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Author Topic: 10 Topics to Better Understand the Question of Law and Grace  (Read 2411 times)

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Azenilto Brito

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10 Topics to Better Understand the Question of Law and Grace

UNDERSTANDING THE CONFLICTING STATEMENTS OF PAUL AND JAMES ON LAW & GRACE, FAITH & WORKS, JUSTIFICATION & SANCTIFICATION

      In this sequence of 10 items the proposal is to promote a rational and objective study of the divine law question in the face of the message of salvation by grace, a theme that is often misunderstood by Christians in general.
       The apostle Paul clearly says that salvation is only through faith, without any human merit (Eph. 2: 8 e 9). The prophet Isaiah had said that our works of justice are mere “filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6). No work performed by man is acceptable to God—Whose law is “perfect” (Psa. 19:7)—in terms of obtaining merits for salvation. Even our prayers, such a pious act of religious fervor, can only be heard through the intercession of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:26).
       But after speaking of salvation not due to works in Ephesians 2:8 and 9, Paul adds in vs. 10: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them”. James reiterates that “faith, if it hath not works, is dead” (2:17) and Jesus also said: “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
       Thus, we have a clear tension between being saved by faith, independently of the works of the law, but the necessity to demonstrate that faith by faithful obedience to the law. How to understand that?

Introduction

       The theme of God’s law in contrast with that of grace could not be absent from theological materials, homepages of “Christian apologetics” ministries and in the confrontation of ideas in Evangelical forums in the Internet. However, since we promised to deal with the subject, let’s first raise a pertinent and encompassing question of what will be dealt with in this study:
 
* Are the Old Testament laws indeed valueless, no more applicable to the Christian community under the new covenant?
 
1) The answer is—yes and no. There are laws that were invalidated for fulfilling their prefigurative function, such as the rules on offering of lambs and foods, the sacrifices and several norms for priests and people. When John the Baptist pointed to Christ as “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) he reminded his hearers the meaning of the many lambs sacrificed by the Israelites as atonement for their sins. They were the types  of the Great Antitype, Jesus Christ.

Nevertheless, if there are laws of temporary character, there are also those of a perennial character that could not be removed lest it opened the door for total chaos at public and private levels: “Honor thy father and thy mother”, “ye shall not kill”, “ye shall not steal”, “ye shall not commit adultery”.  . . These precepts are reminded by the several New Testament authors as normative to Christians (see Eph. 6:1 e 2; Jas. 2:8-10). Paul makes that clear as he shows the validity of some rules and the nullity of others to the Christian community, as we will see briefly.

The Bible laws are divided into clear categories regarding their objectives and value. Along the centuries, Christian documents and authors have defined these laws as being moral (expressed in the Ten Commandments), ceremonial, civil, hygienic, etc. The most representative Confessions of Faith of Christendom, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, always taught this “division” of the laws, as is clearly presented in the Westminster Confession of Faith and in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of the Church of England.

There are those who allege that the Bible deals on “law” indicating only one indivisible “package”, but the “division” of the laws is obvious by the simple fact that on Sinai God proclaimed with His own voice, audibly, before the gathered people, only the Ten Commandments, later transcribing them on the tables of stone, “and He added no more” (Deu. 5:22). All the laws that were ceremonial, civil, hygienic, etc., were dictated to Moses in another occasion, so that he transcribed them on the scrolls of the law.

Conclusion:  There are commandments which are important, but should not be fulfilled any more, and commandments that should be obeyed, as the apostle Paul engages himself in a clear “division” of Bible laws when he says in 1 Cor. 7:19: “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God”.

2) Both modern and ancient scholars, as well as historical faith confessions (including some among the main Reformers) have the Decalogue as the valid Christian conduct norm. In their confessions of faith they never allege that the divine law was abolished, replaced by some “law of Christ” (supposedly less rigorous) neither promoted the thesis that observing these commandments would be attach oneself to the “letter of the law” in place of being inspired by “Spirit”. They rather define the divine laws as having ceremonial, civil and moral precepts, the latter synthesized in the Ten Commandments.

Among the scholarly statements and creeds of the Christendom with these clear positions we could mention The Second Helvetic Confession (1566), the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of the Church of England (of 1571) in its Article VII; The Irish Articles of Religion (1615); The Westminster Confession of Faith (1647); The Savoy Declaration of the Congregational Churches (1658); the Baptist Confession of Faith of 1688 (Philadelphia) based on the London Confession of 1677; the Methodist Articles of Religion (1784); The Presbyterian Small Catechism and such authors as Wesley, Moody, Spurgeon, and more recently Billy Graham, James Kennedy, etc.

In hymn books of Baptists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Methodists, etc., one can find hymns of praise to God, speaking of God’s law as ruling the Christian’s conduct.

Conclusion: Great Christian scholars and creeds of Christendom always recognized the different types and objectives of the divine laws according to their civil, ceremonial, hygienic, penal aspects. These are divers codes ruled by the basic moral law, such as the Constitution is the foundational law of a democratic country, on which is based all civil legislation through its many codes (commercial, criminal, labor laws). These laws could be abolished or changed that they won’t interfere with the Constitution, but if the latter is changed, it will affect all the other laws.

3) It is necessary that Christians understand better the concepts of justification and sanctification. Justification is entirely by faith, and through it “peace with God” is established (Rom. 5:1). It means God’s work for us for salvation, centered on the cross of Christ. As a consequence, there is regeneration, or new birth, thus beginning the process of sanctification, which represents God’s work in us for granting us His Spirit and shedding His love in our hearts (Rom. 5:5). It’s a lifetime work of gradual and continuous growth in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2a. Pet. 3:18)—consequence, not basis, of the experience of salvation.

Conclusion: Obeying the commandments of God’s law occurs in the field of sanctification, not of justification. It means to accept Christ as Lord after having received Him as Savior.

4) The principle of genuine obedience, which synthesizes the tenor of all divine commandments, is love. Thus Jesus summarized (not substituted) the commands into a) love God above all things and b) love the neighbor as oneself. He is just quoting Old Testament statements  (Mat. 22: 34-36, cf. Deu. 6:5; Lev. 19:18).  The same basic principle of love is also His “new” commandment: John 13:24.        

Conclusion: The covenants are built upon the moral principle of love—both the new and the old (see also Rom. 13:8-10). The divine laws were always, in all times, based on love.
  
5) Certain Bible expositors make a lot of confusion in pulpits, presses and text processors regarding the theme of the law in the Pauline epistles. This misunderstanding is dangerous on the light of 2 Pet. 3: 15 e 16, for those who act like that are called “unlearned” and “unstable”. They don’t realize the meaning of the apostle Paul’s words when he speaks negatively on the law in some texts, dealing, however, with it in other places in positive terms and quoting its commandments as valid. This should be understood on the light of the concepts of justification by faith and sanctification. Let’s see these Bible paradoxes:

a) Texts in which Paul deals with the law “negatively”: Rom. 3: 20-24; 5:20; 6:14, 15; 7:6; 8:3; Gal. 2:16-19; 3:10-13; 5:4; Eph. 2:7, 8; 15.

b) Texts in which Paul confirms the validity of the law as normative to Christians and exalts it saying that it pleases him: Rom. 3:31; 7: 7, 14, 22; 8: 4; 13:9-10; 7:19; Gal. 5:14; Eph. 6:1, 2.

How to understand this? The explanation is simple: those who try to have the law as a source or means of salvation, placing his obedience in the area of justification, can only put themselves under its malediction, for “by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20 and 7:7). These ones could even come to the point of losing salvation if they were grounded in grace before: “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:4). Failing to trust in the merits of Christ by including their works as means of salvation, they deny their experience of genuine faith in the complete, perfect and meritorious work of Christ for the salvation of all those who believe.  

[To be concluded in the next frame]


Editd by Emma at request of the author, minor word order change
« Last Edit: February 28, 2010, 10:20:32 AM by Emma »
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Azenilto Brito

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Re: 10 Topics to Better Understand the Question of Law and Grace
« Reply #1 on: July 19, 2009, 03:47:49 PM »


[Conclusion of previous frame]

6) Two episodes illustrate the harmony between law and grace in both the Old and the New Testament:

a) In the Old Testament: At the solemn proclamation of the Ten Commandments at Sinai, God declared, even before pronouncing the first commandment:  “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Exo. 20:2). This is a revelation of His grace. It follows the enunciation of the law in vs. 3 to 17.

b) In  the New Testament: Before the woman caught in adultery Christ first presented her His forgiving  grace —“Neither do I condemn thee”. After that He presented her His law: “Go and sin no more” (John 8:10, 11).

Thus, the obedience to God’s commandments (works) not only doesn’t go against the principle of justification by faith alone, but is, rather, its consequence, placing itself in the field of sanctification. Thence the statement by the apostle James: “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone” (Jas. 2:17, cf. Eph. 2:10).

Conclusion: As two tracks of a railway run side by side and give the necessary balance that the train speeds ahead safely, thus it is with grace and law, faith and works, God’s action and man’s response in the process of justification, sanctification until the final glorification.
 
7) A factor for misunderstanding the theme of the Bible laws is what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3 regarding the “ministration of death, written and engraven in stones” in contrast with the “ministration of the Spirit”, by which the Christians present themselves as recommendation letters written “not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart” (vs. 8 e 3).

Paul contrasts those who live under a regimen of “condemnation” for not having experienced salvation in Christ, with those who accepted the terms of the new covenant, thus having the divine law, not merely in the form of letters etched on stones, but written on their hearts and minds by God’s Spirit, according to the promise of this new covenant (Heb. 8:6-10). The psalmist speaks of that experience in Psalm 40:8.

Those who still lived under the “old covenant” were the same who Christ reprimanded for being more concerned about the letter “which kills” than with the spirit of the law. That was the case of His criticism to their practice of tithing (Mat. 23:23). Christ didn’t condemn them for tithing, but for being so much concerned with the technicalities of dividing the “mint and anise and cummin”, to the point of losing sight of the spiritual aspects of the ordinance.

Paul didn’t live in times so far removed from that of Christ, and he himself had been a Pharisee, thus he knew the mindset of his previous fellows in the religion field. To mistake the law, that he considered “holy”, “just”, “good”, “pleasurable” and that he had served with his mind (Rom. 7:12, 14, 22, 25), with a  “ministration of condemnation” makes no sense, inasmuch as he confirms that “the law is good, if a man use it lawfully” (1 Tim. 1:8). Would God summon His people for the solemn event of the delivery of the law, to offer them a law of death?! Moreover, the problem of this “ministration of death” was not with the law, which is perfect (Psa. 19:7), but with the people, who didn’t realize its more profound and spiritual character.

Conclusion: For not understanding the difference between “law”, “covenant” and “ministration of the Spirit” and “ministration of condemnation” many fail to perceive that Paul is not diminishing the importance of the moral law as normative to the Christian in 2 Corinthians 3, rather he is contrasting attitudes vis-à-vis the law. He compares what it means to live under the regimen of the old covenant, more preoccupied with the letter, with the life of Christians he compares with letters written with the divine Spirit, having the law, not in letter on the cold stone tables, but recorded in their hearts, warmed by the divine grace (see Rom. 8:3 e 4 and Psa. 40:8).

8) Far from teaching that the New Testament represents a new covenant without the basic moral law expressed in the Ten Commandments, the author of Hebrews shows that to those who accept the terms of the New Covenant (or New Testament) God Himself would write His law in their hearts and print it in their minds (Heb. 8:6-10; 10:16). We’ve seen as Paul compares the Christian under the new covenant with “epistles written in our hearts, known and read of all men . . . not   with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart” (2 Cor. 3:1-11).

Under the new covenant, established upon “better promises”, God writes His law in the hearts of those who accept its terms, taking them from the cold stone tables to record it in their hearts warmed by the divine grace (ver Heb. 8:6). Notice that this “law of God” is the same that was contained in the original promise directed to the children of Israel in Jeremiah 31:31-33, not any other. The burden of proof rests with those who deny this fact, clearly set in these texts. Heb. 10:16 confirms: God writes His law in the hearts of His children under the new covenant. The Hebrew-Christian readers of the epistle would understand that perfectly. And the promise of divine assistance for obedience to this law is found also in Eze. 36:26, 27.

Conclusion: The context of these verses (chaps. 8 and 10 of Hebrews) clearly defines that they apply to the expanded Israel of God, under the Christian dispensation. After all, the new covenant is now available to all, Jews and gentiles, for the wall of separation was broken down through the abolition of the “ceremonial law”—not the “moral law” (Eph. 2:11 to 22). Thus, the theme of the divine law is not something that belongs to the Old Testament. On the contrary, it is a foundational component of the New Testament, itself, certainly in its moral, not ceremonial aspects.
 
9) There are those who teach that the “law of Christ”, or His commandments (as in John 14:15), has nothing to do with the Decalogue, being such “law of Christ” the new norm for the Christian, which brings only nine of the 10 commandments of the “old fashioned” law (did Christ rupture with His Father, establishing a different law?). Although he speaks repeatedly of the “law of Christ”, Paul also speaks of the “law of God” with similar validity weigh (compare Rom. 7:22, 25; 13:8-10; with Gal. 6:2 e 1 Cor. 9:21).

James speaks of the law as based on love, and calls it “law of liberty” (Jas. 2:8-12). John speaks of law of God and law of Christ as if they were just one and the same, without distinction, along his epistles, 1st  and 2nd John  (e.g., 1 John 2:7; 3:2-4; 21-24; 4: 7-11, 19-21; 5:1-3 e 2 John vs. 5 e 6). 

In the book of Revelation, God’s remnant people is characterized as those who “keep the commandments of God and have the faith of Jesus” (Rev. 12:17 and 14:12). John describes a vision he had of God’s Temple, within which he contemplated the “ark of his testament” (Rev.11:19). Those who know the Bible are aware that the Ten Commandments were kept in this ark (Deu. 10:5). Why was it shown to John this “ark of his testament” in a clearly eschatological context? It’s because it represents the throne of God which is founded on justice (the law) and mercy (the mercy seat). 

Conclusion: Christ’s law and God’s law are just one and the same. Jesus declared: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). He stressed the principle of love to God and to the neighbor as the basis of His commandments, according to the same basic principles of God’s law since the beginning (Deu. 6:5; Lev. 19:18, cf. Mat. 22:37-40). For Paul, to be “under the law of Christ” is comparable to being in harmony with God’s law (1 Cor. 9:21).

10) Sometimes there is a clear misunderstanding regarding the tenor of Christ’s debates with the Jewish leaders on the validity of His cures on the Sabbath day. Jesus defends Himself of the Pharisees’ and Sadducees’ accusations (and those of certain contemporary leaders of Christendom nowadays) that He broke the Sabbath, clarifying being LAWFUL (in harmony with the law) to heal on the Sabbath (Mat. 12:12). What Christ condemned was not their practice of the Sabbath rest by them, for He Himself was an observer of this commandment (Luke 4:16), but the wrong spirit in which they practiced it. For that reason He said that “the Sabbath was made for man [not only for the Jews], and not man for the Sabbath” (Mar. 2:27), besides declaring Himself “Lord of the Sabbath” (Mat. 12:8). The tenor of His debates with the Jewish leadership was not IF they should keep the Sabbath, nor WHEN to keep the Sabbath, but HOW to keep the Sabbath in the due spirit.

Conclusion: The Jewish leaders didn’t corrupt only the meaning of the Sabbath commandment, but also of the 5th one (Mar. 7:8-10), as well as the tithing practice (Mat. 23:23), as already seen. However, Christ told His hearers (the multitudes and the disciples) to practice all that they said, although not following their bad example of “do as I say, but not as I do” (see Mat. 23:2, 3). Among the right things that they said was their insistence regarding a faithful observance of the Sabbath, even though they were wrong in condemning them for coming to seek healing on that day (Luke 13:14).

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sky

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Re: Law and Grace and Merits
« Reply #2 on: October 24, 2009, 01:00:05 PM »

The question of Law and Grace

First we must let inspiration define for us what the grace of God is.  Speaking of the wise virgins, we read: "The latter class had received the grace of God, the regenerating, enlightening power of the Holy Spirit, which renders His word a lamp to the feet and a light to the path." G.C.394.

Unless we are surcharged with the grace of the Holy Spirit we cannot please God, that is, not one jot or tittle of the requirements of the law of God can be fulfilled in the life. Before his conversion the apostle Paul thought of himself as blameless as far as the outward observance of the law was concerned. But the righteousness which he had was not of faith but of his own efforts to keep the law. The Holy Spirit was wanting in his work.  But when he received the  grace of the Holy Spirit, then he became a true keeper of the law for "the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us." Rom.5:5.  And "Love is the fulfilment of the law." Rom.13:10.

We receive the Holy Spirit by the hearing of faith. Gal.3:2.

In Romans 3:25 the apostle Paul speaks of Christ being our propitiation through faith in His blood. What does that mean?

The pen of inspiration sheds light on what this faith is which works by love to purify the soul: (Gal.5:6)

"God will accept everyone that comes to Him trusting wholly in the merits of the blood of a crucified and risen Saviour. Love springs up in the heart. There may be no ecstasy of feeling but there is an abiding, peaceful trust." 1 S.M.354.

"Looking unto Jesus and trusting in His merits we appropriate the blessings of light and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." Testimonies, Vol.5, 744.

To exercise faith is Christ's blood then is to trust in the merits of that blood, the blood that was shed for us upon Calvary's cross. "Present your case before God pleading the merits of the blood shed for you upon Calvary's cross." Signs of the Times, July 4, 1892.

Millions seek to obtain the favour of God through merits. It is the right idea but only the merits of Christ will avail with God.  "It is the merits of Christ that will avail in our behalf." Signs of the Times, June 16,1890.

"Shall selfishness come into your hearts? And will those who set not before them the pattern, Jesus, extol your merits? You have none except as they come through Jesus Christ." RH Sept,4,1900.

So we see that the idea of seeking the blessings of the Covenant of Grace through merits is the right idea but it must be through the divine merits of Christ alone for we have no merits at all, none whatsoever. The only One who has any merits is Jesus Christ. Thus it is written, "The merits of a crucified and risen Saviour are the foundation of the Christian's faith." G.C.73.

"Faith can lay hold of the merits of Christ, the remedy provided for sin." RH Nov.4, 1890.

"Unless we behold the uplifted Saviour and accept the merits which it is our privilege to claim, the sinner can no more be saved than Peter could walk upon the water unless he kept his eyes fixed steadily upon Jesus." Testimonies to Ministers, p.93.

We can say that every religion in the world teaches that the favor of God can be obtained through the merits of one's own good works. This teaching has been at the heart and center of every false religion.

But the true religion, the only religion of the Bible teaches that God so loved the world that whosoever comes to Him trusting wholly in the all-sufficient merits of Christ's infinite sacrifice should not perish but receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit received into the heart by faith is the beginning of eternal life.

Thus we read, "When we seek to gain Heaven through the merits of Christ, the soul makes progress...we may go on from strength to strength, from victory to victory." RH July 1, 1890.

"Though millions  who need to be healed will reject His offered mercy, not one who trusts in His merits will be left to perish." Patriarchs and Prophets, 432.

"We can do nothing of ourselves. In all our helpless unworthiness, we must trust in the merits of the crucified and risen Saviour. None will perish while they do this." P.P.203.

Do you see now why the Holy Spirit has said, "We do not understand the matter of salvation. It is just as simple as ABC. But we don't understand it." Manuscript 1, 1889.

I will extol the merits of my precious Redeemer.

"When Satan comes to tell you that you are a great sinner, look up to your Redeemer and talk of His merits... We have been great sinners, but Christ died what we might be forgiven. The merits of His sacrifice are sufficient to present to the Father in our behalf." Steps to Christ, 36.

Why do we hear so little, if at all, of His merits?

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« Last Edit: October 24, 2009, 01:14:53 PM by sky »
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Azenilto Brito

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Re: 10 Topics to Better Understand the Question of Law and Grace
« Reply #3 on: February 27, 2010, 11:13:11 AM »


       Thanks for your inputs. Yes, you are right: we have no merits of ours to claim living forever with God. Also, we cannot produce any perfect works on our own. Our Sabbath keeping will never be perfect, por instance. So, we can only count on God's grace to attain salvation.
       I think I didn't neglect to stress that in my study above. Let me reproduce one of the introductory paragraphs:

       The apostle Paul clearly says that salvation is only through faith, without any human merit (Eph. 2: 8 e 9). The prophet Isaiah had said that our works of justice are mere “filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6). No work performed by man is acceptable to God—Whose law is “perfect” (Psa. 19:7)—in terms of obtaining merits for salvation. Even our prayers, such a pious act of religious fervor, can only be heard through the intercession of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:26).


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