How does the reality of grace in our lives change the way we view God’s commands? Does it at all? Does grace make obedience irrelevant? These are questions many of us ask, consciously or not. Our default mode is to believe that grace must change the way we view the commands of God, namely, that they do not matter anymore.
Often, it seems people naturally treat grace as something that creates in us a spirit of rebellion to God’s commands. The idea is that if we are totally forgiven, if Jesus has paid the price for our sin, and if salvation is all by grace, not by works, then what is left to motivate us to obedience? That kind of thinking will make us lazy and rebellious. This is our natural way of thinking, because we recognize that a powerful motivator to obedience is fear; fear of consequences. And grace removes fear.
The “logical” inference we make is that if God has forgiven us our sin, and we will for sure be saved in the end, doesn’t that mean obedience does not matter anymore? Does that mean I don’t need to obey the commands of God anymore?
Here is my answer: If were are talking about the requirements for God’s free love and acceptance, then no, you don’t need to obey the commands of God. Actually, God loved you in the midst of you not obeying his commands. You don’t need to obey the Law to receive God’s love and favor. On the contrary, it is those who know they do not obey the Law who look to Christ and receive full and final forgiveness. So no, you don’t need to obey to have God’s love.
Now, does that mean God does not care about His commands to you, as a Christian, anymore? Does that mean we shouldn’t care about God’s commands anymore? Of course not. This is an illogical inference. Nothing about grace turns God’s commands into suggestions. Think about it this way: If a man cheats on his wife by having sex with 100 women in their first year of marriage, then confesses his rebellion, and the wife completely forgives him, does that mean she no longer cares about adultery? Does that mean adultery is no longer hurtful and stupid? Of course not. That is the weirdest logical inference you could make.
Adultery is still destructive, personally hurtful, and stupid. Whether you receive grace for it or not. Think it about it another way: If a man sky dives with no parachute, and survives, does that mean he should no longer respect the law of gravity? Of course not. Keep breaking the law of gravity and it will keep breaking you (paraphrased from author Steve Brown).
In a similar way, grace does not mean that God’s commands, which in one sense can be seen as describing how the world works, have changed. Gravity is still gravity. Murdering is still destructive to society, stealing is still hurtful to neighbors, lying is still a relationship-killer, and worshipping false gods still begins to unravel the way things are meant to be.
But here is the gospel-kicker: while the earthly consequences for rebellion still stand, the eternal do not. The Law of God can no longer condemn those who are in Christ through faith; it has no right to tell you that you are damned by God, for Christ took the curse and death of the Law for you. The earthly consequences of breaking commands still stand for Christians, just not the eternal consequence of losing God’s love. That can’t happen in Christ.
Grace should never, never be pitted against God’s commands, or treated as though we no longer have motivation to obey God as our Father. Quite the opposite. Grace removes the threat of the Law, so there is nothing to fear. In doing so, grace frees us to obey out of thankfulness and genuine love for our neighbor. We begin to obey spontaneously, without compulsion, threat, or fear. We obey enthusiastically, with creativity for how to best love people. We don’t obey to appease God, but rather to love those around us. We will never obey enough, and we will never have to. The demand the Law makes on you of perfection as been satisfied by Christ’s perfection. Enjoy.