[From the new book: JESUS: Revealing The Body Of Christ In A Modern World]

The good news is that when we restore ourselves from following after a legal identity of church that is opened and closed by prayers on Sunday morning, something wonderful begins to happen in our lives. We start focusing on who Jesus really is, and what impact we will allow Him to have on our hearts. His incarnational journey into and out of this world, with a cross as a center of reference, has a tendency to humble us to the point of transforming our lives in order to be identified with Him. At least this is what happened in the first century long before “church” was institutionalized into a corporate body of adherents with registered membership cards who localized their worship to temples, and then formalized the same through legalized ceremonies.

As the church, the early disciples lived Jesus to the point that they were the signal to the world that Jesus was alive. Their faith moved them to be different from the religions of the world. When we discover their true identity as the church, it is then that we begin to understand that “church” is not a set of rules and rituals that must be legally performed, which rules and rituals become a fake identity of the body of Christ. On the contrary, “church” is a family of people who have sought to the best of their ability to identify with the incarnate Son of God, and thus, be identified with Him as King of kings and Lord of lords. And as the members emulate their King in their hearts, something wonderful happens.


Grace Versus Law

    Whatever understanding the Jews had of grace while living under the Sinai law, grace was eventually viewed through meritorious law-keeping. This belief and behavior was specifically identified also by their keeping of all the traditions that they produced over the years that surrounded the Sabbath. To many Jews at the time of Jesus, therefore, grace was activated in one’s life, not only by keeping the Sinai law in reference to the Sabbath, but also by keeping all the traditions of the fathers that surrounded the Sabbath. If one sinned against any of the attached “laws,” which all Jews knew they did, then atoning good works could be offered in order to sanctify oneself of his violations of the law. In view of sin, and in order to keep the law perfectly, the religious leaders thus instituted their own assortment of laws (traditions) in order to make sure that the Sinai law, including the Sabbath, was obeyed.

The self-righteous Jews were motivated by meritorious obedience to earn the grace of God, not realizing that God already had pleasure in them because of His loving grace. Unfortunately, they sought to live as the returning prodigal son in order that the father allow him to be counted only as one of the servants in the field (Lk 15:18,19). The prodigal had simply forgotten that by grace he was already an heir because he was a son of the father. He could not work himself back into his father’s grace because he was already there. He could not work for that which he already had as a son of his father. The same is true of us as God’s children, “and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rm 8:17). How much better can it get!

  • Once one obeys the gospel, he or she becomes a child of God, and thus lives within the realm of God’s grace.
    Jesus stated, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mk 2:27). This statement was made in the context of what Jesus and His disciples did on the Sabbath in reference to picking and eating the grain of a field through which they had just walked (Mk 2:23). In reference to what Jesus and His disciples did with the grain of the field, the Pharisees accused Jesus, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath” (Mk 2:24). They were nit-picking religious leaders in reference to their own restrictions concerning the Sabbath. They were so, not because of some violation of the Sinai Sabbath law, but because they were making judgments that were based on their “attached laws” to the Sabbath law (See Rm 2:1-4).

What the disciples were doing in reference to eating grain was lawful according to the Sinai law. If one were on a journey, and according to the Sinai law, he had a right to eat the grain of a field as he passed through the field, though he could not put a sickle to the crop. But this act is not what motivated the Pharisees to make an accusation against the disciples. The Pharisees accused Jesus and the disciples of doing the simple “work” of picking out the grain so they could eat it. Unfortunately, the nit-picking Pharisees interpreted this to be work on the Sabbath. But it was not.

The Pharisees viewed their relationship with God through the strict obedience of their interpretations of the law, not through grace. Since they had elevated their interpretations of the law to the same authority as God’s law, if one disobeyed their interpretations, then it was the same as disobedience to God’s law. And in the case of the disciples extracting grain in order to eat it, according to the religious leaders at the time, such “work” was “not lawful on the Sabbath.”

  • If one elevates the religious traditions and ceremonies of man that are not a part of the law, to be obeyed as the law of God, then he has added to the law of God.

So in the immediate context of the situation, Jesus reminded the religious leaders of the example of King David when he, in his flight from the murderous hand of Saul, was at the point of starvation. David subsequently went into the tabernacle of God and ate the showbread, which bread under the Sinai law, was to be eaten only by the priests (Lv 24:5-9; 1 Sm 21:6; Mk 2:26). But because David was under grace at the time, he did not sin by doing that which was not lawful. On the contrary, as the future king of Israel, his life was to be preserved. The higher law that he survive released him from the law that only the priests could eat the showbread. It was the case that a higher law stood above a written lower law of God.

But if we view David not sinning on this occasion against law—which thing even the Pharisees believed—then Jesus’ lesson is that law must be viewed through grace. However, if we reverse this order in reference to our understanding of grace, and view grace through law, then David sinned. We are thus susceptible to keep adding to God’s laws one statute after another, precept upon precept, in order that God’s law be obeyed perfectly (See Is 28:10). If we get involved in this statute-adding religiosity, one day we will wake up and find ourselves in a religion that has no room for grace. When a group of people bring themselves into conforming to a legal system of religious laws they have collected together over the years into a catechism of law, they have brought themselves into the bondage of law-keeping (traditions).

  • Any religious tradition or ceremony that is not established on the authority of the word of God brings those who keep such into bondage.

[Next in series: Articles 9,10]

Grace Versus Law

    If we seek to earn grace through law-keeping, and thus guarantee payment by God through our added performances of rites, ceremonies and good works, then we are spiritually dead in the water. Paul wrote, “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested … even the righteousness of God that is by the faith of Jesus Christ” (Rm 3:21,22). This of necessity is true because “there is none righteous, no, not one” (Rm 3:10). We are all continual sinners, regardless of our superficial self-righteousness in the performance of law. It seems that some have forgotten what the Holy Spirit said through Paul in Romans 4:4: “Now to him who works [in order to earn his salvation], the reward is not credited according to grace, but according to debt.”

In our frustration to live perfectly in reference to law, all honest people will confess as Paul,

Therefore, has that which is good [law] become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might be manifested to be sin [through law], was working death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful (Rm 7:13).

So Paul concluded, “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold into bondage to sin” (Rm 7:14).

The more we come to the reality that we are forever doomed to the bondage of sin without grace, the more we are driven to grace. Therefore, recognition that the law of God reveals sin in our lives drives us to grace. If we were honest with ourselves, then we would understand that law is indirectly a driving force to grace because we realize, as Paul, that we are all lawbreakers, and thus, held in the bondage of sin. We are held in bondage because we cannot keep law perfectly in order to deliver ourselves. This is what Paul meant when he wrote, “For without law, I was once alive. But when the commandment came, sin revived and I died” (Rm 7:9).

  • Law reveals that we must be saved by grace because we cannot keep any law perfectly in order to save ourselves.

In the context of this point we might conclude that if law reveals sin in our lives, then it would be good to live without law. But Paul wrote, “I would not have known sin except through law” (Rm 7:7). It may seem to be a glorious theology to believe that we are not under law. Or, we might be as the antinomian who believes that we are saved by faith alone, regardless of any obedience to moral or social laws of God.

But the theology of antinomianism (faith only) actually leads one into bondage. Though we might believe that there is no law by which we should live, our sense of religiosity would still drive us to create our own scriptures of “law.” We would invent laws to guarantee that we were not under law. The curse of those who believe that we are not under God’s law is that in maintaining some identity of their faith, they must establish for themselves religious codes and catechisms that would identify their faith.

Of course, such thinking is quite hypocritical, and thus contradictory. The fact is still true that God’s law brings freedom. It frees us from bringing ourselves into the bondage of our own self-imposed laws, while deceiving ourselves into believing that we are right with God on the basis of our own religious inventions. Therefore, as a charter statement of freedom, Paul wrote, “The law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good” (Rm 7:12).

  • God’s law is holy, just and good because it delivers us from the bondage of establishing our own religious laws.
    As all religious leaders who impose obedience to human religious rites and ceremonies, the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day had reversed the order of obedience, and thus contradicted the very purpose of the Sinai law on the Sabbath. They made the Sabbath, and the keeping of their assortment of attached laws associated with it, the means by which one would be judged a faithful “Sabbath keeper.”

Instead of a day of rest for the people, the Sabbath, with the added assortment of over one hundred rites that the Jews surrounded the Sabbath, was relegated to a show of religiosity. Keeping the Sabbath, therefore, became an attempted means of self-justification before God. When the Sabbath was combined with all the invented religious rites that surrounded the Sabbath, then one could boast that he was a faithful Sabbath-keeper.

The same takes place in the religious world today with those who have little or no knowledge of the word of Christ. This is often the reason why assembly-defined “Christianity” has become so popular. However, when we identity the church by the performance of fulfilled religious rites and ceremonies on Sunday morning, between an opening and closing prayer, then we have a flawed definition of God’s people.

All such performed assembly rites and ceremonies are often promoted by religious leaders who view grace through their obedience to their legal assembly ceremonies. Theirs is thus a distorted message that is no different than the Sabbath-keeping zealots who confronted Jesus about His violations of their Sabbath rites and ceremonies.

  • Our definition of church by obedience to prescribed assembly rites and rituals on Sunday morning relegates the members’ faith to an empty, and often spiritually sterile, if not emotionless, legal performance of assembly rules during the supposed “hour of worship.”

[Next in series: Articles 7,8]

Grace Versus Law

  1. The origin of religion:
    It was true that the Sinai covenant was continued active in Israel through the Israelites’ obedience to the Sinai law. However, and as all those who become ignorant of the law, the urge for self-justification became a part of the Jews’ religiosity once they set aside the purpose for which the Sinai law was originally given.

The Jews’ religious traditions, therefore, became absolutely necessary when they forgot the original purpose of the Sinai law, and often, the very statutes of the law. What statutes they did remember were surrounded with traditional orders of behavior in order that there be a guaranteed adherence to the Sinai law.

The same is true today in reference to the law of Christ. Many people today are as the Jews of old. In many cases, people today have also given up a knowledge of the word of God (See Hs 4:6). Since many people today have given up a knowledge of the New Testament word of Christ, but at the same time seek to remain religious, they have constructed all sorts of religious behavior in order to feel justified before God. Whether the Jews in the first century or Christians today, at least one very important lesson is learned from all this religious confusion. No matter what century in which we live, there are always those who have convinced themselves that they are right with God on the basis of performing their own religious traditions. Jesus saw this coming (Read Mt 7:21-23).

Many religious leaders today are no different than the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. For example, the religious leaders of the Jews sought to guarantee the keeping of the Sabbath law by surrounding the original Sabbath law with numerous amendments of the law. In order to honor the Sabbath, therefore, the Jewish religionists of the day imposed on the people their own self-justifying Sabbath behavior in order to guarantee that the Sabbath was strictly honored. For example, the “Sabbath-day journey,” which journey is found nowhere in the original Sinai law, was an imposed “law” that was to be obeyed in order to guarantee that one obeyed the Sabbath.

Today, the same is true in reference to the religiosity of many people. In order to be considered faithful, religious performances, especially surrounding the assemblies of each particular group, are orchestrated in order that all attendees walk away from the assembly feeling good, thinking that now after the “closing prayer,” they are justified before God.

  • When the assembly of any group becomes the identity of the group, then the adherents should realize that they have established a religion that is identified by assemblies, not by their obedience and behavior of the gospel.
  • 4. Attaching law to law:
    The Jews of Jesus’ time were no different than ourselves in attaching self-imposed laws (religious rites and ceremonies) to the original law. However, the religious leaders of the Jews forgot, in reference to the Sabbath, that “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mk 2:27). Those who use law as a means of self-justification always view law as an avenue through which one can stand just before God. In other words, some Jews kept the Sabbath in order to maintain a salvational relationship with God. The keeping of the Sabbath, however, was meant to be a sign of their covenant with God, not a means by which they would justify themselves from sin (See Ex 31:13). The Sabbath was set aside as a day of rest for the people, not as a day of worship.

The self-righteous always view justification through law-keeping. In reference to ourselves today, many Christians keep certain rites and ceremonies on Sunday morning in order to be justified before God. We thus preach grace from the pulpits, but bring ourselves into the bondage of our own self-justification through obedience to a prescribed order of religious ceremonies. We must simply remember that we are already justified by grace before we show up on Sunday morning. In fact, we show up at the assembly because we are justified, not in order to be justified.

It is the same with the assortment of religious traditions that we witness today among so many religious groups throughout the world. It is supposed that obedience to all the religious rites and ceremonies of each particular religious group will deem the adherents justified before God. The rites and ceremonies are thus perpetuated in order to make the adherents feel that they are justified before God on the basis of their perfect obedience of the rites and ceremonies.

However, we must never forget that self-imposed human religious rites and ceremonies, even the keeping of God’s laws, can never profit as a means of self-justification. Law cannot be the answer for a consistent relationship with God simply because we are all law breakers (Rm 3:9-11). Though law is just, good and holy, it still reveals sin in our lives for which there is no human solution (Rm 7:12-14).

When we consider our particular religious rites and ceremonies, who will stand forth and be the judge as to which are right and which are questionable, if not contrary to the established identity of church. In the first century, the Jews had a religious police force of scribes and Pharisees whose job it was to maintain the legal order of religious behavior among the people. Today, it is certain that we have the same who “come out of Jerusalem” in order to make judgments concerning the teaching of John the Baptist.

  • It is by God’s grace that we can live free of guilt because we know that we cannot keep His law perfectly.

Keeping all our religious rites and ceremonies may present before others a facade of religiosity, or even lead us into deceiving ourselves that we are righteous in obedience to law. Therefore, our religiosity in itself is of no benefit in reference to our justification. This is true simply because the Holy Spirit said it was true: “For by works of law no flesh will be justified” (Gl 2:16).

[Next in series: Articles 5,6]