For some reason the Lord has me meditating on this issue day and night. And the more I consider God's word and the more I observe the church and its writing on the subject, I believe that generally speaking, we have a very poor understanding of how grace and obedience relate to one another.
In this post, I discuss the issue of being under law and under grace and what they mean. I would like to say a few more things about this.
First, God grants faith in the hearing of His word (Romans 10:17). Someone hears the gospel and He graciously grants faith to a person (Philippians 1:29). At this moment our position with regards to God changed. What does this mean?
It means this. Before faith, we were spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1). We did not have the Holy Spirit. Our hearts were at enmity with God (Romans 8:7). Our spiritual father was the Devil himself and we positionally and spiritually dwelt in his domain (Eph 2:1-3, Colossians 1:13). We were guilty of sin and already in the position of condemnation (John 3:18). We did not have access to God's throne (with regards to prayer), our worship was not acceptable to God and there was nothing we could do to please Him (1 Peter 2:4-9, Hebrews 11:16)
We did not know any of this, nor would we agree with it as unbelievers, but it was our position before God notwithstanding.
Here is the key to understanding these issues. Faith changed our position or standing before God.
Once God granted faith, we became born spiritually (God gave us the Holy Spirit) (Eph 1:13-14). We were now spiritually alive. Our hearts were no longer at enmity with God - we now had peace (Romans 8:8-10, Romans 5:1). Because we have faith, we are now justified, which means we are no longer in a guilty standing before God (Romans 5:1, Galatians 2:16). Because of faith, we now were saved (John 3:18), justified, forgiven (Acts 10:43) and made righteous IN POSITION before God (Galatians 3:11).
These all relate to our position before God, which now, because of our faith, is perfect, complete. It can never be improved or impaired. This right standing before God is ours forever by virtue of our faith. Here is a summary from Paul:
Rom 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Rom 5:2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
Second, now that we ARE saved, ARE justified, ARE righteous, ARE forgiven, now that OUR STANDING BEFORE GOD IS PERFECT and will ever REMAIN PERFECT, we are to obey the commandments of God PRACTICALLY. (Please forgive the use of caps, I am only adding them for emphasis.)
Once we understand these two points, that our position before God is secured by faith in Christ, but that same faith will produce obedience to God's commandments, a lot of Scripture clears up.
There really is too much Scripture for this post, but let's look at two quickly to test this. In the passage below, Paul is arguing that because of our POSITION IN CHRIST, we are now to obey God's commandments. Take a look to see if this makes sense:
Rom 6:1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? Rom 6:2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?
(By the way, the Bible provides this definition of sin, "Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law." (1Jn_3:4) Sin is when we break God's law. So every reference to sin below means, "transgression of the law.")
Translation of Romans 6:1-2? We died to sin (it's hold over us), therefore don't "live in it?" meaning that we are to obey God's commandments practically speaking. Paul is no longer addressing our position in Christ here, but rather our practical, every day living. He continues...
Rom 6:12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Rom 6:13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. Rom 6:14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. Rom 6:15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!When he says, "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body,..." he is simply referring to practical disobedience to God's commandments. He is not addressing our position before God here. Rather, because of our position by virtue of our faith in Christ, which can never be put in jeopardy, we are to practically obey the commandments of God.
Do you see?
[Now we received faith (and salvation) by grace (the gift of God) and practical obedience is a gift of God too. No time to demonstrate that here. That is another post for another day. But I had to throw it in because some will immediately jump to this verse, "Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?" (Galatians 3:3) What Paul is referring to here is the belief that we can improve our POSITION before God by obedience to the Law. The answer to the verse and belief is "no." But we knew that already if we understood what I wrote above. This has NOTHING to do with practical obedience to God's commandments, something God tells us over and over again in His word that He wants us to do. Paul is not saying not to obey God's commandments. He is saying that we should not think that we are improving our position before God because we obey.]
Here is another passage which teaches that POSITIONAL HOLINESS LEADS TO PRACTICAL OBEDIENCE. It is James chapter 2. The whole point of this chapter is that our faith (which saves us, justifies us and makes us righteous before God), is proven by practical obedience to the commandments of God. He refers to obedience as "works." Take a look...
Jas 2:14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? Jas 2:15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, Jas 2:16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Jas 2:17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Jas 2:18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Jas 2:19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. Jas 2:20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
So connected are faith and obedience that James says that Abraham was "justified by works." He is not denying Paul's teaching on justification by faith alone in Galatians and Romans. That is impossible as the same Holy Spirit authored both passages. What he means is this. Abraham's faith, which made him justified before God positionally, was proven in His obedience to God's commandments. One came with the other (and always comes with the other.)
Jas 2:21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Jas 2:22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? Jas 2:23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Jas 2:24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
Lest you think that Abraham performed some kind of nebulous works that did not amount to obedience to God's commandments, consider this passage now.
Gen 26:4 And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; Gen 26:5 Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.
[I will comment on which laws Abraham obeyed, given the Ten Commandments were not published until 400+ years later before Moses.]
We need to understand these two principles if we are to avoid confusion on these issues.
1. Our right position before God is secured permanently and perfectly the moment we first believe in Christ.
2. Having been granted a permanently and perfectly right position before God by virtue of our faith alone, we are now to obey the commandments of God practically.
How true are these two principles? John supplies the answer,
1Jn 2:3 And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. 1Jn 2:4 He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
If we understand these two principles, we will understand what Paul meant in Romans 6, James meant in James 2 and John meant in 1 John 2:3.
We will also understand what our Lord meant when He said,
Joh_14:15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.