IS THERE A CONNECTION BETWEEN GOD’S LAW AND GRACE? In this last part of this series, we will examine what the Old Testament teaches us about the connection between grace and the law. This is an extremely controversial point, since for centuries, Christianity has argued that Grace and Law were opposites, and that if someone tried to follow the Law, then they were attempting to earn their way to heaven, and the cross of Christ was no longer beneficial to them (Galatians 5:4). But is this correct, or has the writings of Paul been taken out of context and misunderstood? In this third part of this four-part series, we are going to look at this controversial topic.
CHESED [GRACE] IS CONNECTED TO OBSERVANCE TO THE LAW.
Interestingly, the first One to explicitly connect law and grace (Heb. chesed) together in the Bible is God Himself at Mt. Sinai as He is giving Israel the Ten Commandments. So am I saying that God taught that we are justified by the keeping of the law? Did He not know about the cross here? I have heard many ministers make the claim that in the Old Testament, God taught a “legalistic approach” to Him, but as we will see, the Old Testament does NOT teach what they claim. Those who think it teaches a “legalistic approach” do NOT really know the commandments, nor have they given them any real consideration beyond just a superficial reading of the text.
In the giving of the commandments, God first of all introduces Himself to the people of Israel:
I am the LORD [Heb. YHVH] your God, which have brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. (Exodus 20:2)
“I am the LORD.” The word “LORD” here in all capitals is YHVH, the covenantal name of God, and when it was originally written, as all words in the ancient Paleo-Hebrew of the Old Testament, there were no vowels added to the words. The vowels were added to the written text much later, and as a result, there’s been a lot of dispute as to how His name should be pronounced, which is why I just gave the consonants here. But in this introduction, He not only tells them His name, which is what we do when we introduce ourselves to someone, but He reaffirms their relationship with Him by saying “your God.”
But not only does He introduce Himself to them and tell them that He is their “God,” but He also tells them that He is the one who had just redeemed them from slavery in Egypt; consequently, then, His relationship to them is based on the redemptive act that He had just done for them [i.e., His act of grace], “which have brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” And so even in the New Testament, our relationship with God is based on His grace, i.e., His redemptive act: Jesus’ death and resurrection for our sins. So has God changed? Absolutely NOT! In fact, throughout the Scriptures, we find a consistent portrait of the behavior of God: He redeems us by an act of grace, His chesed, in order to establish His relationship with us. This is true in the Exodus, it is true in the New Testament, and it is true in our lives today.
THE LAW’S TEACHING ABOUT GOD’S GRACE [CHESED]
It is only after establishing His identity and His relationship to them, which is based upon His act of grace, His redemption of them from slavery, that He then gives to them His commandments. The first one being,
You shall have no other gods before Me. (Exodus 20:3)
So what we learn here in the law is that once we are in a relationship with God, which is based on His redemption, an act of His grace, then we are expected to live in obedience to Him. So what the law teaches us, contrary to what many mainstream ministers teach, is that OBEDIENCE FOLLOWS REDEMPTION (i.e., “salvation”), which is always an act of grace, and the obedience does NOT cause or bring about the redemption or salvation. Therefore, the law teaches the exact same thing as Paul in the New Testament. Grace and law are NOT in conflict at all, but both of them do have a purpose and a role in our relationship with God.
But there’s more that God wants us to learn here about His grace, God’s chesed, but to see it, we must continue on. The first thing God requires in our obedience to Him is that He is to come FIRST and FOREMOST in our lives, and nothing else. If we put anything before Him, including our own needs, wants, our dreams and desires, our families and yes, even our own lives, then we are in violation of this commandment. And secondly,
You shall not make unto you ANY graven image, or ANY likeness of ANY thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. (Exodus 20:4; Emphasis mine)
God clearly prohibits here the use of ANY type of pictorial representation of Him. But it’s in the next two verses, which is actually a continuation of this commandment, that we find the next connection between God’s commandments and His chesed (or grace). Although in the King James, the word chesed here is NOT translated as “grace” but as “mercy”:
You shall not bow down yourself to them [idols or other gods], nor serve them: for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me; and showing MERCY [Heb. chesed] unto thousands of them that love Me, and keep My commandments.” (Exodus 20:5-6; Emphasis mine)
So in this part of the commandment, we are also NOT to “bow down” and “serve” any other gods. To “bow down” was the common position of worship, so God here is telling them (and us) that we are not to worship any other god or idol, only Him. And we are also NOT to “serve” any other god.
What does it mean to “serve” any other god? The word “serve” is the English translation of the Hebrew word ‘avad (Strong’s #5647), which means “to serve, work, or toil, or to work as a slave.” I think a good modern example of this can be seen in traditional Buddhism. The Buddha (“the Enlightened One”) is a title given to Siddhartha, the son of a king in India, who renounced his position, wealth, power, and even left his wife and child, to go and discover the cause of human suffering. Siddhartha lived the same time as the prophet Isaiah, about 500 years before Christ.
In traditional Theraveda Buddhism, although the Buddha is not seen as “a god” (since there are no gods in Theraveda Buddhism), he and his teachings do come first and foremost in the minds of his followers; consequently, then making him an idol. And every year on his birthday, his statue is cleaned, a ritual called “bathing the Buddha.” And another form of this happens during the “Vesak Ritual,” in which devoted followers “pour scented, blessed water over an image of an infant prince [the Buddha].” In “bathing the [statues of the] Buddha,” these followers are “serving” him and, therefore, violating this commandment that we are not to serve any other god (or idol), but the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
But you say, “I don’t have any statues in my home, nor do I serve any,” but do you spend all your time working? Is your job an idol in your life? Does your service to your employer come before your service or obedience to God? What about sports? Do you spend all your time watching one game after another? Do you serve your enjoyment of the games by learning all you can about them and the players, rather than spending time with God by reading your Bible? What about other possible idols: video games, parties, money and materialism, drugs and alcohol, or even your own family? ANYTHING that comes first and foremost in our lives before God is an idol; it doesn’t have to be a statue. But regardless of what it is, do you “serve” it?
And why are we NOT to “bow down” or “serve” them? For three reasons,
- Because God says, “for I the LORD your God am a jealous God.”
This word “jealous” is the English translation of the Hebrew word qanna (Strong’s #7067), and it’s only used of God. In doing some research, I found out in Chris Poblete’s online article “The Names of God: Qanna,” that he writes,
The fundamental meaning relates to a marriage relationship. God is depicted as Israel’s husband; He is a jealous God, wanting all our praise for Himself and no one else.
So just as any human spouse would expect complete loyalty and faithfulness, so God, as Israel’s husband, is expecting complete loyalty, devotion, and faithfulness from His people. In the next part of the verse, God alludes to the fact that God faithfully keeps His covenant, and when that covenant is broken, God will faithfully punish those who violate it, which is what He means when He says,
- visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me.
And finally, it’s in this third reason where the next chesed-connection is seen.
- and showing MERCY [Heb. chesed] unto thousands of them that love Me, and keep My commandments.
Throughout the Scriptures, God consistently describes Himself, or is describes, as Him being a God who “keeps covenant” and “mercy” (Heb. chesed; or “grace”). For example,
Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, which KEEPS COVENANT AND MERCY [Heb. chesed] with them that love Him and keep His commandments. (Deuteronomy 7:9; Emphasis mine)
What is it that we are to “KNOW” about YHVH, our God? There are FIVE important things I’d like to point out from this verse:
- “He is God.” There’s no other God but Him. Hes “the real thing,” all other gods are man-made and false.
- He is “the faithful God.” The word “faithful” is the Hebrew word ‘emunah (and it can mean “faith” or “faithful” or both at the same time). So this could also be translated as “the faith God” or “the God of faith.” So then how does God demonstrate His emunah, His “faith” and His “faithfulness”?
- “which KEEPS COVENANT AND MERCY [Heb. chesed] with them.” But who are the “them”?
- “that love Him…” Notice that our “love for Him,” is mentioned first. So just as we discussed before, RELATIONSHIP COMES FIRST, and then secondly,
- “and KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS.” OBEDIENCE always follows RELATIONSHIP, NOT the other way around.
From this, we can see that “grace,” God’s chesed, is not only involved in us coming into a relationship with God, but it is also central to our on-going relationship with God, which includes our obedience to His commandments. So to see grace [Heb. chesed] and our obedience to God as being diametrically opposed to one another is a clear misrepresentation of what is taught here within the Scriptures. These two things are not opposites, nor are they opposed to each other, but it is this connection between God’s grace [Heb. chesed] and our obedience to His commandments that traditional mainstream Christianity has not correctly understood.
So now let’s look at some more examples of this connection being made:
And he [Solomon] said, ‘LORD God of Israel, there is no God like You, in heaven above, or on earth beneath, who KEEPS COVENANT AND MERCY [Heb. chesed] with Your servants that walk before You with all their heart. (I Kings 8:23; Emphasis mine; see also 2 Chronicles 6:14)
And I [Daniel] prayed unto the LORD my God, and made my confession, and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God, KEEPING THE COVENANT AND MERCY [Heb. chesed] to them that love Him, and to them that keep His commandments. (Daniel 9:4; Emphasis mine)
And [Nehemiah] said, ‘I beseech You, O LORD God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that KEEPS COVENANT AND MERCY [Heb. chesed] for them that love Him and observe His commandments. (Nehemiah 1:5; Emphasis mine)
As we can see, Solomon, Daniel, Nehemiah, all understood that the God of Israel was a God who “KEEPS COVENANT AND MERCY [Heb. chesed; or grace]” and the people who He “keeps covenant and chesed [grace] with are described consistently the same way: as those “who love Him and keep His commandments.” So as Christians, we might ask the question, So why is “keeping His commandments” important? It is NOT just about the obedience, there is something more here.
THE REAL INTENT AND PURPOSE OF THE COMMANDMENTS
God introduces Himself to His people – His Bride, Israel – His “new family,” and He wants her to know who He is and what He’s like, and what He’s NOT like. This is the ultimate intent and purpose of the commandments, to describe God to us. And by having us “keep His commandments,” He is trying to teach us, by using concrete examples, how we can become imitators of Him, which is what Paul teaches us in Ephesians 5:1, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children” (NASB). In the King James, it states, “Be ye therefore followers of God as dear children.” A “follower” is one who imitates the teacher, the one they are following, so in actuality, the same message is being taught here: to “be imitators of God.”
And like any loving father, God wants us, as His sons and daughters, to imitate Him, and the commandments He gave to Moses teaches us how to do that. But another essential concept that most traditional mainstream American Christians don’t understand is the concept of KINGDOM. In Myles Monroe’s book Rediscovering the Kingdom: Ancient Hope for our 21st Century World (2004), he points out the importance of this word:
The concept of “KINGDOM” is critical, essential, necessary, required, and imperative in order to understand, appreciate, and comprehend the purpose, intent, goal, and objectives of God and mankind’s relationship to Him and the creation. (25; Emphasis mine)
For one thing, what we need to understand is that a KINGDOM is NOT a democracy. God does NOT rule and reign in a democracy. What He has is a KINGDOM, and in describing the citizenry of a KINGDOM, Monroe describes them in the following:
The Citizenry is the people that live under the rule of the king. Citizenship in a kingdom is NOT A RIGHT, but a PRIVILEGE, and is a result of the King’s choice. The benefits and privileges of a KINGDOM are ONLY accessible to citizens and therefore, the favor of the KING [called “grace”] is always a privilege [“unmerited favor”]. (65)
Notice that we put the Scriptures back into a “KINGDOM CONTEXT,” everything that Paul taught about how we are “saved” [become citizens of God’s Kingdom] make sense. For example, in a democracy, citizenship is a right, but in a kingdom, it is NOT a right, but a privilege. In a democracy, we can earn the right to become a citizen, but in a KINGDOM, there isn’t anything that anyone can do to earn that right; it is entirely a result of the King’s choice.
IT IS THE KING WHO CHOOSES
Consequently, when the King chooses who He wants in His Kingdom, then by choosing them, that person is receiving the King’s favor, or in other words, His grace. Throughout the Gospels, it is Jesus, the Anointed King, who chooses His followers, the people of His Kingdom:
You have NOT chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that you should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain:…” (John 15:16; Emphasis mine).
It is NOT us who found or choose God, but it is God who found and chooses us to be in His Kingdom. This is the right and privilege of a King. For example, God chose Abraham, He chose Isaac, and He even chose Jacob, as well as Joseph. And in Deuteronomy 7, God tells the people and nation of Israel,
For you are a holy people unto the LORD your God: the LORD your God HAS CHOSEN YOU to be a special people unto Himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. The LORD did not set His love upon you, nor CHOOSE YOU, because you are more in number than any people; for you were the fewest of all people: But because the LORD loved you, and because He would keep the oath which He had sworn unto your fathers, has the LORD brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 7:6-8; Emphasis mine)
God is telling them that He chose Israel and redeemed them because of the oath He had sworn to the fathers – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And even among the prophets and kings, it is God who chooses them. And because God chose and redeemed them, He led them to Mt. Sinai to make them a part of His KINGDOM by giving them His KINGDOM LAWS. Israel, itself, is NOT the whole KINGDOM, but it is part of the KINGDOM, just as the church is NOT the whole KINGDOM, but a part of the KINGDOM. And just because people begin in the KINGDOM does NOT mean they’ll finish in the KINGDOM. We see this in the Exodus, and we see this in the life and ministry of Jesus.
THE ROLE AND RELATIONSHIP OF THE LAW
Another concept we in American Christianity don’t understand is the role and relationship of the Law in God’s Kingdom. In His book, Monroe describes it this way:
The Law constitutes the standards and principles established by the king, himself, by which his kingdom will function and be administered. The laws of the kingdom are to be obeyed by all, including foreigners residing in it. The laws of the kingdom are the way by which one is guaranteed access to the benefits of the king and the kingdom. Violations of kingdom law place one at odds with the king and thus interrupts the favorable position one enjoys with the king. (65-66)
Every word spoken by a king is law, so how much of the Bible is “the law of God”? All of it, since all of it is the spoken word of the King. Any violation of kingdom law is what the Bible calls “sin.” In the United States, when someone “breaks the law,” we call it “a crime,” but in God’s kingdom, it’s called “a sin.” But what I found really interesting about Monroe’s discussion of Kingdom law is the following:
The laws in a kingdom CANNOT BE CHANGED by the citizens, nor are they subject to a subject to a citizen referendum or debate. Simply put, the word of the king is law in a kingdom. Rebellion against the law is rebellion against the king. (66; Emphasis mine)
WE CANNOT ADD OR DELETE FROM IT
Nowhere in the Bible does God ever give people the right to alter or change or even delete any of His commandments; in fact, twice in the Bible, He prohibits this.
You shall NOT add unto the word which I command you, neither shall you diminish aught (subtract or delete) from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you. (Deuteronomy 4:2; Emphasis mine)
What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: you shall add thereto, nor diminish from it. (Deuteronomy 12:32)
Consequently, then, whenever Christians say, or teach, that any or all parts of the Law, or the any other part of the Bible is not for today is, in fact, a violation of these two commandments.
ABRAHAMIC OR MOSAIC – WILL THE REAL RELATIONSHIP COVENANT PLEASE STAND UP?
And finally, a third point that traditional mainstream Christianity has NOT understood is that the Mosaic covenant, the covenant God made with Israel at Mt. Sinai, is NOT the relationship covenant between God and His people. Instead, the RELATIONSHIP COVENANT of the Old Testament is the ABRAHAMIC COVENANT. We see this repeatedly alluded to throughout the Scriptures. For example,
And God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. (Exodus 2:24)
And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty [Heb. El Shaddai], but by My name the LORD [Heb. YHVH] was I not known to them. And I have also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage, where they were strangers. And I have also heard the groaning of the children of Israel, whom the Egyptians keep in bondage; and I have remembered My covenant. (Exodus 6:3-5)
If they shall confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers, with their trespass which they trespassed against Me, and that also they have walked contrary to Me;…Then will I remember My covenant with Jacob, and also My covenant with Isaac, and also My covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land. (Leviticus 26:40, 42).
O ye seed of Abraham His servant, ye children of Jacob His chosen. He is the LORD [Heb. YHVH] our God: His judgments are in all the earth. He has remembered His covenant forever, the word which He commanded to a thousand generations. Which covenant He made with Abraham, and His oath unto Isaac; and confirmed the same unto Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant:…”
Over and over again, we can see that the covenant that God remembers is NOT the covenant He made with Moses and the children of Israel at Mt. Sinai, but the covenant that He made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Why? Because the covenant He made with Abraham, that was then passed down to Isaac, and then again with Jacob, is the RELATIONSHIP COVENANT of the Old Testament, NOT the Mosaic covenant.
The Mosaic covenant is, in actuality, an extended development and explanation of the Abrahamic Covenant. In Genesis 17, God tells Abraham to “walk before Me, and be perfect” (Genesis 17:1), as well as to give him the covenant of circumcision (Genesis 17:10-14). But what does it mean to “walk before Me,” and “be perfect”? To “walk before Me” means “to have an ongoing relationship with God” and the word “perfect” is the English translation of the Hebrew word tamiyd (Strong’s #8549), which means, to walk or live in “integrity, truth:- without blemish, complete, sincerely, without spot, undefiled and uprightly.” But what does that look like? How are we suppose to understand what all is involved in that? And God’s answer to these questions is the Mosaic Covenant, the commandments God gave to Moses and the children of Israel at Mt. Sinai.
So what’s my point?? Throughout the Scriptures, RELATIONSHIP ALWAYS COMES BEFORE OBEDIENCE, and GOD’S GRACE (Heb. chesed) IS ALWAYS THE BASIS OF THE RELATIONSHIP, and the BASIS ON WHICH THE RELATIONSHIP CONTINUES, WHICH WILL ALWAYS INVOLVE OBEDIENCE TO GOD AND TO HIS COVENANT. This was true with Noah, Abraham, the children of Israel, Jesus’ disciples, and with us today. To teach that we’re saved by grace through faith, which is true, but that NO OBEDIENCE IS REQUIRED FOR OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD is absolutely NOT TRUE, and is a clear misrepresentation of Scripture.
The final part of this series, which will come out in two days, will cover the last three things that the Old Testament teaches us about God’s grace.