Monday, June 29, 2015

Law and Grace

A few thousand years ago, a nation of people descended from the same person were assembled at the base of a mountain in the Middle East, which was covered with thick, dark, thundering clouds.  In Exodus 20, God gave to Moses His “Ten Commandments” or more properly “Ten Words.”  If I would ask you how God, there at Sinai, began His proclamation, what would be your answer?  I dare say that 90% of you would respond, “You shall have no other gods before Me.”  And you would be wrong.  The first words were, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”  Do you hear what He said?  YHWH introduced Himself as both the God of all power and the God of all grace!  The people were brought out of Egypt, not because of something they had done or merited, but because our God is a promise-keeping God. It was all for His name's sake.  Israel was the beneficiary.

Grace at the beginning of the Law—how can that be?  In giving the Law, God declared Himself to be altogether holy, demanding no less for His people.  The Ten Commandments encapsulate the Law with “You shall …” and “You shall not …”.  I cannot help but wonder if, when the Lord had finished the statements on coveting, the people may have wanted to retract their agreement: “All that the LORD has spoken we will do” (Ex 19:8).  How will they follow through on their end of this?  Perhaps a better question is: How would you?

Because God is Lord of all, He is free to demand things from His people.  He sets stipulations and expectations, and we are obligated to fully follow and obey.  Go through the commandments and compare your life to the list.  How do you compare?
  • •  You shall have no other God's before Me – Have you placed something before God?
  • •  You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain – Have you scandalized His name?
  • •  You shall honor your father and your mother – Have you dishonored your parents?
  • •  You shall not steal – Have you taken something that is not yours?
  • •  You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor – Have you passed along information about someone that was not true? Or turned out to be not true?
To these questions, you might reply “Yes” or “Too often” or “Sometimes.”  If you said “No” to any, you simply do not understand the problem.  An honest look exposes our inability to keep them.  How, then, would anyone uphold his end of the agreement?  He doesn't—God does.  These were written looking forward to a completion as God promised His active sanctifying work in the one who lived by faith.  But here too mankind failed, and the Law damns both them and us because none can keep it.

The Law is holy, righteous, and good, but was wholly inadequate in that it could never take away the root problem—our sin.  Sacrifices were prescribed to cover sin, one for one, as a constant reminder that none was sufficient to perfect the believer.  A final sacrifice needed to be made—one that could overcome the devastating effects and consequences of sin for all people and all time.  To bring this about, Jesus, the eternal Son of God, took on human nature and willingly went to the cross to die, and not just die, but gloriously rise again, to demonstrate His victory over sin, death, and the Devil.  The Law is fulfilled.  No condemnation remains for those who are in Christ Jesus.

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