Grace Trumps the Law

Sorry to burst your bubble, but it’s true.

We are inveterate ‘doers’. The law is wri tten upon our hearts. We want to justify ourselves if it kills us.

Ignorance of, or inability to distinguish God’s law from God’s gospel is a plague in the church.

“Well, it says right here in 2nd Macedonians 11 that we really ought to be doing good works to please God.”

So, then why aren’t you?

Why are we so consumed with what the Bible has to say about good works and then utterly ignore them unless it is to tell our neighbor to do them?

Have you noticed that?   The do’s and don’ts of the law are never really taken seriously by the one who speaks of them. But the accusing finger is wagged in every direction but back at the self.

There is law language all over that Book. And there is gospel language all over that Book.

Should we, as Christians, ignore the law and ignore the needs of our neighbors?

Of course not!  We ought jump in with both feet! We ought do all we can!

But not to aqcuire anything at all for ourselves. We already have all that is needful…in Christ. We have put on Christ in our baptisms! (Gal.3:27)

How can doing good works make you any better of a Christian than that?  They can’t!

But if you mix up doing good works for the neighbor and doing good works to gain some elevated status in God’s eyes, then you may be a modern day Pharisee, and you may be in the process of cutting yourself off from God’s grace.

“We’ll then, how am I to know that I’m really a Christian?”

Remember 4/4 …  Romans 4:4&5 ,  that is.  “Now to one who works, his wages are not reckoned as a gift but his due. And to one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.”

Grace trumps Law… and it trumps it every time.

By the way, you are now free (because of Christ) to go out and do all the good works you want, without having to fear messing up in any way.

  Your friends, family, neighbors, homeless people, old folks in nursing homes, young people in cancer wards…they could all benefit from your desire to do good works.

So…have at it!



Are you a godly worker?  Or are you an ungodly truster?

Sometimes it is a hard thing to admit. But when he hung on that cross and asked the Father to “forgive them, for they know not what they do”, he was speaking about you and me, also. Not just those there in front of him.



37 Responses

  1. I’m an ‘ungodly truster’ and I muck up the “trust” part too… so I need to hear again and again the good news of God’s grace… given to me for Jesus sake. I believe… help my unbelief.

    Then… I “do stuff” and hopefully some of it reflects the light of Christ. My “good works” are a very tarnished mirror and nothing to rely upon… I know not what I do.

  2. Me too.

    Guilty as charged.

    But I, like Patrick, have an Advocate.

    One who forgives me and loves me enough to die for me.

  3. Anyone recall the song ‘Keep my running’ by Randy Stonehill from the superb album, ‘Welcome to Paradise’? Those lyrics pretty much sum us all up except for grace – prodigal, rebel by nature.
    Thankfully, there is a way out of this! Not by works or any scheming on our part, but purely in His redeeming mercy and unmerited care.
    Amazing grace!

  4. What upside down sanctification sanctifiers don’t seem to get is the immeasurable self aborbed pretend humility arogance a statement like this is;

    “How can doing good works make you any better of a Christian than that? “

  5. First, I agree wholeheartedly with your thesis.

    However, I have a question: A couple of times recently you have mentioned “the law written on our hearts” as if it is a negative thing. My understanding of Jeremiah 31 (a favorite passage of mine) is that he is foretelling the coming of the New Covenant; that is, the law “written upon our hearts” as opposed to an external law we have to follow. This internal law equates to our new nature, as we are now indwelt with the Holy Spirit, etc. This has nothing to do with earning salvation or holiness, but a desire to be obedient to loving God and our neighbor.


    If you’re interested, here’s a link to a study I did on the passage many, many years ago:

  6. I think I am a ‘godly truster’ when it comes to my acceptance by God…

  7. Alden,

    Thanks for the link. I’ll check it out a bit later, I have to go do some errands that will take me awhile. Just a quick thought:

    When I read (in Romans 2 for example) about the law being written on our hearts, what I get is that we (all of mankind) know exactly what we ought be doing. We inherently know good from evil, but that we are bound to sin and therefore we will not to do what the law demands.

    Therefore we twist, and water down the law to make it fit into the bonds of our sinfulness.

    I don’t know if I said that very well. Maybe someone else has a better understanding.

    Thanks, Alden.

  8. Right on, Bino!

  9. Everyone has already said what I would say, only better than I would probably say it.

    Don’t want to go off on a tangent, and maybe you have another post along these lines. Other day, in one of my yahoo groups one person had a prayer request. She wanted us to pray that she would “wait on theLord” rather than take matters in her own hands. I think she would agree with your post, Steve. That we are to trust God, but by nature we don’t. We still try to do what works we think are necessary.

    Well, another contributer to the list reminded her to “not forget that God will help you after you’ve done everything you possible could.”

    No, no, no! But this is not part of the topic you’ve posted today. Just had to get it off my chest.

  10. enslaved to do has to do to be
    or do to be free
    but cant dont u see
    freed to do is free indeed
    to meet every need
    by grace we concede

    sorry. friend of mine has gotten me into rap and i realized i gots flow.

  11. The debate surrounding Works vs. Faith seems to me to be much like two people arguing about a grapefruit. One demands that it is spherical, the other that it is yellow. Both are characteristic of the grapefruit, however neither make it a grapefruit. It is a grapefruit, from a Biblical perspective, because it grows from a grapefruit tree.

    We are told by Jesus to treat certain church members “as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:17)

    We are also admonished by Paul to “Expel the wicked man from among you.” (1 Cor. 5:12

    But how are we as sinful men to do this? Jesus gives us some insight by saying “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?

    Our works will never get us to heaven, and they will never keep us out, but this does not mean we are not to try to earnestly follow and “abide” in our savior. It only becomes a heavy yoke when those works play a part in our salvation.

  12. Dan,

    “By their fruit you will recognize them.” I realize evangelicals like to pull this old chess nut out of context and use it, however, it is in regard to false teachers which is clear and explicit in the context. And clearly indicates those who do not give the sheep pasture, i.e. the Gospel. By their (false teachers) fruits, the lack of repentance from saving one’s self among those under them…you shall know them as false teachers. E.g. Rick Warren.

    “Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?” Luther said, paraphrasing Jesus that many men will talk much about faith and good works and not know either one of them. What was his point? They turn it upside down and are so sorely terrified and scandalized by grace that they think to promote good works by causing fear, reward or other motivation through the Law or laws of men. This fails to see Christ’s ENTIRE point when said, “Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?”

    Christ’s point was much more deadly (Law) and gift (Gospel) when He said, “Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?” It’s a Creator statement. Meaning He will create out of nothing via the Word of Gospel, free justification for Christ’s sake a fig tree that will produce ONLY figs. To wit that the release of the Gospel frees for good works in all he does. When he eats, sleeps, stands, breaths, rakes leaves, changes the babies diapers, etc…and when he sins he is quickly forgiven…all figs from the created out of the free Grace word. Contrawise: thorns come from thorns, period. Thus to keep the contrast, when he gives to the poor, does missions, even gives all his life for the sake of fear of punishment, seeking reward, so called sanctifying himself…all thorns.

    “Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?” Is not an imperative command for you to do, rather Jesus is describing reality, just like He did to stunned Nicodemas in the dark of night in John’s Gospel.

    It is, “Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?”, in its own right 200 proof Law and 200 proof Gospel. Because once it strikes you that you cannot AT ALL do it, then the old Adam is stricken by the hammer of God and crushed to pieces, “You mean I can’t produce grapes or figs after I got saved?” “Then what do you expect me to do as a Christian?” Answer: Nothing. “You mean nothing!” Yes (KILLING Law)! Once you are thoroughly dead and emptied in terror over this, then one can at last see the Gospel, “I, Christ, have done it ALL for you.” (200 proof sweet nectar Gospel).

    Luther was correct in saying men are so utterly blinded by good works, and he was not being hyperbolic, he meant to say that in such a way it scare us to death how self deceived and deluded we are about this – and one cannot see the Gospel until all is dead. Not just when God rejects your negative sins, gossip, murder, illicit sex, not even especially these. Rather when God rejects and condemns your Christian works you cling to, praying, evangelism, being nice, not cussing, missions, your secret trust of your heart, etc…Then the Law kills so that the Gospel can make alive. AND this happens not just once only at some entrance point conversion experience, rather all the life of the Christian (the problem with OSAS).



    • OK, you make good points about my first example, but you did not address my second, 1 Cor 5:12.

      And can you address Jesus’s words when he answers questions about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus told them to repent lest they too perish. This sounds to me like he wants them to try to live a good life.

      • Dan,

        Thus; He’s calling them to repent from trusting in their idols and to trust in Him nakedly passively and alone. That’s repentance that’s turning away, having a change of mind about the way things are.

        First start with sin. It is not the antithesis of “living a good life”, it is inward turning whether by evil outward deeds which even pagans discern or by outward good deeds. One can be inwardly turned, sin, by either putting gun in your ribs and saying give me all of your money, OR by attempting to sanctify my life by shoving good works down your throat whether you want them or not.

        One must realize that all men fallen whether religiously religious or secularly/atheitistically religious are trying to save themselves, make themselves better before their “god” or in their “system”.

        Expel the wicked man…is to turn him over to himself so he will be emptied in order to be returned. Paul makes this clear in his second letter to the Cor. when he rebukes them, the church, for not receiving him back quickly lest Satan destroy him.


  13. “The debate surrounding Works vs. Faith”
    is over – Romans 3:9-20.
    No child of Adam, Jew or Gentile, is justified via works.

    “It is a (reality), from a Biblical perspective, because”
    of it source –
    The righteousness of God, revealed apart from law, through grace, which brings the redemption that is in Christ.

    “this does not mean we are”
    to loose sight of the author and finisher of our faith, who has run the race before us, and will complete the work He begins.

    If this is the confidence we have, then Christ within will indeed be the hope (the evident expectation) of eternal meaning.

  14. I agree wholeheartedly, except that the debate is over, unless you are saying that as far as God is concerned it is over, in that case all debates are over. We need only to accurately know what God said, which evidently is debatable.

  15. “We need only to accurately know what God said, which evidently is debatable”.

    There is always plenty of ‘angles’ – questions, points, opinions, that we will raise about the nature of our condition and the solution to this – no doubt that is why Romans is framed the way it is, often presenting the Gospel in relation to just such questions, but as you rightly note, Dan, with God, the debate is finished, and seeing our first task should be to seek His Kingdom, His Righteousness, then ‘getting in line’ with the message of the Gospel, as defined by the Apostle, which is the ‘power of God to salvation’, must be the priority.

  16. Seeking His Kingdom is right, but even that can raise the specter of “justified by law”. “I am saved because I sought His Kingdom” which of course would be false. Yet I do seek his Kingdom as well as seeking to obey his commands. Yet I don’t seek to obey his commands so as to play a part in my salvation. This is a good thing for if that were true, my salvation would be in question. Still I seek to follow them all the same.

    I am Leary of anything that smacks of antinomianism, which this post seems to do, that is barring the highly likely possibility that I misunderstand it. Just because we say that we are saved by grace, which is true, I am not inclined to believe that I may then sin all the more so that that grace may abound. Not that if I did it would make me not saved anymore than if I didn’t it would make me any more saved.

    • Dan I have to say you are asking all the good questions!

      “Seeking His Kingdom is right, but even that can raise the specter of “justified by law”. “I am saved because I sought His Kingdom” which of course would be false. Yet I do seek his Kingdom as well as seeking to obey his commands.”

      Because here is another spot men err greatly. We must ask, “What IS the kingdom of God”. There are two ways to answer that, true and false.

      First, false, what it is not: The kingdom of God is NOT it’s fruits. That’s crucial to see. It is not the return to the Law which means the Law will NEVER be fulfilled in eternity. It is not as some say or imply by their theology that the Gospel serves the purpose of the Law.

      What it is: The Law serves the Gospel! It is entirely a kingdom of forgiveness. Oh, yes a kingdom solely of forgiveness in which all eternity is nothing but forgiveness. It is a place where that which the Law only pointed to is realized and fulfilled by the Gospel forever and ever and thus and only thus are the fruits of the kingdom realized. Christ has ALREADY fulfilled and sanctified ALL our works, and that’s Good News, “For He was made unto us of God, our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption”. Luther makes this clear in many places. For e.g. in his commentaries on Genesis discussing Abraham’s home, “Consequently the Word of God is continually heard there, and Abraham’s home is nothing else than a kingdom of forgiveness of sins and of grace, yes, a very heaven in which dwell the angels of God, whom he receives reverently. In short, in Abraham’s home there is nothing but grace and life.” THIS is the kingdom of heaven to wit the NT announces, “The GOOD NEWS OF the Kingdom.” That is to say, “The Kingdom’s Good News.”

      Again you can see the reversal of the Word of God by the devil and errorist. It’s like Luther said many will indeed speak much of faith and good works and not have nor understand either of them. Not because they don’t speak the language of the bible but because they turn everything upside down.

      So you see to seek the Kingdom is to receive it’s forgiveness.

      Good question!


    • Legalism is antinomianism, they are the same thing. Because the tame house pet law that legalism pretends THE LAW is is not THE LAW and thus the antithesis to THE LAW.

      When the legalist says he must obey the “Law” (which is really an imaginary law and idol he has honed of his own delusion) and thinks he actually can, he is the exact same thing as an antinomian. Both have no law they are “obeying” only “their imaginary law which is no Law at all.

      Thus, the legalist and the antinomian are one and the same. The murderer and diligent churchmen are the same because both in vain think there is no real LAW that is in fact THE LAW of God.


  17. (Amended)

    “Seeking His Kingdom is right, but even that can raise the specter of “justified by law”…

    That’s why we have to include ‘and HIS Righteousness’.

    “I am Leary of anything that smacks of antinomianism, which this post seems to do”

    As I noted on the prior topic (oldie but goodie), chance would be a fine thing in a spirituality locked by legalism and dualism. The damage which has been caused by these two masterful evils is shocking.

  18. ” which this post seems to do”

    aaaahhhhh, I just re-read this and I was wrong on this statement. So sorry. Picture of donkey here. 🙂

  19. Dan raised an excellent talking point – how can we on one hand being asked to ‘accept all people’ yet at the same time put restrictions also on ‘ certain people’ (via the Corinthians passage). Somehow Paul must be using some moral slope to make that judgment call.

    Which leads me further into Dan’s point about ‘grace’ and ‘sinning more ‘ (which is the opposite end of deciding to good after recieving grace). Grace does not change but we do. But based on what is the real question at hand here? Where do we think Paul got his ethics/morals from concerning his instruction to the people in Corinth for example? Thin air?

    Paul says something that smacks of the law with that whole ‘expel the immoral person from among you’. One just needs to read some fractions of the Torah to see instructions like this towards behaviors of the like Paul is mentioning (ie: sexual immorality within the same family). I bet if we look right now on biblegateway or what have you we can find this exact thing being said in the Torah.

    Which begs the question – if Paul is referencing the Torah law for moral guidance – there is likely more to this than meets the eye.

  20. What gets lost in the short sighted reading of Cor. 1 and forgetting Cor. 2 is that Paul’s ENTIRE reason for casting the immoral man out was to turn him over to Satan so he would return in faith to Christ alone. Not make a moral repair job of it all. Contrast that with Paul’s dire damnations of damnable messages of another gospel.

    The base immorality that all men function under is inward turning, that’s sin. It comes packaged as the “wet drunk” and the “dry drunk”. The wet drunk is the open sinner who is morally reprehensible to the human eye, he shows forth his inward turning rather obviously. The thief who steals your wallet or adulterer who steals your spouse is manifesting his sin, inward self seeking turning, rather obviously. But very moral Pharisee or churchman hides his under a white wash of morality. Oh he’s just a big thief, murderer and adulterer as the open sinner, he just hides it. This is why Jesus said the tax collectors (rather immoral and reprehensible characters in the old days) and prostitutes would see the kingdom of heaven (forgiveness) before the religious moral Pharisees.

    Paul’s command to have the immoral person turned over to Satan was for the man’s good, to return to seek forgiven, YET, Paul quickly rebukes the church for not accepting him back quickly in letter two lest Satan destroy him. Paul is brilliantly doing Law (killing Law, not moral law) and Gospel (200 proof).

    So Paul is not referencing nor accessing the Law in the moral sense but its “Hammer of God” “breaks the rock into pieces”, killing utter emptying truth and realilty. For if this immoral man continues down this path it is not that God has not already forgiven him in Christ entirely – Christ has died for the entire world without exception, nothing can change the objective fact of the Gospel, but rather this man will continue down this path until at last he will no longer seek the forgiveness of God and thus be torn away from Christ fleeing him, he will either self justify himself by his own “law” of immorality or will be at length given over to utter despair, despairing of Christ (the devil’s greater deception) as Judas did. Judas despaired that he fled the Gospel and killed himself. This is why Paul readdresses the issue in a rebuke in 2 Cor. One has to understand unbelief is what we want naturally one way or the other. To the immoral man Paul gives him Law (1 Cor.) and Gospel (2 Cor.) and thus shows his great Apostolic love for him. But over in Galatia he wishes that they, the Judiazers, false teachers and Christ+ person would castrate themselves as they have cut themselves off entirely, not hypothetically from Christ.


    • The point I don’t understand here is, if the expelled man is free to sin as he wishes lest he be guilty of adhering to the law, why hand him over to the devil in the first place, since he is a free man? I’m not saying that you actually believe this Larry, but I am interested in your thoughts.

      My perspective is that we live in a culture built on antinomianism. The morality of this age seems to be that there is no sin because there is no law. Paul admonishes us often to not sin, indeed he himself discusses his own struggle with it in Romans 7. He goes on to say in Romans 8 that we are under obligation, to put to death the deeds of the flesh. I find it puzzling in this age to hear anyone say that man is being pharisaical, what with more and more churches and especially denominations rejecting the entire concept of morality. Not to say that it doesn’t exist, but in my mind, pharisaical churches are a small minority.

      • “if the expelled man is free to sin as he wishes lest he be guilty of adhering to the law, why hand him over to the devil in the first place, since he is a free man”

        I’m not keeping up very well with this discussion, but I don’t think we are “free to sin.” Our freedom is from the consequences of our sin. We have been washed and with our cleansing have received the desire to NOT sin anymore. That we do does not necessarily mean that we set out to deliberately go against the Law that we now love.

        The Law is written on the heart of all mankind naturally. But the baptized and believing Christian no longer hates the Law completely. The Holy Spirit works in us to long to keep the Law. This Gospel is not a license to sin; it’s the Gospel that has freed us from the punsihment that we deserve.

      • Antinomianism IS legalism and vice versa. This is nothing new under the sun at all, not in this day and age not ages before us. The church if it be a true church is singularly in the business of the forgiveness of sin.

        The reason you are struggling with this is your fundamental definition of sin is mostly “the bad deeds”, not inward turning. When Paul admonishes us “not to sin” he means ALL that inward turning, even doing of the outward good. It’s a negative way of saying “keep trusting nakedly in CHRIST ALONE”, not God will suddenly not forgive you – that is a done deal. There is nothing left undone by Christ, not even your good works.

        You see you must realize that when the Law says “do” it is not telling you how to fulfill it, it’s accusing you of damnable sin before you secondarily react or not to the word of the Law. If you would have actually DONE the Law as the Law would have itself be done, you would have done it without hearing the Law say, “Do X”. That’s what it means to be as Paul said “UNDER the Law”. If you were OF the Law you wouldn’t detect it, you’d be naturally spontaneously issuing forth your actions as the Law IS altruistic love.

        The Law will not, in the eternal kingdom of the new heaven and earth be “saying anything”. For we will be like Him.

        When the scriptures speak of the Spirit changing hearts so that we even ever so poorly do good works per the law, it means that the Spirit is RICHLY bringing the Gospel and forgiveness of sins constantly so you will nakedly passively trust Christ alone. If you are actually doing this, nakedly passiving trusting in Christ alone, then all you do is a good work…whether you eat, drink, sleep, go to work, sweep the floor. These too are all good works. Those who do not see that they are do not in any way understand faith, the Gospel, the Law or good works and are functioning pagans.

        Finally, faith, true faith, does not parse out sin saying “this is a sin and this is not a sin”. That is unbelief. You should be confessing, even primarily, your good works as sin. NOT that they are tainted with sin like mud on a clean white cloth but that you are doing them sinfully.

        God does not need your good works, your neighbor does!



  21. Do we feed our neighbor because it is the law? Or do we feed our neighbor because He who said : Love God, Love your neighbor” is the essence of the law ,now has filled our hearts with His Holy spirit, giving us the mind of Christ so that we desire, earnestly desire to help our neighbor as he would Himself?
    We need no law now as we are conformed to His will, by the Spirit. It is not law that moves us but love. Love never fails.

    • Good point Willo. The motivations of our hearts can change a good deed into the drudgery of earning our salvation, as Paul spells out in I cor 13. “and have not love, I gain nothing”.

    • We feed our neighbor because he’s hungry, not because the law says so, thus the freedom of the Gospel. The Law is only really done as THE Law when it is spontaneous and need not be published. It’s publication is ALREADY showing your sin. If the Law has to SAY “feed ____” even IF you feed them, you have ALREADY sinned a sin worthy of wrath.

      In fact the Law “love your neighbor…” is such that it requires such without the Law saying so or the Law being. That’s why Jesus NEVER sinned even when he did as little as drew a breath of air in his incarnate body.


  22. When we truly fall in love with our Heavenly Husband, we will also love His bride and that love will show itself by the loving acts which we do.

  23. “Not to say that it doesn’t exist, but in my mind, Pharisaical churches are a small minority”.

    Hmmm…. Having attended churches where it was most certainly all about the outward (even to the point of which Bible you used and keeping the sabbath), I’d be truly staggered to attend a church where the key principal being advocated was liberty (not license) in Christ.
    Larry is striking out in the right direction here – antinomianism and legalism are the twin heads of the ravenous wolves which tare at Christ’s flock from within. Seeking to show that there is a better way in the Gospel may well be viewed as too harsh a remedy to those entrenched in these forms of bondage.

  24. “I’d be truly staggered to attend a church where the key principal being advocated was liberty (not license) in Christ.”

    I had the good fortune to have attended an evangelical church in San Diego with this exact focus. Everyone did things because they wanted to- it was pretty amazing. Such freedom has interesting consequences, like people having to come to terms with responsibility, etc. It also makes it really hard to attend any other evangelical church …

    • Alden,

      It is refreshing isn’t it! I know what you are saying when you first come to such a church.

      Dr. Rosenbladt put it this way once: The Gospel if it is truly the Gospel should be bringing an increase release, not the tightening you saw in the Pharisees.


  25. […] to a discussion over at “The Old Adam” I have been reminded that we humans are always trying to add something to what Jesus has already […]

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