This podcast covers Lesson 7 of Knowing Jesus…Knowing Joy! Bible Study by Melanie Newton.
The goals in Paul’s life had changed over the course of his 60+ years of age. In Philippians chapter 3, he stated emphatically that before he became a Christian, his goal was to be the best Jew. #1 Hebrew, CEO of the Pharisees. His course for reaching that goal was to study hard, practice the Law to achieve perfection, and wipe out the Christians. He was highly successful in his endeavors and close to reaching his initial goals UNTIL something happened. He met Jesus in a blinding light on the road to Damascus. The goals of his life changed. No longer did he seek to be top dog Pharisee but to be like Christ—to know Him, to understand the real impact of His resurrection, to share in HIs sufferings, to face death as purposefully as did Jesus, to be resurrected from the state of death and given a new, sinless body. All of this is Paul’s new definition of perfection.
That change in his life came because of God’s grace shown to him. The Law no longer had control of him. He accepted the gift of salvation by God’s grace and lived in that grace for the rest of his life.
Law and grace
- Many Christians start out accepting the gift of salvation by grace. But, through poor teaching, they are thrown into a works-related way of living out this new life in order to maintain acceptance before a holy God. This may have been your experience. The issue is broadly called “Law and Grace.”
- Understanding the difference between “law” and “grace” answers common questions new Christians ask, such as: What is the difference between the Old and New Testaments? How are we to live to please God after we are saved? What works must we do to stay saved?
- Most importantly, understanding the difference between “law” and “grace” is the foundation of the gospel you received and the basis for you to experience a life full of freedom and joy. Christ’s finished work on the cross and His resurrection show you how to approach life God’s way in three areas of your Christian life: motivation, power, and relationships.
- I’m going to ask you some questions to see how much you have been influenced by a works-related way of living out your Christian life.
- MOTIVATION: Is your motivation to live the Christian life and please God based on fear of what God will do to you every time you fail? Or, is your motivation to live the Christian life based on love and gratitude for what Christ has done for you?
- POWER: Do you think the power to live the Christian life is through your self-effort, trying hard enough? Or, does the power to live your Christian life come from trusting in the Spirit to enable you to do so?
- RELATIONSHIPS: In your relationships with others, do you try to motivate people to obedience through fear of punishment—either given out by God or by you? Or, do you recognize the grace God has shown you so you encourage others to obedience out of hearts of love and gratitude?
- So, you see that understanding the difference between “law” and “grace” will help you to recognize the wrong approach to life and direct you to God’s way of approaching life. The result is a life of joyful freedom.
- Probably the simplest way to understand Law & Grace is to see it as the issue of God's acceptance: "On what basis are you made acceptable before a holy God?"
What is “The Law?”
First, let’s talk about the Law and its meaning.
- Reading through the New Testament, you often see the phrase, “the Law.” Generally, the New Testament writers mean “the Mosaic Law”—the covenant between God and the nation of Israel instituted at Mt. Sinai after the Exodus from Egypt. Though it is not capitalized in most translations, “the law” is usually referring to the Law of Moses.
- The giving of the Law to Israel had several purposes:
- To make the nation of Israel into a holy nation as God was a holy God.
- To teach central truths about God. There had to be a nation on earth that knew something about God to teach the rest of the world.
- To protect and preserve Israel as a distinct people through whom the promised Messiah would come to bless the whole world.
- To lead people to a trust relationship with the Lord, thus preparing the way for the work of Christ. The Law showed people their sin, leaving faith in the mercy and grace of God alone to forgive one's guilt and be right with God. Salvation for Old Testament believers came through faith in a merciful God. By faith. That was the Old Covenant.
The Law had limitations. God promised a New Covenant.
God Made a New Covenant for Everyone
- Christ’s completed work on the cross fulfilled the purpose for the Old Testament religious laws. That began God’s New Covenant with everyone—both Gentiles and Jews—that proclaimed freedom from the Mosaic Law. You can learn more about that from my Graceful Living Bible Study, the Graceful Living Today devotional, and a blog series called “Words of the Cross.”
- When anyone believes in Jesus now, they are changed from the inside as the Holy Spirit comes to live in them. The motivation to please God becomes internal rather than external as with the Law. This promotes transparency in our relationship with God and helps us to obey our God better. Our acceptance before God is not based on our never messing up. It is God’s choice to hold onto us because we are in Christ. Under this New Covenant, we get to know God personally regardless of our status in life because our relationship with God is based upon our faith in Jesus Christ. And, our sins are not just covered but are taken away forever.
- Once you enter into that relationship with God, He then commits Himself to complete the work He began in you (Philippians 1:6) until you are conformed to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29). This doesn't mean that Christians have no responsibilities at all! We are called to follow Jesus Christ diligently and live worthy of our calling. Live as Christ would live.
What is legalism?
- God’s plan is too easy for many to accept. And, old habits of works-based religion are hard to break. They sneak into the church. We call it “legalism” (legal = relating to the law). It isn’t likely that you’ll be pushed into following the Mosaic Law although some denominations do add parts of it to their own religious practices. I’m not talking about what is clearly taught as right and wrong from God’s perspective in Scripture. That is still sin.
- So, what is legalism? Legalism is the addition of any other conditions to faith in order to gain and maintain acceptance from God, and even how to stay saved. You recognize it as “faith plus” other things, such as good works, refraining from certain sins, church membership, sacraments (baptism, communion), and more. This is where you are likely to be wrongly influenced. Whenever God's acceptance of you has an "IF” attached to it (other than faith in Jesus Christ), dear believer, you know you are in the vicinity of legalism.
- Legalism leads to a dramatically different experience of Christian living. Many groups or individuals begin with a clear presentation of the gospel of grace to receive salvation, then proceed to live by works, trying to earn or maintain God’s acceptance by their performance. That would include insistence you follow the Mosaic Law, or human “religious” laws imposed by others, or self-imposed rules that you feel make you more spiritual than others. The effects are the same—fear, guilt, and condemnation.
- You know you are trapped in legalism whenever you try to approach God on the basis of your own merits or performance. Though the outward effects are often subtle, anyone trying to live by law will actually be drifting her focus away from the Person of Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:6; Colossians 2:19). You will be straying from enjoying a relationship to practicing a religion.
Why does legalism persist in the church?
- So why do some Christians so easily stray away from grace into legalism? Why would someone want to retain the Law or create additional laws for Christians to follow? Often, it is the tendency to think that you can control sin through lots of rules. We all know how much that does not work! In fact, in Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he stresses how much legalism actually creates arrogant and hardened hearts toward God because it puts the focus of one’s righteousness on oneself rather than on what Christ finished on the cross for us. God gives us Christ’s righteousness. We can’t get it through following rules.
- Legalism is used to motivate people to obedience by fear of punishment. We have this tendency to interpret problems and tragedies in our lives as signs of God's anger or favor. You know that questions that pop up: "Why did this happen? What does it mean? What is God trying to tell me?" So, Christians may acknowledge grace as true but live as though their own performance of religious standards determines their fate in life. They live in fear of God, not a healthy fear, but an unhealthy one—a fear of what God will do to them every time they fail. That becomes the motivation for their Christian living—how to stay on the good side of God so bad things won’t happen.
This is opposite of God’s plan for you.
God’s plan is for you to live by grace
Paul penned these fantastic verses in Ephesians chapter 2:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
- Out of God’s mercy comes His grace. Remember that grace is unmerited favor. It is a gift that is undeserved. Grace is a gift God chooses to give because of His great mercy, apart from the Law (Romans 3:21). It is not based on any works other than believing in Jesus Christ.
- Because you live under the grace of God in Jesus Christ, you can rest in the fact that all of God's purposes for you are good. You have a loving Father who teaches, trains, and corrects. Even when evil occurs (because we still live in a fallen world), you can rest confidently in the fact that our God is good all the time to us. He’s good even in the tough times, He’s good in different ways to each of His children, and He’s good in what He allows and doesn’t allow into our lives.
- The answer to human sinfulness is not that we should keep believers under law. It is teaching and exhorting believers to “live by the Spirit”—the better way.
Through our adoption as sons and the gift of the Holy Spirit, we have received a status as spiritual adults. Adults live on the basis of mature character with freedom and responsibility. Paul confirms that we are united with Christ with a new identity and status. Knowing your new status in Christ, based on all that Christ has done for you and what you have in Him, helps to answer the question, “Why should I live a godly life if I’m not under law?”
- Living by grace motivates you to live a godly life out of gratitude for God’s great love for you. Romans 5:8 describes how much God loves you and how he demonstrated that love through Christ’s death on the cross for you. Christ’s love compels you to live for him because of what he did for you. Living by grace motivates you to obedience out of love and gratitude.
Paul understood the plight of those who had been relating to God through outward performance under the Law for years. He had been there! Those who have been freed from the Law (both Jews and non-Jews since Christ) can now have a relationship with God on the basis of His grace, as Paul describes about his own life. Grace motivates us to obedience by love and gratitude for what Christ has done.
Think back to your Christian life so far and try to recognize the influence of legalism on what you’ve been taught. If you have been taught any “faith plus any other condition” in order to maintain acceptance to God, get to heaven, or get any other blessing (which you already have in Christ!), consider how this has affected your life, emotions, thinking, or relationship with God and others. Then, let it go and cling to the truth of your identity in Christ.
God wants you to relate to Him on the basis of His grace, so that your motivation to obey Him is based on His love for you, your love for Him, and gratitude for what Christ has done for you. Relax! Thank Him that you have FREEDOM to relate to your God on the basis of His grace to you. And, that will lead to a life of joyful freedom!
Want to have joy in your life?
Let Jesus satisfy your heart with the fullness of His joy. Then, live in that joy!
Until next time, I’m Melanie Newton. And, this is Series 5 of Satisfied.
Joyful Walk Bible Studies by Melanie Newton are available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.