What role does law and grace play in the life of the Christian and what is their relationship to the character of God? We answer those questions and more in our latest episode.
Podcast Transcript. To listen to the audio version click HERE
Have you ever listened to a debate and wondered in your mind why you find yourself agreeing with both sides of the argument at the same time or agreeing with neither?
Have you ever felt compelled to choose a side when you really felt more comfortable staying in the middle?
I know I have.
Most of the stories I read and movies I watched growing up had a clear protagonist and antagonist. There was a hero and villain. There was wrong and there was right. There was the force and then there was also the dark side.
In Star Wars, there was no middle ground between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vador.
And I doubt too many people were rooting for the Empire to crush the resistance!
But what happens when someone comes along and creates a scenario where instead of rooting for Luke Skywalker and Han Solo you can only choose to root for Luke Skywalker or Han Solo.
This is called a false dilemma.
False dilemmas create a false dichotomy between two otherwise compatible beliefs or relationships
False dilemmas are often created by those whose purpose is to manipulate or break apart an otherwise happy union to provide further support for their own agenda.
And whether we realize it or not most of us have been victims of this fallacy of logic since the time that we were children.
How many times have we been pressured to choose one friend over another just because two of our friends got in an argument or belonged to different cliques. Even more tragic is when parents make their children choose one over the other when they are going through a divorce.
These are false dilemmas because there is no incompatibility with being friends with two people who don’t get along with each other or loving two parents who are no longer married.
Yet, we have been so conditioned to think in black and white that when someone deceitfully declares two compatible items as mutually exclusive, we are left feeling we have to make an either/or choice when the “AND” is still an option.
Not everything is an either/or
This is especially true when it comes to matters of religious belief.
Since the birth of Christianity, many controversies have divided the church.
My question is how many of these controversies were based on legitimate right or wrong issues and how many of them were manufactured because of some other motive or hidden agenda.
We may never know, but New Testament gives us a glimpse into at least how they got started.
The origins of false dilemmas in the church are addressed in the first letter Paul wrote to the church at Corinth where we read:
“For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.” (1 Corinthians 3:4–8 ESV)
Here we discover that believers in the church had created a false dilemma between loyalty to Paul or Apollos. It is the biblical version of trying to divide members of the Star Wars resistance into two groups that either follow Luke Skywalker or Han Solo.
They had different roles but the same purpose
Different personalities but the same faith
And God used both distinctly yet equally to grow the church. In fact through inspiration God declared they were one.
Could there be a theological equivalent to this historical account?
Could much of the internal debate and strife within the church today be rooted in a false dichotomy that entered the church 2000 years ago?
So what am I talking about?
In the Book of Revelation we are told that the distinguishing characteristic of the Remnant – God’s people who are alive on earth in the last days – is two-fold.
“Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.” (Revelation 14:12 NKJV)
Notice it does not say, “here are those who keep the commandments of God,” nor does it say, “here are those with the faith of Jesus.” It says here are those who keep the commandments AND the faith of Jesus.
Obedience AND Faith
It is not one or the other. Another way of saying it is that there is harmony within God’s remnant people of:
Law AND Grace
This shouldn’t surprise us when we look to find how God describes himself and what his expectations are for his people throughout the Bible.
In the book of Exodus when Moses said to God, “Show me Your Glory,” not only did God respond to that request by hiding Moses in the cleft of the rock so that he could attain just a glimpse of it – more instructively for us – he provided a verbal revelation of himself as he passed by.
Notice what God said about himself:
“Now the LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.”” (Exodus 34:5–7 NKJV)
As we mediate on this self-revelation it can’t go without notice what God is saying about himself.
God is merciful AND God is just.
There is no getting around this dual aspect of his character.
Love only has meaning as we understand these two streams that flow from it.
In fact these streams of justice and mercy are symbolized by the blood and water that flowed from Jesus after he was pierced in his side.
And without them it is impossible to explain why Jesus came to die in the first place.
The Bible teaches the wages of sin is death.
Before Adam and Eve sinned, they were warned what would be the consequence of their choice if they should choose to eat from the Tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil, and yet they ate from it anyway.
If God were only just and not merciful then the threat of sin to the universe would have required its immediate atonement through the death of Adam and Eve. To destroy sin would require the death of the sinner.
However if God were only merciful and not just then by sparing the lives of Adam of Eve who had now become sinners he would have also had to allow the perpetuation of sin to exist throughout eternity ensuring a permanent enmity between God and man.
Thankfully God is not one or the other. God is both just and merciful.
Therefore the plan of salvation reveals God’s justice by giving his life to pay the penalty of breaking his law and his mercy by offering forgiveness and reconciliation to those who by faith accept Christ’s death as their own.
In this way God both destroys sin and saves the sinner.
John, one of Jesus’ disciples said it this way:
“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10 NKJV)
As you can see God’s love cannot be understood without the balancing divine revelations of mercy and justice.
Similarly the psalmist said in describing the character in the coming Messiah:
“Mercy and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed.” (Psalm 85:10 NKJV)
It should not surprise us then that since the dual streams of mercy and justice are what make up the character of God that the redemption of humanity would involve restoring those in us as well.
Jesus referred to this restoration in his conversation with the woman at the well. He said:
““Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”” (John 4:13–14 NKJV)
This living water is God himself.
Jesus was offering her the experience of drinking deeply from the same fountain that flows through divinity.
This was ultimate goal of the plan of redemption.
This is why Jesus came to die.
To restore the character of God in us all!
And just to be sure she understood what that meant in practicality – Jesus went on to tell her what the result of drinking the living water would look like.
“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”” (John 4:23–24 ESV)
Here Jesus looks all the way to the end of time and describes what this living water will do in his people – starting with the early rain that began at Pentecost and concluding with the latter rain that prepares God’s people to stand before him when Jesus comes in the clouds with the Father’s glory and the glory of all the heavenly host.
According to Jesus those who drink the living water will worship the Father in Spirit and truth.
In mercy and justice
With their heart and their head
Here are they that keep the commandments of God and faith of Jesus.
It all comes back to worship in the end.
Not surprisingly then the first angel’s message in Revelation 14 that introduces the concept of Judgment also contains a call to return back to true worship. (Go back and listen to episode 11)
Even saying it with a loud voice (megaphone),
“Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.”” (Revelation 14:7 NKJV)
Worship the creator?
In spirit and truth
What does that look like? Keeping the commandment and the faith of Jesus
This is the path of salvation that lies before us all.
But unfortunately the path has been perverted. For as with every path there are also two ditches. One on each side of the road. I don’t know about you, but I have spent time in both of them.
And when I buy into the lie that dichotomy exists between mercy and justice – law and grace – the result is devastating.
Not only do I fail in my own attempts to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, but even worse I misrepresent his character to the world.
For when I latch on only to truth, law and justice at the expense of spirit, grace, and mercy all I am left with is a legal religion.
Inevitably that type of religion degenerates into a competition where I spend my time comparing my good deeds with those around me to determine my own fitness for heaven. However, I found the fruit of this pursuit is ultimately defeat. It is a ditch filled with taskmasters that I could never satisfy. Deep down I never knew if my good enough was actually good enough.
On the other hand, as I rejected legalism I found myself swinging on the pendulum to the other side of the road where the moral compass was less defined. And for a time I felt free as I embraced spirit, grace, and mercy! Free from the law – free from moral restraints – free from judgment. But after a while this feeling based version of Christianity left me feeling empty.
It was a religion that was all about me. And in my quieter moments I wondered if there was something more? But I didn’t want to go back to legalism
And it was then that I realized I had believed the same lie while occupying time in both ditches. I didn’t have to choose between justice and mercy, between law and grace, or between spirit and truth. It was a false dichotomy! I could have embrace both of them at the same time.
It was then that the whole Bible opened up to me in a way I had never seen before and I rejoiced the harmony of his word from beginning to end.
What about you?
Have you found yourself confused like me?
This idea that the law is somehow opposed to grace is one that is common in the world today – but that doesn’t make it true. One last illustration should make this point clear.
Suppose you were driving down the Highway at 75 mph and the speed limit was 55 and a police officer pulled you over for speeding. Would you ask for grace? Sure you would! Although the law demanded a penalty the officer had the power to forgive your transgression and give you a warning instead.
If he chose to give you grace? How would you respond? I am sure you would respond with gratitude!
Now after receiving the pardon would you turn around start spelling again because you had received grace? Of course not! Grateful that you had not received the ticket you deserved you would drive the speed limit the rest of the way home.
It is no different in our response to God.
We broke the speed limit – but Jesus paid our penalty on the cross and therefore he is able to pardon us with his grace?
Does the fact that he died do away with the law? Of course not! The fact that he died proved the laws immutability. He died because the law could not be changed. Justice demanded death. But mercy gave us life instead.
This is the love of God.
Being ready for Jesus means that we have both accepted the justice of God in the death of Jesus on our behalf and the mercy of Jesus by keeping the law because we have been saved.
Jesus said, if you love me keep my commandments.
Because of Jesus God requires nothing from us other than a willingness to drink the living water that flows from heaven to us through his presence in our hearts and minds.
And when we drink it – what will our lives look like?
“He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8 NKJV)