Grace versus Legalism
Consider the following important questions to help you understand more about grace, in order to enjoy peace, courage and fruitfulness at this, the close of the age.
- What is the grace (or exchanged) life?
- In light of grace exactly how does one live the Christian Life?
- Does the teaching of grace lead to passivity in the Christian life?
- If we are forgiven of our sins past, present, and future at the time of salvation won't that lead to a sinful lifestyle?
- What about 1 John 1:9, don't we have to confess our sins in order to be forgiven?
- Jesus said in the Lord's prayer that if we forgive others then God will forgive us. That seems conditional, how does one reconcile this with the unconditional nature of grace?
- How does one come to comprehend the grace of God in the Christian's life?
- Does grace lead to a lawless attitude in the Christian life?
- What is the function of the Law in the world today?
- What exactly is legalism?
- Aren't we still supposed to try and keep the Ten Commandments today?
- Does walking in grace imply that a Christian never sins?
- How does a person abide in Christ?
- Is the new covenant believer required to tithe?
This is the term which we use to describe the Christian life as God intended it to be. The grace walk or grace life stresses allowing Christ to live His life through us. A careful reading of the New Testament makes it clear that we do not live the Christian life by self-effort but by abiding (resting) in Christ and allowing Him to manifest His life through our own (ref. John 15:5; Romans 15:18; Ephesians 2:8-10; Philippians 2:13; and II Thessalonians 2:13). Through the years various other believers have described the grace life with other terms such as: The Exchanged Life (Hudson Taylor), The Abiding Life (Andrew Murray), The Crucified Life (L. E. Maxwell), Life on the Highest Plane (Ruth Paxson), The Interior Life (Hannah Whitall Smith), The Normal Christian Life (Watchman Nee), The Victorious Christian Life (Alan Redpath, Ian Thomas), and The Miracle Life (David Needham). For further reading refer to Grace Walk, by Steve McVey chapter five, "Experiencing His Life." [Back to Top of Page]
The key to victory in the Christian life lies in acknowledging that you cannot live the Christian life out of your own resources or abilities. Only one person has ever lived the Christian life as God intended and that was Jesus Himself! However, there is good news; Jesus wants to live His victorious, overcoming life through you. Perhaps no verse says it better than Galatians 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me." We live the Christian life by yielding moment-by-moment to Christ, trusting Him to animate us with His very life. For further reading refer to Grace Walk chapter twelve, "Living in Grace."[Back to Top of Page]
One of the most common misunderstandings about the grace life is that it teaches passivity in the life of the Christian. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The grace life is an active lifestyle energized not by the energy of the flesh but by the energy of the indwelling life of Christ. Consider the example of the apostle Paul. Paul trusted Christ to live His life through him (Romans 15:18) while leading an extremely active lifestyle. Notice Paul's description of his lifestyle in Colossians 1:29, "And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me." Paul was not passive; he was active. The words "labor" and "striving" in the original language refer to weariness to the point of physical exhaustion. Yet it was not done in the energy of the flesh it was "according to His (Jesus') power" which was at work within Paul. For further reading refer to Grace Rules by Steve McVey, pages 89-90 and 194-197.[Back to Top of Page]
4. If we are forgiven of our sins past, present, and future at the time of salvation won't that lead to a sinful lifestyle?
This is not a new question. In fact, this was the gist of the concern of those in Paul's own day who asked, "Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? (Romans 6:1). Coming to understand the totality of forgiveness should never lead the believer into a sinful lifestyle. In fact, the opposite will be true. When the child of God realizes the totality of their forgiveness before a holy God, they do not want to sin. While it is true that the believer has the freedom to sin if they want too, the believer who has their focus on Jesus does not want to sin. Rules, regulations, and rigorous self-discipline will not keep us from sin but, an authentic love relationship with Jesus will. For further reading refer to GraceRules chapter four, "Say Goodbye to Mr. Law."[Back to Top of Page]
One of the most common misconceptions in Christianity today is that we have to continually confess our sins in order to be forgiven. This belief is contrary to the plain teachings of the Scriptures. Is this to say that confession is not important? Absolutely not! We do not oppose confession. We believe Christians should confess their sins. However, we do believe that the biblical doctrine of confession needs to be properly understood.
Confess is from the Greek word homolegeo which literally means "same word." It is commonly translated as "to say the same thing." When we confess our sins to God, we are agreeing with Him that we have sinned, according to His Word. Therefore, confession is not coming to God and saying, "O God, I have sinned, I am a dirty, rotten, no-good sinner, please forgive me just one more time." True confession is like this, "Father, I agree with You that I have sinned, thank You that I am forgiven and I ask You to remind me of the reality of the fellowship that I truly have in You." It is important to understand that confession is primarily for us.
When an individual believes on Christ as Savior they are totally forgiven of all sins past, present, and future. Colossians 2:13 says, "He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions." In light of this we see that I John 1:9 is not a conditional promise. We do not have to keep on confessing our sins in order to be forgiven, as believers we abide in God's forgiveness. The words "to forgive" are hina aphei in the Greek and are a second aorist subjunctive indicating a single act with ongoing results, not a process. When we believe on Christ we are forever forgiven, confession is provided for us through the graciousness of God. Consider the following free interpretation of I John 1:9, "As we agree with God that we still sin, He reminds us that He is faithful and righteous in already having forgiven us of all our sins and He continually keeps us cleansed from all unrighteousness." (Compare I John 1:9 to 1:7). For further reading refer to Grace Rules pages 148-149. [Back to Top of Page]
6. Jesus said in the Lord's prayer that if we forgive others then God will forgive us. That seems conditional, how does one reconcile this with the unconditional nature of grace?
The Lord's prayer (or better, the model prayer) is found in Matthew 6:9-13 and in Luke 11:2-4. In these verses Jesus teaches that we will be forgiven only as we forgive others. This seems to contradict the unconditional nature of grace and of total forgiveness. The solution lies in considering when Jesus ministered in the redemptive plan of God. Jesus ministered under the Law. He said in Matthew 5:17, "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill." During His earthly ministry Jesus functioned under the Old Covenant of the Law. He did not break the Law, He fulfilled the Law. The New Covenant was initiated by the death of Jesus on the Cross. Therefore, our way of relating to God changed after the Cross and the initiation of the New Covenant. So, the believer on this side of the Cross is totally forgiven (past, present, and future) at the time of salvation. For further reading refer to Grace Rules pages 150-154. [Back to Top of Page]
The fullness of the grace of God in the life of the Christian cannot be understood apart from a revelation of God. Some of the most profound words Jesus spoke are found in Luke 10:21-22, "At that very time He rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit, and said, "I praise Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou didst hide these things from the wise and intelligent and didst reveal them to babes. Yes, Father, for thus it was well-pleasing in Thy sight. All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him." We come to comprehend spiritual truth only as it is revealed to us by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Revelation is a spiritual apprehension of the truth and it comes only from God. God reveals His grace to us as we humbly seek Him. See also Matthew 16:16-17 and Galatians 1:11-12. For further reading refer to Grace Walk pages 70-72. [Back to Top of Page]
The simple answer to this question is "No way!" The Christian who is truly walking in grace is not an antinomian ("one who opposes the Law"). Rather, the person who is walking in grace has great respect for the God-ordained purpose of the Law. In Romans 7:12 Paul said, "So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good." Grace-oriented Christians are not "Law-bashers" but, they do understand that the Law has no place in the life of the Christian. Consider the following Scriptures: "Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit for God" (Romans 7:4). "In order that the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit" (Romans 8:4). "Realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous man, but for those who are lawless and rebellious" (I Timothy 1:9). For further reading refer to Grace Rules pages 74-76. [Back to Top of Page]
Those who say that there is no purpose for the Law of God in the world today do not understand the plain teaching of Scripture on this subject. God uses the Law today to cause unbelievers to realize that they are sinners in need of a Savior. Consider the following verses: "Because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20). "And the Law came in that the transgression might increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more" (Romans 5:20). "Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith" (Galatians 3:24). "The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law" (I Corinthians 15:56). "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all" (James 2:10). The Law has a definite purpose in the world today, but not in the life of the Christian. For further reading refer to Grace Walk chapter two, "Darkness Before Dawn." [Back to Top of Page]
We define legalism as a system of living in which a person tries to make spiritual progress or gain God's acceptance based on what they do. Legalism is focused on behavior and is therefore an achieving system. Legalism is the opposite of grace. Grace is a system of living in which God blesses us because we are in Jesus Christ and for no other reason at all. Grace is focused on our spiritual birth and is therefore a receiving system. Consider a couple of Scriptures: "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us" (Galatians 3:13). "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age" (Titus 2:11-12). For further reading refer to Grace Walk pages 79-86. [Back to Top of Page]
The answer to this question is "No." From the time that God gave the commandments to Moses in codified form He knew that humanity was incapable of keeping them. But, God gave the commandments to mankind anyway that they might drive him to his knees in frustration and cause him to seek God Himself. Even under the Old Covenant it was the desire of God that human beings have a personal relationship with Him (Exodus 13:7-16; Psalm 37:4; Jeremiah 9:23-24). Today God wants the focus of the New Covenant believer to be Christ as Life not the codified Law. For further reading refer to Grace Walk pages 128-131 and Grace Rules pages 95-97. [Back to Top of Page]
Nowhere do the Scriptures imply that a Christian is sinlessly perfect. The words of John in I John 1:8 make this abundantly clear, "If we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us." Yet, at the same time, we must understand that as believers the power of sin has been broken in our lives so that we do not have to sin. In Romans 6:12-13 Paul says, "Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God." This does not mean that we are incapable of sin, it means that we have a choice to either sin or not sin because the power of sin has been broken in our lives. A careful study of Romans six and seven will reveal that although our old nature was put to death at salvation we still have a struggle with the flesh. The flesh is the way we have learned to meet our needs without God. As believers we have a choice, we can walk in the flesh or in the Spirit (see Galatians 5:16-17. For further reading refer to Grace Rules pages 90-92 and chapter six, "Overcoming Our Sins." [Back to Top of Page]
The word abide means to "continue, to remain, to stay." Abiding occurs as we make the conscious choice to moment-by-moment rest in Christ and allow Him to express His life through our own. Perhaps the classic expression of this truth is in John 15:5 where Jesus says, "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing." When Jesus says "nothing" He means nothing. As Christians we are not called to strive or work to bear fruit for God. We are called to abide or rest in Him allowing Him to produce His fruit and good works through us. We are not fruit producers we are fruit bearers. For further reading refer to Grace Walk pages 170-173. [Back to Top of Page]
Tithing is not to be imposed upon the new covenant believer. Instead Christians are to give in the same way they live, by grace. Tithing is not mentioned after the Cross and the inauguration of the new covenant with the exception of Hebrews 7:5-9. These verses in Hebrews are not used to support tithing, they are given as a historical reference to demonstrate the principle of genetic identity. The foundation for new covenant giving can be found in 2 Corinthians 8-9. The key is 2 Corinthians 9:7, the believer is to give "as he has purposed in his heart." Some believers still use tithing as a guideline in their giving. This practice is fine as long as tithing does not become a legalistic practice or is made to be an indicator of spirituality. For further reading refer to GraceWalk chapter ten, "From Duty to Delight." (Gracewalk Ministries. With our thanks!) [Back to Top of Page]
Above material taken from Grace Ministries International, at http://www.gmint.org/go/about/FAQs/
Regarding grace versus law, the following excerpt is from Lifetime Guarantee (pp. 184-185), by Bill Gillham:
Jesus Christ volunteered for the cross to demonstrate one attribute of God and one only. He did not hang there to demonstrate His omnipotence, omnipresence, etc. Christ on the cross demonstrated God's limitless, loving, forgiving grace.
Therefore where law appears to conflict with grace in biblical interpretation, fix your eyes on Jesus Christ on that cross to "rightly divide" the passage. Put on Son-glasses, and filter every interpretation of the Word through Him there. The Holy Spirit will always point me toward grace, always.
The law is intended exclusively for the unregenerate man, to motivate him to salvation (Romans 6:24; Galatians 3:19-26; 1 Timothy 1:9a). The new man in Christ is motivated to righteous living by the Holy Spirit within (Ezekiel 36:26,27); he has the laws of God written on his heart and mind (Hebrews 10:16).
The Power of Sin Is the Law (1 Corinthians 15:56)
Realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous man [and new creatures are righteous], but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners [remember, we are saints who sin], for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching (1 Timothy 1:9,10).
The law is not for you if you're a new creation; it was used by the Lord to convict you of your hopeless state and thus motivate you to accept Jesus Christ as your Savior. Now that the law has served its purpose for you, you are no longer under it. But if you choose to stay under it and approach the Christian walk with the law attitude of "I must, I ought, I have to" instead of "I am new, I delight to do God's will, I love Him, His ways are good," you are laboring under law; you have not "entered into God's rest," and it's just a matter of time until you burn out.
"The power of sin is the law" (1 Corinthians 15:56, emphasis added). Law is the "gasoline" that fuels sin's engine. That explains why we sometimes see a pastor who hammers away with law teaching run off with the church secretary. The power of sin in him "fed itself" on the man's teaching and destroyed his ministry with it. You give the power of sin a law to work with and it will eventually beat you, because God's provision for the believer is grace, not law.
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