The Grace Mistake

No, it's not all grace.

Hermeneutics of Convenience (6)

But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not inthe oldness of the letter. Romans 7.6

Under grace
In our day one of the most widespread ways the hermeneutics of convenience operates to eviscerate the authority of Scripture and rob the Church of love for God and neighbors, is by neglecting the Law of God. Having persuaded ourselves that we are “not under Law, but under grace”, we set the Law of God aside and pretend to define our Christian ethics by some abstract principle of grace or love or compassion.

Do you hear that? We have taken a perfectly good Biblical idea – grace – and made it the interpretive key to the Bible. We have set our interpretive saw to cut all of Scripture according to this mold, and in doing so, we are headed into the trap of a hermeneutics of convenience.

The only legitimate interpretive key to the Bible is the Holy Spirit, Who gave us the Word, teaches us the Word by comparing Scripture with Scripture, and empowers us to obey the Word according to its plain teaching. And the Holy Spirit is not merely the Spirit of grace. He is also the Spirit of truth, of judgment, of power, of discipline, of illumination, and of a sound mind.

Put grace in the place of God’s Spirit, and you will always interpret the Word of God in a way designed to convenience your own understanding of grace.

And, typically these days, this entails ignoring or even disobeying the Law of God.

Delivered from the Law?
But Paul says we have been “delivered” from the Law. In what sense have we been delivered from the Law? Not from its role as definer of good and evil, for Paul says that through the Law comes the knowledge of sin (Rom. 7.7), and John teaches that sin is lawlessness (1 Jn. 3.4).

Not from the standard of goodness and good works which the Law provides, for if it shows us our sin it must also, being holy and righteous and good (Rom. 7.12, 16), indicate the way of righteousness (cf. Ps. 1; 1 Jn. 2.1-6). The Law thus remains established as a standard of goodness (Rom. 3.31). We are in no way delivered from needing this standard.

Then are we delivered from the Law as a means to spiritual health and growth? No, because, as Paul says, the Law is spiritual (Rom. 7.14), and it is the core curriculum by which the Spirit brings us to the glory of God and forms us into the image of Christ (Ezek. 36.26, 27; 2 Cor. 3.12-18). We’re thus not delivered from the need to learn and obey God’s Law.

Perhaps the Law has been superseded by the Spirit and Kingdom of God? But Jesus said that keeping the Law and teaching it to others is the way to greatness in the Kingdom of God (Matt. 5.17-19), and Paul insisted that any mind hostile to the Law of God is not the mind of the Spirit (Rom. 8.5-9).

How then are we delivered from the Law?

We are delivered from the Law’s power to condemn and kill us, which power it wielded within our souls while we were yet in our sins (Rom. 7.5, 6; cf. Rom. 2,14, 15).  Our conscience is no longer a slave to the Law but to Christ, so that, whenever we would be condemned by the Law for transgression, we know that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ, and to whom the righteousness of Christ is credited by grace through faith (Rom. 8.1, 3.19-22).

The right use of the Law
So while the Law no longer condemns those who are in Christ, it still convicts us of sin, righteousness, and judgment in the classroom of the Spirit (Jn. 16.8-11). And while it does not save, it is a primary means by which the Spirit enables us to work out our salvation in ways that are pleasing to God and beneficial for us in realizing the life and good works for which we have been redeemed (Phil. 2.12, 13; Lev. 18.1-5; Eph. 2.8-10).

The Law guides us in realizing the liberty we possess as sons and daughters of God (Jms. 2,8-12), and it teaches us both the ways of love and how to read all the rest of Scripture in order truly to understand the ways of love (Matt. 22.34-40). This does not mean that all the Law remains valid (cf. Heb. 7-9), or that the letter of the Law must be applied as originally given; we seek to know the spirit of the Law in these latter days of the Spirit of God, not merely the letter of it (cf. Deut. 30.1-10; 2 Cor. 3.5-11: 1 Cor. 5.1ff, cf. Lev. 18.8; 1 Cor. 9.8-14).

But to neglect, minimize, or scorn the Law, pleading that we are delivered from it and no longer obligated to it, since we are under grace not Law, is to be in danger of failing in the way of righteousness (Ps. 1), compromising the ways of love (Matt. 24.12), and of making even one’s prayers an abomination in the sight of God (Prov. 28.9).

Why do we do this? I suspect because it simply isn’t convenient for us to learn and obey the Law of God. And, sadly, this is particularly true with respect to the commandments related to Sabbath-keeping. We have become expert at making the fourth commandment serve our purposes and entertainments, rather than following its teaching to make us better servants of the living God.

So if we can dispense with the Law as a guide to moral conduct, substituting instead an abstract principle of “grace,” then we can pick and choose from the Law as suits our understanding of grace, that is, as suits our convenience.

For reflection
1.  Why do you suppose many Christians find it convenient to downplay the role of God’s Law in their walk with the Lord?

2.  We’re not saved by Law, but we’re not saved without it. Explain.

3.  Meditate on Ezekiel 36.36, 37, John 16.8-11, and Matthew 5.17-19. In what sense should the Law of God be regarded as the core curriculum of the Spirit?

Next steps – Conversation: What evidence do you see that Christians still think the Law of God is valid? What evidence do you see that Christians do not regard the Law as Jesus or Paul did (Matt. 5.17-19; Rom. 7.12)? Talk with a Christian friend about these questions.

T. M. Moore

To learn more about understanding and using the Bible, enroll in the course, Introduction to Biblical Theology. It’s free and online, and you can study at your own pace or with friends. To learn more and to register, click here. This week’s study is Part 6 of a series on The Word of God, and is available as a free download by clicking here.

The key to understanding the Bible is to see Jesus in all its parts, as centerpiece and fulfillment of God’s covenant and promises. Our workbook,
God’s Covenant, takes you through the entire Bible, following the development of themes related to God’s covenant, and consummated in Jesus Christ. Here’s an effective tool for helping you read the Bible through God’s eyes. Order your copy by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT. 

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