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]

Leave a Reply