Hand in Hand: God’s grace and the Law at work in the Holy Christian Life


Often, the grace of God and the law of God are presented as conflicting concepts which do not belong together.

In reality, however, that is far from the Biblical truth.  God’s grace and His law are not mutually exclusive.  If anything, the latter justifies the former.

Indeed, the overriding objective of God’s grace is to prepare us for a life of obedience based on God’s law of righteousness.  Titus 2:11-12 tells us:

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.  It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright [i.e. righteous] and godly lives in this present age” (NIV)

It is for this reason – the grace of God ultimately making us godly and righteous – that we are warned in 2 Cor. 6:1-2 not to receive the grace of God in vain.

Sadly, this warning has been largely ignored, as much of Christianity seems to be doing the very opposite.  Heedless of the divine warning in Jude 1:4, many so-called Christians have changed the grace of God into “a license for immorality and [thereby] deny Jesus Christ, our only Sovereign and Lord” (NIV).

Interestingly, the warning comes with reference to the deliverance of the children of Israel – an act of divine grace which they also abused through disobedience (Jude 1:5, Deut 9:4-5).

Because the wonderful grace of God is not meant for disobedience, New Testament believers have been warned in I Cor.10:6-9 and Heb. 4:9-11 that, in this day of salvation, we should not do the very things the Israelites did to provoke God’s anger, even though they too had been shown his grace and mercy. (See Heb 4:2).

Christ, the grace of God (Heb 2:9), was the Rock that followed them; He was the guardian Angel who bore the Father’s Name (I Cor. 10:4, Exodus 23:20-21).  Although in His love and mercy He redeemed them and saved them, they gave no thought to His miracles and did not remember His kindness (Isa 63:9;  Ps. 106:7).

The grace He showed them did not elicit the kind of response He sought -obedience to His covenant law.  That same kind of obedience is what we have been called into!

This is evidenced by the fact that we have been warned not to commit the very sins the Israelites (described as “our fathers” in I Cor. 10:1) committed.  The standard of behaviour is the same.  We have been called to obey the same law!

God’s grace has not come that we might continue in sin; it comes that we might receive Divine pardon and help to live holy lives.

The apostle Paul asks in Rom. 6:1-2:

“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?

“God forbid.  How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (KJV)

What is sin, and what role does grace play in believers’ triumph over sin?

Sin is scripturally defined as the transgression of God’s law (I John 3:4).  And God’s grace is embodied in Jesus Christ who by the grace of God tasted death for every man (John 1:17, Heb 2:9).  The express objective of Christ’s coming is to save His people (believers in Him) from their sins (Matt 1:21, I John 2:12).

The aim is to save, not to entrench in sin.  The grace of God in Jesus Christ, Hs son, is therefore a saving grace – grace that saves from sin!.

If so, grace comes at a time when we are in sin and ‘works’ on us so that we might be saved from it.

This is beautifully captured in Rom. 5:8 thus: “God demonstrates His own love for us: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.

So grace takes the lead in man’s salvation, being God’s show of mercy towards the sinner.  It is by grace that repentant sinners are freely justified (i.e. declared not guilty) through the blood of Christ (Rom. 3:24-25).  But faith (in His Blood) does not nullify obedience, as the apostle Paul makes clear in Rom. 3:31.

“Do we then make void the law through faith?  God forbid; yea, we establish the law” (KJV).

The New American standard Bible puts it this way:

“Do we then nullify the Law through faith?  May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law”.

The Amplified Bible’s rendering is even more emphatic:

“Do we then by [this] faith make the Law of no effect, overthrow it or make it a dead letter? Certainly not!  On the contrary, we confirm and establish and uphold the Law”.

God’s grace has an ultimate higher purpose:  To make the sinner free from sin and its consequences – to live a sin-free life (I John 5:18).

Grace then primarily focuses on one’s life before Christ and the law on one’s life in Christ, which must be ‘godly and upright’ in accordance with His Holy commandments. Mind you, believers are not free from obedience to God’s law but under Christ’s law (I Cor. 9:21).

For proper appreciation of their roles, both the grace and law of God must be placed in their appropriate order and context.  The grace of God (being God’s unmerited favour towards the sinner) is what seeks out the sinner.  But once ‘saved’ or reconciled to God by the atoning sacrifice of Christ which is the Grace (Rom. 5:10, 2 Cor. 5:18), His law teaches us the godly life we must live (Rom. 7:7).

You don’t place the cart before the horse!  Grace first and then obedience, for you have now been reconciled to God and henceforth you must reflect His righteous character found in His law.

As Amos 3:3 asks, “How can two walk together except they agree?”

So must the repentant believer, who was previously a sinner, on being reconciled to God, begin to live His life in accordance with God’s righteous character.  His righteous character is reflected in His law described as “holy, just [righteous] and good” (Rom. 7:12).  Indeed as Ps 119:172 puts it, “all His commandments are righteousness.”

And so we read in Eph. 2:8-10:

“By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves.  It is the gift of God.

“Not of works, lest any man should boast.

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (See also 2 Cor. 5:17).

God’s grace is not a license to disobey, but to do those good things taught in His holy, just and good law!

This is the overriding, ultimate purpose of God’s grace in the believer’s life – to lead us to repentance (Rom 2: 4-8).Christ not only brought grace but also truth which God’s law is! (John 1:17, Ps 119:142). Little wonder, the Psalmist prays, “Grant me thy law graciously” (Ps: 119:29).

It is here that we find the main advantage the N.T believer has over the O.T believer: More grace (divine favour and power) is made available so that “The righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8:3-4).

What then is our fear?  With power from on High, we should be able to keep God’s spiritual law to which the carnal man is naturally hostile and disobedient (Rom. 7:14, 8:7).

The law which has been abolished in Christ, because it’s no longer necessary, is the ceremonial law of animal sacrifices and circumcision (Heb. 10:4-5, I Cor. 7:19).

The Ten Commandments, of which the Sabbath is part, remain as God’s eternal moral standard for His people.  They remain in force as long as heaven and earth remain (Matt. 5:17-19, Luke 16:17-18).  They constitute the basis and terms of the New Covenant written in the hearts of believers (Heb. 8:10-11).

By the keeping of them is life everlasting (Matt. 19:16-19) because it’s by obedience to them that grace is perfected – that is, it’s by them that the good works of righteousness grace must produce in the believer are fulfilled!

God’s law is holy, just and good; it’s not only spiritually beneficial but also socially.

Ministers who condemn God’s law stand exposed as false ministers having not the light of His truth (Isa. 8:20). As God’s people go forth to make disciples of Christ, we have His mandate to teach them to “observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20).  He taught obedience to God’s law and even lived it (John 12:50) and so is in effect stating in concurrence with the prophet Isaiah that “Seal the law among my disciples” (Isaiah 8:16).

There is only one law-giver who is able to save and to destroy. That law-giver is Jesus Christ (Jam 4:12, Isa 33:22)

He is also the Grace of God, and His grace leads to repentance and obedience to God’s law of love (Rom 13:8-10). Once you have been reconciled to God by His grace, He expects  and in fact empowers  you to abide by His commandments. But if you persist in disobedience, He will destroy you (Isa 1:19-20).

We serve a God of mercy who is also a God of truth and righteousness. On the judgment day (when grace will have run its full course – Rev 22:11), only those who carried out his will through the keeping of His commandments shall enter his kingdom (Matt 7:21-23) (2Cor 5:10-11 Heb. 13:4).

These are the people the Bible describes as “the saints” (Rev 14:12). They are the ones to whom the grace of God was of ultimate benefit. They received not the grace of God (Christ) in vain but went on to do works of righteousness which are the logical outcome of God’s grace in Jesus!

The apostle James wrote: “ The man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does” (Jam 1:25). The ultimate reward and blessing, then, is in obedience!  By the keeping of God’s law is great reward (Ps. 19:11). Only then will grace have done its perfect work!  Halleluiah!