Law and Grace
I pray that you had a blessed Christmas and are basking in the glow of the holiday! And happy New Year!
Sunday’s Gospel lesson, the first eighteen verses of John, is known as the “Prologue of John” and contains some of the most theologically dense statements in the New Testament. (Click here to read it.)
When I was in seminary, I was given a final exam in a class on the “Johannine Literature” (Gospel of John, Revelation and the 3 Epistles of John). There was one question on the exam: Discuss the Prologue of John in light of the rest of the Johannine literature. I wrote feverishly for the full three hours, filled multiple blue books (yes, it was that long ago) and only got about half way through. BTW, I got a “B” with the comment “excellent to here, but you didn’t finish.”
Today I’d like to reflect on just one sentence: “The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (Verse 17)
Most modern, western Christians have been brought up to see “law” as a bad thing, and to contrast it with “grace,” the good thing. So we hear a passage like this and we see something bad (the Law) being replaced by something wonderful (grace and truth). But I do not think that is what John is suggesting.
For the Jews of Jesus’ day, the law was an act of race, not a contrast to grace! Any parent who has instructed a child on crossing the street knows that law and rules can be an expression of love. So it is with the law. Not leaving us foundering, destroying ourselves and one another with sin, God gave us the law to protect and guide us. The law was an expression of His love for us! In the law we see the character of God revealed as we see how we are to live. Among the people John was writing for, the law is grace and truth!
So, the contrast for John is not between the “law” as bad and “grace and truth” as good. Rather the contrast is between the verbs. The law was “given,” grace and truth “came!” In the person of Jesus the grace and truth of God come to us as flesh and blood, rather than on lifeless stone tablets.
If this is true, then we need to put our understanding of law and grace back together in order to have a complete picture of God’s work with us. Our faith is neither lawless grace nor graceless law. In the person of Jesus, we see grace and law together, as it should be for each of us!
Where might you need to see grace in a “law” that you chafe against?
This column appeared in the January 1, 2023 edition of St. John’s eNews. Click here for the complete issue.
If you are reading this at a different time, you may click here for the current eNews.