I have been thinking and praying quite a bit lately on the whole “law vs. grace” debate. You see, because I have a great deal of respect for the Old Testament and observe some of the laws, I am accused of being in chains of bondage – that “bondage” being the fact that I keep some of the laws. I am told over and over that we are “under grace” now, and the laws no longer apply to us. The place where I found clarification of this is actually quite amusing. My little ones have been very interested in the new DVD series, What’s in the Bible (made by Phil Vischer, the creator of Veggie Tales). In it, Mr. Vischer addresses the question of Old Testament laws, as some of them seem a little off the wall, like the rule that the Israelites could eat bugs that fly in the air, but not those that crawl on the ground, or that only one type of crop could be planted in a field. You see, there is a difference between ritual laws and ethical laws. Ritual laws, such as the ones I named before, were intended to set the Israelites apart from other nations around them. They kept what seem like strange rituals to us now to demonstrate to the world back then that they were God’s people, and as such would not do whatever they desired like the pagan nations around them. Under the grace of Jesus, we no longer need to observe the ritual laws, as salvation has been offered to Jew and Gentile alike. Ethical laws, however, remain untouched.
I looked up the definition of ethical, to make sure my approach to this was well understood. Here it is:
“Being in accordance with the accepted principles of right and wrong that govern the conduct of a profession [or, in this case, religion].”
So, by definition, ethical laws are any laws in the Bible (Old and New Testament alike) that are in relation to “principles of right and wrong that govern the conduct” of followers of Christ. We are to keep any laws God commanded which are ethical in nature; to do otherwise would be a sin in the eyes of the Lord. Even so, I guarantee there will still be those who will try to argue that we are under grace, so all of this is moot. For the record, I don’t believe that any form of “grace” which allows us to justify sinning is the kind of grace that Jesus extended to us, but that’s just my personal opinion. Let’s look to the Bible for further clarification, though. In Romans, Paul addresses the issue of grace vs. the law repeatedly:
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves,you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” (Romans 6:1-2, 12-18 ESV)
From these passages, I believe we can clearly glean what Paul is trying to say. Does justification come through the law? Will trying our best to be “good” people get us into heaven? Nope, not a chance. The only way to heaven is through faith in Jesus Christ. However, that does not give us a free pass to sin. We are still expected to live righteously and observe the ethical laws given by the Lord. How can we grow closer to the Lord if we are living knee-deep in sin and ignoring God’s clear commands? Is it even possible to live ethically and righteously while simultaneously ignoring the law?
For further confirmation, here’s what Peter has to say:
“And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:15-18a ESV)
Jesus, himself, has this to say on the matter:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-19 ESV)
Here’s the conclusion I have come to, through much prayer and study of the Bible. We, like the Israelites, are set apart. We are God’s people as much as the Israelites of the Old Testament. We are to walk in righteousness, to the best of our ability. God gives us instructions for how to live a life that is glorifying to Him. These instructions can be found throughout the Bible, and are not strictly limited to the New Testament. When looking at Old Testament laws, we must ask ourselves, is this ritual or ethical? God still expects us to keep the ethical laws. We should keep these laws, not to “earn” our way into heaven or gain the admiration of those around us, but because we chose to live a life set apart the moment we embraced Jesus’ death for our sins. My personal desire is to be obedient to bring glory and honor to Jesus Christ for the wonderful gift of salvation He gave me.
When we look at the debate of “grace vs. the law,” I believe it’s important to recognize that there really should not be a debate at all. They go hand-in-hand. As Jesus said, He came to fulfill the law, not to abolish it. While we should not look to the law for salvation, we should look to it “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV) Amen.