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Friday: Further Thought ~ Law and Grace — 10 Comments

  1. We often fall into the trap of defending something we do or don't do by prefacing our explanation with, "We are Seventh-day Adventists ..." It is easy enough to do because our audience is often familiar enough with our beliefs and lifestyle practices that it provides a quick answer. The downside, of course, is that the listener perceives our church as presenting us with a set of rules that we have to obey in order to reach "Adventist Heaven". I wonder if we should perhaps be a little less dependent on the "church", and a bit more personal in our explanation.

    This week's lesson comes from a period in Israel's history where they were moving from slavery into independent nationhood and some of the language used reflects that. If it was the only part of the Old Testament that we had, we could be excused for thinking that their religion was pretty legalistic. But, over and over again, right through the Old Testament we have these messages that God's idea of obedience is heart stuff, not mechanical obedience.

    The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.Ps 19:8

    And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
    And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: Deut 6:5,6

    Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked. Deut 10:16

    Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Ps 51:10

    Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.
    Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.Isa 1 17:18

    We don't win the "legalism" argument with more words. We have to demonstrate where our hearts are.

    • Maurice: About your comment " The downside, of course, is that the listener perceives our church as presenting us with a set of rules that we have to obey in order to reach "Adventist Heaven". I wonder if we should perhaps be a little less dependent on the "church", and a bit more personal in our explanation."

      I agree, sometime ago I noticed my friends saying things like "Your church won't let you do this or that" At that time I started telling them that my church doesn't tell me what to do or make any rules for me to follow, and that after studying and thinking on something I decided that whatever it was, it was something that I believed I should or should not do because... & I would give them a very brief explanation as to why I felt I should or shouldn't do whatever. It took a while, but they finally quit blaming my church for what they considered my peculiar behavior.
      Also they would even sometimes agree that my reasons for doing or not doing something made sense to them even though they weren't prepared to make the same move.

    • Thanks, Maurice, for the reminder
      I try to respond with the Biblical reasons instead of the church as the reason.
      “I keep Sabbath” as opposed to “I’m a Seventh Day Adventist”
      The Bible says not to eat unclean meat.
      And so forth.
      If we don’t know the Biblical basis for our beliefs we need more study
      Fortunately we will study throughout eternity, but we need to begin today - however much we think we know there is always more to learn.

  2. Legalism like most "isms" has degenerated its meaning, utility, and value over time. Generally speaking, it is not absolute but is an invented term used by people who are annoyed by those who are more righteous than they are. Otherwise it is a poorly defined vague term that is characteristic of modernity. Paradoxically those who use the term are themselves self righteous because they establish their own low standard and conscience as if it is God's standard. They may ignore the laws of God so they feel better about themselves in their deprived and envious state of mind jealous of those who want something better. They often have not actually read Torah and get through the script like actors on a stage by winging it as if their head is more reliable than the writer--christian winging. Jesus didn't wing it against the devil. Neither did He quote Paul. He quoted Torah. God's law is the product manual for humans so that the machine will work properly. Those who use the product manual properly are simply better off and get better results.

    A penny saved is a penny earned and grace not needed by bad decisions in life is grace which is earned, even without working to get it. Grace is already there but it may take hard work to keep it and the salvation promised by God. gaston md.

    • While it is important that we study the whole of Scripture including the Torah, generally referring to the Whole of the Pentateuch, it is crucial that we search the New Testament scriptures which bring out plainly the deeper understanding of God’s plan of salvation through the life, death , resurrection and life-changing power Jesus the Messiah.
      Of course Jesus didn’t quote Paul, or any of the other New Testament writings, as these did not exist till after the resurrection. He did, however constantly remind his disciples and detractors that the whole purpose of the Torah was ultimately to point to the Messiah.
      See for example
      John 5:39  “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, “

      Luke 24:27  “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. “

      2Timothy 3:16  “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, “

  3. Yes, Jesus Christ, the Son of God and man, 'died on the cross bearing in Himself the penalty for man's sins and evil so that we - human - can have the promise of eternal life'; though our thoughts should not stop there!
    I believe that Christ's victory is much greater, that it was truly, what we might term, 'earth-shaking'. He reset the spiritual power-balance influencing mankind, fulfilling/re-authorizing/re-establishing heaven's law as the supreme law governing man here on earth!
    He set the stage to bring back God's holy Spirit to aid all mankind in their quest to reach beyond this earthly life to obtain life in eternity. It is now available to all who love God and honor Him with their life.
    Christ Jesus' 'world' is the spiritual kingdom of God. He fulfilled the requirements of the law of God which governs life and death - Heaven's Justice, Mercy, and Grace.

    As I see it, His was the victory over this world's 'law based on materialism' in all its physical and spiritual manifestations. Spiritual forces employed by the adversary foster our dependency on *matter*; success is measured by how effectively one uses its cunning influence for one's own advancement in his earth's *material* kingdom.
    Christ Jesus has demonstrated to us that we have a choice. He has shown us that man's true life is supported by His mighty spiritual forces employed for our benefit in all its forms needful to 'overcome' and guide us through this existence here on earth toward life in the time to come.

    Our Creator has not abandoned us! He left His *Position* in heaven to come to earth to share life from birth to His death in the same environment God's chosen people lived in, so establishing for us the Way which frees us from the bondage to the sin inherent in life in this world.
    Can we as humans fully comprehend the depth and breadth of His love for us? - I do not think so! As our faith matures, so will also our love and appreciation for our beloved Savior - the Son of God, our Maker! My prayer is that our love for Him may forever increase!

  4. My prayer is similar to yours, Brigitte.

    I want to do my duty in choosing a life of obedience that brings glory to my ever-loving God, who, by establishing His holy law of love, has made grace abundantly available to all who believe. Ecclesiastes 12:13
    He bore, "in himself the penalty of our sins and evil so that we can have the promise of eternal life."
    What an abounding gift of grace! Romans 5:20

  5. I would propose the following for consideration regarding law and grace.

    1) We use the word "law" to refer to both (a) the cause-and-effect principles/constants that make up reality, and (b) the descriptions/transcripts of those cause-and-effect principles/constants. Consequently, unless we keep both of these in mind, we can easily arrive at a mistaken view of what (God's) law actually is.

    Thus, when it is said that the law is a transcript of God's character, this refers to both the reality and the description of that reality. That is, the description law/s describe the cause-and-effect reality-principles that God also operates in harmony with - pure other-focussed, other-benefiting giving being the core nature and character of all these reality-principles.

    2) "Grace" is something that is motivated by pure desire to give, irrespective of whether something deserves it or not. Consequently, non-deservingness does not actually factor into the equation in grace's eyes - despite the fact that Christian teaching all too frequently mentions it as though it does. Perhaps arrogance in certain instances benefits from being reminded of this, but brokenness doesn't.

    • There seems to be some confusion about what "the law is a transcript of God's character" means. My impression is that some believe the law is God's character. The law can never encompass what God's character is. At best it can be like a shadow of its reality.

      These analogies help me keep the concept straight:
      1) A recipe is a transcript of culinary dish. You cannot eat a recipe, but you can eat what it expresses.
      2) A vehicle design specification is a transcript of the vehicle's construction. You cannot drive the specification, but you can drive the vehicle.
      3) The law is a transcript of God's character. You cannot live the law, but you can live in God's love.

      • Hi Richard

        Thanks for your comments. I will unpack what I am referring to in point (1) in my original comment - especially with respect to law being not only the description (1.b) of the reality (the narrower conceptualisation), but more importantly the actual reality (1.a) itself (the widest but least realised conceptualisation). The analogous examples you provided appear to be descriptive only of (1.b) rather than also incorporating (1.a).

        In Romans 10:13, Paul asserts that love is the fulfilment of the law. This accords with the essence of what Jesus outlines in Matthew 22:37-40. And in 1 John 4:8 we have John asserting that God "is" (Greek 'estin' from the root 'eimi' = I AM) love. This also accords with Ellen White's statement that the law of self-renouncing love is the law of life for earth and heaven ... that has its source in the heart of God (Desire of Ages).

        Thus, I am one who does believe that the law is God's character - but only when it is understood that the widest meaning of "the law" is the actual reality-principle of beneficence that underpins and pervades every aspect of the functional operation of all that encompasses and comprises the actual reality that is (true) life. Thus I believe that living the law and living in harmony with God's love are one-in-the-same thing.

        My core point is that we have developed too narrow a view of 'the law' such that we see it primarily as descriptors to be followed like in a recipe or product manual and don't realise that its wider meaning is the actuality of life itself.

        Your thoughts?


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