Law and Gospel 3


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c. Explain the relationship between “law and grace” in Paul’s writings.

Most people might make stark contrast when law and grace come head to head where the former is seen as something negative and the latter positive. The law condemns and grace gives life and access to God. Law and grace can also be compared in a manner where the former requires work and the latter requires faith and belief. But as we have discussed earlier in point (a) and (b) concerning Paul’s use of the term ‘law’ and what significance it has for the Christian life, in a specific sense, law as understood as the ‘Mosaic law.’ When we put it in this manner, law in a specific sense, the Mosaic Law, according to Paul has been superseded by Christ and under him a new Law evolves, which is the law of Christ.

While we noted in (a) and (b) that through the Law, where righteousness fails to be exemplified, but the nature of humanity which is marred by sin is condemned, grace on the other hand speaks of a different kind of realization. In Paul’s usage of grace which is charis in the Greek “carries the basic sense of “favour”…and when God or Christ is its subject, acting in grace towards humankind, it is undeserved favour.”[1] 372

Paul’s letter to the Romans present to us some needed detail concerning the controversy displayed on the misconception of what Paul means by not being under law now but under grace (6:14). Ideally hearers of Paul would be shocked as to hear some of the ideas Paul presents in this letter. Stating that the law was unable to produce righteousness in humanity (3:20) and summing up that Jews and Gentiles suffer the same fate, being ‘under sin’ (3:9) and that it is through the law humanity is made conscious of their sin (3:20). Explaining further, Paul elaborates that a righteousness apart from law is made available by putting faith in Jesus through grace that was provided (3:21-24).

Though the notion of the graciousness of God seems to encourage sin (Rom. 6:1), Paul is seen as arguing this with a definite “No.” Where “while works of the Law (Gal. 2:16…) have no part in justification, which is solely of grace (Eph. 2:8-9), good works are to be the very centre piece of the life of gratitude, which is to characterize those who have been saved by God’s grace (Eph. 2:10).”[2] This grace encourages a response of gratitude which entails ethical behaviour.

Some might have the misconception that grace is a New Testament Christian invention but Witherington argues otherwise. He states that Jesus, though not being the first Jew who modelled this idea where God was merciful, forgiving and loving, the OT and Jewish literature also echoes this idea as well.[3] The problem might where some who designate grace as tied only to the NT might be that the concept of God being gracious is tied tightly to Christology.[4]

Taking note of the considerations made above one can conclude here that, grace need not be seen as opposed to law in a sense that grace is seen as a licence to sin. But grace should be place more in the nature of God in both Old Testament and the New. God in his grace liberated the Jews in the Exodus narrative and in doing so gave them laws to live by in accordance with his character. Moving on to the New Testament, the Mosaic law, which is superseded in the coming of Christ become the Christian’s hinge for placing their trust as well as becoming their ethical dimension. By placing faith in Jesus, as noted above as well, righteousness is given out to those who put trust in the one who now takes over the role of the law now for the Christian. This is not done by any means of ‘work’ but based on God’s continuing character seen in the Old Testament who chose Israel not on the basis of what she did, we see grace being administered in both the Old and the New.

[1] Hawthorne, Gerald F.; Martin, Ralph P.; and Reid, Daniel G.; eds. Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998, c1993). pg 373

[2] Ibid.

[3] Witherington, Ben. The Indelible Image: The Theological and Ethical Thought World of the New Testament. (Downers Grove: IVP, 2009) Pg 218

[4] ibid

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