What Are the Social Meanings of Law and Grace?

The Adult Bible Study Guide for Sabbath School discussion on Nov. 13 focuses on the classic questions surrounding law and grace. Central corollary concepts such as righteousness as obedience to God’s legal code and sin as illicit violation appear in the lesson as well. Additionally, faith and works don’t contrast as much as collaborate, depending on when they appear in the salvation story. The good news about grace concludes this moral play as the reason for divine forgiveness and the power that enables both obedience and a divine-human covenantal relationship going forward.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/11498
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Rabbi Sacks does a wonderful theological exegesis of the Torah for living as a Jew in the twenty first century. As Christians, however, we do not live “like a Jew,” “under the law” (Gal. 2: 14, Rom. 6: 14; 7: 6). We live “under grace,” “in the new life of the Spirit.” Rabbi Sacks’ Hebrew Scriptures know nothing about what God did by the power of the Spirit at the resurrection of Christ which brought about a new Creation.


I’m afraid that Rabbi Sacks isn’t alone in not knowing that Christians live “under grace” and “in the new life of the Spirit” as you have so succinctly quoted from Galatians and Romans.


Following the conversation between these two erudite gentlemen, you can’t help sensing they’ve penetrated beyond the symbolic stages/level(s) of common Adventist appreciation about the OT law and sanctuary formalities. Fresh air! And yet, you get the feeling the old vehicle should have another gear to shift up to. Is there a way to move forward to a higher level where moral, abstract reasoning is based on universal ethical principles, while not losing touch with the physical, practical and symbolic aspects that concrete thinkers value about the ancient object lessons in the ‘sandbox’ of wilderness wandering? Just sayin’…

The Hebrew scriptures indeed reveal how heaven and earth are joined together, through creation, covenant, the Abrahamic promise, and the call and election of Israel to fulfill the promise of blessing the entire world. Torah is about this story.

The NT brings this to its climax, so to speak, in Jesus the messiah. Even if Christianity has largely distorted the goal of the story into individual escape from the world to heaven, it doesn’t invalidate what the NT is largely saying…what Torah could not do, God did by sending his son. Jesus was the one who preached peace, who broke down the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles through his own body, bringing both equally to God in a rejoined heaven and earth. This was and is God’s new creation, birthed, sustained, and grown in grace, through the power of the Spirit. Love, joy, peace, and the wisdom of God are embodied in the crucified and risen messiah…the treasures of wisdom and knowledge for everyday life, community life, and justice are found in him and his teaching, a source that exceeds and even eclipses the Torah.

While the Torah can be an ongoing resource of wisdom for life, and as a prophetic voice pointing to messiah, Christ followers are not called to live under it as covenant. We are not law people, so to speak, but called to live as Spirit empowered people, finding power for life, and the creation of a heaven on earth community by living out Christ’s love through the Spirit:

"Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the form of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!"

One of many NT passages that drives home the relational and community impact of Jesus and his self giving love…what the Torah pointed to as a shadow. As the fourth gospel recounts Jesus saying about himself: " They are they ( the Hebrew scriptures) which testify of me…" And, in Luke, regarding the present bringing of heaven to earth through Jesus himself: "The rule of God is already in your midst."

All pointing beyond Torah to Jesus the messiah.



@cfowler @Oriental34


Frank, I can always count on your comments to be a concise description of the larger purposes of God with Israel and Jesus as the climax of the covenant. Just beautiful.

I get the need to subjugate or reorient the law in regards to Christ and His mission, but don’t you think the fact that the new covenant is described as having Torah engraved upon the heart, gives it an enduring quality that should not be “eclipsed” by the coming of its prophesied Messaiah but should be cherished as never before in light of Messaiah. In other words, I believe the Christian, in a sense, can have greater appreciation for Torah given its Messianic fulfillment, than those who don’t believe in Messaiah. If you don’t think so, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what “Torah engraved on the heart” means or looks like in practice.

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I am obviously not Frank, but here is what “torah engraved on the heart” looks like in my pov. Without wanting to offend anyone, I agree with Paul in Galatians that torah or law is for immature believers. They need rules, lots of them. This is a spiritual stage that we all face at a certain point. I do not judge my brethren of this stage.

Mature believers, however, grow in faith and in the gospel and thus become strong. Not via torah, but via faith and gospel. Faith and gospel change mature believers. This means that they don’t always have a rule for everything. They can live with a kind of uncertainty at times. Love is the motivator; the other person is the focus: situations are considered. Living by love, not living out a manual. The person is not the object for my living by a rule.
(By the way torah and Spirit are not enemies; both point in the same direction, although the way is different.)

Now practical: The Spirit can use torah for orientation to wise life (@frank_merendino wrote about it) and does it on many occassions, but He can use many other tools to focus on faith in the messiah, his mission, his words, his life, death, resurrection to create what God always had in mind: a community of mature love people loyal to the messiah. Besides the word of God, He uses church service, prayers, sacraments, music, art, people, community service, nature, family life, solitude, joy, sorrow, difficult life circumstances according to His purpose … whatever points to and connects a believer more with Jesus Christ will be used and modified by the Spirit to let the mind, heart, and deeds of the believer grow in faith and in the gospel. Spirit in action.

Is there something that we can do to grow in the Spirit? Believers in action? There are hints, but no manual: be a responsible part of a community of faith, remember how God lead believers in biblical times and in church age, let oneself being changed by Jesus’ words, through worship and Psalms singings etc. (Other people are probably more creative with these hints than me.) A relationship cannot focus on a manual.

I would love to hear Frank’s thoughts on “Torah engraved on the heart.” And more about your thoughts.


Hi Joseph…

What do I think Torah engraved on the heart looks like in practice? I think that our problem with this whole idea is that we overly literalize this into a picture of the letter of the ten commandments being written on the heart. For Adventists, it centers on trying to prove Sabbath observance as part of the whole experience, and thus ends up making the new covenant experience into pointing people back to living by the letter of the commandments as its sum total…as if the only difference is where the commandments are…internal or external.

While the internal vs. external contrast is valid, this is simply not the full picture that Paul was sketching in his letters. First, law/nomos was far more than the ten. It is more often as you said, Torah, which included the ten. Secondly, Paul never pointed his churches to live according to the letter of the Torah, as binding covenant code. The law ceased to function in this way for messiah people, as far as Paul was concerned. It was and is actually a dynamic that could never bring life, but instead could only deal condemnation and death. It is why Paul often used imperatives that Judaism used to describe the obligation to live under the law, to instead describe how believers were to live under the lordship of Christ:

Walk according to the commandments, statutes, judgements, a common description of life under the law, became in Paul’s hands, walk in the Spirit, walk in newness of (resurrection) life, walk in love, etc. This is one example of Paul deliberately appropriating similar language, in order to show the transfer of locus from living life under the law as covenant code, to the call to live life under the lordship of Christ and in the power of his Spirit. This was and is the new covenant experience, the power of God’s new creation in Christ, and the fulfillment of the law written on the heart.

The objection to this now, as in Paul’s day, was that this is too vague and leaves people morally rudderless. Paul met these objections constantly. It is why he made several other distinctions:

  1. He, and all believers, were not without law towards God, even though they were no longer under the law. They were now under the law of the messiah/messiah’s law. Paul described that law in Galatians as bearing one another’s burdens…self giving, other centered love, after the model of Jesus. This is tied with:

  2. Paul viewed Christians as fulfilling the law as a whole, not keeping the letter of discreet commands. He spoke of believers fulfilling the requirements, or the righteous requirement of the law, and articulated this in the overarching principle, " The entire law is fulfilled in this one command, you shall love your neighbor as yourself." Or, “Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.” Paul viewed this as the summation of the entire law, the content of life in the Spirit, and the expression of faith in Christ…individuals in community that engaged in the type of burden bearing love that Christ displayed through his own life and the giving of himself over to death in faithfulness to God, and for the good of others. This was far beyond the letter of the Torah, and is what the Torah pointed to as a shadow.

  3. This did not preclude Paul from using the Torah and its commands or stories as an ongoing resource for wise instruction. He used the fifth commandment in Ephesians 6, to instruct about family relationships. He used the direction for oxen treading out grain from Leviticus in an allegorical and prophetic fashion to justify preachers of the gospel living off the gospel. He used the story of Israel’s apostasy in the desert to warn the Corinthians against idolatry and sexual immorality.

But, Paul drew moral instruction from other sources as well, most often from the example of the crucified Christ as the model for all believers to follow, whether in giving, in settling disputes, in solving relational issues, in acting in humility towards one another, etc.

These are just some of my thoughts on this issue, Joseph.





Frank, if there is a flaw in what you just wrote, I can’t find it. :grinning:

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Some good resources are, Paul and The Law…Keeping the Commandments Of God, by Brian S. Rosner, and Paul, The Spirit, and The People Of God, by Gordon Fee. I honestly have found my views challenged, changed, and clarified by these authors…along with wise conversation partners.



@Harry_Elliott @Kate @godknowsyou


After forty years of reading the new testament in its own context (rather than jumping hither and yon in the bible in order to fabricate systematic dogmas) this is the conclusion I have come to as well. The expression “law in the heart” refers to broad principles and lived virtues like humility, kindness, forgiveness and mutual love that lead to unity and well-being for all. That indeed is the fulfillment and completion of “the law” as Paul used the term. To take it more literally than that is to misread his prose with an unwarranted, legalistic technicality (no pun intended).


Here’s the flaw, Harry.

Jesus, himself, didn’t write one word of either the OT or NT.

Of course, the inference from this, by some, is that Jesus was merely mythical, and that nonexistent persons do not write books.

Others assume that Jesus agreed with every contradictory word of both volumes we now have and would have found all of it absolutely authoritative.

Conversely, some might also argue that between miracles, sermons, predicting the future, etc., Jesus simply didn’t have the time to write his own gospel and that his efforts were better spent elsewhere.

However, it’s just as reasonable as any of the above to think that Jesus failure as an author is solely due to the fact that he never wanted his message to be anything other than an oral tradition. Instead of desiring followers who went back over every word he wrote, by NOT committing his message to writing, Jesus may have been encouraging everyone to do as he had done; become one with his “Abba”, “Self”, “Holy Spirit”, Logos, “Living Word”, “Gnosis”, or whatever one wants to call it, to the point where interaction with one’s ever-present maker is so elemental and instinctual that there is never any question about what to do in any situation.

Jesus also may have known that after such communication, and given the indwelling he recommended everyone experience for themselves, the idea of turning to anyone else’s words or books for guidance would seem as inane as standing in the middle of a forest and pulling out a picture of a tree in order to know what trees are like! :crazy_face:

This refusal to become a writer may also be confirming evidence of his prescience in that he wanted nothing more fervently than to avoid the current circumstance where 2,000 years on, countless denominations parse his words differently and are willing to kill or die for their preferred interpretation.
Not to come down too hard on Frank, but this latter scenario, that Jesus would have eschewed both the OT and NT in their latest iterations, is a major, if not existential flaw for the entire edifice of organized Christianity…

Further, anyone attempting to refute that reasoning must do so using something other than so-called “holy” proof texts, which, since those texts were admittedly not written by Jesus or with his expressed imprimatur, can rightfully be considered less than authoritative, particularly given their all too apparent flaws and fallacies and which written “gospels” may, in fact, be anathema to Jesus vision for his “church”.

Just sayin,:rofl:



Except that your picture of Jesus as modeling and offering a mystical connection with God and his will independent of any body of writing is derived from where?

Jesus grew up in a culture and tradition that was immersed in scripture/Torah. His teaching, life, and mission were rooted in that, if any believability is to be attributed to what his followers wrote about him (which you seem to reduce to little more than charlatanism). However, Jesus took that tradition and transformed it. He came preaching the good news of the kingdom of God, an expectation quite familiar to his contemporaries, but saying that it had arrived in him and in what he was doing. This was the Jewish hope, rooted in the Jewish scriptures, reshaped around Jesus himself.

The body of writings in the NT follow that lead. What they don’t affirm is a Jesus who offered a mystical connection with God, amorphously articulated and lived out in hyper individualized fashion by disconnected people, having nothing to do with anything that came before.

This sounds more like a product of post modern syncretism, than anything else. Iow, a made up/designer spirituality, that fits with the Oprah crowd. It’s in fashion.


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In response to your question, my picture of Jesus, just like yours, is admittedly less than an absolutely accurate representation of him which has its origins in stories told millennia ago and by people other than Jesus, himself.

Regarding your second two paragraphs, I have no doubts pertaining to your general opinions and beliefs about what constitutes authentic Christianity as I formerly held similar ideas.

However, and to repeat, those beliefs are based on second, third, forth, or worse accounts of what was done and said, and were recorded decades after the events actually took place. For his part, Jesus may have approved or detested those iterations of his “good news” but we have no way of knowing, based solely on NT texts combined with an veritable black hole or real evidence, which assumption is correct.

As to the last paragraph, i see it as little more than a predictable, fallacious, ham-handed attempt at a “guilt by association” argument on your part which, in my opinion, is the least compelling component of your comment and effectively undermines whatever other points you might have been trying to make.

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