Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression. Romans 4:15
[This is a rather long post, but please read to the end]
What picture do you have of God? I am sure that however much we sing and preach and believe about a loving God, somewhere in the back of our minds we have a tiny, nagging picture of God as a strict (sometimes unforgiving) authoritarian. The way we are, it would require a lot of grace to see God in a totally different light.
One of the people who had the grace to see God as He really is was Abraham. Why do I say this? It is because the Bible calls him the father of all those who believe (Rom. 4:11). God said something to Abraham and the man believed, just like that. And the Bible declares that because of Abraham’s simple, unquestioning faith, God accounted him righteous in His sight.
Have you ever wondered why Abraham would believe God so easily? Why did Abraham believe – and ultimately inherit – God’s promises? I believe that in his spirit Abraham saw a different God than the one many of us see in the secret recesses of our hearts. I am convinced that Abraham saw a good God. Abraham saw the goodness of God, and when he saw this goodness, he was assured that because of this goodness God would do all that He had promised to do.
In other words, Abraham saw not the God of law, but the God of grace. In Romans 4:16 the Bible talks of the circumstances that surround our inheriting God’s promises: “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace”.
Notice the word ‘grace’ there. The faith that Abraham had was based on a vision of a God of grace.
Contrast that with Moses. Moses spent a considerable time arguing with God when God was commissioning him to go to Egypt. Moses also failed to circumcise his firstborn son and the Lord would have killed him on the way had it not be for the quick thinking of his wife who immediately took a stone and cut off her son’s foreskin. (Remember Abraham circumcised every male that was in his house, himself included, the very same day that God told him to do it. That is incredible obedience. It challenges me so much!)
No wonder, then, that this halting, questioning Moses was given the law to deliver to the children of Israel. I very much doubt that God would have given Abraham the law as He gave it to Moses. Written on tablets of stone. No way! Abraham had God’s law all right, but it was written elsewhere. Moses was, alas! a transitory figure. He came in at the wrong time, just when God had to introduce the law. But the law was for a time. Therefore Moses represented a passing shadow, the law. Moses is a sad figure in the Bible. There is no joy about him. On the other hand, Abraham represented the bright light of the full knowledge of God, and of His grace.
And with the law, it was a complete clampdown on any freedoms the Israelites had. They had to obey that law to the letter – on pain of death.
Recently my eyes were opened to the meaning of this scripture (Romans 4:5) as I was evangelizing a certain lady. I told the lady that the way of salvation was through believing in God’s Son Jesus Christ whom God sent to become a propitiation for our sins.
“But your deeds are important”, she said.
“No”, I countered. I calmly told her that our righteousness with God is accounted to us solely on account of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. I used scripture to show her that there was no way we could possibly please God until God Himself had intervened on our behalf.
“A person has to prove their ‘holiness’ by their righteous deeds!” she insisted. She couldn’t for the life of her imagine God accepting anyone unless they had first cleaned up their act.
The lady is a teacher, so I used an English expression. “You cannot put the cart before the horse”, I told her. I told her that I agreed with her that our deeds are important, but they come after the fact of the free gift of righteousness.
“Only believe”, I said.
As I spoke with this lady, the Lord opened my eyes to see something that I had not seen before. The question came at me out of nowhere: Why are we so angry at those we perceive to be sinners? Why does it rile us when we see the imperfections in others, or even in ourselves?
In that instant I glimpsed the indescribable grace and mercy of God. I saw the true character of God. I saw how in Jesus’ sacrifice, God put away His anger (represented by the law) and how in doing so He stopped seeing any sin in us. Being a just and righteous God, had He seen any sin in us, far from fulfilling any promise He had made to us, He would immediately have had us punished.
(This is most clearly seen in the strict observance with which God bound the children of Israel to uphold His laws. You can also read about what happened to the Egypto-Israelite boy who cursed God’s Name in Leviticus 24:10-14, 23. Or the man who was caught collecting firewood on the Sabbath – Numbers 15:32-36. For those of us who wonder at the cruelty that God allowed His people to mete out to the pagan tribes in their path, the answer is: law. There is a lot of anger in the Old Testament.)
The Bible says that God introduced the law to contain sin as the time was awaited for the appearance of Jesus Christ, who would not only bring eternal salvation, but also reveal the true character of the Father. During this time of law God could not do otherwise, other than become a God of law Himself, although His tender nature more often than not showed through.
But now, praise be to God because He sent His Son Jesus Christ, who came, not with law, but with truth and grace. And the truth that Jesus came to reveal is that our God is not an angry God. On the contrary, He is a loving Father, merciful, gentle and kind-hearted. In affirming this the Bible declares, “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved”! (John 3:17)
Why are we so easily aware of sin? It is because we are still under law! We become angry at the sin we see in us and in other people because law has to do with anger and that law is still in us. Our hearts have neither comprehended fully nor grasped the grace of God.
The classic example of this in the Bible is the woman caught in adultery. Were it not that the Pharisees thought they could capitalize on this unfortunate woman’s plight by using her to challenge Jesus, they most likely would have stoned her at the scene of her crime; they were so mad at her!
Again in Luke 7:37 we read about a woman “which was a sinner”, who came and anointed Jesus’ feet with oil as He sat at dinner in a Pharisee’s house. The Bible says that the Pharisee, on seeing this ‘sinful’ woman touching Jesus’ feet, said to himself, “This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner.”
Clearly, he was not happy at seeing this woman in his house.
In both cases, Jesus welcomed the ‘sinful’ women and they experienced amazing grace as Jesus (as God) set them free by not only forgiving them of their sins, but liberating them from the power of sin! In the New Covenant that Jesus brought (the new dispensation that we are living in right now), that ought to be the reality of our everyday life – living a life of freedom ourselves and liberating others through forgiveness and tender-hearted care!
There are some Christians who live as if they are in prison. They have a prison mentality and they believe every Christian should be in their prison too.
I have even heard Christians say, “If God were to put me in charge of this world for just one second…” meaning they would do things differently. They would burn, they would raze, they would annihilate every ‘undesirable’ thing in the world!
Well, praise God He is not about to hand over the reins of control to anyone, and because of that there is freedom and opportunity for everyone. Sinners are getting saved every day and believers are being perfected every minute of their lives. Isn’t that wonderful!
Praise be to God that all this “is of faith… that it might be of grace”! It all begins with a simple act of faith – believing – after which grace is released to bring out the good works of Jesus in us and to perfect us, all in perfect joy and in total freedom.
It is no longer of anger nor of law. In 1 Corinthians 15:56, the Bible says that the strength of sin is the law. We cannot defeat sin by being men and women of law. We cannot defeat sin by being angry at it. In order to defeat sin we must carry the grace of God in our hearts. We must put on Christ (the man of grace) – fully!