From Grace to Obedience
“Guilty” was the jury’s verdict. The judge’s sentence: death by lethal injection. For Adam Sinclair Smith, a convicted murderer, the nightmare of that January day seven years ago had played endlessly through his mind. In a jealous rage he had taken a man’s life. He realized that he deserved the death penalty for what he had done. No amount of agonizing or remorse could change that.
Regardless of how many times he pleaded for forgiveness from the victim’s family, no matter how much he wished he could relive events, one persistent fact remained: Adam deserved to die. The law was the law. He was guilty of a capital crime and would pay the utmost price for his sin. With nowhere else to turn, he sought mercy from the governor.
‘You Have Been Pardoned’
Just minutes before his scheduled execution, Adam heard the most wonderful words ever spoken to a condemned man: “By the grace of the governor of this state, you have been pardoned.”
“I can’t believe it,” he said to himself.
“He pardoned me! I can live!”
Humbly thankful for the gracious pardon, Adam vowed from that point on that he would be a model citizen. And he never was in trouble with the law again.
The foregoing illustrates the concept of scriptural grace and how it works in the believer’s life.
No person on earth is sin-free. Paraphrasing the words of Nathan the prophet to King David, “We are that man.” We all deserve to die for our sins, Romans 5:12; 1John 1:10. We earned our fate and nothing we can do can change that fact. Only the mercy of Yahweh and the sacrificial death of Yahshua can save us.
Being sinless, our Savior was the only one who could pay the death penalty in our stead. Yahweh’s grace in sending His Son to die for us is our only hope for salvation. Like the governor in Adam Smith’s case, only Yahweh and His Son can release us from the death sentence our sins earned.
In Romans 6 Paul explains the operation of Yahweh’s grace. The chapter is a profound study in the transformation that takes place in a True Worshiper under Yahweh’s grace. In the last verse of chapter 5 Paul writes, “That as sin has reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Yahshua the Messiah our Master.”
Few other concepts are as misunderstood as Yahweh’s grace. What does Paul mean in Ephesians 2:8 that we are saved by grace? Is he saying that the statutes of Yahweh are no longer binding in this New Testament era? If so, what of the many passages warning us of disobedience and the necessity to watch carefully lest we fall again into the condemnation of the unrighteous?
Now suppose the condemned man went right out and repeated the crime for which he was pardoned. Wouldn’t his actions violate the spirit of the pardon? Certainly! The governor didn’t save him by his grace so that he would go out and commit serious crimes all over again. Would not the courts and the governor deal with the man much more harshly the next time? Absolutely!
Yahweh’s grace is no different. What’s the point of Yahweh’s grace – His favor on sinful human beings – if once pardoned we deliberately return to sinful ways?
The words, “grace reigns through righteousness,” are key. The New Testament in Modern English translates the phrase, “Now grace is the ruling factor, with righteousness as its purpose and its end.” Grace is not static. It is active and it must work daily in the believer’s life.
Yahweh’s grace has an objective: that we will repent and turn from sin to live uprightly as we follow in Yahshua’s footsteps. Obedience is the mechanism allowing that to take place. That means to obey His laws, since sin is clearly defined as the transgression of the law, 1 John 3:4.
Paul explains further in chapter 6 how grace works in the life of the repentant sinner. “What shall we say, then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? Yahweh forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (vv. 1-2)
To accept Yahweh’s grace—His pardon for our sins—and then turn back or continue sinful ways as if nothing happened is to pervert the whole purpose of grace. We make Yahweh’s grace pointless if we accept His pardon only to repeat the sin.
Hebrews 10:26-27 warns of practicing intentional sin: “For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins. But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.”
Further in the chapter we find this solemn warning: “Of how much sorer punishment, suppose you, shall he be thought worthy, who has trodden underfoot the Son of Elohim, and has counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and has done despite unto the Spirit of grace?” (Heb. 10:29). The word “despite” means, “to insult.” If we continue in sin after receiving Yahweh’s grace, we show contempt for Yahweh.
Slipping up and making a mistake is one thing, willfully returning to sin is another entirely. In Galatians 6 Paul explains the difference.
“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, you which are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness, considering yourself lest you be tempted.” “Overtaken” is the Greek prolambano and means, “to be taken off-guard in a trespass.” “Fault” is the word paraptoma and signifies a slip or lapse, rather than a deliberate act.
We have only this option: obey the law, which is righteousness, or don’t obey, which is sin. If we obey, we can’t be blamed.
The next part of the verse reads, “For you are not under the law but under grace.” How clear! Through Yahweh’s grace (His pardon) our former sins will not be held against us. The penalty for breaking the law has been paid by Yahshua’s sacrifice. By trusting in His grace, we will not need to pay the penalty ourselves, which the law demands.
The wages of sin is death, Paul wrote in Romans 6:23. In our case it is Yahshua’s death in exchange for our own. If we continue in sin that has been pardoned, we make a mockery of His sacrifice.
The Upright Not Condemned
Does this passage mean that we are free from the law now and can go out and sin again, as some seem to say? The Greek word for grace is charis and is defined as the divine influence on the heart and its reflection in one’s life.
Simply put, under Yahweh’s grace we now emulate His righteous nature. We begin to think and act as He does. That means refraining from sin, which is the same as adhering to His standard, His laws.
When we come in line with His law by righteous living, the law with its incrimination and penalties for the disobedient has no claim on us. In Romans 8:1-2 Paul explains this concept:
“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Messiah Yahshua, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Messiah Yahshua has made me free from the law of sin and death.”
The critical word is “condemnation,” which results from lawbreaking. When we live according to Yahweh’s statutes, we are innocent of sin and therefore free from condemnation and punishment.
An unintentional slipup is certainly covered by grace for the repentant. But if you continue to repeat the sin, you are mocking the spirit of grace and are subject to Yahweh’s wrath.
Paul continues in verses 3-12 of Romans 6, asking, how can we who have followed Yahshua into the waters of baptism and have buried our old carnal life, continue in our old ways? Particularly since baptism means a putting to death of the “old man.” We must become dead to sin, he tells us in verse 11.
A person who has yielded his life to Yahweh, having put to death his sinful nature, must now live a new life of obedience, Paul explains in verse 13. As he puts it, we become “instruments of righteousness.”
Righteousness derives from a Greek word meaning right or just. The opposite is wrong or sin, which is lawbreaking.
Moving on in verse 14 Paul writes, “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for you are not under the law but under grace.” Does he mean that after all he has just said about giving up sin that we are no longer under any obligation to obey Yahweh’s law? How is that possible when the law itself defines what sin is? (‘‘For where no law is, there is no transgression,” Rom. 4: 15.) Let’s examine the verse by segments.
First, for sin not to have dominion over us we have to be out from under it. The only way to accomplish that is by obedience to the law because sin by definition is lawbreaking.
As we have demonstrated, to be free of sin is to be obedient to His law. The same concept is found in Galatians 5: 16, where Paul writes, “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.”
If grace means we are not under obligation to keep Yahweh’s laws, then grace gives the okay to sin! To this the prophet Jeremiah speaks for Yahweh in 7:9-10:
“Will you steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other deities whom you know not; And come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My Name, and say, ‘We are delivered to do all these abominations’?” Yahweh answers that because of these sins and that kind of attitude, “I will cast you out of my sight,” verse 15.
“But does that mean that I am free to do anything I please under grace?” you may be asking. Let Paul answer that question. The very next verse of this chapter, Romans 6:15, reads,
“What then? shall we sin because we are not under the law, but under grace? Yahweh forbid. Know you not, that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are to whom you obey: whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?”
Under Yahweh’s grace we are expected to live obedient lives, giving honor and worship to Him alone as His special people.
When we sin we are unrighteous. This is shown in verse 20: “For when you were the servants of sin, you were free from righteousness.”
What ‘Under the Law’ Means
The converse is just as true: to be righteous is to be free from sin. No one can be legally arrested for doing good. No sheriff will arrest me for saving a drowning man. There is no law against doing good.
When you do good, you are not under the condemnation of any law. The demands of the law are already met, therefore, and you have no debt to the law. This is what Paul means by not being under the law. It does not mean the law is no longer in effect. A murderer would not be condemned to die if there were no law against murder. And he would not need a pardon or grace.
Yahweh offers His grace and sent Yahshua to die for our sins for the plain and simple fact that the law is still in effect. Because the law is in force, the penalty for breaking it is real, or else we would have no need to fear sin’s consequences.
Some will argue that Yahshua came to do away with the law and thus we are under grace. This belief falls flat if we can find grace in the Old Testament. Sure enough, in Genesis 6:8 we find, “Noah found grace in the eyes of Yahweh.” Because of grace, Yahweh saved him from the penalty of death by drowning. Exodus 34:5-7 reads like something out of the Book of Galatians. It speaks of Yahweh’s mercy, grace, longsuffering, and abundance in goodness and truth.
If grace existed in the days of ancient Israel, then why does Yahweh command Israel to keep the Ten Commandments? Why should it be any different with us?
We are under grace so long as we do not continue to break the law. Grace is not a permanent condition of the believer but a gift granted by Almighty Yahweh. That gift can be rejected through our rebellion and acts of disobedience. “Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of Elohim; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled,” Hebrews 12: 15.
Salvation Cannot Be Earned
Being law observant has nothing to do with “earning” salvation. I don’t get any special reward for paying my taxes on time, for keeping the peace, for not robbing my neighbor or mugging a stranger. I’m simply obeying laws. I’m not earning a thing by being law abiding.
Paul writes in the Book of Ephesians, “For by grace are you saved through faith: and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of Yahweh: Not of works, lest any man should boast,” 2:8- 9.
Nothing we humans can do earns us a place in the Kingdom because Yahweh has not defined obedience that way. Obedience simply engenders Yahweh’s favor and demonstrates our faith in and love for Him. Obedience is the criteria by which He judges us worthy for the kingdom. We are judged by our works, Romans 2:6; Revelation 22:12.
Now if I fail to pay my taxes, if I rob a bank, disturb the peace or mug someone, I will come under the penalty of the law. Yahweh says in Galatians 5:19-21 that those who practice sin are also lawbreakers. Unrepentant lawbreakers will not inherit the Kingdom.
Yahweh’s people love and serve Him and want above all else to please Him. In several Scriptures we find that the love of Yahweh is defined as the keeping of His commandments. (See John 14:15, 21; lJohn 2:5; 5:3; 2John 6.)
Only Yahweh can grant salvation and at His own pleasure. Therefore, we want to be sure we have His favor by being obedient to what He commands. “And being made perfect He became the Author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him,” we read in Hebrews 5:9.
Lawkeeping is not salvation by works. Rather, it is salvation by obedience. Obedience can’t guarantee me a position in the Kingdom, but disobedience will keep me out of it!
We complete our faith by following through with action. A faith that is sincere is proved by what we do about it. When we obey Yahweh’s commandments and other laws in our daily life, we prove our faith in Him while pleasing Him at the same time.
Yahweh’s grace is a wonderful gift. May we never forfeit that grace through willful disobedience.