The New Testament paints a contrast between law and grace. This is not, as many suppose, a contrast between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Neither is it a contrast between law and no law (i.e. lawlessness). Nor is it a contrast between justice and mercy. It certainly is not a contrast between lawfulness and licentiousness.
What then is the proper biblical contrast between law and grace? It is a contrast between what Moses commanded according to the flesh and what Jesus commands according to the spirit. More specifically, it is a contrast between reading what we call the Old Testament with a fleshly orientation and reading it with a spiritual orientation (i.e. with Jesus as Lord instead of God the Father). The two (law of Moses versus grace of Christ) are very different ways of reading the same Scriptures. The fleshly understanding was a temporary one until the spiritual and permanent understanding came through Jesus Christ.
For this reason, John could write that the law was given through Moses but that grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ (John 1:17) – and that through Jesus we have received grace upon grace (John 1:16).
For this reason, Peter could say that the law had been “a yoke no one could bear” but that the grace of the Lord Jesus had redeeming power (Acts 15:10-11). Jesus was thus offering a new and different yoke (Matthew 11:28-30).
For this reason, Jesus could say that He did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17-19). That is, Jesus came to make known its meaning of grace which had been hidden prior to His time (Galatians 3:23).
For this reason, Jesus could say that those who hungered and thirsted for righteousness would find it (Matthew 5:6) though Paul explained that this righteousness would have to be found in grace not in law – otherwise Christ’s death was needless (Galatians 2:21).
It is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to the position of “Lord” (Acts 2:34-36) which brought to light the grace that was resident but hidden in the Old Testament scriptures (2 Timothy 1:8-10). Therefore, it is Jesus Himself who accounts for the distinction between law and grace.
It is this distinction between law and grace that gives Gentiles equal access to God. Under law, only the physical descendants of Abraham were subject to the law’s commands and beneficiaries of its promises. Under grace, all humanity is subject to the law of Christ (which is to love) and qualified to benefit from the promises of God. This is the kingdom of God.
Occasions where “law” and “grace” are mentioned in the same verse (which highlight the contrast):
- John 1:17
- Romans 4:16; 5:20; 6:14-15
- Galatians 2:21; 5:4
The purpose of this blog is to proclaim Jesus Christ in terms familiar to those who read the Bible, and to help others become more familiar with the Bible. For those unfamiliar with the Bible, see the blog A Nonchurchgoer’s Guide to Jesus and His Kingdom.
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