A gracEmail reader in the West writes, “If we don’t live under law but under grace, then what about God’s commands? Somehow law, rule and command all seem like synonyms to me. I feel beaten down, struggling to feel worthy. I also can’t find an official list of God’s commands and everyone I talk to has a different list.”
* * *
Laws, rules and commands are quite necessary to an ordered life and a peaceful society. God’s commands are “holy, just and good” (Rom. 7:12). But they can be misused and abused. Laws were never intended as a stairway to heaven — for every one of us eventually stumbles and falls down the stairs. We cannot, by keeping God’s commands, ingratiate ourselves to the Creator, or attain some spiritual height which allows either personal boasting, on the one hand, or looking down our noses at our neighbors, on the other (Rom. 3:20).
Law has been given a bad name sometimes, by people who thought they were teaching grace but who didn’t have a biblical idea of what grace means. God’s grace is not an excuse for license (Jude 4). Rightly perceived, grace instructs us to say “No” to evil and “Yes” to what is good (Titus 2:11-12). The person who most appreciates God’s grace will most desire to keep all of God’s applicable laws or rules or commandments — just as the right-thinking person who receives a wonderful gift from another human being will want to please the giver so far as it is in his or her power to do (1 Cor. 15:10).
God loves sinners and gave his Son for us. He justifies or declares “right” everyone who trusts in Jesus’ atoning sacrifice (Rom. 3:21-22). If we are relying on God’s favor shown in Christ, we need not feel beaten down, for God has reached down in Jesus and lifted us up to himself. We are always unworthy. We can admit that without fear, since we rely on God’s undeserved kindness which does not depend upon our deserving anything. God’s commands, laws and rules are for our own good and well-being, and we may confidently try to observe them with pleasure and delight (Deut. 6:24; Psalm 119:129). And when we have done our best lovingly to keep them, we must say, as Jesus taught us, “I have only done what I ought to do” (Luke 17:10).