The grace of God and its relationship to His Law is one of the most misunderstood topics in the Bible. Many Christians today have been taught and firmly believe that God's grace is the opposite of the Law. They believe that God's grace alone is enough for a believer. In fact, some so-called "ministers" go so far as to state that anyone who seeks to obey God's Law has rejected the salvation found in the Messiah. In this warped view of Christianity, obedience to the Law is attacked and declared to be "legalism."
How did this sad, unscriptural state of affairs come about? Many cite the epistles of Paul when addressing this topic, using his writings to justify nullifying the Law. Here are some of the "proof texts" commonly used to support the idea that obedience to the Law is no longer required (or even forbidden) for believers in Messiah:
EPHESIANS 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. (NKJV)
ROMANS 6:14 For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under Law but under grace. (NKJV)
ROMANS 7:6 But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter. (NASU)
GALATIANS 2:21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the Law, then Christ died for no purpose. (ESV)
GALATIANS 3:10 All who rely on observing the Law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law." 11 Clearly no one is justified before God by the Law, because, "The righteous will live by faith." 12 The Law is not based on faith; on the contrary, "The man who does these things will live by them." 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree." (NIV)
GALATIANS 3:23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the Law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the Law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. (ESV)
GALATIANS 5:4 You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by Law; you have fallen from grace. (NKJV)
On the surface, the passages above seem to teach that those who have received God's grace don't need to (in fact, should NOT) keep the Law. But did Paul truly believe and teach that God's grace trumped the Law and made it invalid? Many have taken these comments from Paul to mean just that. To these "Antinomians" (Greek anti-"against," nomos-"law"), God's grace, as manifested in the sacrifice of Messiah, is like a "Get Out of Jail Free" card in the game Monopoly. They believe they can teach and practice disobedience to God's Law in this present age (Matt. 5:19) and still be justified ("reckoned as righteous") at the judgment seat of Christ (Rom. 14:10; II Cor. 5:10).
Some, however, cannot reconcile these verses with other Scriptures that show obedience to God's Law is a necessary part of a believer's life. As a result, they have taken the extreme position of rejecting the writings of Paul altogether. These "Anti-Paulinians" conclude that Paul wasn't a true apostle of the Messiah Yeshua. Therefore, they believe his epistles should not be considered Scripture and his teachings should be discarded.
In this article, we are going to look at the proper relationship between the Law of God and His grace. In the process, we'll examine the words of Paul to see what he was really saying about this vital topic.
Since the "grace only" doctrine is derived from the writings of Paul, let's start with the comments of the apostle Peter on that topic:
II PETER 3:15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. (ESV)
First, we must notice in verse 16 that Peter acknowledges that Paul's writings are on a par with "the other Scriptures." Peter clearly considered Paul's epistles to be inspired and authoritative. But he also plainly warns believers that Paul's writings were "hard to understand" and that some people were twisting what Paul had said "to their own destruction." He concludes with a warning to believers not to be fooled into making the same errors as the LAWLESS people who had misused Paul's teachings. Even in the days of the early church, it seems that some who called themselves Christians were using Paul's epistles to do away with God's Law.
Before we can do an accurate analysis of what the Scriptures teach on this topic, we have to define some of the terms we'll be using. These include (1) grace, (2) justification, (3) lasciviousness, (4) lawlessness and (5) legalism.
1. GRACE - In the New Testament, the Greek word generally translated "grace" is charis. The Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (BDAG) gives the following definitions for charis:
1. a winning quality or attractiveness that invites a favorable reaction, graciousness, attractiveness, charm, winsomeness . . . 2. a beneficent disposition toward someone, favor, grace, gracious care/help, goodwill . . . 3. practical application of goodwill, (a sign of) favor, gracious deed/gift, benefaction . . . 4. exceptional effect produced by generosity, favor. . . . 5. response to generosity or beneficence, thanks, gratitude . . .
As you can see, this word has several related meanings. But when referring to God's grace given to sinning humans, it is defined as God's benevolent attitude toward mankind. This attitude results in favor being granted by God to man. God's grace is wholly undeserved by mankind; it has not been (and cannot be) earned.
2. JUSTIFICATION - This English word comes from the Greek nouns dikaioma and dikaiosis. Additionally the verbal forms, "justify," "justifies," and "justified" all come from the related verb dikaioo.
There is a subtle difference of meaning between dikaioma and dikaiosis. According to BDAG, dikaioma refers to "a regulation relating to just or right action, regulation, requirement, commandment" and "an action that meets expectations as to what is right or just, righteous deed . . ." Implicit within this word is the concept of being made right with God by keeping His commandments.
Friberg's Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament (ALGNT) states that dikaiosis means "strictly, an act of making right or just; hence justification, acquittal, vindication (RO 4.25) . . . righteous act that sets free and gives life (RO 5.18)." So we see that the first of these words refers to being made righteous by our own acts, while the second means to receive imputed righteousness by being acquitted of our transgressions.
3. LASCIVIOUSNESS - This archaic English word, also translated "lewdness" and "licentiousness" in modern translations, comes from the Greek noun aselgeia. ALGNT states that this word means "as living without any moral restraint licentiousness, sensuality, lustful indulgence (2C 12.21); especially as indecent and outrageous sexual behavior debauchery, indecency, flagrant immorality (RO 13.13)."
4. LAWLESSNESS - Anomia is the Greek word underlying "lawlessness." Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Thayer) says that anomia is "properly, the condition of one without law – either because ignorant of it, or because violating it. . . . contempt and violation of law, iniquity, wickedness" (p. 48).
I John 3:4 defines SIN as lawlessness; therefore, sin is biblically defined as the violation of God's Law. Those who break God's Law because of their contempt for its value to a believer are practicing lawlessness (Matt. 7:23; 13:41). In II Corinthians 6:14, Paul rhetorically asks "what fellowship has RIGHTEOUSNESS (Gr. dikaiosune) with LAWLESSNESS (anomia)?" The implied answer is NONE.
5. LEGALISM - This final term is not found in the Bible. The Webster Comprehensive Dictionary, Encyclopedic Edition gives two theological definitions for legalism: "The doctrine of salvation by works, as distinguished from that by grace," and "the tendency to observe the letter rather than the spirit of the law" (p. 728, vol. 1).
Scripturally speaking, the first of these definitions best fits what will be addressed in this article. However, in practice "legalism" has become the principal term of choice for "grace only" advocates to describe the belief that obeying the Law of God is required of believers. It is frequently redefined by those who use it, but "legalism" is generally meant to slander, disparage, and cast doubt upon the beliefs so labeled. Due to the negative connotation of the word, those tagged as "legalists" are immediately put on the defensive regarding their beliefs.
All of these terms are important in understanding what the Bible truly teaches about the grace of God and its relationship to the Law. But before we delve extensively into the Scriptures on this matter, I want to use an analogy to illustrate the folly of the "grace only" position regarding grace versus Law.
Let's assume that we have a man who was caught selling sensitive information to a foreign government. He was legally tried and convicted of treason against the United States. Even though the man realized he had made a terrible mistake and was sorry for what he had done, the severity of the crime required a death sentence be given to him based on the laws of the United States. This prisoner is on death row awaiting execution. But in a spirit of forgiveness and grace (unmerited favor), the President of the United States grants the man a full and unconditional pardon and has him released from prison.
Does this pardon received by the prisoner now nullify the legal code of the United States? Would the man be able to break any and all US laws with impunity after his release? Would he be able to quit paying income tax to the IRS, traffic in illegal drugs, distribute child pornography, or even murder another US citizen, without having to worry about the consequences of his actions?
Just using human reasoning, it's easy to see that the pardoned man would NOT be free to break the laws of the United States after his pardon. In fact, it's reasonable to expect that the man would be so thankful for his undeserved reprieve from death that he would become a model, law-abiding citizen. How do you think the man would react to someone who advocated that he actively set out to disobey US law? I imagine that he would reject such advice, and have nothing to do with the one giving it.
Through His grace, God has provided a way for us to be pardoned from the death sentence we've earned by breaking His Law. Why, then, would someone assume that this pardon negates the Law of God? Why would someone repay the unmerited favor shown to them by God with a rebellious disregard for His commandments? Why would someone think that an eternal, unchanging God would contradict Himself by requiring believers to disobey His own Law in order to maintain His divine favor?
First, let's address the "grace only" proof texts cited at the beginning of this article. In his writings, Paul states that all mankind has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:9, 23; 5:12; Gal. 3:22). James tells us that breaking any one law makes us guilty of the whole Law (Jam. 2:10). Therefore, we cannot be saved by our works, because our works are imperfect. We are in need of God's grace for our salvation. This is the context of Paul's statement found in Ephesians 2:
EPHESIANS 2:8 For by grace [chariti] you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. (NKJV)
In our previous analogy, the man convicted of treason could never be declared innocent based on his own actions. Even if he never broke another law in his life, his prior transgression would forever brand him as a criminal. He could never be JUSTIFIED or made right by his own power or actions after committing his crime. It is in this light that we should view Paul's statements regarding justification in Galatians 2:
GALATIANS 2:21 I do not nullify the grace [charin] of God; for if justification [dikaiosune] comes through the Law, then Christ died for nothing. (NRSV)
The Greek noun dikaiosune, translated "justification" in this verse, is closely related to dikaioma. Some translations alternately render this word as "righteousness." ALGNT defines dikaiosune as "(1) righteousness, uprightness, generally denoting the characteristics of δικιος (righteous, just) (MT 5.6); (2) legally justice, uprightness, righteousness (PH 3.6); (3) as an attribute of God righteousness, integrity (RO 3.5); (4) of the right behavior that God requires of persons righteousness, good behavior, uprightness (MT 5.20), opposite αδικια (unrighteousness, wrongdoing); (5) in Pauline thought of the divine action by which God puts a person right with himself and which then becomes a dynamic power in the believer's life making right(eous); state of having been made righteous (RO 1.17)." In this Scripture, it literally means to be "justified" or "righteous" in the sight of God.
If one can eventually keep the Law good enough to override prior sins, then the sacrifice of Yeshua was needless. But just as the convicted man can never afterward keep the Law perfectly enough to erase his conviction, we cannot remove our prior sins by subsequently keeping God's Law. Forgiveness requires faithfully accepting the sacrifice of the Messiah for the removal of our sins.
Paul's point in Galatians 2:21 is that those who think that they can earn their salvation by Law-keeping are effectively nullifying God's grace. Does this mean that keeping God's Law is wrong? By no means! It all boils down to the REASON for keeping the Law. There is no scriptural condemnation of those who obey God's Law in order to emulate the Messiah's example and honor their heavenly Father. But those who do so as a means of accumulating enough brownie points with God to be saved are misguided and in error, as Paul points out.
Now let's examine another passage from Paul's letter to the Galatians dealing with justification:
GALATIANS 3:10 For all who rely on works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them." 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified [dikaioutai] before God by the Law, for "The righteous [dikaios] shall live by faith." 12 But the Law is not of faith, rather "The one who does them shall live by them." 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us-for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree"- (NIV)
Paul speaks of those "who rely on the works of the Law" being "under a curse" (v. 10). His implication is that some of the people in Galatia were relying on keeping the Law to be justified before God. The "curse of the Law" (v. 13) is not the Law itself, but rather the penalty for disobedience to that Law (i.e., death). To avoid the curse of death, one had to keep the Law perfectly (v. 12). But since Paul understood that the whole world had transgressed the Law, he recognized that no one could be justified in the sight of God by keeping the Law. It was only through Christ's sacrificial death on the wooden stake that the curse brought about by Law-breaking could pass from us, that we might be made right with God.
GALATIANS 5:4 You who are trying to be justified [dikaiousthe] by Law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace [charitos]. (NIV)
When one begins to think that they can be justified in God's sight by Law-keeping, they have in fact separated themselves from the Messiah. Again, Paul is not disparaging the Law here. He is simply finding fault with the Galatians' motives for keeping it. It is possible for someone to do the RIGHT thing for the WRONG reason.
You might have noticed that I initially skipped the verses where Paul speaks about believers not being "under the Law." This phrase (Gr. hupo nomon) is used by Paul ten times in eight verses, and he uses it in slightly different ways, depending on the point he's trying to make.
The first way Paul uses this phrase is to designate those who have been given God's Law, i.e., the Jews. An example of this usage is found in 1 Corinthians 9:
I CORINTHIANS 9:20 And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law [hupo nomon], as under the Law [hupo nomon], that I might win those who are under the Law [hupo nomon]; 21 to those who are without Law, as without Law (not being without Law toward God, but under Law [ennomos] toward Christ), that I might win those who are without Law; (NKJV)
In this passage, we see that Paul differentiates between Jews who had been given the Law and were under its requirements, and Gentiles who did not have the Law. The Greek word translated "under Law" in verse 21 is ennomos, an adjective that ALGNT defines as "strictly within law; hence lawful, legal, according to law (AC 19.39); as a personal characteristic committed to law, obedient to law (1C 9.21)". Paul essentially said here that even when interacting with the Gentiles who didn't know or have the Law, he was still obedient to the Law for Messiah's sake.
So in Paul's writings, being "under the Law" can refer to those who had received the Law and were required to keep it (I Cor. 9:20; Gal. 4:4-5, 21). However, Paul also uses the phrase hupo nomon to refer specifically to being subject to the PENALTY for disobedience to the Law (i.e., death). This usage can clearly be seen in Romans 6:
ROMANS 6:11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness [dikaiosunes]. 14 For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under Law [hupo nomon], but under grace [charin]. 15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under Law [hupo nomon] but under grace [charin]? By no means! 16 Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey-- whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness [dikaiosunen]? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. (NIV)
Paul states that believers are "not under Law but under grace" (v. 14). By this, he means that they are not under the death penalty for sin imposed by the Law. Instead, they have been given life by God's grace. But Paul goes on to state that this grace does NOT allow them to continue in sin (v. 15). To continue sinning, Paul states, would lead them back to death (v. 16). However, Paul says that obedience leads to righteousness (v. 16). Although he states that the Roman believers used to be slaves to sin (v. 17), their obedience to the teaching brought to them has freed them from sin. Now they are to be slaves to righteousness (v. 18).
By definition, a slave has to work for his master. When sin was their master, the Romans had to serve it by indulging the lusts of the flesh. Now that they had been saved from the punishment required for their Law-breaking, Paul expected them to serve their new master, righteousness. This master required that they be obedient to the Law.
GALATIANS 3:21 Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a Law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the Law. 22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the Law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the Law was our guardian [paidagogos] until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian [paidagogon], 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. (ESV)
Paul starts this passage of Scripture by stating that the Law is NOT opposed to the promises of God. In fact, he extols the value of the Law, stating that if any Law would have been able to give life, it would have been God's Law. But his implied point is that life CANNOT be gained through the Law (any law).
This passage by Paul is generally misunderstood because of wrong understanding of the function of the paidagogos in ancient society. This Greek word, translated "guardian" above, is translated "schoolmaster" and "tutor" in some versions. However, the key to understanding Paul's point is to truly understand the role of the paidagogos. Here is what BDAG states about the function of a paidagogos:
. . . Orig[inally] 'boy-leader', the man, usu[ally] a slave (Plut., Mor. 4ab), whose duty it was to conduct a boy or youth (Plut., Mor. 439f) to and from school and to superintend his conduct gener[ally]; he was not a 'teacher' . . . When the young man became of age, the [paidagogos] was no longer needed . . .
As you can see from the definition above, Paul is NOT speaking of the Law as a teacher. Instead, the context indicates that the Law functioned as a guardian for those convicted of sin (which was all mankind-Rom. 5:12). When forgiveness came through faith in the sacrifice of Yeshua, we were no longer under the guardianship of the Law; we were no longer under its penalty for disobedience. This does not mean that the Law's function as God's standard of right conduct has been voided.
Paul addresses the Law and the way to true righteousness in the 5th chapter of Romans:
ROMANS 5:12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned - 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the Law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no Law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification [dikaioma]. 17 If, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace [charitos] and the free gift of righteousness [dikaiosunes] reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. 18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness [dikaiomatos] leads to justification [dikaiosin] and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous [dikaioi]. 20 Now the Law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace [charis] abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace [charis] also might reign through righteousness [dikaiosunes] leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (ESV)
In his own particular way, Paul shows in this passage of Scripture that God's Law has existed since at least the time of Adam. He begins by saying that sin entered the world when Adam disobeyed God's command not to eat of the tree of knowledge. Because of this disobedience, Paul tells us, death came to all men, because all who lived after Adam sinned also.
To emphasize that God's Law has always existed, Paul tells us that sin is not counted when no law is present. If the Law had not existed from the time of Adam to Moses, then God could not legitimately inflict the penalty for sin on mankind. However, by telling us that death reigned during this time period because all sinned, Paul is showing that the Law DID exist, and that the penalty for breaking it was enforced. The Law is not relative, but is an eternal standard of righteous conduct.
BDAG says that in Romans 5:16, dikaioma is used as an equivalent to dikaiosis "to clear someone of a violation." This demonstrates that Paul considered Messiah's obedience to God to have been transferred to believers, acquitting them in the sight of God and making them righteous.
Because God does not change (Mal. 3:6), He will not nullify or set aside His Law. Disobedience to the Law has to be punished. Paul tells us that the wages of SIN is death (Rom. 6:23). All men are sinners and have fallen short of the perfect standard of God's Law (Rom. 3:23). But since it is God's nature to be gracious, He allows a way for sinful mankind to escape the death penalty required by the Law.
However, God's grace is not something that can be earned. Through Yeshua, God justifies ("acquits") the ungodly sinner who accepts his sacrifice on the cross (Rom. 8:32-34). The Father does this because of His grace ("favor") toward mankind.
Earlier in the letter to the Romans, Paul defines the function of the Law:
ROMANS 3:19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it says to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. 20 Therefore by the deeds of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the Law is the knowledge of sin. (NKJV)
Here, Paul shows that the Law is not for justification, but rather for us to know right from wrong. Incidentally, Paul shows here that the Law is not just for the Jews, but for all mankind. Notice that it's not just Jews that become guilty by breaking the Law, but "all the world."
Paul explains how living by the Spirit removes one from the penalty of Law-breaking in the 5th chapter of Galatians:
GALATIANS 5:16 I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. 24 And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. (NKJV)
There is no law against the fruits of the Spirit; these actions fulfill God's Law. However, if one does the works of the flesh, they have sinned and will come under the penalty of the Law. Paul clearly states that those who sin in such a manner will NOT inherit the kingdom of God.
God's grace doesn't nullify the Law, but rather it voids the penalty we deserve for breaking the Law:
TITUS 3:4 But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, 5 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 that having been justified [dikaiothentes] by His grace [chariti] we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 8 This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men. (NKJV)
Paul here encourages Titus to teach believers that, because of the grace God had shown them through Messiah, they should be sure to do good works. What were those "good works"? Paul tells us in his first letter to the Corinthians:
I CORINTHIANS 7:19 Circumcision means nothing, and uncircumcision means nothing; what matters is keeping God's commandments. (NAB)
Now that we've examined what the Scriptures really teach about God's grace, let's see some of the problems that arose in the early church due to misusing the concept of grace. We'll start in the epistle of Jude:
JUDE 3 Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. 4 For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness [aselgeian] and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ. (NKJV)
Jude clearly shows that there were so-called "Christians" in the 1st century who were already perverting God's grace, claiming that it allowed them to live an immoral lifestyle. These people were practicing "laciviousness" (aselgeia) disguised as liberty from the Law.
In his ensuing comments, Jude makes the character and fate of these people very clear. He calls them "dreamers" in verse 8, because they promoted false teachings they had dreamed up. These dreamers defile their flesh because they reject the authority of God's Law in their lives. Jude tells us in verse 13 that "the blackness of darkness" (cf. Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30) is their reward "in the age" (Gr. eis aiona).
In his letter to Titus, Paul speaks of those believers who, by their works, show themselves to actually be "unbelievers":
TITUS 1:15 To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work. (NKJV)
Yeshua also spoke of those who proclaimed themselves to be his followers, but didn't keep God's Law:
MATTHEW 7:15 "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them. 21 Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name, cast out demons in your name, and done many wonders in your name?' 23 "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness [anomian]!' " (NKJV)
The parable of the wheat and tares speaks of this very situation:
MATTHEW 13:24 He put another parable before them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weed among the wheat and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, 'Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?' 28 He said to them, 'An enemy has done this.' So the servants said to him, 'Then do you want us to go and gather them?' 29 But he said, 'No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'" (ESV)
Yeshua afterward explained the meaning of this parable to his disciples:
MATTHEW 13:36 Then Jesus sent the multitude away and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, "Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field." 37 He answered and said to them: "He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. 39 The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. 40 Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness [anomian], 42 and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!" (NKJV)
Yeshua likens these false, Law-breaking Christians to tares growing among his wheat crop. Faussett's Bible Dictionary has this to say about the nature of tares:
. . . Mt. 13:24-30. Zizanion, Arabic, zowan, Hebrew zowniyn; zan means "nausea." Not our vetch, but darnel; at first impossible to distinguish from wheat or barley, until the wheat's ear is developed, when the thin fruitless ear of the darnel is detected. Its root too so intertwines with that of the wheat that the farmer cannot separate them, without plucking up both, "till the time of harvest." The seed is like wheat, but smaller and black, and when mixed with wheat flour causes dizziness, intoxication, and paralysis; Lolium temulentum, bearded darnel, the only deleterious grain among all the numerous grasses. . . . ("Tares")
Although tares look like wheat at first, the fruit of tares is "bad." Yeshua tells us that one of the primary spiritual fruits of tares is "lawlessness." One of the first acts that Yeshua will initiate when his kingdom is established is the removal of these spiritual tares.
God's grace and His Law are two sides of the same coin. The Law defines our expected behavior, and God's grace provides forgiveness when we don't live up to that standard. Grace doesn't nullify the Law, it compliments it. Clearly, those who think they can be part of God's people without obedience to His Law are deceived. Yeshua himself stated this clearly:
MATTHEW 5:17 "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the Law till all is fulfilled. 19 Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven." (NKJV)
Bryan T. Huie
June 14, 2003