"Here is a question for you Julie: I fully agree with what you say about legalism, but when I read the gospels, Jesus spends a lot of time giving commands. He says things like "If you love me, keep my commandments", "If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love." (Jn 15:10) and then "Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him." (Jn 14:21). My problem is how to relate this to grace. I firmly believe that God's love for me is not conditional on my performance, so how am I to understand these verses?"
I remember when these kinds of questions were rattling around in my brain as I read and re-read Romans and Galatians. I would read a glorious passage about God's grace and immediately that loud and obnoxious 'BUT' would resound in my tired little brain. 'But, but, but , what about all the New Testament commands? Didn't Jesus make the law even harder?' (i.e. instead of don't commit adultery, don't even look at a woman with lust... (Mat. 5:28) So I decided to have a look at 1 John since I remembered it as book that is tough on us, you know, not much grace for you if you sin, a good old pull-yourself-up-by-the-boot-straps no-nonsense book of the Bible. That's how I was always taught it growing up in the church anyway.
So lets have a look then. One thing I was searching for was some clearer meaning on what Jesus meant by 'commands'. What commands was he talking about?
I was shocked to find that 1 John commands very little, I mean, if you're making a list of commands, it's going to be pretty short. And I was delighted to find a very clear passage telling exactly what God's commandments are!
"And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in him, and he in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us." (1 John 3:23-24)
Not only that, but I found assurance that I'm already keeping his commandments because I have the Holy Spirit. In fact I discovered the whole book to be not designed to make me question me salvation but to assure me of God's love and my place in him. Rather than being harsh commands about not sinning, John points out that we no longer go on sinning the way we did as unbelievers and that this is proof that God's seed abides in us (1 John 3:9)
So 1 John 3:23-24, along with verses like:
"Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet," and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law." Romans 13:8-10
seem to echo what Jesus himself said:
"If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you." John 15:10-12
So my first answer to the problem is that Jesus' commands are not the same as the Law. We are now under the Law of the Spirit of life, as opposed to the law of sin and death (Romans 7:6, 8:2). We have died to the law (Romans 7:4-5) and we now live by the Spirit ALONE. We no longer have any relationship at all to the law. The only proper use for any part of the law is to convict unbelievers of their desperate need for a Saviour and Mediator who will wash away their sin and impart perfect righteousness to them so they can be acceptable to a Holy God.
As I read over the Scriptures dealing with 'law', I see that there are two distinct systems of law. One is the law as seen in the Old Covenant, the other is the law of Christ or law of the Spirit. If we confuse the two, we'll get into trouble. We are dead to the old law. We are not law-breakers or lawless, and we do not teach people who are married to the law to disregard it commit spiritual adultery, but we teach that if we die to the law then we are no longer subject to it (Romans 7:1-6). Our relationship with the law is completely over and now we are married to Christ so we obey Christ, not the law. To teach people that we should obey any part of the law is like teaching a wife that she should submit to another man besides her husband, and so lead her into adultery.
The second thing I want to throw out is just that Jesus had a reason for making the law 'harder'. He wanted those who thought rightousness could be gained through the law (either for justification OR sanctification, see Galatians 2:17-21)to see that it was a hopeless effort. He was trying to show them that they needed a Saviour.
I had a much longer Scripture-filled response to post and lost it all last night. I'm too eager to listen to Andrew Fountain's message so I'm ending it here. I'm sure there's a lot more I could say but I'm not going to, not right now anyway. Believe me, this topic will always be one of my favorites...grace, that is... Besides, I much rather you studied Romans/Galatians or listened to Rob Rufus or Terry Virgo or Andrew's message, or pretty much anyone else that you'll benefit from far more than from me!