"Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more." (I Thessalonians 4:1)
The reader's attention is directed to a small but weighty word that Paul uses in this verse. It is the word "ought." This word, like Damocles' sword, has hung constantly over the head of every moral creature who has ever lived. In every circumstance, in every environment, in every age, in every privilege or capacity, man is confronted by this word. As a citizen of a community, a man ought to do certain things. As a father, a man ought to do certain things. As a husband, as a neighbor, as an employer, as an employee, as a creature of God, as a Christian, a man ought. A woman ought. A child ought. It is impossible to escape this word. The very process of living fills every hour, every moment with the demands of this word. The moral nature of human existence makes life itself a great demanding, unavoidable, "ought."
This imposing verb might be replaced in the last sentence by a noun of equivalent force and meaning such as "duty" or "responsibility" or "obligation." These words saturate every circumstance of every life. Duty or responsibility are sometimes distasteful but not always, for they may indeed be delightful. The nature of one's response to duty is often a matter of ability to meet its demands.
This brings us to another little but powerful word that Paul uses in Philippians 4:13:
"I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me."
As "ought" denotes responsibility, so "can" denotes ability. It is gratifying to know, as Paul did, that for every responsibility there is corresponding ability. What one ought to do as a citizen, can actually be done. What ought to be done as a parent, as a child, as a Christian, can be done. There is available to every mortal being that power, ability, supply to meet every demand imposed by duty.
This leads to a third little word. This word is also found in Philippians 4:13: "I can do." The demonstration, after all, of ability is Performance. This doing, however, deserves a descriptive adjective for whenever that which ought to be done is fulfilled in that ability or power that meets its requirements, this is good doing. That citizen who can meet his responsibility is a good citizen only upon the Performance of duty. Duty fulfilled in ability and demonstrated in good performance is moral normalcy. Duty when not fulfilled in ability (and hence not demonstrated in good doing) indicates moral degeneracy. So also does duty though met by ability but never finding fruition in actual performance.
Now these principles may be transferred to the spiritual realm and may be expressed in Scriptural terminology. The highest duty of man is the will of God. This will has been set forth with inescapable demand written indelibly in the conscience of man, and blazes with unmistakable clarity from the pages of God's word:
"Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another." (Romans 2:15)
"And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy might." (Deuteronomy 6:5)
No higher responsibility upon man (nor can there be any lower) is to be found than the expressions of God's will stated in Deuteronomy 6:5 and repeated by our Lord Jesus Christ:
"Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great comman&nent. And the second is like unto it, Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." (Matthew 22:37-40)
These words of our Lord Jesus Christ embrace the whole of moral law. All of anyone's responsibility, duty, obligation--all that anyone ought to do or be in any and every circumstance--the total of God's will for man is embraced in the inexorable demand of this high standard commonly referred to as God's law. That demanding principle, then, that is innate in such words as "ought," "duty," and "responsibility" is the principle of moral law. God's law is to some distasteful but not to all, for to some it is delightful.
"For I delight in the law of God after the inward man." (Romans 7:22)
"Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law doth he meditate day and night." (Psalm 1:1,2)
"I delight to do thy will, 0 my God; yea, thy law is within my heart." (Psalm 40:8)
"Let thy tender mercies come unto me, that I may live: for thy law is my delight." (Psalm 119:77)
However, as responsibility needs to be fulfilled in ability, so law must be met by and fulfilled in a supply of sufficient measure to satisfy law's requirement. As it is God's law, so also is the supply of God. The Scriptural word for it is God's grace. Grace is the full and abundant supply that completely fulfils the demands of God's law. Indeed, only grace can express God's law. Any other power, all lesser ability comes totally short of expressing God's law. One finds sufficiency in, but only in, God's grace.
"And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work." (2 Corinthians 9:8)
As grace enables in the continuous duties of the believer's life so it is the power and supply of grace that begins the life of conformity to God's will; that is, grace saves.
"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God." (Ephesians 2:8)
Grace supplies that ability, power, strength that can prove the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. God's will as a principle of responsibility for every man, woman, and child is God's law. God's supply as a principle of enabling strength for every man, woman, and child is God's grace.
God's law thus finding expression in an individual's life through the impartation and working of God's grace is demonstrated in and manifested in righteousness! Every deed, thought, or work of true righteousness ever performed has of necessity been a demonstration of God's will or law. The moral value of every act must be measured by a standard. This standard is the holy, perfect law of God; the Creator alone has authority to set a standard for men and he alone is Truth so as to set a true and perfect standard for men. Any deviation from His perfect law is unrighteousness and therefore sin. As God alone can state the total spiritual duty of man, so God alone can provide to man the ability to do His will. Righteousness is the performance of God's will in the power of God's grace. As it is true that duty fullfilled in ability and demonstrated in good performance is moral normalcy, likewise it is true that Law fulfilled in Grace and demonstrated in Righteousness is spiritual normalcy. In fact, this is the nature of spiritual life! All else is spiritual death!
Whenever responsibility is not fulfilled in ability, trouble results, whether at one's job, or at school, or in a crisis, or in the daily duties of life. So also whenever God's perfect will is not fulfilled in the individual's life by God's grace, trouble results, be it in the damnation of eternal doom in the case of the unbeliever or in broken fellowship and spiritual disobedience in the believer. Wherever and whenever responsibility or law is fulfilled then joy, progress, satisfaction, peace, and harmony result. So also whenever and wherever God's will finds expression by grace in a believer's life unto righteousness there follows joy and fellowship and blessing and peace abundant. Any time anyone can do what he ought, he should thank and praise God for it is only by God's enabling grace. This applies to any physical or mental powers as well as spiritual strength a person may have. For all that one has, he received from God who bestowed it graciously, and for no reason of worthiness in the individual who received it. The very gift of existence is by God's grace. How much more then does this grace find expression in the bestowal upon the believing soul of God's very life.
OUGHT CAN DO
RESPONSIBILITY ABILITY PERFORMANCE
LAW GRACE RIGHTEOUSNESS
Righteousness cannot be defined without law. Righteousness cannot be demonstrated without grace. Also Grace cannot function except in fulfilling law. Any spiritual power or strength that God gives, He gives to be exercised according to His will--Those powers not thus subject to and controlled by His will are not powers of God's grace but rather workings of the rebellious will of the flesh. God's grace is abundant but it enables us to do His Will and Only His Will and Nothing But His Will. True grace functions only in accordance with God's perfect law. Every bestowal of God's grace fulfills in the receiver the demands of God's law. The flesh of course rejecting God's grace falls short of God's law but the new man fulfills the righteousness of the law in which he delights.
"That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." (Romans 8:4)
Law, grace, and righteousness form a doctrinal trinity, the exclusion of any one of which destroys the others as well. True spiritual life must include:
Law Grace Righteousness
The dangers in excluding one or more of these principles are far reaching and unfortunately very common.
There is a concept of spiritual life that excludes God's grace. It is common today, as it has always been.
"What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone;" (Romans 9:30-32)
Most of the Israelites, even as most religious people today, trusted in the ability of the flesh, rather than the ability of imparted grace to meet the law's demands. Rejecting the grace of God which is received by faith, they endeavored to establish their own righteousness.
"For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God." (Roman 10:3)
This type of righteous works is the flesh attempt at meeting a standard--Whether recognizing God's law or any other code as that standard, it is a trust not in grace through faith but in the flesh. These works are condemned in Titus 3:5:
"Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost."
This doctrine of measuring up to a standard in the merit, worth, and effort of the flesh is legalism. It cannot demonstrate true righteousness because it excludes grace. It may be represented thus:
Law -------------------- --------------------
A religion of law without grace is Legalism. This is a common abuse of God's law.
Equally damaging, however, is that doctrine that excludes law. Law is control and grace is power. Those who teach the doctrine of grace without law are teaching divine power without divine control. Power without control is dangerous in any realm whether physical, political, or ecclesiastical, govermnental, intellectual, and certainly spiritual. This is the doctrine of lawlessness. Satan, its originator, will bring it to full manifestation in the man of sin, the lawless one. This doctrine will grow increasingly in the exercise of civil and international government and in religious teaching.
"How art thou fallen from heaven, 0 Lucifer, son of the morning! How are thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God, I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the most High. Yet thou shall be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit." (Isaiah 14:12-15)
Lucifer was created by Christ, the Son of God.
"For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers, all things were created by him and for him; And he is before all things, and by him all things consist." (Colossians 1:16,17)
From the Son, Lucifer received being, existence. This was given in grace. From the Son, Lucifer received high position. This was given purely by the grace of the Son. Lucifer received beauty (Ezekiel 28:12-15). All this he received from Christ by grace. Lucifer was not and had nothing. All that he received and became was by the pure grace of Christ. With these blessings, as with all blessings, there came responsibilities. Grace does not exist apart from law. These duties, though magnificent, blessed, and delightful were renounced and denied by Lucifer. The blessings, power of grace, the wisdom, beauty, wealth, and prestige that he received, he determined to employ in a manner contrary to God's will for him, contrary to God's purpose in bestowing them, contrary to law. He thus became the leader and teacher of lawlessness, failing to see the self-destruction of this course. He taught and still teaches the doctrine of blessing, bounty, strength, ability, power, in short, grace without control; grace without law. The flesh gladly embraces the doctrine. It may be represented thus:
-------------------- Grace --------------------
A religion of grace without law is Lawlessness. This is a common abuse of God's grace. Neither legalism nor lawlessness can show forth true righteousness.
Any supposed righteousness that is not the demonstration of God's holy law expressed by God's marvelous grace is merely seffrighteousness. Many foolishly trust in this empty cistern. This false spirituality may be represented thus:
-------------------- Righteousness --------------------
True spiritual life, like its Giver, the true God, exists in the pattern of tri-unity.
Father Son Holy Spirit
Law Grace Righteousness
For this reason the law is associated primarily with the Father. It is the will of the Father. So also grace is associated with the Son. It is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. As the Son fulfills the Father's will and only the Father's will and completely fulfills the Father's will, so grace fulfills the holy law and only the holy law and completely fulfills the holy law. With reference to humanity, what the Father demands of us, the Son condescends to fulfill and supply in us and for us. Law demands. Grace supplies. So also the Holy Spirit is associated with righteousness. The fulfillment of law through grace is a demonstration of holiness, holy living, holy thinking, holy doing, holy speaking--the fruit of the Holy Spirit. To lack this true righteousness is to lack spiritual life.
"For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:20)
The righteousness of the Pharisees was self-righteousness for it ignored God's grace. As the Godhead is one so also we must consider spiritual life in its whole unity. While we may refer to Father and Son separately or speak of the Father's will as separate from the grace of the Son or even consider as separate the doctrine of law and the doctrine of grace, we must realize that these are in fact inseparable in reality. Only in our study do we attempt such a separation and then it should be with greatest caution. For example--to consider law and grace as separate and independent principles or as opposing principles as many unfortunately do, is as unthinkable as considering the Father and Son to be independent or opposing personalities. (Of course, it must be remembered that in the Scriptures the terms "law" and "under the law" are used with several meanings which must be determined by the context.)
The case of the raising of Lazarus to physical life provides a striking example of the sinner's reception of spiritual life. Note that the words of Christ, "Lazarus, come forth," constitute a demand. Indeed, one can hardly imagine a sterner requirement of a corpse. Were this a demand and nothing more, Lazarus would not have risen. So God's law places an impossible demand upon sinful, spiritually dead humanity. Compliance is in fact impossible. In the case of any individual where God's law constitutes a demand and nothing more, there is no "coming forth." Christ's words to Lazarus, however, were not only a demand, not only a setting forth of an impossible standard, they were words of grace, words of supply for in the very uttering of them Christ imparted, not only demanded. The impartation, the supply fully met the demand. But what was the evidence of this? Physical movement and function. The dead lived! If there were no movement this would be evidence that life was absent. And what is the evidence of the fact that the holy demands of God's law have been met and fulfilled in the dead sinner by the abounding grace of God? Righteousness! This is spiritual life!
The principles of law, grace,
and righteousness are just that--principles--and as such have
no dispensational boundaries. There are dispensational considerations
and aspects of these principles, however. It must be remembered
that dispensations are historical expressions of eternal principles.
The principles are built into the very nature of things but God
graciously instructs us in a system of progression. This involves
dispensationalism. It is not the purpose of this article to set
forth a dispensational study of these principles, interesting
as that study is. Suffice it to say that in the dispensations
of Law, Grace, and Kingdom, there exists a parallel to the Godhead,
three principles operated all through human history. The ultimate and perfect expression of God's will was revealed at Sinai. The dispensation of law teaches primarily the will of the Father. With the revelation of the Son, there is presented the perfect expression of grace at Calvary, the broad scope of which in its benefits to all humanity is doctrinally developed in the Epistles. With the future pouring out of the Holy Spirit there shall be ushered in an age of righteousness as earth's King stands upon the Mount of Olives.
The law converts the soul by demanding obedience of the disobedient by presenting a standard to which one must conform. But this implies the offer and supply of grace, which converts by imparting divine power. But this conversion without exception is demonstrated in righteousness which converts by demonstrating the outward change of life. Righteousness cannot be demonstrated without law, which defines it. Righteousness cannot be practiced without grace, which supplies it.
May God grant that the reader,
delighting in the law of God, may renounce the flesh and avail
himself of the abundance of His grace "that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled
in us who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."
"And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that
ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to
every good work."