Law and Grace

By Johnny Stringer

Jesus is king. The commandments of a king are law. Yet, there are those who deny that we are subject to divine law. When we insist that brethren adhere to God’s law in our worship and service to God, we are told that this is not necessary, for we are under grace, not law. Some brethren evidently believe that grace and law are mutually exclusive – if you have one you cannot have the other.

Do not be deceived. The fact that we are under a system of grace does not mean that we are not subject to law or that it is not essential for us to be guided by God’s law.

Paul described himself as “being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21). The word which we are to learn and do is called the law of liberty (Jas. 1:25). If we were not amenable to law, we could not sin, for sin is transgression of the law (1 Jn. 3:4). It is undeniable, therefore, that God has given us a law.

It ought to be obvious that if God has given us a law, we are expected to obey it; and the Bible makes it plain that we must be guided by god’s law in our conduct and our teaching (2 Tim. 3:16-17; John 4:24; Matt. 7:21-23; 28-28:20; 2 Jn. 9; Jn. 8:31; Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 16:13; Jude 3; 2 Tim. 1:13; Tit. 1:9; Jas. 5:19-20). Indeed, whenever God has spoken to man or given a law, he has expected men to give his law supreme respect and strict obedience (Deut. 4:2; Lev. 10:1-2; Prov. 30:5-6; Rev. 22:18-19). Failure to do so in sin (1 Jn. 3:4).

No, brethren, our being under grace does not mean we are not subject to law; rather, it means that we have a means of forgiveness when we violate that law. The forgiveness is dependent on our meeting certain conditions, including repentance (Acts 8:22); hence, we cannot persist in violating God’s law with impunity.

Paul’s teaching in Romans regarding grace and law is often misunderstood. Because he teaches that we are saved by grace rather than by law, some conclude that we are not subject to law or that submission to God’s law is not essential. It should be obvious, however, that this is not what Paul means. If it were, he would be contradicting the Scriptures we have already cited.

What Paul teaches in Romans is that we are not under a system of mere law (without grace) as a means of justification. We have more than law; we have grace by which we can be forgiven when we violate his law.

If we depended simply on law as a means of justification, we would have to keep that law perfectly. We could not repent of our violations and obtain forgiveness, for there would be no grace; we would be depending strictly on law, not grace. We can be thankful that God has not simply given us a law and said, “Now to be justified, you have to keep this law; but once you violate the law, you have blown your chance for justification; there is no grace – no forgiveness. “

If we were justified by perfectly keeping God’s law, grace would be excluded. Our justification would be earned by our sinless living. If we kept God’s law perfectly, we would be sinless; hence, we would need no grace.

A person who taught that we were saved by perfectly keeping God’s law would be a legalist. I am not a legalist in that sense of the word, for I know I cannot be justified in that manner; I have not kept God’s law perfectly. I must depend on God’s gracious forgiveness. But I cannot persist in violating God’s law and be forgiven; I must repent.

An upcoming article will confirm this view by examining a misunderstood passage regarding law and grace: Romans 3:19-4:9.

Guardian of Truth XXXII: 7, pp. 196, 215
April 7, 1988