January 2020

Making Sense of God through Law and Grace

2nd Sunday of Christmas, January 5, 2020
– John 1:1-18, Jeremiah 31:7-14

– The Reverend Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas –

There’s a tendency on the part of Christians to view the New Testament as the better portion of the biblical narrative over the Old Testament. Even the reference to one section of the Bible as Old and the other as New sometimes creates an impression that the Old is outdated and irrelevant while the new is contemporary, hip and tangible to our present-day dilemmas. However, I was fortunate to be raised in an environment where one’s elders were highly revered.

My mom, an elementary school teacher, was my dad’s second wife, from whom I learned a lot, but she was sixteen years younger than he. And when I was born, dad was nearly fifty years old, which means by the time I became an adult dad was in his early sixties, which at that time was considered old. And while nowadays sixty may be regarded as the new forty, we should not feel embarrassed about being old as long as we remain relevant, which my parents, aunts, uncles and in-laws always managed to be.

I say this in light of the gospel reference to Moses as the one from whom the law was given and Jesus as the one from whom grace and truth were bestowed (1:17). Christians are led to believe that in Christ we are liberated from obligation as subjects to God’s law to live as children of God’s grace. But, in truth, we can’t have the new without the old, and we can’t have grace without the law.

The law sets the parameters by which we govern our behavior toward God and others, the first being “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and soul and strength and mind,” and the second being, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Yet it is the nurturing Spirit of God that enables us to grow into a mature appreciation of these mandates to the point where they are no longer obligations, but heart-felt desires. We can’t have truth and grace without the law.

And so, the Old Testament Prophet Jeremiah could envision the time when the law of God would become a heart-inspired initiative; when people would no longer “say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me from the least to the greatest,” says the Lord; “for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” (31:34) That is grace.

We see a foreshadowing of the Christ in both the law and grace-filled objectives of the Old Testament, and the embodiment of both law and grace in the person of Jesus. This is why Jesus said, “I came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.” (Matthew 5:17)

We fulfill the law of love for God and others, but also for love of the world in which we live, when we live the law, not out of fear of what will happen to us if we disobey it, as a subject fears the wrath of a ruler; but out of love as one who hungers and thirsts for righteousness and truth, as a child in the family of a parent God who lovingly feeds and nurtures us.

So, to Christians who feel it is their mission to impress the fear of God upon you through the punishment of hell, my reply is that it is not the mission of the church to scare the hell out of you, but to love heaven into you; for when the heavenly love of God fully occupies your heart and soul, hell will find no place to abide and leave on its own accord.

In a world where ungodly leaders continue to bully by the brute force of financial clout or military might, the heart and soul of humanity are in desperate need of divine occupancy.

“No one has ever seen God,” says the First Epistle of John, but “if we love one another,” he further says, “God lives in us, and God’s love is fulfilled in us.” (4:12) God’s gracious love in you, through Christ, is the fulfillment of the law.

This is the light that shines in darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. Amen.