Here are the first few questions:
1. Does it matter to God how we act?
Of course it matters. God is a God who starts everything in the invisible for the purpose of manifesting His glory in the visible. As the writer to the Hebrews says,
“By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible” (Hebrews 11:3)And Paul wrote,
“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20)God is into bringing the invisible reality into the visible creation. Also Jesus said,
“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16)It matters to God how we act, but the more important question is: “Does it matter to God how we glorify Him?” God is only glorified when we believe in Him and in the work of His Son that He sent to take away our sins. Without faith it is impossible to please God, no matter how good we are acting.
“And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6)God cares about how we act but even more He wants us to know that apart from Him we can do nothing. All our acting or works is but “filthy rags” to God if those acts or works are not the fruit of our union and abiding in Christ Jesus. Jesus said a good tree would produce good fruit. It will happen. In Christ we can rest in the good news that God no longer counts my sins against me because of the death of Christ and that the same Jesus who gave Himself for me has given Himself to me to live inside me that I might bear much fruit and thereby glorify God.
2. Does Grace give us a license to sin?
No, we already had a license to sin from the flesh (an illegitimate license that God does not recognize). Grace cancels that fleshly, illegitimate license and gives us a heavenly permit to be free. Free from condemnation.
“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1)Free from the power of sin…
“The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)Free from fear of judgment….
“Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19)
“Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin” (Romans 6:6)
“For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14)
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” ( John 5:24)Free to know God as our Father. Free, indeed!
“By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world” (1 John 4:17)
“You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” ( John 8:32)The law is the strength of sin, the scripture says,
‘So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36)
“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law” (1 Corinthians 15:56)But, grace is the strength of Life – His Life living within the believer!
“to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27)When we sin, we know that “where sin abounds, grace does much more abound.”
“For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17)
“The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20)When we sin, we know that sin is not imputed to us because we are not under law, and where there is no law, sin is not imputed.
“for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law” (Romans 5:13)But this freedom from the dominion of sin, which is at its core the power to condemn, does not lead to more sin. On the contrary, because we no longer serve God after the letter of the law, but rather by the newness of the Spirit where we find the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus putting to death the deeds of the body as we simply walk in the Spirit.
“for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13)Paul writes simply and profoundly that if we walk in the Spirit we would not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16)
3. Why does the New Testament say so much about our behavior?
As mentioned above, God desires to manifest His glory in the earth among men and one way that is done is by our words and deeds – by our behavior. But, He also wants us to experience a rich, full life – life abundant and full of joy.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10)God understands that selfish behavior or self-centered behavior (or any behavior that isn’t loving behavior) will make us miserable. It will make us miserable and everyone around us miserable.
True freedom isn’t being able to do anything you want. Freedom according to God’s design for His children is being able to do anything you want, because what you want is what God wants! He changes our “want-er” if there is such a word.
In every case where the New Testament talks about the behavior of the saint of God (you are a saint and not a sinner if you are a believer in Jesus) the message about behavior is always preceded by an awesome message on how God has removed our sin from us through Christ, creating in us a brand new identity (in Christ). We have a new heart, not an evil heart anymore, and as we put off the deeds of that old man who is now dead through the death of Christ, we put on the new deeds of the new man who is alive in Christ.
“Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited” (Hebrews 13:9)We are encouraged by the apostles to simply be who we already are in Christ. Be the new man that you are in word and deed, by depending on the life of Christ within to live His Life through you.
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints” (Ephesians 1:18”
4. What is the balance between law and grace?
Well, how do you balance death and life? You don’t. What men call balance, God calls mixture! The scripture is clear that we are no longer under law but under grace,
“For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14)that the law is the “strength of sin”,
“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law” (1 Corinthians 15:56)that the law is the” letters of death engraved on stone”
“But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was” (2 Corinthians 3:7)(yep, that’s the Ten Commandments), that the law is not of faith, that the law made nothing perfect, that the law was weak, that the law made sin increase, etc.
How do you balance that with “grace” which makes you righteous, that gives Life, that brings you into union with God, that reveals the heart of God , that is of faith? God did away with the covenant of law to bring us a new and better covenant of grace. The law is not the rule of life for the believer, rather the Life of Christ is simply the life of the believer. The writer to the Hebrews says that as long as you try to live under law and grace you will never be established in grace.
“But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed” (Galatians 3:23)You will always live a life of condemnation accompanied by a sense that you are never measuring up to God’s standards. What does the scripture say? Cast out the bondwoman (the law) and her son (the flesh) and receive the freewoman (the new covenant of grace) and her son (the gift of righteousness and life) and be not entangled again in the bondage of the law. (read Galatians 4:22-f)
“To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law” (1 Corinthians 9:20)
“For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14)
5. What role should the law play in the life of a Christian?
It is important to know that the law was given as an intermediary to the advent of Grace. While it revealed an aspect of God’s holiness, it did not reveal His mercy or redemptive plan. Just as importantly, the law did not have the power to change the heart.
When Christ fulfilled the law, and atoned for our sin through His death, the holiness of God as well as His righteousness and purity became engraved upon the hearts of all who would believe (notice the scripture does not say “of all who would behave”).
“Now He (Jesus) said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24:44)The Old Covenant “law keeping” became nullified for the Christian under the New Covenant. We are no longer under the law, but under grace.
Paul said that the law is not for the righteous. He was referring to those who are made righteous in Christ by faith. Paul also instructed believers to consider themselves to be dead to the law.
“Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God” (Romans 7:4)Thankfully, it is the role of the Spirit living within each believer, not the law, to lead the children of God in their new identity as the “righteousness of God in Christ”. Behavioral changes reflecting the standards required by the law would now be out of a motivation of acceptance and love, rather than a fear of judgment and condemnation for failure.
“But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory” (2 Corinthians 3:7-9)Where the law says, “thou shalt not kill”, or “thou shalt not steal”, or “thou shalt not commit adultery”, the Spirit not only leads the believer to not commit murder, but to be willing to lay down his life for a friend; instead of stealing, giving; rather than committing adultery, choosing to love sacrificially while receiving one’s spouse in a manner which brings them to a place of security, comfort, and joy.
The law set a standard outwardly that the flesh was simply unable to satisfy. This was not a mistake. God intended for the law to instruct us by means of our failure so as to trust God’s perfect provision for all aspects of life, including holiness and happiness. Christ is our life in all its fullness, living in our hearts by faith.
“When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:4)Therefore, the law serves to bring us to Christ, while continuing to reveal our utter dependence upon the indwelling life of Christ, serving to make us holy, righteous, justified, and eternally secure before the Father.
“For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4)When reading and studying the Old Testament, it is important to remember that in order to unearth its incredible wealth and value it must be interpreted through the spiritual-lens of the “finished work of Christ”. It has been said, “the Old Testament is the finished work of Christ concealed, and the New Testament is the finished work of Christ revealed”. It is good to be reminded that we are built upon the foundation of the prophets (Old Testament) and the apostles (New Testament), with Jesus being the “chief cornerstone”. (Luke 20:17)
6. Are there consequences to sin for a Christian?
Yes, and on two levels. In this natural world a Christian will be arrested and go to jail if they are caught robbing a bank. Peter writes that we believers should not suffer as an “evil-doer” by stealing.
“Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler” (1 Peter 4:15)Paul writes that the courts and police officers are there by God’s design, and that “they bear not the sword in vain.” Natural man must have law in order for there to be a measure of peace in this world and that law is designed to modify the behavior of the unbeliever through fear of punishment. So in this world there are consequences to sin for a Christian if that sin is a violation of the laws of this world.
On another level, in the spiritual world, the believer will experience the corrupting power of sin in spiritual matters as a consequence of a lifestyle of sin. As Paul wrote the Galatians,
“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7-8)Notice that Paul does not say that if a believer sows to the flesh he shall reap “judgment” – just corruption. There is no judgment from God for the sins of a believer. God’s judgment for all the sins of the believer, past, present, and future, fell fully on Jesus. That is the Gospel in its essence. That, dear saint, is the good news!
The sins of a believer are no longer counted against the believer because of the death of Jesus. But there is a corrupting power that sin, or the flesh, has on the mind of a believer. While the Spirit seeks to renew the mind to unseen realities in Christ thereby releasing the “new creation” in Christ to manifest his righteous identity in word and deed, it is the flesh and the power of sin in the flesh that seeks to corrupt the mind and causes a spiritual “blindness or near-sightedness”. While the “new creation in Christ” can be hindered from manifesting his/her identity by means of sinful behavior, inwardly the corrupting power of sin in the flesh is powerless to affect the inward, invisible reality of the “new creation”.
Bottom line? Sin is trouble! Yet, God has set us free from the power of sin as we are positioned in Christ, and the believer’s new heart desires to be like the Father in word and deed. The believer has been made a partaker of the “divine nature” and that new nature desires to walk in righteousness, not because of the fear of consequence like the unbeliever, but rather from a motivation of love and knowledge of who we really are.
“For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust” (2 Peter 1:4)
By Grace Church Orlando