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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Law and Grace # 21

The Standard of Life for Christians (continued)

In Philippians 4:1-3 Paul writes to bring together two women in the church who have had a falling out. He tells them to "be of the same mind," but that is not enough. They are to be of the same mind "in the Lord," and the apostle closes by reminding them both that their "names are in the book of life." What an argument! To women whose names  by the grace of God are written in the book of life, but they have failed to be gracious to each other with their names written on one church roll! Literally hundreds of other examples may be found by the diligent reader of the New Testament writings.

In the progress of revelation there will be found, of course, certain sharp contrasts between the Age of the Law and the present age. Thus in Deuteronomy 6:5 the great obligation of man is stated in blinding severity, unrelieved by any color of grace: "Thous shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might." Contrast the language of grace: "We love him, because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19). The passage from Deuteronomy brings us into the presence of a "great white throne"; the passage from John's pen puts "a rainbow round about the throne." If we are wise, we shall always read the two texts together.

Take another example: Our Lord Jesus Christ, speaking of man's obligation to his fellow men, lays down the second great commandment, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (Matthew 22:39). This is the law - the law of God. And we dare not and cannot change it. But come on this side of Calvary and hear the voice of the same Lord as He speaks through John, "Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another" (1 John 4:11). It is the same duty, but now enshrined in the context of grace. Take another example, this time from the Sermon on the Mount. "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do  ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets" (Matthew 7:12). It is a good law, but there is something higher, "Let each esteem other better than themselves" (Phil. 2:3).

The law gives us the careful balance of justice, but the exhortation of grace is reckless in its demand. Grace works because it is set in a "context of grace" - the blessed Son of God laying aside His preexistent glory, making Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, humbling Himself to death for us who deserve nothing (Phil. 2:3-8). This is the argument of grace, and it is irresistible for those who have been saved and know the Lord. To it there is no answer apart from humble submission "in lowliness of mind."

But although dispensational distinctions are genuine and may be clearly observed, we are not to suppose that the "context of grace" is completely absent from the earlier parts of Scripture. Paul, speaking of the Age of the Law, observes, "Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound." Then he adds, "But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound" (Romans 5:20). If you wonder how grace abounded even in the Age of Law, you need only read the record of the ceremonial law of sacrifice. It is here that we may find that "context of grace" in the midst of law. Consider, for example, the giving of the Decalogue, those "ten words" which constitute the very center of the law. The record is found in the 20th chapter of Exodus. Tragically, most sermons on the Ten Commandments end with verse 17. And the result is often the same as that found in the history of Israel. "The people ... removed, and stood afar off" (v. 18). This is the result of the preaching of law apart from the context of grace.

But in verse 24 the God of Sinai speaks again, "An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt-offerings ... and I will bless thee." The altar was to be made of "earth," the one material within the reach of all! But if "stone" should be used, no tool was to be used to shape it, for to do so would be to "pollute" it. Moreover, there could not be "steps" up to reach the altar. Surely this is the language of God's grace! And what a pity that so many preachers, on the assumption that we are yet under the "moral" law but done with the "ceremonial" law, go on preaching the commandments of God without the context of grace, thus omitting the one factor which is able to secure the fullest realization of the ideal of moral law.

~Alva J. McClain~

(continued with # 22)

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