The question before us in this post is this: For Christians is grace or obedience to the law most important?

The answer is…both are.

Don’t you wish there were simple answers to questions concerning the Christian walk?

Sorry. There may be simple sounding questions, but the answers end up being deep and beautiful.

John wrote this striking and profound truth in his first letter: “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:3–6).1

Really? We know that we know the Lord if we keep His commandments? Obeying them means that the love of God is perfected in us?

How does that work? We’re not supposed to keep the law, are we? Aren’t we saved by grace?

Yes. It’s abundantly clear in the New Testament that we are saved through grace and faith. Perhaps the clearest one-sentence summation of this liberating truth is from Paul’s letter to the Galatians: “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” (Ephesians 2:8–9).

So, how do we reconcile this seeming contradiction? How does it make sense that the psalmist wrote with stunning passion, “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97)?

How could David write, “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;” (Psalm 19:7–8)?

Even as I read these verses, my heart rejoices, too. Why? Because the law reveals the character of our wonderful, holy God. He is perfect and His law is perfect. There is joy there because the law is…Him. I want to know Him there. I want to live with Him there because there is no sin in that place.

Have you ever thought about the part of the Lord’s Prayer that says, “…holy is Your name”?

What does it mean that His name is holy? Who the Father is, His character, His nature, is totally set apart from everything else that is known to us. And, He is perfectly sinless. There is not a speck, not the smallest particle of sin in Him. Does this sound like you? Are you totally set apart from the world? Are you perfectly sinless? No, you’re not. These concepts of God’s character are impossible for us to comprehend. How would it be possible for us to be perfectly set apart from the world? And you and I both know that we sin in our heads all the time. The Lord never has a hateful thought. A selfish thought. An immoral thought. He only loves—perfectly. Not one of us can say that about ourselves.

I would like to be like that, but I am not. I know in spades that I am not. I have zero righteousness of my own. Less than zero. I disobey Him. I scorn His law and therefore His character. I disappoint myself, and I am unable to fix it. Many times, I don’t even pause to think about sinning. The hateful or selfish thought is just there in an instant. I know that sin brings death in some manner or another. I’m sunk.

Yet, I know that the opposite of all that sinful junk is life. I’m happy when I’m not hateful, when I’m not selfish. I’m happy when I serve with proper motives. I rejoice in true love between people.

God’s law is wonderful. I want to keep it, but I am unable. I pray daily that He will transform me, yet I still fail. I want to please Him. Paul desired this, too. “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him” (2 Corinthians 5:9). However, I end up doing things that I know are not pleasing. I know that the only way I can even approach Him and know Him is because of the righteousness of Jesus. He took the punishment I so richly deserve upon Himself. His blood cleanses me from sin. I am set free. Even though I know what an absolute sinful basket case I am, He will forgive me. Every time. I cherish these verses that Jeremiah wrote: “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22–23). What a wonderful, liberating fact!

It is here that we are met with the tightwire of Christian faith. On one side is the chasm of not giving a rip about my ongoing relationship with the most amazing Being imaginable because I prayed a prayer of salvation at one time and therefore do not make it my aim to know Him by keeping His commandments, and on the other is death-dealing legalism where I start believing that I’ve got this Christian thing down and wonder why all those other idiots can’t walk with Jesus the way I do.

Grace or obedience?


1All Scripture quotations are from the ESV.