Perhaps either you or someone you know has accused Herbert W. Armstrong of teaching that we obtain salvation through the law. Even the church he founded claims that today. Mr. Armstrong himself answered the critics: “We do not obtain salvation through the law …” (Plain Truth, May 1962).
As Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8, salvation is by grace through faith. In Romans 6:14, he tells us we are not under the law, but under grace. No one can ever be saved by obeying the law—any law.
Now most people within the traditional Christian world would prefer that we end this article right here—enough said. “Salvation is by grace—that’s all we need to know!”
But what exactly is grace? Have you ever really proved it? And did you know that God actually prophesied of a time when people would try to change the true meaning of the word “grace”? Let this be a challenge! Look up the scriptures. You might be surprised by what your Bible says.
What Grace Does Not Mean
“Beloved, my whole concern was to write to you on the subject of our common salvation …” (Jude 3; Moffatt). That was Jude’s original intent. But because of false leaders teaching a perverted gospel, he was compelled to exhort them to contend for the faith that was once delivered unto them.
Verse 4 describes the deception false leaders were bringing into the Church: “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.”
According to Thayer’s Lexicon, “lasciviousness” can be translated unbridled lust or licentiousness. Webster’s defines licentiousness this way: “marked by disregard for strict rules of correctness.” In other words, they were turning God’s grace into an excuse to disobey His law! As Lange’s Commentary states concerning this passage, instead of using grace “as an incentive to holiness, they employ it as a cloak of maliciousness.”
Why would people assume they can live a lustful, rebellious life contrary to God’s laws because of grace? Because most falsely assume that grace means saved. We are saved by grace, but grace does not mean saved. What then is the proper definition for the biblical term grace? If you are under grace, you need to know!
The Greek word for “grace” in Jude 4 can mean benefit, favor or gift. Webster’s further defines “grace” as mercy or unmerited pardon. Another definition could be forgiveness.
Jude says this kind of grace is “of our God.” It’s not something we have, as most assume. It is God’s grace. It is a quality that God expresses toward us. Paul often began his letters by saying, “Grace be unto you [the brethren], and peace, from God our Father …” (1 Corinthians 1:3). Grace is a free gift. It’s the benefit, mercy, pardon or forgiveness God extends toward us. But why do we need God’s grace? 1 John 3:4 says, “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” John wrote this book around a.d. 90, during the last days of the apostolic times. Had the law been “nailed to the cross,” surely he would not have defined sin as “breaking God’s law,” for an abolished law could never define sin!
In Romans 6:23, Paul said the wages, or payment, for sin is eternal death. Furthermore, as it says in Romans 3:23, “all have sinned.” So for breaking God’s law—for sinning—we all deserve eternal death. It was for this reason that Jesus Christ had to die. He came in the flesh for the very purpose of death so that His shed blood might erase the death penalty for our past sins (Romans 5:8).
Now notice Ephesians 1:7: “In whom [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.” Grace, as defined in this scripture, is God’s willingness to forgive us of our past sins, not His willingness to change or abolish His law. The very fact that Christ had to die proves the law was not abolished, because a penalty had to be paid! Think about it. If abolishing the law was the only prerequisite for God to forgive us by grace, it would not have been necessary for Christ to die. But Christ did have to die because God will not allow sin to go unpunished.
How We Obtain Grace
While grace is a free, unmerited gift, it is conditional. God requires certain things of us before we receive His grace.
Jesus said that unless we repent, we will all perish (Luke 13:3, 5). Let’s go to Webster’s again to make sure we understand the terms. Repent means “to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life; to feel regret; … to change one’s mind.” Repentance is conquering sin, which means conquering our selfish, vain human nature, the origin of sin.
David said, “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin” (Psalm 51:1-2). David was pleading with God, asking Him to mercifully extend grace—to forgive him of his sins! That is a profound turn from sin.
Acts 3:19 says, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out ….” Having your sins blotted out, or receiving grace, can come only after repentance and conversion. Conversion means change: a conversion to a new and different way of life.
Prior to baptism, the Bible says we must repent, or change, and believe in, or accept, Christ’s shed blood as payment for our death penalty (Acts 2:38). God then extends His grace: As the baptismal ceremony symbolizes, He washes you of your past guilt and imparts His Holy Spirit within you, which is the power we need to live according to the Spirit—to convert to a new way of life.
This kind of repentance is very different from what you hear in religion today. Most believe repentance merely means to be sorry for what you have done. Notice David’s repentance expressed in Psalm 51:11: “[T]ake not thy holy spirit from me.” He not only abhorred sin enough to throw himself on God’s mercy, asking for grace, he understood the importance of God’s Holy Spirit as the agent required to change from a sinful way of life—to remain under grace.
Shall We Continue in Sin?
Imagine a judge who extends grace, or a pardon, to a criminal who has cried out for mercy after breaking a law, then instructing the criminal to go out and continue breaking that same law! Does that make sense? Of course not. Yet this is the reasoning of religious scholars today: Just accept the blood of Jesus Christ and continue right on sinning. Let’s turn to the Scriptures to understand.
In Romans 5:21, Paul writes, “That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness [obedience to God’s law] unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.” Because of Christ’s shed blood, we are under grace.
Yet notice the very next verse in Romans 6:1: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” Not even traditional Christianity would say that we should continue in sin. Yet they all would insist on discontinuing the law! But what is sin? According to what John wrote almost 60 years after the death of Christ, “sin is the transgression of the law”! (1 John 3:4). Shall we then continue transgressing the law because of grace? “God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (Romans 6:2).
Paul goes on to describe what baptism symbolizes. When we are put under the water, we are symbolically buried with Jesus Christ. When we come out of the water, we walk with Christ “in newness of life” (verses 3-4). Living a new life means change.
Notice verse 11: “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” The wages of sin is death. Christ paid for our penalty. But symbolically, our old sinful ways die at baptism because of grace.
Now notice the very next verse: “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof” (verse 12). The flow in this passage makes the meaning obvious. After we repent, are baptized, and receive the Holy Spirit, we ought not to let sin reign in our bodies! Living a new life means a life of overcoming sin by yielding ourselves to God (verse 13).
Verse 14: “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” Understanding the definition of sin and the law makes this verse completely clear. The law is the Ten Commandments—God’s law of love. Sin is breaking, or transgressing, that law, which brings with it the penalty of death. We are “under the law” when we are transgressing against it. In other words, we are under the penalty of the law—death.
Today, if we repent and become converted through the Holy Spirit, we are not under the penalty of the law, but under grace, because of Christ’s sacrifice.
In verse 15, it’s as if Paul anticipated some would misinterpret his words. After saying we are not under the law, but under grace, he asks, “What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.”
It could not be more clear. God’s merciful grace does not give us the right to live contrary to His law, the Ten Commandments. The plain, undeniable, biblical facts are these: If we can save ourselves by our own works, then Christ died in vain (Galatians 2:21). On the other hand, if Christ did everything for us and we can continue to sin against the law because of grace, then Christ died in vain! Read Jude 4 again.
We can’t save ourselves. Neither can Christ do everything for us. But if, after accepting the blood of Jesus, we submit to God and His laws, Christ’s life in us through the power of the Spirit can save us! (Romans 5:10).
Obedience Through the Spirit
Jesus Christ died in our stead so we could obey God’s law according to its spiritual intent and serve righteousness instead of sin. “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:3-4). God wants His law of love, summed up by the Ten Commandments, to be fulfilled in us—not abolished. For that reason He sent His Spirit, because not only have all men sinned, but the carnal man by himself simply cannot overcome sin.
“Because the carnal mind [of man] is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (verse 7). Notice why man’s mind is against, or hostile to, God. Because it’s not subject, or obedient, to God’s laws! All have sinned! So God sent His Son, as the ultimate act of grace, to be offered as a sacrifice for your sins and mine.
But there’s more! God’s plan does not stop with the blood of Christ. Man’s mind is hostile to God because it’s not subject to His laws; but notice the last four words of Romans 8:7: “neither indeed can be.” We need help to live according to the Spirit, because apart from God, we can’t! So for those who repent and accept the blood of Christ and then get baptized, God freely offers His Holy Spirit, by His grace.
To repent of sin not only means you regret doing it; it means you determine, with the help of God’s Holy Spirit, to stop sinning. This process is called conversion. Through conversion, a Christian is actually able to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). Grace is more than just God’s forgiveness of those who repent. Those living “under grace” are also striving diligently to obey God’s commandments by the power of the Holy Spirit. Growing in grace means striving, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to overcome sin.
God’s Word Is Truth
Carnal man has his own definition for grace. Religious scholars say it is the permanent condition of a Christian, similar to being “saved.” Yet the very nature of this definition allows you to reason around the law of God and to excuse sin. “No law” deceivers must turn their backs on literally dozens of Bible verses that command law-keeping.
Jesus said, “[I]f thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17). In Romans 7, Paul not only called the law “holy” and “good” (verse 12), he said, “I myself serve the law of God” (verse 25). James wrote that if you offend the law in one point, you are “guilty of all” (James 2:10). John said that if we say we know God, but do not keep His commandments, we are liars (1 John 2:3-4). For those who reject the Old Testament, these are New Testament verses, most of which were written long after Christ died!
Be honest with yourself. Would God allow the violation of His law because of grace, when it was the violation of that law which necessitated the death of His Son in the first place? If you still say yes, then how do you explain the verses listed above? Believe your Bible, not men! God’s Word is truth (John 17:17).
At the beginning of this article, I quoted Mr. Armstrong as saying, “We do not obtain salvation through the law.” That is absolutely true. Salvation cannot come by the law—any law. But here is the rest of Mr. Armstrong’s quote: “We do not obtain salvation through the law—we observe the law through the process of conversion. It is failure to understand this important distinction which is the cause of much misunderstanding upon the whole question.” It is true that we cannot become a Christian without grace. Neither can anyone be saved without God’s grace. But the question is, can one remain a Christian and receive all the benefits of God’s grace while continuing in sin? God forbid!
Living under grace means living according to God’s Spirit in humble obedience to His laws. By living a life without sin, Jesus Christ set for us an example which we are to follow (1 Peter 2:21-22). Are you willing to follow in that example—to strive diligently to keep and obey God’s every command? That’s the only way we will ever truly be under God’s grace.
God’s grace is free and unmerited. None of us deserve it. We only deserve death. But make no mistake. If we are not willing to change our lives and serve righteousness through the Spirit, God will never extend His grace to us. May God help us understand so that His grace will be upon us!