Have God’s moral laws become irrelevant for believers saved by grace? Does grace do away with the Law?
Has Jesus ever said “it’s all by God’s grace” and that the Law has been abolished for believers?
Can you imagine what everyday life would be like without laws? Anyone is free to break traffic rules, rob or kill. There will be anarchy and unrest in society.
Now consider this: What will happen if lawlessness prevails in church? Won’t it be an equally dangerous scenario—or even more dangerous as it may affect a believer’s eternal destiny? You might ask, How will it affect a believer’s eternal destiny? To find out, read on.
Antinomianism (anti means “against”; nomos means “law”), a deviant doctrine that has been sweeping over the church for centuries, is the belief that the moral laws of the Old Testament have been abolished once we have been saved by grace, and that believers can live our lives any way we like.
Antinomian preachers teach that believers are no longer obliged to obey the moral laws of God once we are saved.
The purpose of this article is to debunk the antinomian premise that the Law has been abolished for believers saved by grace.
In the account of the woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:3-11), Jesus showed mercy to her whereas the crowd wanted to stone her. Finally, Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” Though she had been forgiven, she still had to follow God’s law (do not commit adultery, the seventh commandment).
Jesus taught that ogling at a woman and entertaining lustful thoughts is tantamount to committing adultery with her (Matthew 5: 27-28). Thus, besides endorsing the Law, He raised the bar concerning the seventh commandment (do not commit adultery).
Paul taught that, when we love our neighbor, we are fulfilling the Law—laws such as you shall not commit adultery, you shall not kill, you shall not steal, you shall not covet (Romans 13:8-10).
Jesus told the rich young ruler the commandments He had to follow when the latter asked how he could inherit eternal life: “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother’” (Luke 18:18-20).
So the Law is never irrelevant for believers saved by grace under the New Covenant.
Has Jesus ever said that “it’s all by God’s grace” and that the Law has been abolished for believers? Never.
On the contrary, Jesus categorically stated: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17-18).
“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).
Let us now quickly run through the Ten Commandments and see how these Old Testament (OT) moral laws are upheld in the New Testament (NT):
In the temptation in the wilderness, Jesus upheld the first commandment (have no other gods) by refusing to worship Satan (Matthew 4:10).
Paul emphasised that no idolater will inherit God’s kingdom (Ephesians 5:5, 1 Corinthians 6:9), thus upholding the second commandment (do not make idols).
In the Lord’s Prayer, “hallowed be thy name” (Matthew 6:9) means we must revere and honour God’s name, in keeping with the third commandment (do not take the Lord’s name in vain).
In Luke 4:16, as was his custom, Jesus went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, thus fulfilling the fourth commandment (keep the Sabbath day holy).
In Ephesians 6:1-3, Paul echoed the fifth commandment (honour your father and mother), adding that such obedience may lead to blessing and longevity.
Jesus told the rich young ruler in Luke 18:18-20 that he must follow God’s commandments, including the sixth commandment (do not kill), in order to inherit eternal life.
Paul taught in Romans 13:9 that believers should not commit adultery, in line with the seventh commandment (do not commit adultery).
In Ephesians 4: 28, Paul taught that ex-thieves must stop stealing and find honest jobs, in keeping with the eight commandment (do not steal).
Paul exhorted believers to put away lying and speak the truth in Ephesians 4: 25, thus reflecting the ninth commandment (do not bear false witness).
In Luke 12:15, Jesus warned against covetousness, stating that a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions, in line with the tenth commandment (do not covet).
Thus, if we examine the NT, we find so many references that endorse the Ten Commandments found in the OT. If the law no longer applies to believers saved by grace, why are the Ten Commandments mentioned, directly or indirectly, in the NT?
Now, no right thinking believer disputes the fact that we are saved by faith, not by works of the law.
- Now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law (Romans 3:21).
- We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are (Romans 3:22).
- So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law (Romans 3:28).
The paradox is this: “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law (Romans 3:31).”
While Jesus helps believers fulfil the righteous requirements of the law through His sacrificial death on the cross, believers still have to live according to God’s law by walking in the spirit (Romans 8:3-7, Ephesians 4:22, Colossians 3:5). Notice that those living in the flesh do not submit to God’s law (Romans 8:7).
Paul makes it clear that the law is holy, just and good (Romans 7:12). What the law does is to expose man’s sin and show the sorry, helpless state of man—that we cannot meet God’s moral standards (Romans 7:7)
Therefore, the only way by which man could please God was through grace—faith in the forgiveness Christ provides through His sacrificial death on the cross (Romans 3:21-22, Ephesians 2:8-9, Galatians 2:16). This doctrine is termed justification by faith.
Though saved by grace through faith in Christ (not by keeping the Law), believers still have to obey God’s moral laws.
Certainly, it doesn’t mean believers can continue to live in sin (break God’s moral laws). We are still held accountable under the moral laws revealed in the Ten Commandments.
The apostle Paul posed rhetorical questions in Romans 6:1-2, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?”
Therefore, we must stay within or adhere to the boundaries set by the Law though we are saved by grace. We simply cannot break God’s laws (by living in sin) after having being saved by grace.
Implicit in embracing grace is the fact that we must renounce ungodliness and live righteously, staying within the ambit of God’s moral laws:
“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works”(Titus 2:11-14)
The apostle Jude, in the context of contending for the faith, warned that ungodly men among them were turning the grace of our God into a license to sin. “Some ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches, saying that God’s marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives” (Jude 1:4).
Thus, when we teach that God’s moral laws are no longer relevant for believers, we are perverting God’s grace, like these ungodly men whom Jude warned against.
Jesus condemned false prophets and miracle workers because they practised lawlessness and do not carry out God’s will (Matthew 7: 21-23). Note here that Jesus did not condemn those who live according to His laws (but those who violated His laws).
Although we cannot be saved by keeping the Law, God uses His moral laws as the standard of righteousness. Thus, the Law (moral laws as set out in the Ten Commandments) is the believer’s guide for righteous living. Furthermore, God will judge us one day based on the Law, which clearly defines what is sinful and what is not.
While the Law does not save us, when we yield to the Holy Spirit’s power, according to the boundaries set by the Law, we become progressively sanctified (Romans 12:1-2, John 16:13, John 17:17, 2 Corinthians 3:18).
Those who claim that the Law is irrelevant for believers saved by grace do not have any inkling about sanctification because they have no standard of righteousness to act as a guide.
By keeping God’s law, we remain in His love:
“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”(John 14:21).
“For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).
By not keeping His laws, we invoke His displeasure and wrath:
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
“Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Revelation 22:14-15).
“When a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it; for the injustice that he has done he shall die” (Ezekiel 18:26).
So far, in the foregoing, we have been referring to God’s moral laws as set out in the ancient Ten Commandments, which are endorsed by Jesus and the NT apostles.
However, the ceremonial laws have been abolished for believers. We are no longer obligated to follow the Levitical system because Christ is the perfect Lamb of God, who by a single ‘once and for all’ offering of Himself abolished the record of debt (sin) made against us (Hebrews 7:27, Hebrews 9:12-14).
Circumcision and other Jewish religious rites are also not binding on believers today. The decision reached in the Jerusalem conference was to lay no greater burden on Gentile believers than the following: abstinence from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality (Acts 15:28-29). Paul stressed that Christ has set us free from the yoke of bondage and that we should not insist on circumcision for Gentile believers (Galatians 5:1-2, Romans 3:30).
It is hoped that the above will provide sufficient ammunition for concerned believers to refute the claims of false teachers of antinomianism and extreme/perverted grace. Hopefully, it will also dispel the misconception that God’s moral laws have been abolished (no longer relevant) for believers saved by grace.
If these false teachers continue to dig in and remain firm in their stance that God’s moral laws are abolished for believers, you might want to suggest to them that this means that you are allowed to covet their possessions—and they would have to surrender them to you since, according to their viewpoint, believers are no longer under the Law. In fact, they should exhibit ample grace by blessing you with their possessions.
In summary, God’s moral laws (Ten Commandments) still apply to believers saved by grace. The danger of antinomianism (anti-law stance) is that its proponents would not treat sin seriously, believing that God’s grace alone will grant them eternal security. By breaking God’s laws, they face the risk of coming under God’s judgment and wrath. Antinomianism, therefore, is indeed a destructive heresy (2 Peter 2:1).
“We are saved not by keeping the Law but by grace through faith. Though saved, we are still subject to God’s moral laws but not the ceremonial and ritualistic laws. The foregoing sums up, in essence, the sticky debate on the role of the Law in the life of believers. Unless one differentiates between God’s moral laws and ceremonial laws, one can be pretty confused. The ceremonial laws, such as circumcision, are no longer binding on modern-day believers.”
— Porridge for the Soul
“The Gospel proclaims liberty from the ceremonial law, but binds you still faster under the moral law. To be freed from the ceremonial law is the Gospel liberty; to pretend freedom from the moral law is Antinomianism.”
— Methodist commentator, Adam Clarke
WHY THE LAW WILL NEVER BE ABOLISHED
If we believe that God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, and that He is the God of justice and righteousness as much as He is the God of love, grace and mercy, then His moral laws will NEVER be abolished.
Why? The reason is this: Whatever the epoch or dispensation, whether we are living under the Old or New Covenant, the Law has to be upheld to reflect His attributes of justice and righteousness.
Jesus categorically stated: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17-18).
“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before” you (Psalm 89:14).
“But the Lord shall endure forever;
He has prepared His throne for judgment.
He shall judge the world in righteousness,
And He shall administer judgment for the peoples in uprightness.”
Are believers free from the law?
Answer: It’s a ‘YES’ and a ‘NO’.
Why ‘Yes’ and ‘No’?
Is obedience to the law a requirement for believers saved by grace?
Jesus is the personification of grace and truth. What are the implications of these two diverse facets of His character in the life of the believer?
Varying emphasis on the role of grace in the lives of believers has caused Christians from different camps to hold divergent views on this issue of grace. While all believers need God’s grace, some believe that overemphasis on grace can be dangerous.
The Ten Commandments in a Nutshell
Do not have any other god before God.
Do not make yourself an idol.
Do not take the Lord’s name in vain.
Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.
Honor thy Mother and Father.
Do not murder.
Do not commit adultery.
Do not steal.
Do not bear false witness
Do not covet
By Rev Dr Steven Kau
I am amazed to what length some people will go to make the Christian faith and life more bearable or livable. I have always said the Christian life is a very demanding life. It is so demanding that Jesus warned that unless we carry our own cross, we are not worthy of Him.
ARE THE TEN COMMANDMENTS UPHELD IN THE NEW TESTAMENT?
Note: Dr Lim Poh Ann is a medical practitioner. He was the former editor of Asian Beacon magazine (Dec 2008 – Oct 2011). He can be reached at his Facebook page, www.facebook.com/AskDrLi
SOURCE OF ARTICLE: http://limpohann.blogspot.my/2017/05/grace-and-law.html
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Dr Lim Poh Ann