because their lack of faith led to their fall from God’s grace.e Because of their actions we are all in a state of unrighteousness which means we cannot inherit God’s Kingdom unless He intervenes to bring us back under His grace, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?” (I Corinthians 6:9).
Under the Law
What does it mean to be under the law? In simple terms the law defines the difference between good and evil. It specifies behaviours that are within the law and defines behaviours that transgress the law as sin, “…for sin is the transgression of the law.” (I John 3:4). The punishment for transgressing the law is death, “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). To be under the law means to be subject to the law and its punishment.
The punishment for transgressing the law is not the death that we all face because our physical bodies are naturally subject to death and decay. It is a spiritual death in which the ‘spirit in man’ is extinguished forever. Regardless of what fame and fortune we accumulate during our lives the inevitable outcome for the unrepentant sinner is no different to that of animals when they die, “Nevertheless man being in honour (wealth) abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish.” (Psalm 49:12). They perish forever!
God is righteous, “The LORD is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works.” (Psalm 145:17). He can not be corrupted. He has a high moral standards established on the principles of goodness, righteousness and truth, “For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;” (Ephesians 5:9). David understood that we will be judged by how we measure up to God’s righteousness, “Judge me, O LORD my God, according to thy righteousness;” (Psalm 35:24).
The behaviours of those who are truly led by God’s righteous Spirit should meet His moral standards against which the law has no effect, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23). But the behaviours of those led by the unrighteous ‘spirit in man’ do not meet those standards because the ‘spirit in man’ has been compromised with evil, “…if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness.” (Matthew 6:23). That evil affects everything we do, “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.” (Mark 7:21-23).
The thoughts that motivate our behaviours are not the same as God’s, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Because we have that mixture of good and evil we cannot meet the moral standards required by His law, “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” (Romans 8:7). Not one of us is righteous, “There is none righteous, no, not one:” (Romans 3:10). We have all sinned and are subject to the punishment of the law, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” (Romans 3:23).
Humanity has grown accustomed to its unrighteous ways, “…and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19). We prefer evil rather than good, “Thou lovest evil more than good; and lying rather than to speak righteousness.” (Psalm 52:3). As long as we remain in this unrighteous frame of mind we cannot understand the things of God, nor are we inclined to seek after them, “There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.” (Romans 3:11).
It is impossible for the unrighteous to become righteous of their own accord, “Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.” (James 3:12). We all remain under the law subject to its penalty of eternal death until God intervenes in our lives.
Fortunately God takes no pleasure in our predicament and is not willing that any should perish, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (II Peter 3:9). He has implemented a plan through Jesus Christ to destroy the damage that Satan has wrought, “He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.” (I John 3:8).
He intends to restore humanity to grace and a state of righteousness by giving us a new Spirit that cannot be corrupted, “Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. "For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call." (Acts 2:38-39 NKJV). This new Spirit promised through the prophets is God’s Spirit, “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27 see also Ezekiel 11:19-20, 18:31 and Jeremiah 31:33). David spoke of this Spirit confirming it is the Holy Spirit, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.” (Psalm 51:10-11).
The Holy Spirit that He will give us is not a third person of a trinity as many mistakenly teach. It is in fact the very righteous essence, mind and divine nature of God. He is not only comprised of spirit (John 4:24) He is also holy (Psalm 99:9). He is Holy Spirit! The Holy Spirit also known as the Spirit of God is the same Spirit that is in Christ who is also Holy and has been raised to spirit (Mark 1:24, Act 3:26 and Luke 4:24). That is why Christ was able to say, “…he that hath seen me hath seen the Father;” (John 14:9). And, “…that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him.” (John 10:38).
The Holy Spirit can be likened to a spiritual DNA that will develop the same righteous moral purity of the Father in those to whom it is given. Righteousness is a fruit, or product of that Spirit (Ephesians 5:9). We are to become the fruit, or product of God’s Spirit rather than the product of the corrupted ‘spirit in man’ that we were.
Because our first parents fell from grace through lack of faith it is only through faith, or belief that we can be brought back under grace again, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2). Without faith it is impossible, “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6).
At the appropriate time God will intervene and call us to Christ, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:44). If we believe and repent of our sins we will be forgiven and God will give us His Holy Spirit, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call." (Acts 2:38-39).
When our sins are forgiven and we are no longer under the penalty of the law, but under God’s grace. If we continue under God’s grace a righteous mind will be created in us, “That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24). This new Spirit we have been given will reveal things of God that we previously could not understand, “For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.” (I Corinthians 2:11, see also verse 14). It will increase our knowledge about the Father and Christ in whose image we are being created, “And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.” (Colossians 3:10 -11).
The same type of mind that is in both the Father and Christ is also being created in us. We will still have our own individuality as we do now but we will be led and motivated by a new Spirit that is holy and righteous like theirs, “At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.” (John 14:20). We will be renewed in righteousness, “If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” (Ephesians 4:21-24). When we die the unrighteous ‘spirit in man’ by which we were formerly led will be cast off with the physical body and the new individual created after the image of God will be resurrected, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” (John 12:24).
When Christ has destroyed the works of Satan and fulfilled the righteousness of the law in all who are willing, God’s Spirit will be the only Spirit found in all who exist, “Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.” (I Corinthians 15:24-28).
Those who refuse God’s offer of salvation and continue to be led by the corrupt ‘spirit in man’ will remain under the law and die as a result of their unrepented sin. For them it will be a permanent and eternal death from which there will be no resurrection.
Law Under Grace
Those led by the righteous Spirit that God gives them are no longer under the law. It does not mean that the law no longer applies to them. It simply means that they are no longer under the death penalty that the law demanded.
Jesus Christ did not come to destroy the law as many think, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” (Matthew 5:17-18). Nor did He come to keep the law on our behalf so we could continue to live in sin. Definitely not!
He offered Himself as the sacrifice for our sins so the integrity of the law could be maintained. The demands of the law had to be fulfilled otherwise the law would be ineffectual. He paid the penalty for all mankind, “By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Hebrews 10:10). Christ had not sinned, “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15). He paid the penalty on our behalf with His own life that was worth more than the sum total of all humanity. By offering Himself as a sacrifice Jesus Christ the son of God by whom all things were created (Colossians 1:16) fulfilled the demands of the law.
When we transgress the law there is always a cost to pay. The cost for sinning is our eternal life. That is the bill of debt we have acquired for transgressing the law. We have literally forfeited our eternal life to pay the penalty incurred for our sins. By offering His own life Jesus Christ has in effect purchased our debt with His own blood, "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28).
Our eternal life is in Christ’s hands. He has redeemed us from the clutches of Satan who demanded our death according to the penalty of the law. Our eternal life is in His hands. If we believe we can be forgiven, “But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins,” (Matthew 9:6, Mark 2:10 and Luke 5:24). But we must first repent of our sins, “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31).
When we repent and are forgiven our debt no longer exists and we come under God’s grace. However, if we do not repent we remain under the law and are still required to pay the penalty, “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:3).
Christ not only came to reconcile us to God by fulfilling the demands of the law, “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.” (II Corinthians 5:18-19). He also came to fulfil the righteousness of the law in us, “…God sending his own Son… …That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Romans 8:3-4). It is a process by which we are converted to a righteous state and it begins with faith, or belief, “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:” (Ephesians 4:13).
This is what Christ will fulfil, “But those things, which God before had shewed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he hath so fulfilled. Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.” (Acts 3:18-21).
God is perfecting His creation in us through Christ, “But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.” (I Peter 5:10).
Faith and Obedience
Just because we have God’s Spirit and His righteousness is being developed in us does not mean that we are yet perfect. We are still subject to temptation and we will at times submit to temptation and sin. David confirmed that he had God’s Spirit, “…thy law is within my heart.” (Psalm 40:8). Yet he still sinned, “…mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of mine head:” (Psalm 40:12).
Although we are under grace the ‘spirit in man’ is still trying to lead us contrary to the law and threaten our eternal life. We still need the law as a guide to the right behaviours, “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:16-21).
If we do succumb to temptation and we are diligent to confess our sins to God in heartfelt repentance we will be forgiven and cleansed from our sin to continue under grace, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:7-9).
When under grace we are still required to meet the standards defined by the law but we are no longer under the death penalty if we are diligent to confess and repent of any sin we do happen to inadvertently commit.
Adam and Eve fell from grace because their lack of faith led them to disobey God. As a consequence no one led solely by the ‘spirit in man’ is justified in God’s sight, “…for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.” (Psalm 143:2). But the way is open for all of humanity to come under God’s grace through faith, or belief. “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” (Romans 3:28). This does not mean that we no longer need to obey the law; it simply means that faith rather than obedience is the saving factor. Those led by the ‘spirit in man’ may obey the law for many reasons that do not involve faith. They may do it out of fear; to maintain the peace, gain a reward, or to avoid punishment. This sort of obedience is not acceptable. God wants us to put faith first. He wants us to believe Him and then obey because we love Him and believe what He says. If we are led by His Spirit this is what we will do.
Faith comes through hearing the word of God, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17). It is the key factor that brings us under God’s grace, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:” (Ephesians 2:8).
In this day we have received the word of God through His son Jesus Christ who is of the same mind as the Father, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;” (Hebrews 1:1-3).
If we believe the testimony of Christ and love Him we will want to obey the Father’s words that He delivered, “If ye love me, keep my commandments… …He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” (John 14:15, 21). We are to keep the law by the example that Christ gave, “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.” (John 15:10 see also I John 5:2). To be justified before God we must not just listen to the law we must keep it, “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.” (Romans 2:13). Our faith is to lead to obedience.
There are numerous passages in the New Testament that confirm the need to obey, “And being made perfect, he (Christ) became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;” (Hebrews 5:9, see also II Thessalonians 1:8, Acts 5:32, Daniel 7:27, and Revelation 14:12).
Obedience comes as a result of faith and means nothing without it. The Jews were zealous in keeping the law but because they did not believe Christ their lack of faith negated their obedience, “But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone;” (Romans 9:31-32).
Law and Worship
When God calls us to Christ He expects us to grow in grace and knowledge of Christ, “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” (II Peter 3:18). This means not only understanding what Christ is doing in our lives but also keeping His commandments, “And hereby we do know that we know him (Christ), if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” (I John 2:3-4). So what are the commandments must we to keep if we are to know Christ?
Jesus Christ defined the two greatest commandments of the law, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40). The law that hangs on these two great commandments comprises four sub-commands that define how we love God and six that define how we love our neighbour. These are the Ten Commandments that define good from evil - righteousness from unrighteousness. These are the Ten Commandments by which our righteousness is to be judged.
Christ also explained that not only are our actions to be judged according to these commandments, but under the New Covenant of which He is mediator the very thoughts that motivate our actions are to be judged, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment:” (Matthew 5:21-22). And, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28). The same principle that Christ applied in these two commandments is also to be applied to the rest.
We can no longer obey the law for reasons that are unrighteous. The level of obedience that Christ requires can only be achieved by a righteous Spirit through which we can examine our thoughts and bring them under control, “…Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;” (II Corinthians 10:5).
Christ did not do away with the law but instead raised the standard that we must achieve now that we have God’s Spirit. He added new significance to the existing Commandment that requires us to love our neighbour by indicating its special significance when dealing with others also led by His Spirit, “Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning. Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth. He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.” (I John 2:7-11). We are to love our neighbour and especially those of the faith.
Our greater spiritual knowledge also helps us examine the First Great Commandment in a new light that brings a greater meaning and purpose to the way we worship God.
First Commandment - “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3). It is not just a matter of believing that God exists, or even saying, “I believe”. When we come to understand what grace is and witness the mercy, love and blessing that flow from our benevolent Father we come to believe and trust Him above all else. Without any reservation we put God and what He is doing first in our lives.
Jesus Christ Himself told us how to express our love toward God, “…love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” (Matthew 22:37). It requires total faith and belief that His moral standards are upright and just above all else and we are to trust that everything He says and does is good, right and true.
We honour Him by focussing our thoughts on what He is doing and achieving and not on our own things, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (Philippians 4:8).
We express our love for both God the Father and Christ by keeping their commandments, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15). And, “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.” (John15:10)
Second Commandment - “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them:” (Exodus 20:3-5).
Most interpret this as not having physical images such as pictures or statues that attempt to portray the likeness of God. But it has a much more spiritual significance. God wants us to have a very clear concept of whom and what we worship, which cannot be achieved through pictures and carvings. He wants us to personally know Him by receiving His Holy Spirit that establishes His goodness, righteousness and truth within our minds. We are to get to know God on a very personal level and to grow in His grace and the knowledge of His son whom He has assigned to rescue us from certain death and destruction, “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever.” (II Peter 3:18).
The Ancient Israelite did not know their God (John 16:3,15:21, Hosea 5:4, Isaiah 1:2-3, Jeremiah 9:3, 4:22, 5:4) nor do many who claim to be Christian today. They view God as a harsh and distant and fearful judge who is willing to have them condemned to eternal torture in a place they call Hell. They do not know the kind, merciful, generous and benevolent Father who is to be loved rather than feared. They neither understand who He is, nor what He has planned for their future. They have a very false image of Him in their minds.
Third Commandment - “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7).
We have been given God’s Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38) which is His own spiritual DNA that makes us part of His family, “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” (II Corinthians 6:17-18). And co-heirs with Christ, “And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” (Romans 8:17). Also as the Old Covenant was regarded to be a marriage agreement so is the New Covenant. Christ portrayed Himself as a bridegroom and the Church as the bride, “And he said unto them, Can ye make the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days.” (Luke 5:34-35, Matthew 9:15 see also Matthew 25:1-14). As part of His family, both by marriage and genetically through the Holy Spirit which is God’s spiritual DNA we are sons and daughters of God and take on the name of God. Taking on His name in this fashion is not something we do lightly. It is a very serious matter that requires our full commitment.
This is what the Commandment is about – the seriousness of our commitment to God when we take on His name and become part of His family.
Fourth Commandment - “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” (Exodus 20:8-11).
This commandment is the most controversial because some say it is ceremonial rather than moral therefore is not part of the New Covenant. They seem to forget that the Sabbath was sanctified by God during the creation week more than two thousand years before the Old Covenant was introduced “And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.” (Genesis 2:2-3).
Jesus Christ didn’t indicate that the Sabbath was made just for the Israelites, He said it was made for man, “And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28). It is important to note that Christ the mediator of the New Covenant (Hebrews 8:6) was also in authority of the Sabbath and at no time did he say the Sabbath could be changed, or ignored.
Everything God created for man was good. That included the law which is holy, “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.” (Romans 7:12). And it is spiritual, which means that it is of God, “For we know that the law is spiritual:” (Romans 7:14).
If God commanded that we keep the Sabbath on the seventh day (Exodus 20:8-10) as originally ordained and not on any other day, then we have a moral obligation to keep the Sabbath on that day. There is absolutely no authority in the Bible for men to change the law that God has ordained. Around 321 AD the Sabbath was changed from the seventh day to Sunday by men led by the ‘spirit in man’ rather than the ‘Spirit of God’, who claimed to represent God on earth for reasons that were not righteous. These men deliberately misinterpreted Christ’s instruction to Peter and took upon themselves the authority to change doctrine, “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19).
Christ was not saying that God will endorse whatever the church authorities say, He was saying quite the opposite; that the church authorities must endorse what God has already ordained in Heaven. From the 52 English translations of the New Testament we consulted we find that 18 of them use wording to the effect that ‘whatever you shall bind on earth will have been bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in Heaven’. The remaining 34 version mostly use ‘shall be’ or ‘will be’ which is somewhat ambiguous but can still be interpreted as ‘having already been bound’.
God does not allow mankind to make such determinations on matters where He has already ruled. That was what Satan was inferring when he told Adam and Eve that they would become ‘as gods’ if they ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. He indicated that they would be able to determine for themselves matters that were normally the prerogative of God. The consequences of their actions were catastrophic. God does not allow mankind the prerogative to change doctrine because it leads them away from the truth.
The significance of obeying the Sabbath commandment is lost to those who claim to worship God but do not have His Spirit. We are God’s children led by His Spirit, “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God:” (Romans 8:13-14). It should be our desire to please Him by obeying what He says, “Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.” (Colossians 3:20). It is the right thing to do, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.” (Ephesians 6:1).
If we truly love God with all our heart, mind and being, knowing exactly who He His and what He is doing and are prepared to sincerely commit to Him and take on His name, then we will prove our love by obeying His Commandments, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.” (1John 5:3). We will want to please Him, “So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you.” (Romans 8:8-9).
We should keep the seventh day as He has ordained to confirm our willingness to do what He says.
There should be no confusion about the meaning of grace and the role of the law for those under grace. Being under grace applies to those who are led by the ‘Spirit of God’ rather than the ‘spirit in man’ and under grace the Ten Commandments take on increased spiritual significance.
To those under God’s grace the law is no longer a stick with which to measure behaviour and mete out punishment to a godless people. Having come to understand the boundless grace our benevolent and generous God has toward us the law now becomes the conduit through which we respond to Him in Spirit and truth, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24). Through the spirit of the law we can truly love and worship Him with all our mind, spirit and being. Having no false concepts or images of who He is, and what He is doing we are willing to commit to Him wholeheartedly and sincerely by taking on His name and being prepared to live by, and obey, every word of God with both our thoughts and actions. We also come to respond with greater sincerity of love and respect for our fellow-men, especially the brethren.
Regardless of whether scholars want to classify individual commandments as moral, or ceremonial it is not our role to alter, or diminish what God has ordained. If we are led by His Spirit we will want to obey His every word. If we do this then the things He has in store for us will be beyond anything we can imagine. His benevolent generosity knows no bounds.
That is the truth about God’s grace and the role of His law when we are under His grace.