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“The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. “ (Romans 5:20-21, TNIV)
Have you ever noticed that when you get really enthusiastic about the amazing nature of God’s grace and try to talk to someone, especially someone in ministry, about how radical it is...have you ever noticed how often you hear,"Yes, grace is important but you have to balance it with the law”? My wife, Sandra, recently got this comment from a pastor when she was sharing with him about our ministry. He said something like “what about Romans 7?” And she said “Well, what about Romans 8?” You go girl!
Sometimes I wonder if these folks EVER actually read the Bible and think about what it says or do they just parrot responses they’ve heard from others? Consider the verses above, Romans 5.20-21. Paul actually has the nerve to suggest that the mission of the law was to increase sin not to hold it down. Grace, on the other hand, rules over our lives to bring about life, eternal life. Hmmm, law=sin and death; grace=righteousness and eternal life...which to choose???
How on earth (and heaven too for that matter!) can there ever be a way to balance grace and law? What is the underlying assumption that negates the validity of living life in the fullness and freedom of God’s grace? Do we assume that if you really choose to depend on the grace of God that you must be living a licentious life, chasing women, robbing banks, dancing and really enjoying someone else’s second hand cigarette smoke? Or if you prefer grace then you’d never again go to church or tithe to the building fund?
The real issue is this: What is God’s goal in sending his filled-with-grace-and-truth-son to become one of us for the purpose of killing death and putting sin in its place once and for all? Surely God’s purpose wasn’t merely to find a way to change our behavior, keep us from having real fun in life, and force us to marry an ugly woman and live in Africa the rest of our lives!? No, his goal was that we might have life, “more and better life than (we) ever dreamed of.” (John 10.10, The Message)
I looked up the word “balance” in my trusty Bible concordance the other day...not the skinny concordance in the back of my Bible, but the online super cyber-concordance on the Internet. Yes, I found the word there. It’s used in the Old Testament to refer to the scales a merchant might use to weigh out produce or grain or coins. It’s never used in the New Testament nor is it ever used to suggest that we have to keep the amount of grace we experience in our lives offset by an equal amount of law keeping.
The whole idea is nonsense! Think about it: God says, “Now, Blake, you’ve been walking in and experiencing my grace for months. I think it’s time you tried to keep the law for awhile. You’ve had it entirely too easy and I want you to experience some guilt. After all, I expect you to balance that grace with law and keep that freedom in check with some bondage. I can’t have my children walking in freedom and really enjoying their relationship with me!” If you can even imagine God having that conversation with you or anyone else, you don’t grasp the Biblical teaching on grace...and you might could use some counseling!
The Apostle Paul addressed this heresy (see Galatians 1.6-9) that says we have to balance God’s grace with God’s law, in the letter he wrote to the Galatian church. They were being told the same thing by a group of Jewish Christians (I give them the benefit of the doubt, after all you probably wouldn’t hear it from a lost person!), probably from Jerusalem. They were pressuring the Gentile believers in Galatia to be circumcised, a ritual required for Gentiles who would be Jewish converts. These Gentiles were not considering conversion to Judaism but to Christ. Again and again in the letter to Galatia Paul puts his weight on the gospel of grace.
He asks them these two question: ‘Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3.2-3, ESV) He actually calls it foolish to think that the Law can add to what the Spirit has begun and is doing in our lives...foolish!!
Finally, when Paul comes to that famous place in Galatians where he contrasts flesh and spirit living, he does not say, “Hey, if you have trouble with flesh outcroppings in your life, just put some law on it and everything will be better.” He says instead that we are to walk by the Spirit, God’s ultimate grace gift to us. (5.22-23) Only in this way can we bear genuine spiritual fruit.
Let’s look back to the scale or balance theme. The pastor who questioned Sandra about grace called on Romans 7 to back up his idea. Ironically, Romans 7 does him no good. Paul teaches there in verses 1-13 that the produce of the marriage between us and Mr. Law was nothing but “fruit for death.” What is that? Vanity, emptiness, nothing good, deeds of the flesh, death. What God chose to do was to put us to death so that the marriage to Mr. Law could be annulled and we could be married to Christ. And the produce of our marriage to Mr. Grace is fruit for God, living fruit, like the stuff Paul talks about in Galatians 5.22-23!
So pull out the scales. If I put all the fruit I might have from my law living on one side and I put all the fruit from my grace living on the other side, I have it on good accounts that the scale will crash to the side of grace. And that scale isn’t going to recover from the grace load that Jesus will heap on it.
Balance grace with law...you gotta be kidding me?!!
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