The law of God which was revealed by Moses exposes the weakness of man. The Grace of God which is perfected in Christ strengthens man’s weaknesses. Understanding the grace of God will help man unveil the veil that the law of God placed in man’s heart.
The word Grace appears often in the Bible, especially in the New Testament, and is truly one of the profoundly significant words in the Scriptures. Although it is a familiar word to many, its actual meaning is not well understood. The most commonly held definition of grace is that it is some form of unmerited favor bestowed on us by God. Grace does have such a connotation, but this is not the highest definition of grace as revealed in the Bible.
Grace is a living person, the Triune God Himself, who is embodied in Christ and who passed through the incarnation, human living, crucifixion, and resurrection to become the life-giving Spirit that He might enter into us to be our life, our life supply, and our everything for our enjoyment: Romans 5:2; 1 Corinthians 15:10. Grace came through Jesus Christ and is Jesus Christ Himself: John 1:14.
God has revealed His love and grace to mankind from the beginning. Contrary to both orthodox and modern views of theology, God is manifested throughout the Old Testament as a God of LOVE AND MERCY. After God had created the heavens and the earth, He “saw everything that He had made, and indeed, it was EXCEEDINGLY GOOD” (Gen. 1:31).
The word “good” is translated from the Hebrew tolby, which means “beautiful, bountiful, cheerful, fine, good, GRACIOUS”; its secondary meaning is “joyful, loving, mercy, pleasant, pleasure, prosperity, wealth, well or well-favored. When God looked upon everything He had made, He saw that everything was very good. It was a BLESSING! As viewed through God’s eyes, His very Creation was a manifestation of HIS LOVE and HIS GRACE.
For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but grace. (Rom 6:14) We develop a relationship with God and a life in the Lord by God’s grace—that is, we do so by His provisions for us, and His work in and through us. Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? (Gal 4:12) The natural inclination of virtually every Christian—once he comes to belief, once he becomes a Christian through faith in Jesus Christ—the natural inclination born out of his heart’s fondest desire to please and serve God is to consider that service to the Lord.
First, we shall discuss the message of the law of God. By the law’s message, we mean what it says. Or more importantly, we mean what God is saying through the law. Leviticus 19: 1 – 4 summarizes God’s statement of the law of God. It is right here in the first five books of the Bible, which discuss primarily the law of God (Ryrie, 1963).
Some of the commandments of God are given here: stay away from idols; treat your parents properly and with respect; and honor the Sabbath. And then all is summarized in two words: “Be holy.” A two-word summary of the whole law of God is “Be holy.” Why? Because God is holy. So then, how holy do we have to be? We must attain holiness that will measure up to a holy God. We must be as holy as God Himself.
This passage from Leviticus is quoted and repeated directly in 1 Peter 1:15,16—where we are told again to be holy. And again it says, to be holy “for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” In the Old Testament and the New Testament, God is holy. God is still holy. God is always holy. He always was, He always will be, and He is today. Be holy. We serve a holy God and the law tells God’s people to be holy like just as God is holy.
Matthew 5 offers another amazing summary of the law of God. Much of the Sermon on the Mount, from where this verse is drawn, speaks of the law of God. We shall touch on that later. Christ’s famous sermon is the law of God intensified. This great summary of God’s law comes in Matthew 5:48: Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Mat 5:48) That is the message of the law of God. May we not water it down. May we not make it to be less than it says. Because if we make it be less than it says, we are not letting it fulfill the work that it can do in our lives.
Before we look, though, at the ability of the law of God, next we are going to look at the inability of the law of God. We must see what the law of God cannot do before we can comprehend what it does have the power to do. Hebrews 7:18-19 speaks to us from God Himself concerning the inability of the law of God. There is a divine inability of the law of God; there’s a built-in weakness—and not one of God’s oversight. It is not as if God gave the law and then people tried to obey, failed, and He recants saying, “Oh, I just have to make it differently next time around.”
No way. God has never made a mistake and never will. He knew exactly what He was doing with the law. And He knew it had an inability and created it that way. Here then is the inability of the law. It has a weakness, God says. The law made nothing perfect. The law of God demands perfection. But the law of God cannot provide perfection. This should not worry us for the Lord has another way to provide what the law demands.
Let’s consider from the Word of God the ability granted to the law. Consider Genesis through Deuteronomy, and Matthew 5, 6, and 7. They define the law of God as given through Moses. Housed in these five books is the basic explanation of God’s law. Matthew 5, 6, and 7. They contain the Lord Jesus Christ’s famous Sermon on the Mount. In many ways, the Sermon on the Mount is an intensification of the law of God (Buswell, 1962).
Recall how it was taught. Jesus would say, “You have heard it said.” And He would follow this by quoting the law of God from the first five books of the Bible. Then He would immediately add, “But I say to you”—and He intensified the power of the law. “You have heard it said that you shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, if you lust after a woman in your heart, you have committed adultery.” Oh, it’s more intense than we thought it was.
What then can the law of God do? It reveals God’s character. He is a holy God. He is neither a cheater, a liar, nor a thief. He is not an adulterer. So neither are we to be such. The revelation of His character is one of the abilities of the Word of God as the law of God. It also reveals His standards and His moral will. Do this. Do not do that. The law can reveal these things to us. So remember, the law can function as a sort of spiritual yardstick—though you maybe have never seen one of those.
How is the law fulfilled in our lives? This is an exciting, encouraging truth that Jesus begins to expound in His Sermon on the Mount. Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. (Mat 5:17) Jesus did not come to crush, annihilate, and discard the law of God.
The law is not done away with for it still has a purpose and various works to fulfill. Jesus said, “I did not come to destroy, but I came to fulfill.” Jesus did not come to annihilate God’s law; rather, He came to fulfill that law. Of the ways in which He fulfills the righteous law of God, there are three in particular.
First of all, Jesus fulfills the law by example. He fulfills it by His life. Think of this: there was one human being (and only one) who lived on this earth and never violated the laws of God. He said truthfully, “I do always those things that please My heavenly Father.” The Father said, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” The Scriptures say He was without sin. He fulfilled the law by His life. He fulfilled its every demand. What it said, He did. What is described, He was. He is both the Holy Son of God and a perfect man all at the same time.
A second way He fulfilled the law was not in His life, but in His death at the cross. In that, He was fulfilling the penalty of the law. The law said, “The soul that sins must die.” The third fulfillment of the law. Jesus fulfills the law by empowering us to walk day by day in godliness. Colossians 1:27, you may recall, says, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Christ in you, the hope of glory.
We shall see the Lord develop a little more of this great truth that grace, not law, is that which makes perfect our faith. We touched upon it briefly in the last section, but this will be the focus of that which follows. The first chapter of the Gospel of John, though touching on the historical progress of the life and ministry of Jesus; brings so much of the heavenly purpose down into the earthly walk of the Lord Jesus Christ. In John 1 we see that it is grace and not the law that believers adore in Jesus Christ.
For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:17) God used Moses to reveal His holy character in the law, to layout His standards in the law, and to indicate His will in the law. But grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. The glory of the law is the glory of realizing our deficiency. It reveals our sin before a holy God. How much more glorious is the grace of God which tells us we have a remedy for our problem! Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
Grace is God’s free provision for us through His Son. And grace manifests itself as we trust in the person and work of His Son by granting us all that we would need, all that we would yearn for, and all that we are commanded to walk in and become. And all this is granted despite our inadequacy and the fact that we could never deserve, could never earn, and could never produce the merit that would earn or deserve these gifts on our own.
There is so much more to the grace of God than that. That we know so little, and that which we do know is so great, really kind of stirs my heart. Even just the verses that reveal that part work joy in my heart. As we trust in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, God provides all of this glorious grace. And it is without any doubt, grace upon grace.
Therefore, let Galatians 2:21 be our testimony even as it was the apostle Paul’s. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain. (Gal 2:21) So often we tie the grace of God into the death of Christ but forget to relate its power to the resurrection, the ascension, and the ongoing intercessory and living-in-us ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. So we do not want to set aside for a moment the full beauty of the grace of God. It is through the grace of God that the righteous life of Christ becomes more and more our portion and our walk.
Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (Rom 3:24) Remember what justification is—the declaration of our innocence without guilt by a holy Judge, God Himself. Even though we know that on our own we were everything but innocent, still God has judged us innocent (Stanley, 2010). We were entirely guilty: guilty of sin and deserving of eternal death. The holy Judge is also a loving and gracious Judge. And through the death of Christ, Paul tells us, God can be just and the justifier. He wants to be our justifier, but He cannot just sweep sin under the rug. He is no compromiser.
Justification is freely given to us by grace, for “blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And remember Isaiah’s admonition to embrace God’s grace in this manner: “Come you who have no money, buy milk and bread and wine and feast on the things of God” (Isa 55).
We do not have anything worthwhile with which to barter with God for our redemption; instead, He offers justification to us freely by His grace. We confess our bankruptcy and He gives us His riches of forgiveness as we trust in Jesus Christ. Justified freely by His grace. Christ is our redeemer. Christ paid the price of redemption. Christ paid the price to buy us out of bondage to sin and back to fellowship with God.
There are treasures untold to draw on, to live on day by day, and to rely upon by the grace of God. I have been one who, in years past, greatly underestimated the riches of the grace of God. I do not want to do that anymore. I want to realize more and more how vast these treasures are. They are there for us to draw upon. They are there for us to live by. They are there in heavenly places to draw on for our walk-in earthly realms.
God’s grace, which brings salvation, also teaches us to turn from ungodliness and so, walk-in godliness. God’s grace teaches us and trains us unto a godly life. Godliness may be the ultimate way to speak of sanctification. Denying ungodliness, and living soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age, is related to the teaching and training ministry of that same grace of God that brings salvation to all men.
Again we see the grace of God is not just for forgiveness. It also purposes to grow the children of faith in their godliness. The word here translated in Titus as “teaching us” is similar to another New Testament word that can be translated the same—a word that often refers to the making of disciples (Coulter, 2008). It is by the grace of God that we start as disciples of the Lord; and God’s grace just keeps working in us, disciplining us, training us, and transforming us further into the image of Jesus Christ. This is God’s sanctifying grace.
The Christian life takes strength. In one sense it is not for weaklings. In a better sense, the only ones who will make it are the ones who realize they are weaklings. For it is they who recognize their weakness that becomes very interested in the grace of God (Hoekstra, 2015).
We have the picture of the strong Christian life. It is like we have got forty Bibles in each hand and we are kind of pumping biblical iron. “And watch me do this for God!” Oh, what a quenching of the Spirit of God. Oh, what ignorance of the grace of God. Oh, what a disqualification of the grace of God.
How do you qualify for the ongoing work of the grace of God? Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God. Walk humbly with our God, for God gives grace to the humble. God resists the proud. Many Christians in self-sufficiency, self-reliance, and world-taught confidence are not living by the grace of God. Rather, they are fighting, striving, pressing, and pushing against the resistance of God. Note that. God resists the proud. Those times when we thought we could handle the situation, when we imagined we were capable, and when we believed in our sufficiency, we came up against the resistance of God.
Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Finding that strength involves admitting we have no strength. Humility. Remembering that no man can handle this Christian life, the believer cries out to God, “I need You!” God loves to hear that confession in prayer. He knows it is the truth. We have no strength. He knows we need it and He will happily grant it. And He wants to give more grace. He gives grace to the humble.
Grace is most frequently spoken of as a commodity, that is distributed, and such it is. But first and foremost, grace is a description of the character of God, which is displayed by His gifts to men. God is a God of grace, and He desires to make this known not only to men but also to the angelic hosts. Deffinbaugh (2004) states that He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
In Him, we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us. In all wisdom and insight, He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth.
While the grace of God is described in the Old Testament, it is not defined until the New Testament. I believe that we cannot grasp the grace of God except in the light of Calvary. Grace is not merely a part of the plan of redemption, but it is the silver cord that runs through every facet of the work of redemption. Election, the sovereign choice made in eternity past of those who would be saved (cf. Ephesians 1:4), is called a “choice of grace” (Romans 11:5, NASV margin).
The entire work of Christ is coming to earth, dying for sinners, and being crowned with glory, is said by the writer to the Hebrews to be “by the grace of God” (Hebrews 2:9). In no way was this prompted by man (cf. Romans 10:6-8). Our redemption is “according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7). Our calling (cf. Romans 8:28, 30), the sovereign act of God by which we are drawn irresistibly to Him, is said to be “through His grace” (Galatians 1:15).
If we were to describe grace to the chemist, we would say that grace is an element, not a compound (Parker, 1973). In more biblical terms, grace is never a mixture of divine benevolence and human effort: Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness (Romans 4:4-5). But if it is by grace, it is no longer based on works, otherwise, grace is no longer grace (Romans 11:6).
According to McDonald (1960), Grace is entirely the work of God, unprompted by man, undeserved by man, and without regard to anything that the object of grace will later accomplish: And not only this, but there was Rebekah also when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, because of Him who calls, it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger” (Romans 9:10-12).
All our salvation—initiation, process, and fulfillment—find their base in who He is, what He’s done, what He is to us now, and what He provides. The more we read about, pray about, meditate on, and study the law of God, the more we appreciate the grace of God. We respect the law more through study as well—but as great as our appreciation for the law becomes, our appreciation for God’s grace should grow and increase all the more
In conclusion, remember the law of God says, “Be holy. Be perfect.” But its inability lies in the fact that it cannot make us perfect. Its ability is it can show us our need for the Lord Jesus Christ. And then the fulfillment of the law is through faith in Jesus Christ both for salvation and for daily living. Ultimately we could say this: God’s law reveals to us our great need for the grace of God. And that is what we shall study directly our next time together.
Since we are justified and sanctified by the impact of the grace of God in and upon our lives, does this mean that man does nothing in his growing and serving by the grace of God? Some hear the message of the grace of God and then imagine there is no contribution on their part. Truly, it is God’s grace and it is not about what we can do but what He can do in and through us. Does that mean we are to do nothing and are mere robots to the grace of God? Not at all. We get fully engaged and entirely involved in the life of grace
Buswell, J. Oliver (1962). A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Deffinbaugh, Robert L. B. (2004). “The Grace of God, Part I.” Bible.org, June 30th.
Hoekstra, Bob (2015). Growing in the Grace of God. BlueLetterBible.org
Mathis, David (2016). Habits of Grace. Illinois: Crossway.
McDonald, William (1960). The Grace of God. Oak Park, Ill.: Midwest Christian Publications.
Packer, J. I. (1973). Knowing God. Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.
Ryrie, Charles C. (1963), The Grace of God. Chicago: Moody Press.
Stanley, Andy. (2010). The Grace of God. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Inc.
Stetzer, Ed. (2013). “On the Grace of God.” The Exchange. July, 24.