law and grace

When I was a younger Christian I came to realize that a most important theme in scripture and for theologians, is the theme of law and grace. The idea stressed in my circles took on mostly a Lutheran bent that the law given in the old covenant was to prepare people for the grace that would come in the new covenant through Christ. The Reformed view seemed more nuanced in that law had its place in revealing at least something of God’s will for the present. And although I was raised in an Anabaptist denomination (Mennonite), I did not understand well the Anabaptist emphasis on grace enabling followers of Jesus to be obedient, and by the Spirit to fulfill the law.

I often notice that those who are influenced by the Protestant Reformation in its Lutheran form, and to a significant extent in its Reformed and Calvinist mode often emphasize the law’s work of convicting us of sin. They are right that this is an important aspect of the law, as Paul teaches us in Romans and Galatians. However there is more to it.

God’s will for Israel, and something of his will for the kingdom come in Jesus is made known through the law. More specifically, God’s will in the new covenant is made known through Jesus, his commands, his gospel. It is all dependent on God’s grace, and works through Jesus’ death and resurrection—Jesus pouring out the Spirit from the Father after his ascension. And by that Spirit we are said to fulfill the requirements of the law.

It’s not enough to say that one is simply to rest in Christ for their salvation. Yes, that is important, but along with that one is to follow Christ. Jesus said that if we love him, we’ll keep his commands,  that is, obey them. Of course we’re not talking about sinless perfection, but we are talking about a change of life, a radical reorientation from self and sin to God and righteousness in and through Jesus. Of course all fulfilled in love, the love that comes from God in which we are to live. Returned with our whole being and doing to God, and to our neighbor as ourselves (as one like us, or in the same way we love ourselves).

And so God’s call to us in Jesus because of his grace is one that removes us from the curse of the law since we are all sinners. And by grace enables us to begin to fulfill the requirement of the law by the Spirit. The heart of that being love. A love that is meant for the world even through us in and through Jesus.