Must grace be balanced with law?

Awhile back I was pointed towards the following blog post by Tullian Tchividjian.

I was asked for my opinion on the piece. Below are some (slightly edited) thoughts that occurred to me at the time. I thought I’d share these in case they are helpful to others who are thinking about the relationship between grace and law …

I’m sure there will be some who won’t like Tullian Tchividjian’s delivery — some of his wording is quite aggressive — maybe even Luther-esque! “Glory-hoarding, self-centered control freaks” would be a bit strong for some, especially Christians who believe that their motives are good and should at least be recognized as such, even if they do sometimes get things wrong. There are probably gentler ways to suggest that the motives behind rules-oriented Christian living need to be questioned. (I say that knowing that I’ve tended to choose words and phrases that some of the Christians I spend time with have found particularly offensive. I hope I’m learning how to do things better though!)

I think the point TT (I’m avoiding typing his surname) is making about grace being free is really important. I love much of what he says, especially this Jerry Bridges quote:

My observation of Christendom is that most of us tend to base our relationship with God on our performance instead of on His grace. If we’ve performed well—whatever ‘well’ is in our opinion—then we expect God to bless us. If we haven’t done so well, our expectations are reduced accordingly. In this sense, we live by works, rather than by grace. We are saved by grace, but we are living by the ‘sweat’ of our own performance. Moreover, we are always challenging ourselves and one another to ‘try harder’. We seem to believe success in the Christian life is basically up to us; our commitment, our discipline, and our zeal, with some help from God along the way. The realization that my daily relationship with God is based on the infinite merit of Christ instead of on my own performance is very freeing and joyous experience. But it is not meant to be a one-time experience; the truth needs to be reaffirmed daily.

You sometimes hear that we need to keep an equal balance between grace and law in order to avoid falling into legalism or licentiousness. (Satan doesn’t mind which side of the horse we fall off on.) But I wonder if keeping a balance between grace and law is, in fact, just another way to fall off the horse! (If legalism and licentiousness are left and right then perhaps grace-law balance is being bucked over the horse’s head! Am I taking the analogy too far?)

Maybe grace understood rightly is the answer – not grace understood wrongly, balanced with law.

It seems to me that we are bound/married either to the law or to Christ (Romans 7:1-6). If it’s one or the other then the Christian life cannot rightly be understood as 50% devotion to one husband and 50% devotion to the other. We would be trying to please Christ by returning to the old husband and giving him a significant place in our lives. I’m not sure that’s what Jesus, or any husband, would want! Actually I don’t think that’s what the old husband would want either since he always intended to point us to the Messiah! (Am I taking this analogy too far, as well?)

Maybe the 50/50 approach means well (wants to avoid harmful extremes) but it fails to take into account the law’s actual purpose, and its limitations.

The law rightly condemns and brings death (and it is entirely good and right as it condemns) but it can’t make us righteous. It was never intended to (Rom 3:20). Law can never change hearts. That’s why God has provided us with a life-giving, fruit-bearing husband.

If law was never intended to make us righteous then we mustn’t try to use it as a tool to affect heart change. We mustn’t treat the law as if it can bear fruit. The law condemns and brings death to sinners, and so Christ was condemned on the cross, but now, in our union with him, we have suffered death and have been raised to new life. That changes things. Christ fulfilled every jot and tittle of the beautiful and good law, and in him, we have done the same. Maybe there’s a fear in some circles that we’ll develop disdain for the law if grace is free but I think that’s impossible when we understand what it means to be in Christ. We understand that there is no conflict between the law and Christ. One was always meant to point to the other. So it’s not as though we’re looking back blowing raspberries at the old husband. The law is good and Christ has fulfilled it. So there’s no conflict between those who are in Christ and the law. We love all that the law is. But we understand that the law is not over us as it once was, and that Christ alone (not the law) is the one who bears fruit in our lives.

That doesn’t leave us like naughty school children who have got away with something and just can’t wait to do it again. We are now married to a worthy and lovely spouse. Our hearts are won. Whenever we see Jesus afresh our hearts are won again and again and sin becomes more and more foreign and futile.

There’s no need to add 50% law because it wouldn’t actually advance the cause. I think that’s important to point out (lovingly — as you know, that’s where I struggle) to people who long to be holy and want to have more victory over sin but keep trying to get there by looking over Christ’s shoulder to the law. So many people really do want to grow in godliness and they want their churches to grow in godliness but they don’t seem to be clear on what will actually make that happen. There’s a lot of that about, I think, and there’s a great need for gospel refreshment in churches.

Thomas Chalmers is strong on grace being free. He’s very clear that, though it’s counter-intuitive, free grace is actually the most effective “tool” to deliver us from ungodliness. Here’s a snippet from his “Expulsive Power” sermon:

Thus it is, that the freer the Gospel, the more sanctifying is the Gospel; and the more it is received as a doctrine of grace, the more will it be felt as a doctrine according to godliness. This is one of the secrets of the Christian life, that the more a man holds of God as a pensioner, the greater is the payment of service that he renders back again. On the tenure of “Do this and live,” a spirit of fearfulness is sure to enter; and the jealousies of a legal bargain chase away all confidence from the intercourse between God and man; and the creature striving to be square and even with his Creator, is, in fact, pursuing all the while his own selfishness, instead of God’s glory; and with all the conformities which he labours to accomplish, the soul of obedience is not there, the mind is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed under such an economy ever can be. It is only when, as in the Gospel, acceptance is bestowed as a present, without money and without price, that the security which man feels in God is placed beyond the reach of disturbance – or, that he can repose in Him, as one friend reposes in another – or, that any liberal and generous understanding can be established betwixt them – the one party rejoicing over the other to do him good – the other finding that the truest gladness of his heart lies in the impulse of a gratitude, by which it is awakened to the charms of a new moral existence. Salvation by grace – salvation by free grace – salvation not of works, but according to the mercy of God – salvation on such a footing is not more indispensable to the deliverance of our persons from the hand of justice, than it is to the deliverance of our hearts from the chill and the weight of ungodliness. Retain a single shred or fragment of legality with the Gospel, and we raise a topic of distrust between man and God. We take away from the power of the Gospel to melt and to conciliate. For this purpose, the freer it is, the better it is. That very peculiarity which so many dread as the germ of antinomianism, is, in fact, the germ of a new spirit, and a new inclination against it. Along with the light of a free Gospel, does there enter the love of the Gospel, which, in proportion as we impair the freeness, we are sure to chase away. And never does the sinner find within himself so mighty a moral transformation, as when under the belief that he is saved by grace, he feels constrained thereby to offer his heart a devoted thing, and to deny ungodliness. To do any work in the best manner, we should make use of the fittest tools for it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s