Acts 17:25 (NIV) "And he [God] is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else."
Grace is getting what we don't deserve, or more formally "unmerited favor".1 Pet 1:2c,9-10 (NIV) Grace and peace be yours in abundance... For you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care.
God has revealed His salvation for mankind through Jesus Christ, who gave Himself to die in our place so that we might be at peace with God. It is by grace we are put right with God, such cannot be earned or "merited" in any way. Peace with God is a gift from Him, not something we can ever achieve in our own resources. We must, then, forever approach God by way of the loving sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and not with the idea that we can present our own fruit as Cain attempted.Gen 4:4-5 (NRS) In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock... And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry...
Gen 4:6-7 (NIV) Then the Lord said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it."
Abel brought a blood sacrifice, foreshadowing "the grace that was to come". God accepted Abel's sacrifice, but not Cain's. Cain might have learned from this, as he had clearly seen the right approach from his brother's example. But rather than accept this, he grew surly and eventually killed Abel. Consider that Cain was trying to please God--was he not?--even though he came before the Lord in error. From this mistake in approach, when Cain refused to receive corrective instruction he indeed found "sin crouching at his door" of an unimaginable sort, just as he had been warned. For if we are not of the grace of God, then we are on our own and sin "desires to have us" in ways that will lead to various sorts of death. This is the ultimate drama of history, and the choice before us all. It is grace or the law; God's promise or our efforts; life or death.
Grace Versus The Law
Gal 4:23-29 (NIV) For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise. These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants... At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now.
This focus on error of approach--of thinking we can earn God's approval by what we do--might seem like a fine distinction, but Scripture could not be more clear or strident. We cannot earn salvation, no one will have bragging rights in heaven, nor will God accept any "works" or "fruit" that come from self-generated do-good intentions. Human religious energy is NOT something God has any interest in. In fact, since He has made provisions for us to access His very life and power, to choose to live in our own human resources is to reject His grace. His life, received by grace, will result in good works--to be sure. But how we approach God is critically important. Are we hoping in the grace and power of Christ Jesus, or are we hoping to impress God or earn His favor on our own merits? The difference is as wide as heaven and hell.Gal 5:4 (NRS) You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
Gal 3:10-11 (NIV) All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law." Clearly no-one is justified before God by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith."
Eph 2:8-9 (Phi) For it is by grace that you are saved, through faith. This does not depend on anything you have achieved, it is the free gift of God; and because it is not earned no man can boast about it.
Under The Law?
Rom 3:21-28 (Phi) But now we are seeing the righteousness of God declared quite apart from the Law (though amply testified to by both Law and Prophets)--it is a right relationship given to, and operating in, all who have faith in Jesus Christ. For there is no distinction to be made anywhere: everyone has sinned, everyone falls short of the glory of God's plan. A man who has faith is now freely acquitted in the eyes of God by his generous dealing in the redemptive act of Christ Jesus... What happens now to human pride of achievement? There is no more room for it... the whole matter is now on a different plane--believing instead of achieving. We see now that a man is justified before God by the fact of his faith in God's appointed Saviour and not by what he has managed to achieve under the Law.
Gal 5:18 (NAS) But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.
Rom 7:4-6 (Phi) So, my brothers, the death of Christ on the cross has made you "dead" to the claims of the Law, and you are free to give yourselves in marriage, so to speak, to another, the one who was raised from the dead, that we may be productive for God. While we were "in the flesh" the Law stimulated our sinful passions and so worked in our nature that we became productive--for death! But now that we stand clear of the Law, the claims of which existed are dissolved by our "death", and we are free to serve God not in the old obedience to the letter of the Law, but in a new way, in the Spirit.
The Symbiosis of The Law And Sin
1 Cor 15:56 (Wey) Now sin is the sting of death, and sin derives its power from the Law.
The law puts forth what God wants done--it is the definition of "good works". But the law cannot produce these good works in us; it's just the standard. In fact, the law's very presence tends to make sin more appealing, and this is a very serious problem indeed. For if we choose to be "under the law", then we will find "sin crouching at our door", just like Cain did. The law is not at fault; it is our sin nature that is the problem.Rom 7:7-13 (Phi) It now begins to look as if sin and the Law were the same thing--can this be a fact? Of course it cannot. But it must be admitted that I should never have had sin brought home to me but for the Law. For example, I should never have felt guilty of the sin of coveting if I had not heard the Law saying "Thou shalt not covet". But the sin in me, finding in the commandment an opportunity to express itself, stimulated all my desires. For sin, in the absence of the Law, has no life of its own... But when the commandment arrived, sin sprang to life and I "died". The commandment, which was meant to be a direction to life, I found was a sentence to death. The commandment gave sin its opportunity, and without my realizing what it was doing, it "killed" me. It can scarcely be doubted that the Law itself is holy, and the commandment is holy, fair and good. Can it be that something that is intrinsically good could mean death for me? No, what happened is this. Sin, at the touch of the Law, was forced to show itself as sin, and that meant death for me. The contact of the Law showed the utterly sinful nature of sin.
God was not kidding about the law; it is just that by focusing on it we get nowhere. Only by grace and by the power of the Holy Spirit can we do what God requires. And we get grace NOT by looking to the law, but by believing through faith in Christ.
The Law Cannot Save Us
Rom 3:20 (NIV) Therefore no-one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.
Rom 3:28 (Wey) For we maintain that it is as the result of faith that a man is held to be righteous, apart from actions done in obedience to law.
Gal 2:16 (Wey) ...It is not through obedience to Law that a man can be declared free from guilt, but only through faith in Jesus Christ. We have therefore believed in Christ Jesus, for the purpose of being declared free from guilt, through faith in Christ and not through obedience to Law. For through obedience to Law no human being shall be declared free from guilt.
Why, Then, Was The Law Given?
Rom 3:20b (Phi) ...it is the straight-edge of the Law that shows us how crooked we are.
1 Tim 1:8 (Wey) Now we know that the Law is good, if a man uses it in the way it should be used.
1 Tim 1:8 (NIV) We know that the law is good if one uses it properly.
The principle purpose of the law is to condemn us. It is to show us plainly that we CANNOT do good works in our own resources, so that we might give up our lives and gain true life in Christ. The law, therefore, has a valid and useful role which is called the "ministry of condemnation" in Scripture. It leads us to the condemnation of the cross, and the Spirit--by grace--resurrects us to new life in Christ.2 Cor 3:9 (NAS) For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory.
John 1:17 (NAS) For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.
Rom 5:20-21 (Phi) Now we find that the Law keeps slipping into the picture to point the vast extent of sin. Yet, though sin is shown to be wide and deep, thank God his grace is wider and deeper still! The whole outlook changes--sin used to be the master of men and in the end handed them over to death; now grace is the ruling factor, with its purpose making men right with God and its end the bringing of them to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The New Covenant: Death To Self Vs. Self Righteousness
Conceptually, in Scripture, law and grace are pitted against each other as irreconcilable approaches to being put right (justified) with God. The law seeks to restrain, in the main, the passions of the carnal nature. "Don't do this and that", etc. The gospel of grace seeks to put to death all that is carnal in us, so that a new and eternal life can be born in us. What the law could never do, the Holy Spirit by resurrection grace can.Gal 2:21 (NAS) I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness [comes] through the law, then Christ died needlessly.
Rom 7:5-6 (NIV) For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.
The New Way of The Spirit
Titus 3:4-7 (NAS) But when the kindness of God our Savior and [His] love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Rom 8:2 (NIV) Through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.
Rom 8:3-4 (Phi) The Law never succeeded in producing righteousness--the failure was always the weakness of human nature. But God... condemned that sinful nature. Therefore we are able to meet the Law's requirements, for we are living no longer by the dictates of our sinful nature, but in obedience to the promptings of the Spirit.
Rom 8:9-14 (NIV) You... are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of [His] righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation--but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
2 Cor 3:6 (Wey) It is He also who has made us competent to serve Him in... a new Covenant, which is not a written code but a Spirit; for the written code inflicts death, but the Spirit gives Life.
John 6:63 (NIV) "The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing."
Heb 13:20-21 (NIV) May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Next Study: Grace, Faith, & Works
Related Sermon on: "The New Legalism"