December 18, 2017

From Law to Grace (3)

Keeping Mutually Dependent Concepts Distinct

Kevin Schaal

III. The Danger of Mingling Law and Grace

Therefore by the deeds of the law, there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: For by the law is the knowledge of sin.” Romans 3:20

We must be careful to demonstrate in our witness and in our terminology the absolute uselessness of the law in achieving the salvation of sinner by any human merit whatsoever. Yet, this line is being crossed, or at least being approached not so much in our theological thinking, but in our careless terminology and in our practice.

A. We mix law and grace when we communicate anything other than salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

The New Testament does not allow our dependence for salvation to be divided in any way. The practice of dropping the word “alone” from doctrinal statements in order to achieve more broad acceptance is to do violence to the very gospel of Christ and the scriptures from which it flows.[1]

B. We are in danger of mixing law and grace when we communicate that salvation is “by prayer” rather than by grace, thus making a salvation prayer a sacramental act.

It is not a magic spell or a mantra. I am not saved because I prayed, I am saved because I believe (depend) upon the redeeming work of Christ on the cross. The prayer believers often pray at salvation is an outward expression of that dependence. This is not in any way a criticism of the practice of a sinner crying out to God for deliverance. It is just the clarification that the cry is not what delivers, it is God who does it.

C. We send a mixed signal concerning law and grace when we seek to comfort the unregenerate with the promises of grace reserved for believers.

There is no spiritual comfort for those who stand condemned under the law outside the saving grace that is in Christ Jesus. In fact, the very purpose of the law is to remove unregenerate man from comfort in himself. This has a profound application to our concepts of biblical counseling and our appeal to the lost to listen to the message of truth.

D. We are in danger of mingling law and grace when we define repentance as, in any way, a conformity to the law.

Repentance is a ruing of man’s dependence upon the law and an abandoning of his own self-righteousness. Repentance is turning from sin, but not turning from sins. The difference is monumental. The man who things, “I must stop sinning” does not have the spirit of the truly repentant. The truly repentant mind says, “I am undone in my sin.”

E. We misrepresent law and grace when we present grace as only a satisfaction of the law and its penalties, and neglect communicating salvation as a restoration to a relationship with God.

The purpose of God in salvation is reconciliation to God Himself as a person (Ephesians 2:14-16) not simply escape from eternal punishment or the opportunity for eternal bliss.

F. We send a mixed signal concerning law and grace when we teach perseverance in a way that encourages a believer to validate (made binding) his salvation through his sanctification (as expressed in a conformity to the law).

This not only creates a sanctification by the law, but in its most extreme form, robs a true believer of assurance of salvation in Christ. Nothing I do after my salvation changes the veracity of my salvation. I can find assurance that I am saved by many various means presented in scripture including: works, spiritual fruit, chastisement, and the witness of the Spirit. Consider carefully the potentially destructive ramifications of the following statement:

“But true believers, impressed with a deep sense of their own wretchedness, panting after the grace of the Lord Jesus, and laying hold upon it with a trembling humility, dare not, however, boast of it already their own, till after diligent investigation they have discovered certain and infallible evidences of grace in themselves”.[2]

Why would anyone who “Lays hold on it [grace] with a trembling humility look for the confirmation of that grace in the works of their own flesh.” Our confidence is in Him, not in ourselves. In fact, pastors know that the saints with the most “evidences” of grace are often the ones that least recognize them. This type of statement has the potential to drive a true believer to doubt. Compare this with Spurgeon’s pastor comfort to the doubting saint.

“I hear another man cry, ‘Oh sir, my lack of strength lies mainly in that I cannot repent sufficiently!’ . . . Still, I know what they mean, for in the days of my darkness, I used to feel the same way. I desired to repent, but I thought that I could not do it. Yet all the while I was repenting. Odd as it may sound, I felt that I could not feel. I used to get into a corner and weep because I could not weep. I was bitterly sorrowful because I could not sorrow for sin. What a jumble it all is when in our unbelieving state [the unbelief that a saved person demonstrates] we begin to judge our own condition! It is like a blind man looking at his own eyes. My heart was melted within me for fear my heart was hard as stone. My heart was broken to think that it would not break. Now I can see that I was exhibiting the very thing which I thought I did not possess, but then I did not know where I was.

“Oh, that I could help others into the light which I now enjoy! I would gladly say a word which might shorten the time of their bewilderment. I would say a few plain words and pray “the Comforter” apply them to the heart.”[3]

We must balance James 2 with Romans 8.

G. We send a mixed signal concerning the law and grace when we make any pet habit or lack thereof the litmus test for the veracity of a person’s salvation.

This is common in the pew, especially when trying to justify certain unbiblical behavior.

H. We send mixed signals concerning the law and grace when we communicate that backsliding or sin is an impossibility for a true believer, or that a true believer might backslide but will never remain in that state.

This is contrary to clear New Testament passages (Acts 5:1-11, 1 Corinthians 5:5, 1 Corinthians 11:30, and more.) Certainly a changed life is an outward indication of a changed heart, but it is also possible for a believer to live in the flesh for a time–even till death. Certainly this type of person will face chastisement as a son (even to the point of death) and true conviction of the Spirit (Hebrews 12). But it is also true that he can quench the work of the Spirit in his heart.

The question is not whether true faith produces true change in the life. It does. The questions is how is it discerned, what form does it take, how significant is it, are there times when believers backslide, who it is that should evaluate such change, and should that evaluation be the standard by which assurance of salvation is determined?

It is wrong to make the lost comfortable in a counterfeit faith but it is also wrong to plunge the truly saved into doubt through an artificial process of introspection.

I. We are in danger of mingling the law (efforts of the flesh) with grace when we eliminate the power of the Holy Spirit from the process of sanctification (Romans 1:17, Galatians 5, Romans 8).

As salvation cannot occur in the power of the flesh, so sanctification cannot occur in the power of the flesh even of the redeemed man. Sanctification is the work of the spirit of God demonstrated in the obedience that springs from faith. Richard Shelley Taylor’s The Disciplined Life (Bethany Fellowship, 1962) presents a picture of the spiritual life that is completely devoid of the enabling work of the Spirit. His first chapter title “Discipline is the Key to Power” is nearly blasphemous in view of the biblical view of sanctification by the power of the Holy Spirit. While this might not be the picture Taylor intended to paint, the work is, at best, confusing on the subject of true sanctification.

J. We misrepresent grace in the sanctification process when we communicate sanctification as a single event rather than a continuing work of grace through faith.

Second Blessing theology does not match the biblical evidence (such as Peter’s error recorded by Paul in Galatians 2 after the baptizing, indwelling, and empowering work of the Spirit at Pentecost). All the resources necessary for perfect sanctification were made available to every believer at the moment of salvation. He needs no second work of grace or second gift to become what God demands he become in sanctification. There is a body of sin (old nature) that is at war with the new man raised by the Holy Spirit in salvation. Christians do sin, but they have no excuse for sin.

K. We misrepresent grace in sanctification when we eliminate man’s role from the divine work of sanctification. God does not believe for us and He does not obey for us. Sanctification does not occur through passivity but rather through faith-driven obedience empowered by the Holy Spirit.

This is the controversy that has occupied Christianity’s leaders for twenty centuries. It is simple yet profound. May we approach these issues with the grace toward one another that reflects that which has already been bestowed us in Jesus Christ.

Further Reading

      • Barrett, M.P.V., Complete in Him.
      • Chafer, L.S., Grace: The Glorious Theme.
      • Hays, J.D., “Applying the Old Testament Law Today.” Bibliotheca Sacra 158 (Jan-March 2001).
      • Hodges, Z., Absolutely Free.
      • Horton, M.S., Putting Amazing Back into Grace.
      • MacArthur, J.F., The Gospel According to Jesus.
      • McClain, A.J., Law and Grace.
      • Ryrie, C.C., The Holy Spirit.
      • Ryrie, C.C., So Great Salvation.
      • Scofield, C.I., “Grace” in The Fundamentals.
      • Smith, Bailey., Taking Back the Gospel.
      • Sproul, R.C., Doubt and Assurance.
      • Sproul, R.C., Faith Alone.
      • Spurgeon, C.H. All of Grace.
      • Spurgeon, T., “Grace” in The Fundamentals.
      • Warfield, B.B., Studies in Perfectionism.

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. In the past decade the prominent examples of this have been Promise Keepers and the “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” document signed by many noted Roman Catholic leaders (John Cardinal O’Connor, Michael Novak, Keith Fournier, among others) and evangelical leaders such as Bill Bright, J.I. Packer, Richard Mouw, Mark Noll, and Pat Robertson. []
  2. R.C. Sproul in his book Faith Alone (Baker, 1995, p. 91) cites this approvingly from Herman Witsius, Sacred Dissertations on What Is Commonly Called the Apostle’s Creed trans. Donald Fraser, 2 vols. (1823; reprint Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1993), 1:57. []
  3. All of Grace (Whitaker House, 1993) p. 73. []

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