In our last study on grace, we focused on the subject of gratitude. I said that we are to live in obedience to God's word out of gratitude for all that He has done for us. Gratitude is our motive for obedience. I think that if we really understand God's grace, we will be extemely grateful and our gratitude will motivate us to live, not for ourselves, but for Him. Gratitude will be our motivation to fulfill the great commandment:.
Matthew 22:36-39 (NKJV) "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?" 37 Jesus said to him, " 'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38 "This is the first and great commandment. 39 "And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'
"The greatest commandment of all", Jesus said, is "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." Commenting on these verses in his book, Loving God, Charles Colson said,
I'd memorized those words but had never really thought about what they meant in practical terms; that is, how to fulfill that command. I wondered if others felt the same way. So I asked a number of more experienced Christians how they loved God.
'Well....by loving Him,' one stammered, then added by way of explanation, '....with all my heart, soul, and mind.'
'By maintaining a worshipful heart, offering myself as an acceptable sacrifice," another answered quickly. When I pressed for specifics, he began detailing his devotional reading schedule and prayer life. Halfway through his discourse, he stopped and shrugged. "Let me think about it some more.'
Faithful church attendance was a frequent response, and tithing ranked high on the list. Several recited favorite sins they no longer pursued while many tried to explain 'loving God' as a feeling in their hearts, as if it were something akin to a romantic encounter. Others looked at me suspiciously, perhaps thinking my query some kink of trick question.
That did it. The cumulative effect of my survey convinced me that most of us, as professing Christians, do not really know how to love God. Not only have we not given thought to what the greatest commandment means in our day-to-day existence, we have not obeyed it.
I think that Colson is right when he says, "Most of us, as professing Christians, do not really know how to love God." If that question were put to you, how would you answer it? Do you know how to love God? You should, Jesus tells us very clearly what it means to love God:
John 14:15 (NKJV) "If you love Me, keep My commandments.
How do we love God then? By living in obedience to His commands which are outlined in Scripture.
John 14:21 (NKJV) "He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he 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 14:23 (NKJV) Jesus answered and said to him, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.
That should make it clear that loving God is manifested by our obedience to His Word. Do you love Him? If you do not live in obedience to His Word, you don't love Him.
Now, the question that many of us ask is, "What is the relationship between living by grace and obedience to God's commands?" For example, I said in our last study, "Nothing you ever do will cause Him to love you any more or less. You are loved and accepted through the merit of Jesus Christ." Such a strong and unqualified statement about the love of God sounds dangerous, and could bring against me the charge of saying, in effect, that God doesn't care whether you sin or not.
But think about the alternative: "God loves you if you are obedient and doesn't love you if you are disobedient." This is what so many Christians believe. But if God's love is conditioned on our obedience, we are all in trouble. Remember what James said?
James 2:10 (NKJV) For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.
In order to be obedient, we would have to keep all the law, all the time. Who does this? We are never completely obedient. So, if God's love was contingent upon our obedience, God would never love us, for we are never completely obedient. We are accepted and loved by God, either on the merit of Jesus Christ or on the basis of our own performance. Which do you prefer? Thank God that our acceptance and love is based upon the merit of Jesus Christ alone.
Since we are saved by grace and accepted by God on the basis of grace alone, does He care if we sin or not? Let me answer that question with a question, "Does God care if we love Him or not?" Well, does He? Of course he does. And how is it that we love God? We love Him by living in obedience to His commands. But our love for God, expressed through obedience to Him, is to be a RESPONSE TO HIS LOVE, not a means of trying to earn it. John put it this way:
1 John 4:19 (NKJV) We love Him because He first loved us.
So, we live in obedience to God's commands out of a loving gratitude for all that He has graciously given us. The person who is truly living by grace is living in loving obedience to the commands of God.
Jesus said that if we love Him, we will obey His commands. The commands of God give us clear direction. We are told in the Bible what to do and what not to do. The Biblical commands provide a clear set of moral standards. We don't have to try to figure out what is right and what is wrong in every situation, God has already told us.
A popular philosophy in our society today is "situation ethics," in which actions are morally evaluated in terms of a "loving" response to the situation at hand, rather than by application of moral absolutes. Situation ethics knows no external, objective standard of behavior. Rather, it responds to what "seems right at the moment." The problem with this philosophy is twofold. First of all, man's heart is evil:
Genesis 6:5 (NKJV) Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
Genesis 8:21 (NKJV) And the LORD smelled a soothing aroma. Then the LORD said in His heart, "I will never again curse the ground for man's sake, although the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done.
Jeremiah 17:9 (NKJV) "The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?
Ecclesiastes 9:3 (NKJV) This is an evil in all that is done under the sun: that one thing happens to all. Truly the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil; madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.
Do you get the point? Men, all men, are evil. Secondly, we don't know what love is apart for the Scripture. Therefore, anything can be made to "seem right." If we have no external objective standard of behavior then everyone will simply do what is right in their own eyes. Which is what benefits them the most or makes them the happiest.
This worldly philosophy of situation ethics has crept into the church and many Christians disobey God's Word under the guise of doing what is "loving." I have heard Christian parents say that they do not spank their children because they love them too much. But the Holy Scripture says the exact opposite:
Proverbs 13:24 (NKJV) He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him promptly.
To not spank a child is to hate him, not love him. A child who is not spanked will bring shame upon his parents:
Proverbs 29:15 (NKJV) The rod and rebuke give wisdom, But a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.
Christians have also engaged in adultery on the pretense that they were acting in love toward a "lonely" or "hurting" person. Years ago I worked as a phone counselor for the 700 Club, and one day a man called asking for prayer for his girlfriend who had left him to go back to her husband. He wanted me to pray that this woman would leave her husband and come back to him because he loved her. Did he really love her? Not according to the Scripture:
Romans 13:8-10 (NKJV) Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery," "You shall not murder," "You shall not steal," "You shall not bear false witness," "You shall not covet," and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
If this man truly loved this woman, he would not be trying to get her involved in adultery. He would be glad that she was doing what was right.
I read of a man who conspired to have his incurably ill wife murdered because "she would be happier with Jesus." But the text we just looked at in Romans says, "Love does not murder." God's commands provide us with an objective standard and, when obeyed, keep us from falling into situation ethics.
What Paul told the Ephesians applies equally to us:
Ephesians 5:17 (NKJV) Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
Paul is not talking here about God's sovereign will which cannot be known until it happens. He is talking about his moral will which is revealed in His Word. For example:
1 Thessalonians 4:1-3 (NKJV) Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God; 2 for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality;
God's moral will, His command, is to abstain from sexual immorality. In verse one of 1 Thess. 4, Paul says that he taught them, "How you ought to walk and to please God." Then in verse 2, he talks about the "commands" that he had given them. And then he talks about the "will of God." To walk in a way that pleases God is the same thing as keeping His commands, which is the same as doing God's will.
Ephesians 5:17 (NKJV) Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
We see here that we are commanded to know and understand the commands contained in the Scripture. To fulfill this command requires that we read and study our Bibles. We cannot know God's will if we don't read the book in which it is revealed.
John Calvin said, "We owe to Scripture the same reverence which we owe to God." I think he is right because the Scripture is the self-revelation of God. Do you reverence the Bible? How do we reverence the Bible? By learning it!
In his book, Loving God, Charles Colson says this about the Bible:
The Bible-- banned, burned, beloved. More widely read, more frequently attacked than any other book in history. Generations of intellectuals have attempted to discredit it; dictators of every age have outlawed it and executed those who read it. Yet soldiers carry it into battle believing it more powerful than their weapons. Fragments of it smuggled into solitary prison cells have transformed ruthless killers into gentile saints. Pieced-together scraps of Scripture have converted whole villages of pagan Indians.
Yearly, the Bible outsells every best-seller. Five hundred million copies were published last year alone. Portions have been translated into more then 1800 languages and even carried to the moon.
Literary classics endure the centuries. Philosophers mold the thoughts of generations unborn. Modern media shapes current culture. Yet nothing has affected the rise and fall of civilization. The character of cultures, the structure of governments, and the lives of the inhabitants of this planet as profoundly as the words of the Bible.
John Wesley said, "God Himself has condescended to teach the way...He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the Book of God! I have it; here is knowledge enough for me." This should be the attitude of all of us -- at any price, give me the Book of God!
I said that we are commanded to read and study the Bible. Please understand that a command is not a suggestion that we can accept or reject; a command implies that the one giving it has the authority to require obedience. As the sovereign God of the universe, He has the authority to require obedience, and He does insist that we obey Him.
LAW & GRACE
This brings us to the issue of the relationship of the law of God to the grace of God. Some people believe that under grace, God's law no longer has the meaning of requirement but is and expression of His desire. Does grace negate God's law?
It is difficult for many to accept that law is, in any sense, a part of the believer's life today; law, to them, is wholly contrary to and exclusive of grace. Early dispensational writers, especially, were strong promoters of this view. The difficulty of this teaching lies in the clear presence in the apostolic writings of so many scores of commands addressed to believers, as well as even explicit references to law:
James 1:25 (NKJV) But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.
Sin itself is defined as "lawlessness"
1 John 3:4 (NKJV) Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.
Clearly, the Christian is given law, a rule of life to which he is bound.
Chafer claimed that the "commandments" of Christ are not really "commands" after all but the "teachings of grace." But this effectively reduces law to advice and commands to suggestions. God, of course, does not merely give advice. His revealed will is law.
God's grace does not change the fundamental character of God's moral law. Rather, the grace of God provides for the forgiveness and acceptance of those who have broken the law. The good news of the gospel is that God has removed the guilt and penalty we incur by breaking His law, and has bestowed on us the righteousness of Christ, who perfectly kept His law. Legalism does not consist in yielding obedience to the law. Rather, it is to seek justification and good standing with God through the merit of works done in obedience to the law-- instead of by faith in Christ.
God is the supreme Ruler and moral Governor of the universe. As His children, we are subject to His laws. Out of a response to His grace, we should obey in a loving and grateful way. The fundamental character of God's moral law has not changed. What has changed is our reason for obedience, our motive. Under grace, obedience is a loving response to all that God has provided for us.
Obedience to God's commands that is prompted by fear or merit-seeking is not true obedience. The only obedience that is acceptable to God is constrained and motivated by love. God's law as revealed in His Word, prescribes our duty, but love provides the correct motive for obedience. We obey God's law, not to be loved or accepted, but because we are loved and accepted in Christ.
If we view obedience to God's law as optional, then in our minds we begin to accumulate merit or extra points. Because if we didn't have to obey, if what we did was voluntary, we begin to feel pretty good about ourselves.
Luke 17:10 (NKJV) "So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.'"
When we understand that we are required to obey God's law, we will see more and more how far short we come in obedience. And the more we see how far short we come, the more we will be driven into an appreciation of grace. God's law shows us just how much we need His grace. Augustine said, "God gives us commands we cannot perform, that we may know what we ought to request from Him."
Love provides the motive for obeying the commands of the law, but the law provides specific direction for exercising love. If we did not have specific directions, commands, how would we know how to love God or our fellow man? God's moral law gives us a description of love in action.
Romans 13:8-10 (NKJV) Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.
How do I love my neighbor?
9 For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery," "You shall not murder," "You shall not steal," "You shall not bear false witness," "You shall not covet," and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
To love my neighbor is not to have a warm feeling toward him, it is to act toward him in the ways outlined here.
Now some of you might be thinking, "I thought that Christ put an end to the law?"
Romans 10:4 (NKJV) For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
The New Testament writers unanimously and repeatedly teach that the law of Moses was fulfilled and so abolished in Christ. The law given to Moses at Sinai has been abrogated. It was part of a temporary, conditional covenant whose purpose was fulfilled with the coming of Jesus Christ. Thus the law of Moses is no longer binding.
The point that arises from all this is not that idolatry, murder, theft, etc. are no longer sinful, but that Mosaic law does not apply to the believer today. It is no longer binding. It is, therefore, wrong for the Christian to look to the demands of the Old Covenant--whether dietary laws or civil regulations or personal obligations or whatever--for his rule of life.
In those passages which Paul argues that the believer is "not under law," the meaning is not that he has no rule of life. At times Paul may argue that the believer is free from the law of Moses (e.g. Gal. 3:19-25; cf. Peter, Acts 15:10). At other times he may argue that the believer is free from the law as a means of justification (Rom. 10:4 and perhaps 6:14-15) --he is not under its penalty of condemnation. But he never implies that there is no more law. Grace frees a man from the law's condemnation, but it does not leave him without a binding rule of life.
The believer today, indeed, has a rule of life. As was the case before and during the Mosaic economy, all men are bound to a divine standard of righteousness. Just as Divine law against idolatry, murder and theft was in effect before Moses, so it is binding after Moses.
It would seem evident that the only laws relevant to the believer's standard of conduct today are those of the New Testament. If the Old Covenant is abolished, it would be wrong to impose it as the rule for life today. Since today's believer is now under the terms of the New Covenant, he must look to see what the terms of this New Covenant are.
Galatians 6:2 (NKJV) Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
As believers, we are not under the Mosiac law but we are under the "law of Christ."
FREEDOM IS NOT LAWLESSNESS
There is no such thing as unqualified freedom. Where there are NO rules, it is not called freedom, but anarchy. With no laws, it would be everyone doing what is right in his own eyes which would be very dangerous and chaotic. How would you like to live in a place where there were no rules? NO law?
Without rules, you couldn't have sports. The interstates would be quite dangerous with out speed laws, and people would be driving in any direction they wanted, and if they didn't like your driving, they could shoot you. If someone wanted what you had, they could take it from you. Think about a society without law and you will quickly understand that that is not freedom. Laws give order and structure to society.
Notice what Paul says about God's law:
Romans 7:12 (NKJV) Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.
Romans 7:22 (NKJV) For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man.
God's law is holy and good. And God's law is not opposed to grace, nor is it the enemy of grace. To live by grace means that we understand that God's love is not conditioned by our obedience or disobedience but by the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ. It means that out of a grateful response to the grace of God, we seek to understand His commands and obey them. Not to be loved, but because we are loved.
We are commanded to love God and our fellow man. The way that we do this is to live in obedience to the commands of God that are outlined in His Word. Our motive for doing this is gratitude. To live by grace is to live in obedience.
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