What is the difference between Law and Grace? The answer to this question first requires that we establish what is the Law and what was the reason or purpose for its institution. The first thing that is evident is that the purpose of the Law was never to provide salvation from sin; it was given to reveal sin in our lives and show us our need of salvation. The Law also reveals the “perfection” of God as opposed to the “imperfection” of mankind.
THE PURPOSE OF THE LAW: “What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.” <Gal.3:19, 21, 23-24 (NIV)>
Webster’s Dictionary describes LAW as a rule or principle of proper conduct sanctioned by conscience, concepts of natural justice or the will of a deity: a commandment or a revelation from God. “Biblical law is more than a record of human law. It is an expression of what God requires of man. It rests on the eternal moral principles that are consistent with the very nature of God Himself. Therefore, biblical law (the Ten Commandments) is the summary of moral law. As such it sets forth fundamental and universal moral principles.” (from Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary) (Copyright (C) 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers)
The Law is from God, and the Law is holy: <Rom.7:12>. Sin is exceedingly sinful when measured by the standard of the Law: <Rom.7:13>. What then does the Law serve? <see Gal.3:1-19> “it was added because of transgressions”. Just as Abraham believed what God said and it was accounted to him for righteousness; so, it is for all saints, whether Old Testament or New Testament. <Gal.3:7>. Thus, we see that the Law was added to the Abrahamic Covenant, and that the covenant preceded the Law by some 430 years. In effect, God gave Abraham and his descendants a way of salvation 430 years before the Law was introduced <Gal. 3:17>.
God gave a promise and He kept it! <Gal.3:18>. The Law was “added” to the covenant “until” <Gal.3:19>; the “seed” meaning Christ <see Gal.3:16>. Therefore, no one is justified by the Law in God’s sight <Gal.3:11>, and to substantiate this fact Paul quotes Habakkuk: “but the righteous will live by his faith” <Hab.2:4 (NIV)>
Why then did God introduce the Law? It was given that we might see just how sinful sin is. The Law is a measuring tool to show us that we do not measure up to God’s standards. When we measure ourselves against God’s standards, we all fall short; one person is no better than the other <see Amos 7:7-8; Isa.28:17>
So then, the Law was added because of transgressions to show us how sinful we are. The other reason is, that being found sinners by the standards of the Law, we might all be saved through faith in Christ, who is the descendant (seed) of Abraham. The Law implants into the heart of mankind a sense of sin and a need of a saviour, revealing our sinfulness and our lost condition. Consequently, we are led to seek God’s forgiveness for our sins by trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ who bore our penalty that the Law required; introducing us to the subject of Grace.
Described by Webster’s Dictionary as favor or goodwill; manifestation of favor especially by a superior; mercy, clemency, pardon; favor shown in granting a delay or temporary immunity; the freely given, unmerited favor and love of God. Grace is favour or kindness exhibited in spite of what an individual deserves, and is one of the key attributes of God <see Ex.34:6-7>. It is almost always associated with mercy, love, and compassion, and the supreme example of grace was the redemption of the Hebrew people from Egypt and their establishment in the Promised Land, and this did not happen because of any merit on Israel’s part <Deut.9:5-6>; and although the grace of God is always free and undeserved, it must not be taken for granted. Grace is given by God, <see Amos 5:15>, and is to be humbly requested <Mal.1:9>. The only way of salvation for any person is by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” <Acts 15:11>.
What then is the difference between Law and Grace? How is Grace made possible? How is God’s grace extended to mankind? The answer to these questions is in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, and what He accomplished in His death, burial and resurrection.
Jesus was born under or subject to the law: being born subject to the Law He was in complete obedience to the Law <Gal.4:4>; and His earthly life was lived in accordance with the requirements of the Law <see Luke 2:21-24>. He fulfilled the law – he did not destroy or discard the law <Matt.5:17>. He lived in perfect obedience to the Law <Matt.3:17; Matt.17:5 >. He confirmed the promises made to the fathers under the Law <Rom.15:8>. He fulfilled all types of the Law by His life and sacrificial death <see Heb.9:11-26>. He redeemed mankind from the curse of the Law so that the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant might be on all who believe: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” <Gal.3:13-14 (NIV)>. He is the mediator of the New Covenant by His blood: <see Heb.8:6-13>.
Before the Law there was no transgression. One cannot transgress (i.e. “to go beyond”) something that does not exist, the Scriptures make this quite clear: “because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.” <Rom.4:15 (NIV)>. Does this mean then that there was no sin before the Law? There certainly was! Sin was just as wicked and terrible before the law was given; but mankind did not understand the gravity of sin until God’s law revealed the sinfulness of sin; “the sin which had always been morally wrong now became legally wrong”. Thus, the Law revealed sin to be a transgression against God and to convince the sinner of a need for salvation: “for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law.” <Rom.5:13 (NIV)>. Sin therefore was present before the Law, and the only specific penalty for sin was death (God said to Adam “…for when you eat of it you will surely die” Gen.2:17); there was no law for specific sins such as murder, theft, adultery etc., only the penalty of death was pronounced.
The Law did not produce sin, nor was the Law itself sin; it revealed the exceeding sinfulness of sin. God gave the Law with detailed instructions and specific penalties, showing the true nature of sin, causing an awakening in the heart of mankind: “The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more” <Rom.5:20 (NIV); Rom.7:5 >. The Law stirred up sin, and guilt was experienced because blame could now be assigned. This is illustrated by a parent’s command to a young child not to do a specific thing or go to a specific place. Prior to this the child had no desire to “do” or “go”, but now curiosity takes over and the desire to disobey is strong. The Law is therefore for sinners not saints: <see 1 Tim.1:5-9>.
Is the believer under or subject to the law? This is a question that is asked whenever we discuss the subject of Law and Grace, and we must answer this from the Scriptures. The Biblical answer to the question is NO! Christians are NOT under the Law: <see Rom.6:14-15; Gal.5:18; 1 Cor.9:20>. The Law is not a means of anyone being saved: <Rom.3:20; Gal.3:12; Rom.8:3-4; Acts 15:1-11>. The Christian has been delivered from the Law: <Rom.10:4; 2 Cor.3:6-18>.
Since the Believer is no longer subject to the Law, does this mean that a Believer is allowed to live as if the Law is of no consequence? What is the effect or consequence when a Believer sins? Is the Law broken? Is the Believer’s sin a “transgression of the Law”? Many Believers who are faced with these questions arrive at conclusions that are not biblical, attempting to make themselves comfortable with their solutions. “The Bible never separates faith from obedience. Love is no longer love if there is no obedience. Rather than being some sort of penalty, obedience is what makes faith strong. Far from being oppressive, the commandments are blessings. God’s love is His law. Without the law, God’s love becomes meaningless and God Himself is merely a dead abstraction. Those who live as though God’s law does not matter are guilty of promoting atheism and unbelief.” (Christianity Today, Apr 29, 1991). Therefore, the sin of the Believer breaks the Law of God’s Love; in other words, we spurn His love and disregard His grace and are thus out of fellowship with Him, and can no longer enjoy communion with the Lord. <see Rom.6:1-2, 15-18>. “It must be carefully noted that the Christian is not under law; grace has imparted to him all the merit that he could ever need <John 1:16; Rom. 5:1-2; 8:1-2; Col. 2:9-10>. Being “ related” to Christ <1 Cor. 9:20-21> does not mean that the Christian is without law, but it does mean, as one redeemed by grace, that he has the duty, or rather gracious privilege, of not doing that which is displeasing to God and of fully discharging that which is well pleasing to Him on the basis of a manifestation of spontaneous gratitude for his salvation in grace.” (from New Unger’s Bible Dictionary) (originally published by Moody Press of Chicago, Illinois. Copyright (C) 1988.)
The knowledge of being free from the Law can cause some Believers to become spiritual “law makers” forcing other Believers to abide by “their laws”: that is, they establish laws by which others are judged, and fellowship among believers is dependent upon whether or not these “laws” are observed; attempting to restrict God’s grace to man-made rules <see Gal.5:13-15; 1 Pet.2:16-17>. “Grace involves applying the Biblical requirements with tenderness in an effort to help, heal, and restore. It means not going beyond what God has said in imposing consequences. Grace demands that we do all we can to minister to the hurts others suffer due to emotional or cultural pressures. It is a matter of grace for a congregation to set up a biblical standard and then to lovingly discipline members who violate that boundary. Grace demands that we work hard to understand the truth of Scripture so that we neither fall short of it because of emotional or cultural pressure or go beyond it and become more severe than God would be.” (Moody, Nov. 1991)
HOW DOES LAW AND GRACE AFFECT US TODAY?
The Law prohibits – Grace invites and gives. Law condemns the sinner- Grace redeems the sinner. The Law curses – Grace blesses. The Law condemns the best person – Grace saves the worst person. The Law reveals sin – Grace atones for sin. The Law demands obedience – Grace gives power to obey. The Law and its demands ended in Christ – Grace abides forever. The Law says “the soul that sins shall die” – Grace says “believe and live”.
Grace then, dismisses all human accomplishment and only requires faith in Christ our Saviour, and any combination of human capability violates the Grace of God.