Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Bridging Grace and Law

A right understanding of the centrality of grace is necessary for living the Christian life. But what does this mean? Sometimes this is pictured as meditating on grace to produce a vague mystical feeling that causes you to live as you should. Not being into vague mystical feelings of any type, I have to ask myself, what is the connection between a right understanding of grace and the life of obedience that should result?

Grace is the right motivation for obedience (1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15; 1 Corinthians 6:20). This is important if we are to avoid believing that the purpose of doing good is to exalt ourselves or earn something from God. There is the story of the sinful woman who anointed Jesus' feet. She was motivated by the fact she was a sinner and needed forgiveness (Luke 7:36-50), but the Pharisee who thought he was righteous by his own efforts was indifferent to Him. Could the reason we sometimes lack motivation in serving God be that we have forgotten what He has done for us (2 Peter 1:9)? But God's grace not only provides the motivation for a life of obedience, but it also provides the power ( John 7:37-39; 2 Peter 1:3; Galatians 2:20), and only His power can transform our lives (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; Colossians 1:29). The bottom line here is, what am I trusting in? Am I trusting in my own ability or God and His power (Psalms 127:1,2; Proverbs 3:5,6; Hebrews 12:2). The result is the confidence of knowing that God is at work in our lives to accomplish His purpose (Ephesians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 3:5,6; 1 Corinthians 3:6,7) and that we will ultimately be victorious because of what Christ has done (Romans 8:37; 2 Corinthians 2:14; Colossians 2:15). It also means that when we fail we can be confident of God's grace and forgiveness (Romans 8:33,34; 2 Corinthians 7:10; Philippians 3:13). But we are also driven to humility, realizing that we are sinners saved by the grace of God (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:4; Jeremiah 17:9) and that nothing good comes from us, but from His work in our lives (John 15:5; Romans 7:18; 8:8). By this we can  avoid self-righteousness and with it watering down God's  Law in order to convince ourselves and others that we have succeeded in keeping it (Romans 2:1; Matthew 23:25-28; 6:1-21). There will always be the dangers of despair and presumption in the Christian life, and it is only the gospel that puts this in perspective.
Now I am not saying there is not a place for effort in living the Christian life (1 Timothy 4:7.8; Titus 2:11-14; Hebrews 5:14). Certainly there it a place for stating what God commands; after all the New Testament does so. But it is only as this is put in the context of the gospel and the grace of God that we can escape moralism and vague mysticism and put our obedience in its proper place.

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