There is a never-ending river of confusion and discussion about the place of the law and gospel in the believer’s life. Many believe there is some sort of balance between law and grace, as if we need about 50% of each. I really don’t think this is even close to the truth. However, what is the truth, and what makes it such good news?
Romans 3:19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.
Through the law comes the knowledge of sin. This is its purpose: to show us the bankruptcy of our own self-appointed standards and to point us to a greater way.
I’ve noticed in discussions with people that they believe morals are something of which they are the authors. Someone might say that I ought to change my views on the morality of same-sex attraction, for instance. They assume that I would change my stance if I would only let go of my antiquated opinions and adopt their superior opinions. What they don’t realize is that they’re not just asking me to change my opinions about a particular moral issue. They are trying to get me to become my own God, to make up my own morals, and to say that God is wrong about His ideas about morals. This is a huge issue. If my morals are extremely comfortable for me personally but condemn others as it seems convenient, doesn’t this seem a bit self-serving?
More importantly, they are not released from the power of the law by so doing. They are rewriting it to seem to be more livable. This is not really grace, it is a false grace made up of a self-made watered down law. So, people think they don’t need saving because according to their own law, of which they are the God and creator, they are perfectly righteous. The problem becomes this: what if other people who are also their own self-sufficient God draw the lines differently? Which law is right? How loose shall we draw the lines of the law to keep creating this false grace? If pedophiles are born that way genetically? who are we to say it is wrong? Homosexuality is justified by this same reasoning? Is it that it is consenting and harms no one? What is harm? What is consent? What exactly should the age of consent be? Why is that wrong? Perhaps some children are born with older person attraction? Shall we draw no lines at all? No one is comfortable with that.
There is an inherent paradox in most people’s minds who espouse this kind of self-made morality. Their chief law becomes, “don’t tell me what to do.” Yet, here they are, telling me what to do. These are people who are, rightly, running as far and as hard from the strictures and imprisonment of the law as they can, and who find that they truly cannot escape. They still must dictate how we should behave and what we must do.
The way of law, even loose non-biblical make-it-up-as-you-go morality, is still law. It does not offer forgiveness or redemption or acceptance. It does not offer grace. It offers condemnation, just the same as medieval stupid theistic-based law from the ridiculous pages of the Bible. It still says, cross this line and you die to me. I will cut you off. I will remove you from my life because I have boundaries. Those boundaries, however justified, are law.
The gospel of Jesus Christ offers something from a completely different universe. It is entirely new. The old covenant was all about right and wrong, about law. The power of the gospel is that it can take the true law, the most stringent condemning law, the law which through its highest of high ideals and perfectionism chokes us and kills us and condemns us, and makes this the portal for a new way of relationship. It allows the law to do what it is supposed to do: take us to the very end of our self-hope and self-idolatry. The legalist and the moralist of every stripe says, I will relax my standards but you still must not cross these lines. God draws these lines very tightly and says, try to tell yourself you haven’t crossed these lines! Once you see you really cannot obey, that you really have come to the knowledge of your own sin, then you are ready to hear a new word. Forgiveness through Christ is more powerful than a faux-grace lax-law “gospel”, because it conquers the very worst case scenario of the standard of the law and proclaims love and forgiveness down at the very bottom of it.
Thus it is the wrong reflex, it is the human fleshly reflex, to create grace by loosening and relaxing the standards of the law. Jesus was not saying “you have heard, but I say” (Matthew 5:21-23) in a manner which made the law more palatable. He was saying it in a way to make it more stringent and actually impossible. He was using the law to reveal their poorness of spirit. In this sense, He was not a great moral teacher, He was an awful and monstrous moral teacher. The homosexual and the fornicator and the greedy and the disrespectful and the selfish will not find solution to their plight by declaring these things to be OK. It is the first impulse, but it is the wrong impulse. Because they are under law (evidenced by the fact that they are trying to rewrite the law so it doesn’t condemn them!), they can only understand that saying their genetic impulse is wrong as rejection and condemnation. In all candor, everyone is “born that way” somehow. It is the Adamic curse. The right way is to tighten the standards of the law and so to see your own sin, and to have all your fears released because there is true forgiveness. The more you tighten the law, the more you see your sin, and the more you see your sin, the more you open to grace.
So we do not find grace by relaxing our idea of the standards of the law. It is not our place, because it is not our law. We find grace by taking the law at its word: hate your brother with and idle thought, and go to hell. Look at a woman with an idle glance, and go to hell. Love a false God (like yourself) with a lax moral standard and a willingness to transgress justice to bless you, and you will most certainly find yourself on the road to hell. The law is mean, inflexible, and narrow. If you do not find redemption and forgiveness in Christ, you will not find eternal life. Don’t ask me to create a false grace for you by loosening the law to your liking. It doesn’t work that way. When I won’t do that, don’t think I’m lying about grace. I’m not. Maybe the problem is this: you don’t believe in the real God, you won’t acknowledge the truth and power of a law that you didn’t make, and you have not come into the power of being forgiven. You’re still playing the law’s game and you want me to play along. I won’t do it.
So the gospel declares a 100% scandalous free-for-all forgiveness through Christ’s blood. It says that everything: lax law, stringent law, my real and present guilt and shame, no longer define me. The love which God has expressed towards me in Christ defines me. No law AT ALL can touch me, because I have been redeemed from all concept of law. I am set free to live according to gifting and not obligation. I now breathe the free air of the kingdom of God, declared righteous by the only One who is worthy to do so by His blood. I may not be worthy to declare myself righteous, but there is another who is worthy, and not with mere words, but with blood, He has done so. I have been forever forgiven, and this is the great power of the gospel over every false idea of freedom and every false grace.