Friday, October 23, 2015

This Week's Reflection: The Law of Grace

Lectionary Readings for 25 Oct (Sun): Jer. 31:31-34; Ps. 46; Rom. 3:19-28; Jn. 8:31-36.

This week's lectionary readings focus on the new covenant of grace. There are few thoughts I would like to reiterate here:

(1) Grace is not opposed to law: In Jeremiah 31:31, God declared he would bring about a new covenant. Unlike the old covenant, God would "put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts." This is further clarified by Ezekiel 36:27 as the outpouring of the Holy Spirit: "And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules." Grace does not oppose but fulfill the law. So Jesus declared: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them" (Matt 5:17). Some preachers argue that Jesus' teachings in the Gospels are still basically under "law" not "grace". But Jesus himself said that the law and the prophets ended with John the Baptist: "For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John" (Matt 11:13). Jesus' ministry began when John died because he came to inaugurate the new covenant of grace: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Lk 4:18-19).

(2) Grace is based on law of faith, not works: Paul is the apostles to the Gentiles who did not have Moses' Law. He saw Moses' law as a temporary tutor until the Spirit himself comes. Gentile believers don't need Moses' law because they have something better--the gift of the Spirit, which is the Living Law within, instead of the Written Law without. But whether under old or new covenant, Paul teaches that only by the law of faith, not works, are the Jew and Gentile justified: "By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law" (Rom 3:27-28). Israel was under grace, but governed by law of Moses which brought death. The Church is under grace, but governed by the law of the Spirit which gave life. Both Jews and Gentiles are justified only by faith because faith accepts God's gracious gift of salvation brokered by Christ at the Cross.

(3) Grace turns Slaves into Sons: Israel was a nation of slaves in Egypt. But God called them out to become His children at Mt. Sinai before the Law of given: "Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel" (Ex 19:3-6). It was only after Israel's elders accepted God's gracious offer and promised to obey Him that God gave Moses the Law in Exodus 20 onwards. So, Israel accepted God's gracious offer of the covenant before the Law was given. The Law was to help Israel keep themselves holy as God's people. It was not works of the Law that turned them from slaves to sons of God; it was their acceptance of God's gracious promise in Exodus 19 that the Law was subsequently given. But as sons, they were not to live like the other nations but to live by the rules, commands and statutes of Moses.

The difference between Old and New Covenant is not Law versus Grace, but Grace + Law of Moses versus Grace + Law of the Spirit. The New Covenant is better in all ways: beside having the Law-giver guiding us from within, it is also opened to all peoples, whether they knew Moses' Law or not. But to deny the law is to deny God because both old and new covenant laws are expression of God's own holy nature. But Christ came to internalize the outward rules of Moses into inward reality that reflects God's holy character through the Spirit.

Father, thank You that You have given us a better covenant through Your Spirit, so that we are no longer dependent on Moses' law to tell us how to behave but on Your Spirit who is the Law-giver. Amen.

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