December 18, 2017

From Law to Grace

Keeping Mutually Dependent Concepts Distinct

Kevin Schaal

The gospel will always be under the attack of Satan. From its earliest proclamation men, in their flesh, have desired to rewrite it in man’s own image and to appeal to man’s own appetite for self-sufficiency and self-gratification. We understand the attack, and we expect it, but we also marvel at it. It seems to come so unexpectedly and from such diverse sources. Our response reflects Paul’s.

I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Jesus Christ unto another gospel. (Galatians 1:6)

One of the marvels of the attack upon the gospel is the damage that we, those who are called to salvation and committed to the truth, can do unwittingly. Many of the truths of the gospel are delicate truths that must be held in dynamic tension with others. We must be careful not to corrupt the gospel by overreacting to abuses of others. We must be careful to clearly define our terms. The gospel can be compromised through sheer laziness, or lack of God-dependence in personal evangelism. The result is often ineffective and defeated believers in the pew, resulting in lives that are powerless to obey the commands of the Great Commission.

The gospel works. It is “the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.” The power of the gospel is not in clever gimmicks or slick marketing. It is not in human planning or management. It is not in human effort whatsoever. The power of the gospel is the truth of God’s word, illuminated and applied by the Holy Spirit, most often through the faithful witness of an obedient servant of God.

Much of the error in the teaching on salvation is related to the relationship of law and grace. These two concepts in scripture are mutually dependent yet mutually exclusive. Understanding the relationship between the two is often the difference between orthodoxy and apostasy. Law is about merit, what is earned, what is deserved. Grace has no place for merit. Grace is by its own definition unearned and undeserved. Salvation and its benefits cannot spring from, or embrace both.

I. The Role of the Law

There are some who believe that the role of law was set aside at Pentecost but that is not true. The law continues to function in the same role as it did prior to Pentecost. The law never saved a soul. The law was not intended to save. In fact, it is just the opposite that is true. The law condemns and condemns utterly. A proper articulation of salvation must begin with a proper understanding and articulation of the law.

A. What is the law?

1. The broad sense

David often used the term law to describe the Pentateuch itself. This is not the way in which the law is used in the book of Romans. There are several reasons for this. David was clear that the Old Testament law (scriptures in general) could lead to the conversion of the soul. Both Psalm 18 and Psalm 51 relate these truths beautifully. Old Testament saints were saints indeed. Their salvation was a direct result of what they learned in the Old Testament scriptures.

2. The obligatory law

The term law is also used to describe the obligations laid down for the children of Israel at Sinai and associated with the Mosaic Covenant. These obligations are often divided into two categories. However, there is a great debate over the categories themselves. Scripture makes no clear division between ceremonial law and moral law.[1]

a. The ceremonial law

The first is the ceremonial law, or the symbolic law. These were rituals and practices that had a didactic purpose. Their great benefit was not as a means of grace but rather as a means of instruction concerning a host of truths.

b. The moral law

The moral law was a standard of behavior that was meant to guide the personal and interpersonal lives of all people. The moral law is epitomized in the Decalogue. I believe the law that Paul speaks of in Romans is both the ceremonial and moral law. Some have sought to confine Paul’s comments to the ceremonial law, but the ceremonial law would have had very little meaning to the Romans.

B. Instructions about God.

One of the great blessings of the law is that it, even today, teaches about the great God of the universe.

1. His holy character and His separation from sin completely

The concept of the holiness of God is central to the concept of salvation. Without God’s holiness, the estrangement of man from his Creator makes no sense. Also, from the doctrine of God’s holiness flows the concept of God’s justice. Judicial condemnation and its remedy are the focus of Paul’s explanation of salvation in Romans 1-3. The moral law is itself a declaration of the righteousness of God as it ought to be reflected in man. Of course, no man has kept the law because he is sold under sin as a result of the fall. The ceremonial law provided a daily picture of the inability of man to approach God on his own merit. Many aspects of the ceremonial law, from the sacrifices to the intricate instructions concerning the handling of the tabernacle, picture a God with high and unwavering demands.

2. His expectations of man

The standard of God’s expectation goes far beyond what seems reasonable to the average man. The law demanded perfection.

C. Instruction about man

1. His sinful condition

Daily sacrifices indicated daily sins and the need for daily cleansing.

2. His helplessness to remedy that condition

While many looked at the law itself as a tool for man, in his flesh, to satisfy God; other writers clarified the point. David, in Psalm 51 clearly teaches that the law was powerless to restore him to fellowship with God. Only the cleansing that comes from brokenness before God qualified him to participate in the ceremonial law. Likewise, Isaiah 1 clearly states that without a pure heart, the ceremonial offerings of worshipers became an abomination in God’s sight. The law itself provided no sacramental benefit to the worshiper.

D. Points to Christ

1. The law demonstrates the need for Christ

The law goes beyond demonstrating man’s sinfulness to the demand for satisfaction of God’s justice. The need for a perfect sacrifice for man’s sin is seen throughout the law.

2. The law anticipates the coming of Christ

Isaiah’s prophecy in particular prophesies the work of Christ based upon the terminology of the ceremonial law. This continues throughout scripture. Even in the great throne room scene of Revelation 4 and 5 Christ is represented as a Lamb.

3. The law illustrates the work of Christ

The sacrificial work of Christ was plainly symbolized daily in the ceremonial life of ancient Israel.

To be continued…

Dr. Kevin Schaal is the pastor of Northwest Valley Baptist Church in Glendale, Arizona. He is also the Chairman of the Board for the FBFI.

  1. J.D. Hays in “Applying the Old Testament Today” (Bibliotheca Sacra, 158, Jan-Mar 2001, pp.21-24) identifies several different categories of Old Testament laws contrived to be applied in the New Testament setting. Some have proposed two categories, others as many as five. Of course, there is great debate as to which categories many of the laws belong. The point is that the scriptures themselves make no distinctions. Any distinctions made today are highly arbitrary. []

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