Grace and Obedience to the Law: Not Contradictory

Time and again in the New Testament, we read passages like this:

Titus 2:11-14 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and lto live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself ta people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Does it remotely appear in this passage that law and grace are opposed to one another? No. Grace has appeared and is God’s instrument for bringing salvation to his people. Verse 14 says Christ redeemed us from all lawlessness and purified us for himself. God’s grace makes this possible.

God’s law is also active in making salvation happen, too. Here are two ways law plays a part in the giving of grace according to this passage.

1. Christ lived by the law and died by the law.

It is implied in the passage that without law, redemption by grace would be impossible. God’s law demonstrates his perfect righteousness and holiness, which Christ also demonstrated in his earthly life perfectly. The law is also what calls for the condemnation of sinners, which is the penalty Christ took upon himself on the cross. Plus the law commands that people love God and love their neighbor, which is what Christ did on the cross to the highest degree on both sides (for both God and neighbor).

2. Grace trains saved people to keep the law.

Notice verse 12. Grace applied trains people to follow the dictates of the law (to live godly lives and renounce worldly passions, etc). People are not saved by God in order to live wicked, unfruitful, or meaningless lives. We are saved in order to be zealous for good works and that happens when we obey the law.

The law of God is true, right, beautiful, and an expression of God’s mercy, love, and character. People can’t keep the law because they are bound in sin. But this does not make the law bad. The problem lies with sinful people.

So Christ keeps the law and dies on the cross in order to provide grace and salvation to people unable to keep the law. This grace is also an expression of God’s mercy, love, and character. But grace does not nullify law.

Bottom line: When people are saved and justified by the grace of Christ, it should be their highest desire to obey the law. Obedience is the fruit of grace.

1 John 3:24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.

When a police officer pulls you over for speeding, he might give you grace and let you off with a warning. But his grace does not nullify the law. He still wants you to slow down, even though you have received grace and have not been condemned for your transgression.

New Testament Christians saved fully and only by the grace of God through Christ’s finished work on the cross need to seek obedience to the law in their daily lives, every single moment. It is never right to commit adultery, steal, or lie, even for people who are justified by grace.

7 thoughts on “Grace and Obedience to the Law: Not Contradictory

  1. Romans 7 refutes all that.

    “That which I should do, I do not. And that which I shouldn’t do, I do.”

    The question that needs to be asked to those still living under the law is, “How are you doing?”

    An honest answer is, “not too good”.

    “Christ is the end of the law…for all who believe.”

  2. But what exactly does Romans 7 refute? It refutes a use of the law that involves a person attempting to save himself by keeping it. It refutes self justification. It refutes the notion that salvation is by works. You are so right to ask of the one using the law this way, “How are you doing?”

    But Romans 7 does not refute the point I make in the post. Nor does it contradict Titus 2:11-14 or 1 John 3:24. I encourage you to re-read the post (and those two passages) closely to see what point is being made.

    If someone is justified completely by grace and is seeking to obey God’s law AS A RESULT, they are in line with Paul’s teaching throughout Romans, Titus, Galatians, and John’s teaching in 1 John. Grace is the root, works are the fruit. 1 John 3:24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God…

  3. It refutes the idea that we can be obedient to the law.

    We can’t do it. We will not to do it.

    Jesus said, “You must be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.”

    What do you do with that? He uses the law, not to make us ‘better’…but to kill us off to any notion that we are somehow up to it. We are not.

    But the Good News is that He is…for us.

  4. I agree with this: “We can’t do it. We will not do it.” So he saves us by grace, which is “Good News” indeed. Now that we are saved, the question I have for you is should we or should we not strive to keep the holy law of God on this side of grace?

    Should we strive not to have any other gods before God? Or do we dismiss this good law because we are saved by grace and can’t keep it anyway.

    Should we strive to be faithful to our spouses and not commit adultery? Or do we dismiss this good law because we are saved by grace and will fail (at least in our thought life) to keep this law.

    Should we strive to avoid coveting the possessions of others? Or do we dismiss this good law because we are saved by grace and will always have a problem with coveting.

    A heroine addict is bound by addiction. He cannot make himself stop the drug. But a friend shows him grace, helps him with told that wash away his sin. The friend doesn’t hold the law over him, but gives grace, and the grace changes the addicts heart. What next? Back to heroine since he has been forgiven by grace? No of course not.

    New Adam, my only point is this. God’s grace does not nullify the right use of the law as God’s guide for a holy life. Though saved exclusively by grace, our mindset as justified believers should be to strive to keep the law and obey God – indeed, the texts I quote show this to be one of the purposes of grace and God’s salvation project.

    Trying to use the law as a salvation method is BAD BAD BAD. This is where we agree so tightly it isn’t even funny.

    But striving to keep God’s law on the basis of justifying grace and with the help and empowerment of the Holy Spirit is biblical sanctification in a nutshell.

    I just want you to say one way or there other. Should a justified-by-grace individual strive to keep God’s law or not? If not, how do you interpret Jesus’ words here:

    John 14:15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

    18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

  5. We are free.

    To live. And in that living we will do both good and bad. But to do something because the law tells you to do it is not a good work. Not at all. A true good work is done unselfconsciously. Without goading from the law.

    That’s why St. Paul tells us that when the law came in…we got worse! (“sin increased” ) Not better.

    If you have to be told to do something…it isn’t a good work any longer.

    And that is exactly what the law does. It tells us what to do.

    Christians are free from having to do…anything. But in that freedom…we ‘do’. And…we also, ‘don’t do’.

    But OUR DOING or not doing isn’t the point anymore. It is Christ’s doing, for us, that matters now.

    Thanks, Jason.

  6. But what about the passages that say our doing is important? Not for our salvation, but in order to bring glory to God as his people? What about the passage I quoted in my previous comment from John 14? Was Jesus wrong about his statements there? Have I misread them?

    But I do think you are driving toward an important point, but one that needs to be nuanced as well.

    When God saves us, he sets us on a course of sanctification where we become the kind of people who do not need the written law any longer. Have you ever read the New Covenant really close?

    Heb 8:8-12
    “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,
    when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
    and with the house of Judah,
    9 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers
    on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
    For they did not continue in my covenant,
    and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.
    10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
    after those days, declares the Lord:
    I will put my laws into their minds,
    and write them on their hearts,
    and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
    11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor
    and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
    for they shall all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest.
    12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
    and I will remember their sins no more.”

    Notice God saves these people by grace – which is the New Covenant, but that (verse 10), in so doing he puts his laws into their minds and writes them on their hearts. So in saving people, God implants the Ten Commandments in them, so that they obey without even having to be told to obey (though it takes awhile to get them to that point – they have to die first). The written law (on stone tablets) is no longer necessary, because God’s people automatically obey without having to be told.

    If nobody speeds down the interstate, then speed limit laws become unneeded. If nobody every steals, then laws against stealing are no longer needed.

    But catch the nuance – the law itself is still in effect (Don’t steal), but stated in that way it is no longer needed, because God’s people have that law stamped on their very being and therefore they are not going to steal.

    It is kind of like the law I have on my children to be in bed by 9:00pm. They need that externally enforced law now, but in twenty years, it will be stamped on their hearts. They will likely do it automatically because they will be in a state of maturity where it comes naturally.

    My point is this, in heaven, God’s people are keeping the holy law of God. It is ingrained in them so deeply that they are bound to it just as they were once bound to sin.

    So to summarize, you are right about justification. It happens completely apart from people keeping the law of God. They do nothing, Christ does everything. But Christ’s work saves us FOR SOMETHING. The for something is to be his holy people and live according to his law for his praise and glory.

    Christians saved exclusively by the grace of God through Christ are the kinds of people who love the law of God and strive to obey it. When they fail, they are forgiven, but that doesn’t mean they don’t strive.

    In the end, it is all by Christ and for Christ.

    Law and grace are friends, and they always will be. Steve, I’m hoping we will be too. Good night.

  7. THose passages are ‘law’ passages.

    The job of the law is twofold:

    1) So that we may live together in civil life, as best as is possible for sinners…and

    2) To expose our sin. To kill us off to any notion that we are somehow up to what God demands of us. And that is perfection…in every instance.

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