GRACE: THE REASON FOR GOD’S LAW

Without the Law we would not understand or appreciate grace. Without grace the Law would be pointless.

Law is, and always has been, the servant of God’s grace:

Romans 3:20: ‘through the law we become conscious of sin’
Romans 7:7: ‘I would not have known what sin was except through the law’
Galatians 3:24: ‘the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.’

Our sinful self-centred hearts convince us that we have within us what it takes to get ourselves accepted by God. The Law says ‘No! You are sinners who sin. See this great list of offences, of rebellion, of wickedness. See this standard of perfection which you consistently fail to reach. See how far you have fallen from the glory for which God created you.

By identifying and exposing our sin and our sinfulness the law reveals our state and our condition before the holy God. It speaks to us of God’s just judgement. It tells us of his wrath. It teaches us that left to ourselves and our own efforts we are totally and permanently disqualified from life in God’s presence, and so it drives us to Christ and to grace.

In our sinfulness we avoid this function and intention of the Law. We totally invert it, using the Law as a check list by which we identify and define our goodness, rather than allowing it to expose and identify our sinfulness. And in doing so we also miss out on grace. In doing so we will never receive God’s grace, God’s free gift, for we think that by our list of merit points we have earned his acceptance.

Yet grace is embedded in the Law, if only our hearts were open to perceive it. Moses spends four chapters in Exodus detailing the standards required by God [20-23] then ten chapters explaining the means of grace [25-30; 36-39]. Leviticus is almost entirely devoted to explaining the gracious provisions of God by which penalties for infringement of the moral and religious Law can be averted. These Old Testament provisions and expressions of grace are temporary, physical, prophetic anticipations of the ultimate, spiritual, eternal grace provided in and through life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.

The sacrifices defined by the Law were a means of grace taking its significance from Jesus, the ultimate sacrifice.


The priesthood defined by the Law was a means of grace taking its significance from Jesus, the ultimate High Priest.


The Day of Atonement defined by the Law was a means of grace grounded in the reality of Jesus, the ultimate atonement.


The Passover defined by the Law was a means of grace grounded in the eternal reality of Jesus, the ultimate once-for-all Passover Lamb.


The Year of Jubilee defined by the Law was an expression of grace anticipating the ultimate and permanent redemption we have in Jesus.

The Old Testament believers understood this grace which was embedded in the very nature of the Law:

‘The arrogant cannot stand in your presence;
you hate all who do wrong …
But I, by your great mercy,
will come into your house …’ Psalm 5:5,7]

‘If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins,
O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness;
therefore you are feared.’ [Psalm 130:3,4]

Law is neither the enemy nor the alternative of grace. Yet we make it so whenever we try to stand in the presence of God with our hands full of our own perceived goodness.
 

© Rosemary Bardsley 2009