Grace, Law and Does Behavior Matter

Ephesians 5:1-7 (NKJV) 1 Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. 3 But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; 4 neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. 5 For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not be partakers with them.

In our last post we began looking at the wonderful bible topic of grace. Grace is at the heart of Christianity. We are saved by grace according to Ephesians 2:8. Without grace there is no salvation. In the past number of years, God has brought this bible truth to the forefront. I believe it is because we need to become more aware of the working of grace in our lives.

We ended with one of the major issues today in the discussion of grace. Does behavior matter? We are under grace not law. We cannot earn salvation or forgiveness. Jesus already paid the price so why do we need to repent. If we just try to love people and love Jesus that is enough. Grace takes care of the rest. Those statements are true, but they are not the whole truth. If Paul is the primary source of the revelation of grace, what did he say. He wrote the verses quoted today. He seems to think behavior is important.

I am going to try to systematically look at grace in the bible. We will talk about the power and necessity of grace if we are going to be successful Christians. Let me ask a question. How did Paul define success as a Christian? To explain that would take far more time and space than what we have available but let me suggest that these passages in Ephesians can give us a clue.

In the first verse 2 we read something that seem to fit with the view I stated above. We are to walk in love as Jesus did. He was the sacrifice to God. Walking in the love of God is absolutely the primary issue of Christianity. If we do not strive to do that, nothing else will work. However, there is much more here in addition to walking in love.

Paul begins by exhorting us to be imitators of God. When I was growing up I played some baseball. I had some players I really liked. When I played, I tried to imitate them. I wore the number of one in particular. I imitated him by trying to swing like him, field like him and generally play like him. To imitate means you act like the person you are imitating. We are to imitate God.

This implies that we are going to do our best to act like him. This begins with love because God is love. It does not end there. Whatever God would do, we must do to imitate him. If we do what he would not, we are not imitating him. I may be missing something, but that sounds like behavior.

Next, we see a list. I will not restate the list, but it is extensive. These are things we must not do. Paul, the great revelator of grace, says these things should not even be named among you. The Amplified bible implies that we should not even use the language related to those things because it is not “befitting the saints of God.” We should instead fill our mouths with thanksgiving. Is this not talking about behavior?

He goes on to give another list and says that those who do these things have no part in God’s inheritance. “See, he is not talking about Christians there!” say some. Verses 6 and 7 are important enough that I will quote them again. “ 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not be partakers with them.”

There is an aspect of what Paul is saying that does refer to those who are not saved. In the end he tells us that we are deceived if we think we can do these things and not suffer consequences. I do not think Paul could be much clearer with his exhortation. He says, “Don’t do those things.” It still looks to me like the one in the bible acknowledged as having the greatest revelation of Grace is talking about behavior.

So, what is the answer? Are we still under law or is Christianity lived by grace. The answer is yes to both. We are not required to keep the sacrifices or formalities of the law. However, the law, and more accurately the commandments of God, are not just legal requirements. They revelations of God’s nature. To imitate God, we still have to act like him. If we do the things in Paul’s lists, we are acting like the devil.

Now all of you that may have received the wonderful revelation of grace that we cannot earn anything from God do not run away screaming, “Legalism!” just yet. Give me some time. After all I am quoting Paul here. The truth is I am actually right with you for the most part. We just cannot eliminate right living from the equation. The question is how do we keep the commandments. From where do we keep them.

I believe Christianity is lived from the inside out not from the outside in. Paul says in Romans 8:3 that the law was weak because of the flesh. God gave the law because humanity had fallen in sin. Their inner man, or spirit, was under the curse of the fall. In order for man to have relationship with God, there were certain things he could not do. Not because they violated some code but because they violated God’s nature.

To give them some way to help control the nature that was contrary to God, he gave them a list of things they could not do and stay in relationship with his covenant. They could not help but do those things because it was there nature to sin (Ephesians 2:3.) To give them a vehicle by which they could restore their relationship to the covenant, he gave them The Mosaic Law. This was a set of rules, consequences and sacrifices that allowed God to push judgement forward for one year.

This system was the best God could do for people until Jesus came. They were by nature going to sin. They could not help it. God gave the law as a way to deal with the inevitability of sin and hold off judgement for it until Jesus could come. They did not deserve that. They deserved the consequence of sin, death (Romans 6:23.) God made a way to withhold what they deserved and give them what they did not deserve. That sounds like mercy and grace does it not. The law was a manifestation of both. The law is God’s mercy and his grace!

This was not the full manifestation of either. It was only a partial measure. It had a major weakness. It had to work via the flesh. God was going to do something far better. He was going to give us access to mercy and grace that would be more powerful than the law. The law is flesh trying to control flesh. God was going to go deeper. He was going to change our nature!

In our last post I closed by talking about Galatians 5. If we walk in the spirit, we will not fulfill the lust of the flesh. Let me close today with another scripture in which God prophesies what he is going to. Everything God does pertaining to man is a matter of covenant. The law was a part of the old covenant. It did what it could for people who were sinners by nature. God has something better. A new covenant.

Jeremiah 31:33 (NKJV) 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.

This is our covenant. It does not do away with the law it puts it inside us. We do not keep it from the outside in but from the inside out.

Stay with me now. This is going to get really good! Check back for our next post.

2018 The Year of the Victory of Grace

1 Timothy 1:12-13 (NKJV) 12 And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, 13 although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.

Romans 1:5 (NKJV) 5 Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name,

Another year is upon us and I believe it can be the best year of your life to date. We face many challenges globally. Personally, we may be looking at tremendous difficulties. I believe our country is at a crossroads that we cannot ignore. It is in such times that God does marvelous things. I remember many years ago it was popular to point out that wow could stand for Wonder of Wonders. I believe this is going to be a WoW year! We will look back and see that God has done wonderful things.

As I was preparing for this year, I felt God spoke to my heart that I needed to take another look at grace. I believe he wanted me to especially look at the victory that the grace of God brings into our lives. Grace is a hot topic in the church. I think some have embraced a message that takes grace to a place that is not what the bible teaches. This is often the case when God wants to emphasize a truth in the earth.

This happened in what became the faith movement. That was a truth that changed my life. However, many took it to extremes and others rejected it because of their mistakes. Nevertheless, God wanted faith to come to the forefront in the 70’s and 80’s. At one point I realized that I needed to find the balance. I did that by going back to what the bible had to say about faith. I stopped defending my camp and I stopped accepting everything my camp said as well.

One thing that made me take another look is that I realized that we who were in the “Word of Faith” camp were ignoring some verses that did not fit our theological point of view. Once we start picking and choosing what parts of the bible we are going to believe, we have become a law unto ourselves. That always ends up badly. Certainly, there may be different interpretations of some verses. When you have to skip some altogether, that is a problem.

I decided to look again without preconceived ideas. When I did, the revelation that remained was stronger than ever. Some things that I thought were true, I had to adjust to fit what the bible said. Some things I simply had to admit were wrong. In the end, my revelation of strong faith in the Word of God was better and more balanced. I am going to do the same with the revelation of grace. I hope you will come with me.

If you do, do not expect me to be an apologist for what is being taught today. Do not expect me to attack what is being taught today. I am going to do my best to find out for myself what the bible says. I expect much of what I believe will be strengthened. I also expect that some of what I thought the bible said about grace will change. Either way I know that God is leading me to a greater victory of grace in my life and in yours as well.

Any study of grace must look at the life of Paul. Paul understood grace because he needed it so badly. Paul never forgot where he came from. In today’s verses we see some important things about Paul’s understanding of grace. The first thing he does is give thanks to God for enabling him to be a minister of the gospel.

One of the aspects of grace that is often overlooked in the current debate is that grace implies enabling by God. Grace is God’s favor, but it is God’s favor that enables. Paul realized that all he was and all he could do was given him by God. The vehicle that gave him this ability was Grace (Ephesians 2:8.) He never considered his power to be of himself. It was all a manifestation of the grace of God at work in his life.

What he says next was something that we in the faith movement might have called a negative confession. Today, it seems that those in the grace movement might agree. Paul points out what he was, and it was not pretty. Look at the words he uses to describe himself. He was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man. Why would Paul say these things if understood the grace of God? I believe it is because remembering what he was caused him to appreciate and understand how much the grace of God had done. Grace did not make him deserving of what was given to him.

He makes it very plain at the end of this verse. He obtained mercy because he did it in ignorance. Mercy, which is not getting what we do deserve, opens the way for grace which is getting what we do not deserve. Paul obtained mercy for blasphemy, persecuting the church and being insolent. As a result he received forgiveness and powerful ministry by grace. He never forgot the former which made him appreciate that latter. We must do the same.

I am not saying that we should walk around saying that we are no good sinners saved by grace. I do believe we need to remember that we were sinners who received mercy and grace through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus and not by anything we did. Grace makes us the righteous of God in Christ. That is what I am. That is what I confess over my life. However, I never forget that I did not deserve this gift and neither did Paul.

In his letter to the Roman church, he makes it clear that he received both grace and apostleship together. The one cannot be separated from the other. Whatever we are, we are by grace. This applies to our legal state of forgiveness before God. It also applies to all we are and all we have. It is all undeserved. It is all God’s mercy making God’s grace available.

I want to point out something else. He says here that he obtained both grace and apostleship, “for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name.” One might say, “I thought Paul taught grace instead of law. Obedience sounds like it might be talking about law.” Paul is not talking about obeying a law. He is taking about obeying the faith. That faith flows from his relationship to Jesus.

Paul taught throughout his writings about living according to that relationship. If I want the power of grace to work in my life I need to walk in obedience to the relationship I have by faith in Jesus. Jesus lived according to certain standards. There were things he did and there were things he did not do. He made it clear that walking according to the love of God would keep us in line with that standard.

Paul added another aspect of the love walk in Galatians.

Galatians 5:16-18 (NKJV) 16 I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Paul does not say to obey the law, but he does say that we must walk in the spirit. What does that mean. Simply put, it means to walk with our spirit in control of our behavior. Our spirit is our inner man, that part of us that was born again in the image and likeness of God. Later in this chapter he tells us what it looks like when we let the flesh be in control (Galatians 5:19-26.) I wish I could say that Christians never let the behaviors listed here manifest in their lives but we all know that if we allow our flesh to rule, we do.

How does all this relate to grace? Is Paul saying we must walk in the law after all. We will consider those questions tomorrow.