For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age~ Titus 2:11-12
I am not, nor have I ever been, much of a rule-maker. My husband and I had very few rules for our children while they were growing up. The rules we did make for our kids all tended to center around safety and relationships. My distaste for excessive rules has made its way into nearly every other area of my life as well. To the chagrin of my rule-following husband one of my favorite personal axioms is:
“Rules are for people who don’t know how to do things”.
My aversion to most rules is born out of a deeply held conviction that laws are for law-breakers (1st Timothy 1:9-11); and that there would be no need for laws if people would simply use good judgment and obey God (Galatians 5:18). Needless to say, no one who knows me personally has ever charged me with being a legalist.
However, if I hear one more Christian who is actively skirting the edges of morality or worse yet, openly sinning proclaim to me one of the following phrases: “I am under grace not law!” “You can’t judge me!,” or “Just because something is wrong for you does not mean it’s wrong for everyone”. I will need to be medicated.
I believe these statements are born out of confusion over two concepts: God’s moral law and grace. Too many folks mistakenly suppose that God’s law and grace are something they are not.
God’s moral law is not…
Irrelevant- Matthew 5:17, Galatians 5:18-20, Colossians 3
There are three types of law in the Old Testament, ceremonial, civil and moral. As the ultimate High Priest Jesus satisfied all aspects of the ceremonial law, it is now fulfilled and is therefore irrelevant for Christians. Civil law was intended for the nation of Israel, and is not generally pertinent today. However, that does not mean that Christians are not bound by moral standards found in the law. If a command or instruction from the Old Testament law is repeated in the New Testament, it still applies today.
A club to beat people with- Ephesians 4:2, Galatians 6:1-3
One reason there is so much confusion over this issue is because too many people have been far too focused on the actions of others for far too long. It is biblical for one Christian to warn another when their actions are crossing clear lines of right and wrong (1st Corinthians 4:14, James 5:20). However, it’s imperative we judge ourselves at least as harshly as we judge others. Our responsibility as believers is to lovingly warn others where their behavior will lead. What they choose to do with those warnings is on them (Ezekiel 3:21).
A handy excuse to make more rules- 1st John 5:3, Matthew 23:1-15
Too often Christians make rules around God-given decrees and then treat the man-made rules as if they were on the same footing as God’s commands. People who make rules are well-intentioned. They want to help others keep Gods command. Generally speaking, all man-made rules do is confuse the issues and lead to unnecessary legalism. One pertinent example would be sex. Christians are commanded to abstain from sexual immorality. Period. Rules against dating, hand-holding, wearing make-up, premarital kissing and men and women isolating themselves from each other do help some people to avoid sexual sin but those are personal choices, not God-given commands and should not be treated as such.
Grace is not:
A justification for intentional sin- Jude 1:4
Too many Christians have perverted the whole notion of grace and turned it into a free pass for willful sin, unruly living and bad behavior. Grace is not nor was it ever intended to be a free pass for anything. Furthermore, one has to wonder how sorry anyone can be for a sin they committed on purpose.
An excuse to avoid the hard work of living a holy life- Ephesians 5:3, 1st Peter 1:13-15, Philippians 2:12
In one sense Christians are made holy at the point of salvation (Hebrews 10:10-14). However, we are also commanded by God to work out the details of our salvation (Philippians 2:12) and to behave in a way that reflects our status as holy people (Colossians 3:1-17). It is impossible do either effectively when we are living a life of sin.
The benefits of grace are nearly incomprehensible. Grace pardons us from the penalty of sin (Ephesians 2:8-9). Grace allows us to do things and endure things the world writes off as impossibilities. (2nd Corinthians 12:9). Grace gives us peace beyond human understanding during difficult times (Philippians 4:7). Grace enables us to understand God on a deeper level (Ephesians 1:7-9). Grace empowers us to see people the way God sees people and, if properly understood, grace compels us to show mercy toward others. Perhaps, the most practical application of grace is that it empowers inherently sinful people to live holy lives (Titus 2:11-12). Because grace is so freely given it can easily devolve into a justification for self-indulgence and pleasure seeking or an excuse to avoid the long, sometimes difficult process of becoming holy. When we allow these things to happen, our version of grace devolves into a perversion of something truly beautiful.