by Ted Kyle
A strange concept, when taken in conjunction with the all-everything character of Almighty God, is it not? Yet Paul, in Galatians 2:21, says he does not "frustrate" the grace of God." "Frustrate" is a KJV word; "set aside" is the NIV equivalent, but athéteo\ could just as well be translated "despise," or "reject"—or "frustrate." Not a nice thing to do to God's grace, regardless of the translation. And if God's grace can be frustrated, it is an easy transference to saying that God can be frustrated, as grace is one of His attributes.
Just what is Paul talking about? He quickly explains: "for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain." Heavy words. Paul may have been a legal-eagle, but he was no legalist. He treasured the law when it was rightly used, but when it was misused, he trembled for the salvation of those who sought salvation through the law. In Galatians 3:13 he calls law a curse.
So, let's say it with Paul: "Salvation is by grace!"
Why do I bring this up? Because there has been a resurgence of emphasis on the Ten Commandments. In general, I applaud this development, for the purpose of the law is to convict sinners of their sin, and the law is a wonderful, chosen instrument for that purpose.
But following the law—any law, including the Ten Commandments—will not, cannot save anyone, and this needs to be made abundantly clear to those who have been brought under conviction by the law. In every individual's progression from guilty sinner to forgiven sinner and then to living the new life, there must come a change-over from law to grace as motivator.
This is precisely the point Paul insists upon in this richly inspired book of Scripture: "Are you so foolish," he asks the Galatians, "having begun in the Spirit, are you now made perfect by the flesh?" Then he adds the stern warning: "Have ye suffered so many things in vain?" They were evidently in grave danger of becoming legalists—seeking to go on in Christ by rigidly adhering to the Law of the Jews.
There is a tricky point which can easily be missed at this juncture, because while the law cannot save, those who walk in grace will—quite naturally—be obedient to the same principles upon which the law is based. In other words, grace leads to being law-abiders, because doing what the law commands is the right thing to do, quite apart from the law.
I like to illustrate this by supposing that a man drives to work each day down a residential street, on which children often play. He keeps well within the speed limit, though he may never have been aware of a posted limit—simply because he is concerned for the safety of the children, who could come unawares out from between parked vehicles. He is a law-abider, but not because he fears getting a ticket. That is what grace does.
So the effects of grace can be easily counterfeited. Another example: think of a hoodlum intent on robbing a liquor store. But when he drives up to the store, he sees a police car nearby, and leaves without carrying out his intention. He is motivated by fear, not grace, though the outward effect may be the same.
Rules are attractive, simply because they achieve a desired effect: "Attend church every time the doors open, because that shows you are a good Christian." False. People should be encouraged to attend church regularly for the sake of their spiritual health, not because it "proves" something.
You see where I'm going with this: Grace works it's invisible wonders on the heart—which then shows the outward effect. Let's remember to remind our congregations often that grace can be counterfeited, but the counterfeit is the enemy of grace. Legalism is always waiting in the wings, seeking its opportunity.