Law and Obedience in Light of Grace: Part 1

Paul, in his letter to the Romans, placed a gigantic emphasis on the truth of justification by faith alone. For example, in Romans 1-3, Paul has shown us that it is impossible to please God with our own efforts since we are sinners by nature and by choice (3:10-18) and are therefore under his wrath (1:18) and judgement (2:16). Even worse, we can’t make up for the wrong we have done. There is no amount of law fulfilling or moral-ism that will appease God’s wrath against us or keep him from judging us negatively in the end (3:20).

The good news, though, is that Jesus has taken our place. Paul tells us that he is our propitiation, absorbing the wrath and judgement of God on our behalf (3:25). He is our redemption, setting us free from the judgment of God and the power of enslavement to sin (3:24). He is also our justification, having lived the perfect life we could not live and dying the terrible, gruesome death we should have died so that we could be perfectly righteous before a holy God (3:24; 2 Cor. 5:21). So we learn in Romans that it is not the following of the law that saves us, but the trusting of the one who not only followed it perfectly on our behalf, but who also took upon himself the curses for breaking it on our behalf as well (3:28). This is what it means to be saved by grace.

But if you’ve been paying attention to Paul and connecting the dots, a nagging question starts to eat away at you: “If I am saved by grace through what Jesus has done for me and not through works of the law, does it really matter if I obey God and his law or not?” Paul has already told us that we have no chance of obeying perfectly, right? And didn’t Christ obey perfectly for me? And isn’t it true that the more I sin, the more God bestows his grace upon me? So in light of all these truths, why obey? Why not just continue in sin?

Paul asks the same question in Romans 6:1: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” Paul answers his own question with an emphatic “NO!” “By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (6:2) Paul in all of Romans 6 labors to show us that gospel grace does not negate obedience or the place of the law in the christian life. In fact, even before chapter 6 Paul tells us that the law pointed to Christ (3:21), that the gospel upholds the law (3:31), and that the law was the chief benefit given to the Jews by God (3:2). Even Jesus himself testified that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matt 5:17). The biblical truth of the matter is that gospel grace does not nullify obedience, but nourishes and nurtures it. Gospel grace does not bypass or destroy the law, but rather, upholds it.

So it is my aim for the next couple of weeks to explain in these blogs how that is. My hope is that when we see obedience and the law in light of God’s grace, it will allow us to become more confident in our adoption as sons and daughters of God, more encouraged by the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and more reliant upon the work of Jesus Christ to find the strength and power to live a godly life to the glory of God.