In a recent blog I argued that Christianity is all grace. The OT Law, by contrast, was a covenant of works. It did not function on the premise of grace or faith but human achieving. Paul makes this crystal clear in Galatians.
Gal 3:10-14 (ESV)
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us-for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”- so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
And this is no isolated verse, though if it were it would be sufficient. Other texts reveal the same teaching (Deut 27:26; Lev 18:5; Ezek 20:11; Roms 10:5; Lk 10:25-28). I underline this for many attempt to tell us, in the face of ample and clear biblical witness, that Law was a covenant of grace. Emphatically, not so.
The simple fact is that the Mosaic Law was a covenant of works depending for its success on a righteousness achieved by man rather than a righteousness given by God; obedience brought blessing and life while disobedience brought curse and death. It proved to be an abysmal failure leading ultimately to the curse of exile. Thus, OT hope, realising the weakness of the OC, looked to a future when God himself would ‘work righteousness’ (Ps 103:6; Jer 51:10; Isa 33:5, 45:8) and ‘bring salvation’ (Isa 46:1). This future salvation arrives of course in Messiah (Lk 1:67-80, 2:29-32, 19:9; Acts 13:23-51). Today, is the day of salvation (2 Cor 6:2; 1 Pet 1:10). Now is the realisation (at least in part) of the eschatological (end-time) salvation (1 Pet 1:10), righteousness (Roms 1:16-18), faith ( Gals 3:23, 25), and grace (Jn 1;17; 1 Pet 1:10; Tit 2:11) which the OT anticipated. The Law may well have come through Moses but grace and truth comes through Jesus Christ (Jn 1:17). Christianity is Christ and Christ is grace.
So stark and clear-cut is this contrast between old covenant law-works and new covenant gospel-grace that Paul can write:
Rom 4:4-5 (ESV)
Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift [or, not counted as of grace] but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness
Rom 11:6 (ESV)
But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.
2Tim 1:9 (ESV)
who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.
Law and Christ are different in principle. Now it is just at this point that the question arises: does this mean that there are no ‘works’ that are expected (even demanded) of a Christian? Has the gospel no obligations? If God saves me by grace can I live as I like (Roms 6:1)? Paul’s answer is ‘God forbid’ (Roms 6:2).
And it is as well we hear this apostolic consternation and denunciation and grasp it, for some Christians in their zeal to say that ‘works’ have no place in the Christian gospel go quite wrong at this point. In their well-intentioned effort to maintain the biblical distinction between ‘law and grace” or ‘works and faith’ they teach ‘doing or works’ is always law and ‘done and faith’ are always gospel; works, they say, have nothing to do with gospel. This, however well motivated, is a false dichotomy. It is not the biblical paradigm. Paul clearly expects the gospel to produce righteous living (Roms 6). Paul’s opposition is not to ‘works’ per se, but to ‘law-works’. And by ‘law-works’ he means specifically the ‘works’ of the Mosaic Covenant and more generally ‘works’ that rest on the same premise as this covenant. And the premise is all important. The ‘law-works’ Paul opposes are those that are undertaken as a means of gaining a righteousness before God that will merit eternal life. The Mosaic Law offered life through righteousness achieved (this do and live). And it did so by demanding obedience but offering no grace to obey. It laid the responsibility firmly on unaided humanity, humanity ‘in the flesh’.
The Law ever assumes man in the flesh; life is not the starting point of the Law, it is the goal (Lev 18:5; Gals 3:10-14; Roms 7:14; Cf. Gals 3:3). However, that which ‘promised life’ brought only death, for flesh, to which law was addressed, could not and would not obey (Roms 7:9-11) indeed the Law simply provoked flesh to sin all the more (Roms 7:5, 7-9). Thus, Paul asserts:
Rom 3:20 (ESV)
For by works of the law no human being (better, ‘flesh’) will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
Thus, the ‘works’ that Paul condemns and opposes are works that proceed on the basis of human nature seeking by its own righteousness to inherit (merit) eternal life. Such are ‘the works of the law’. When by my own ‘goodness’ I seek to gain a place in heaven, my ‘goodness’ is mere worthless ‘law-works’. When I think I can ‘earn’ or ‘merit’ or ‘gain’ God’s favour by my own efforts, or believe I can somehow work my passage to heaven, I am attempting to ‘justify myself’ and ‘trusting in myself’ before God. I am looking for a way to put God in my debt (Roms 4:4). And God will have none of it. Quite apart from the futility of any efforts by me to achieve the righteousness God’s glory requires (Roms 3:23) God will simply not allow any man to have a basis for boasting before him (1 Cor 1:29; Roms 3:27; Phil 3:3). And so we read:
Eph 2:8-10 (ESV)
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Yet, note carefully, this very text, which excludes all ‘works’ from salvation and insists instead that we are God’s ‘workmanship’ goes on toobserve that those saved by grace through faith are ‘created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them’. ‘Good works’ are the very substance of the life that God has mapped out for those saved by grace. And this text in Ephesians is by no means an isolated reference to the ‘good works’ of the believer. Even if we limit our scan of the NT to the specific phrase ‘good works’ we find it is demanded and designated of Christians no less than twelve times (Acts 9:36; 1 Tim 2:10,5:10,5:25, 6:18; Tit 1:16, 2:7,14, 3:8,14; Hebs 10:24; 1 Pet 2:12). Now, these are not ‘works’ that are dismissed and denounced but ‘works’ that are decreed and demanded. In a word, these are not ‘law-works’ but ‘gospel-works’. They are not ‘dead’ works of the flesh but the living fruit of the Spirit (Cf Acts 13:2). They are ‘works of faith’ (Cf. Gals 5:6; 1 Thess 1:3; 2 Thess 1:11; Jas 2:18,22). That is, they are ‘grace-works’ (2 Cor 9:8; Acts 14:28; Eph 3:7). Once again Paul expresses clearly what ‘grace-works’ are:
1Cor 15:10 (ESV)
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.
The differences between ‘works of the law’ and ‘works of grace’ now become obvious: law-works find their source in man whereas grace-works find their source in God; law-works base their hope in man whereas grace-works base their hope in God; law-works seek to gain life through works whereas grace-works express a life already possessed by grace; law-works have life as their goal while grace-works have life as their ground; law-works seek to earn salvation while grace-works seek to express salvation; law-works are our workings to impress God whereas grace-works are God working in us to please him.
The differences between the two are as wide as eternity. One works for salvation and the other works from salvation. In one the source is man and his arrogance and in the other the source is God and his grace. One damns and the other saves.
Allow me, in conclusion, to make one final important observation. We can only produce ‘grace-works’ if we stand entirely confident in our justification by grace through faith. If our ‘works’ do not arise from the assurance that we are God’s children being simply the faith-response of gratitude to grace, then our ‘works’ will inevitably be law-works; if they not arise from the assurance of standing in grace then they must inevitably arise from an attempt to earn that standing. To make the same point in another way: if we do not stand strong in our initial justification by grace through faith then our fitting justification by works (Jas 2), that is grace-works, will collapse into a false justification by law (Gals 5:4) that is, law-works’; we will be ‘severed’ from grace (Gals 5:4)
Christianity is Christ and Christ is the gospel of grace. Christianity is grace from first to last, including ‘grace-works’.