Living by grace frees us from all forms of religious legalism but this does not mean we are living outside law. The grace of God authenticates God’s law. “The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ [Galatians 3:24]. . God’s grace has written His law on our hearts. “the righteousness of the law [is] fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” [Romans 8:4]. The Old Testament Law—all 614 injunctions—were fulfilled in Christ, not torn up or annulled [Matthew 5:17] .
The Old Testament Law verified our need of a redemption found only in Christ. In Romans 3:20 Paul taught, “By the law is the knowledge of sin.” In Romans 3:10 he wrote, “There is none righteous, no, not one” The Law was the shadow of God’s Holiness cast upon the record of history [Hebrews 10:1 ]. We have called the law the antitype [the symbol] of Christ.
Grace is, therefore, not Legalism, but a freedom from legalism
Romans 6:14 “You are not under the law, but under grace.” Grace demonstrates that God’s law was not meant to deny us freedom, culturally imprison us, or through self-denial obligate us to an unhappy life [Matthew 5:3-12]. God’s grace releases us from the anxiety of being personally responsible for our future happiness because grace leads us in the path of a divine calling [Matthew 11:28-30] in which God’s provisions supply our necessities [Philippians 4:18].
But we are still left with an abstract idea: What does it mean to follow Jesus? The church’s attempt at an answer often reduces to a legalism or a religious duty and not a changed life. One of Jesus’ last instructions sounds straight forward enough: “…observe all, whatever I did command you, and lo, I am with you…” [Matthew 28:20]. Bonhoeffer says it well, “When we are called to follow Christ, we are summoned to an exclusive attachment to his person. The grace of his call burst all the bonds of legalism. It is a gracious call, a gracious commandment. It transcends the difference between the law and the gospel. Christ calls, the disciple follows, that is grace and commandment in one. “I will walk at liberty, for I seek Thy commandments” [Psalm 119:45]. Said differently: If we are following Christ as He encouraged us to do by inviting us to join Him in loving each other and the lost, what other instruction would we need? None! When we are expressing the fruit of the Spirit there is no law written as powerful as this one written on the heart [Galatians 5:22-23] .
Grace is the Gift of God Himself in a Reconciled Relationship with Us
Everything grace offers, God does. Everywhere His grace is at work, He is there because His Grace and His presence are inseparable. Only He can administer His grace.
Grace is Mercy and Forgiveness
On Luke 23:34 where Jesus announces His forgiveness upon those who were putting Him to death, we read a curious note. “These words are absent in the early and diverse witnesses.” Scholarship goes on to add, “… [this thought] though probably not a part of the original Gospel of Luke, bears self evident tokens of its … origin, and was retained …in its traditional place by unknown copyists relatively early in transmission of the Third Gospel.” It might have been that Christ’s forgiveness was made clear in the text because it is self-evident in His death for our sins! In law this is a res ipse loquitur, something that speaks for itself. It has been rightfully retained in every version of our Bible in interpreting the event.
Mercy is the Old Testament word because it excludes an entitled favoritism. It is a pure act of lessoning another’s pain or suffering.through love or dealing with our shame and remorse through forgiveness. We are most likely to be a bit confused over these terms—which is which—because they go to the heart and mind of God, a heart and mind we, as believers, are still discovering. Even the Hebrews were confused. In the later writings the term ‘grace’ in their language was replaced by the word ’mercy.’ Here are some explanations that might help:
- One of my college professors taught that mercy is God’s way of dealing with everything that is wrong in me while His grace is His way of dealing with everything that is wrong in my world, my circumstances, relationships, etc. I cannot make such a clear distinction between them.
- Mercy is more a judicial term and grace is God laying aside the judicial process altogether in a loving regard for our human condition.
- Mercy removes the bad and grace provides the good in its place?
- Johann Albrecht Bengel taught: grace removes guilt; mercy removes misery.
- Richard Trench concurred: The [grace] of God, the gift of his free grace that is displayed in the forgiveness of sins, is extended to men as they are guilty, his [mercy] as they are miserable. An explanatory rendering of John 3:16 might read: God so loved the world with a pitying love (mercy) that he gave his only begotten Son (grace) that the world through him might be saved.
- “Mercy is God not punishing us as our sins deserve, and grace is God blessing us despite the fact that we do not deserve it. Mercy is deliverance from judgment. Grace is extending kindness to the unworthy.”
The grace of God is the ultimate explanation that makes sense out of all biblical history, the ultimate expression of His mercy. Grace is the only theological term we really need learn. Since the term means ‘gift’ we can and should say simply that grace is the gift of salvation. But this is far too simplistic; we are substituting one word ‘grace’ for another ’salvation.’
Grace is more the act of God giving than the gift. It is more like knowing the chef and not just the taste of His cuisine. In saying: “The exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” Paul is referring to “the wealth of His kindness through Christ Jesus.” Kindness is not a commodity but a term of relationship. God is engaged in giving and giving and giving and giving …to us. His love is inexhaustible.
God keeps giving and giving causing our salvation to take on deeper meaning and significance as we go deeper and deeper into relationship with Him—a relationship that in eternity at long last will be unhindered by our human weakness to temptation and our inability to comprehend deeper, more profound, truth about God. Our puzzle will have no boundary or end pieces!
What other gift might we want when we get there? What else dare we cherish above the divine provision that took the crucifixion of our Savior to provide? This is to say, then, that if I can comprehend what the grace of God is all about, I can comprehend the depth of His love for me. “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” [Romans 8:32]
When our eternity begins in earnest in His revealed presence, then, I dare to think, we will finally begin to understand more fully the divine logic behind everything God did on our behalf. We will, then, find completely reasonable how a merciful God could have taken responsibility for—or why He permitted—much of the ‘evil’ that is in our history and in our world [Isaiah 45:7]. And foundational to all this, grace will finally explain Calvary.