The Law and Grace:
Which are We Under?
NCW 9, April 1994
Q. I have read your many articles on the Law which the New Covenant Church observes. But if we are still under the Law, why does Paul say that we "are not under law, but under grace?" (Rom.6:14, NIV)
We are under law so long as we keep sinning, but when a person is wholly controlled by the Spirit, he is under grace, that is, by the invisible power of God and not a written code (Rom.7:6).
The law that Paul is talking about is external, and was, under the Old Covenant, imposed from without. The penalty for disobeying cardinal commandments was execution.
But as Jeremiah testifies, under the New Covenant, the law is written in the heart by the Spirit, God's invisible, moving power. The law -- what is right and wrong, how we should behave, etc. -- is still the same, but its point of origin is different, for now it begins internally and works externally into our daily life, not the other way round.
The law is not sin, as Paul reminded his readers (Rom.7:7) -- it is a stimulating device, a revelator. The externally written commandments or law illuminate or reveal that which is wrong in our nature and behaviour, thus disturbing our peace, making us restless and giving birth to guilt. That is the law's "curse". But it is also a blessing.
A person who has been living an immoral life may be quite content, as far as his undisturbed conscience is concerned at any rate. And then along comes the law on morality which agitates the man's soul, perhaps even provoking him to anger. It has become a curse to him, and he must choose either to repent or try to snuff it out. The law is a curse to the unrepentant sinner but a blessing to the one who desires to know God and repent.
What happens when he repents? He takes the law into his heart, he integrates it into his personality, his way of thinking and feeling. How does he do that? By inviting God's Spirit into his heart, to write it there supernaturally, thus causing an inner transformation. His sin, illuminated by the law, is forgiven by an act of grace -- of undeserved kindness -- and the penalty of the law, which is death, is removed, and the soul is given life.
It should be plain from this that the law is indispensable, for it is the door to grace. Although it is definitely the underside of the coin of the Gospel, it is a side nonetheless, underpinning grace. How, after all, could we be forgiven by grace if we never felt guilt because of the law? Without law there could be no grace! With law there would be no forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ.
So long as we keep sinning -- and we do -- we need law to convict, correct, and reveal to us how we should be living. Grace can be exploited. I have heard people say they were fully saved by grace and yet they go on sinning. That is a contradiction. A person who sins does not yet have the law written on his heart -- he is still in rebellion. In his arrogance and self-righteousness he may proclaim that he does not sin any more, but if he breaks the law, he is by definition sinning.
Does that mean that we must be saved by works? Not at all. The law, like its author Jesus Christ, is righteous, and does not condemn anyone who sins in ignorance. Sins committed in ignorance are covered by grace and therefore our relationship with God is not spoiled. We may not have a 100% connection to heaven but we are still indirectly connected, through Jesus Christ. We are still His sons and daughters and in a personal relationship with God through His Son.
There is therefore an urgent need to search the law diligently to make sure there aren't any dark areas of the soul. We may have found Christ and we may be under His protection and blessing but we cannot come to experience His fullness until we are fully converted. That is a process -- it takes time.
Jesus said that a test of those who love Him is whether or not they obey his commandments. This key should be enough to cause us to search the commandments out of love for the Saviour. Through daily searching His Word we will come to understand more of God's moral righteousness and then desire to be able to imitate it naturally, for we will desire to have His Nature. To do this means discovering what the commandments mean inwardly, understanding our own fallen behaviour patterns, and desiring personal reformation. Through confession of our utter helplessness to reform in our own power, and trusting in Jesus' promise to supernaturally change the repentant heart, we lay open the way for a miraculous transformation -- the forgiveness of our sinful deeds and the writing of the law on our hearts.
Once the law is written on the heart there is never any desire to sin again. External law therefore becomes quite meaningless, a dead letter. Such a soul is fully under grace, for he knows the truth, desires the truth, and lives the truth.
This is the Way of the New Covenant. It is the Way that Jesus and the apostles taught -- to enter into the law, and not live under it.
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Last updated on 18 April 1998
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