To the Wicked, Grace Doesn’t Come First


[photo by Mr. Stein on flickr]

Not too long ago, I had a conversation with a fellow school administrator about how to deal with our lawless students. She firmly believed that we, as educators, ought to give students as much grace as possible before giving them law. This, to her, was exactly how we “show Christ’s love.” I disagreed then, and I still do. Here’s why: this principle is the exact opposite of God’s.

God gives law to the proud and grace to the humble. As Ray Comfort says, “You will never see the Lord Jesus giving grace to a proud, arrogant, self-righteous person. He doesn’t do it.” But, where Ray applies it mainly to evangelism (and we should), I’m applying it to all of our dealings with others, particularly with children.

Thinking Like a Child
When I was a child (I might say with Paul), I thought as a child. I hated law. And as a young adult, I mostly still did. I remembered my angry chaffing at “legalistic” teachers and principals and didn’t want to be like them. But, even as a child, I knew it was worse for teachers to give a pass to a prideful child (sometimes even their own child!) instead of giving them their lawful consequences.

But as time in the classroom went on, I became a father, too. And I learned the truth that, in this fallen world, everything still runs on rules and regulations. It’s just the way things go, because that’s the way God wants the world to operate. He wants us to learn the principle of sowing and reaping. He wants us to learn His economy of sin and consequences. He wants us to know about motives, actions, and just deserts.

False Grace Barricades True Righteousness
Isaiah makes this perfectly clear when he preaches in Isaiah 26:9-10:

    When your judgments are in the earth,
        the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.
    If favor is shown to the wicked,
        he does not learn righteousness;
    in the land of uprightness he deals corruptly
        and does not see the majesty of the LORD.

Here’s the proposition: If grace (“favor” in verse 10) is given to the wicked, then that false showing of grace obscures the wicked man’s ability to “learn righteousness.” In other words, to the arrogant, a lying grace barricades true righteousness. And, since true righteousness is the display of God’s glory, this lying grace further blinds him from “see(ing) the majesty of the LORD,” (verse 10).

Therefore, any insistence on grace to the proud is:

  1. A lie. Grace to the proud is not true grace.
  2. Dishonorable and degrading to the name and character of God. It mangles His majesty and rends His righteousness.
  3. Harmful and dishonest to the proud student. This slithering, mangling “grace” teaches no grace at all, but pictures a cuckhold of a God who winks at our sin.

Law Isn’t Evil
But it feels so “mean” to use the law, right? The law is good, Paul says, when it is used lawfully. It is for the evil, adulterous, dishonest, greedy, sexually immoral, violent, and oppressive people in our midst. We ought to use it. We must use it.

But using the law doesn’t mean that we must use it with a legalistic spirit. The law must be the tutor to bring people to Christ. So use it, teachers, to show your own conscience and that of your students that we have all failed before God’s holiness and stand in need of His mercy. Then, your consequences must be fair, just, quick, and loving, given with an eye toward repentance and restoration.

The Use and Consequences of Law
Consequences should match the crimes. For example, when a student skips class, she should receive a zero for the day and come back after school to make the class up, missing any extracurriculars or other commitments. When a student steals something, he needs to return it, pay it back again, and receive a in-school manual labor suspension. When a student cheats on a test, he has earned the right to get a zero on that test, no opportunity to replace the grade, and a short-term suspension. Anything less than these consequences teach students a lie about God’s character and His economy in the world.

But all of these very fair consequences must also be used redemptively, with the stated goal of repentance (reparations and consequences aren’t necessarily repentance) and restoration. Once the student deals with her consequences and returns, she must be as full a part of the school as her own attitude will allow.

The Economy of God
These things must be so because this is how God has structured our lives in a fallen world. We need the law to teach us right from wrong, we need it to establish boundaries and standards in our lives, and we need it to teach us that we are unable to live up to God’s holiness. Indeed, we must never think that anything but the blood of Jesus can save us.

Proverbs 22:15 says it this way:
    Folly is bound up in the heart of a child,
        but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.

And all the parents, youth workers, and teachers say, “Amen.” We must discipline and apply the law and its consequences, as is appropriate regarding our calling and relationships, in order to teach people the majesty of God.

When a law-breaker learns to stand before the enthroned King and say, “Woe is me! I am undone!” then he is well-positioned, the Bible says, to cry out for mercy to the Son of David, the King of Israel, the Christ of God, who kept the law in the place of everyone who repents and believes.

So don’t give the wicked in your midst a false grace, give them the very real law and its consequences, that it would train them toward Jesus Christ.

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About B Treece
loved by God before I ever loved Him, saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone by the authority of the Bible alone to the glory of God alone, made to enjoy Him forever, happily married with wonder-filled children.

8 Responses to To the Wicked, Grace Doesn’t Come First

  1. Charlie Marquez says:

    With all of the press that the gospel and grace have been getting lately, it was only a matter of time before the counter-reformation would begin. I have read so many who are fearful of grace and liberty because of the potential for antinomianism. However, in every case, people are reacting against and fearful of lawlessness not grace. Grace without law is not grace at all. The gospel of grace presumes a God who is so holy, who’s laws so unattainable that grace alone is the believers only hope at His acceptance. It does not mean that we don’t preach the law as God’s righteous requirements, it necessitates that we do. However, only Christ’s perfect fulfillment and sacrificial death meet the requirements of the Law for us. That grace allows us to rest in the righteousness of our Savior. We rest from our works righteousness to appease Him, however it also inspires us to righteous works that please him.

    • B Treece says:

      Charlie,
      Thanks for dropping by. Yes, I totally agree, and I’ve found it important to distinguish between the use of law toward believers and unbelievers. Knowing the difference between its use in “bottoming out” a man’s self-justification to point him to Christ-justification and its (false) use in “sanctification,” which is really only legalism, is similar and equally important.

      All of that to say, I agree, and am still working many of these things out. I’m thankful for your clarity.

      Britt
      crossonmyback

  2. Charlie Marquez says:

    Well said. Enjoy the journey. His grace is truly amazing. The same grace that sets us free from legalism, trains us in righteous works as worship. Tit 2:11-12. Grace and Peace to you.

  3. savedbygrace says:

    It was the Pharisees who didn’t received from Jesus when Jesus manifested Grace.

    The Law makes one proud.
    Law affects one mind. It prevented the Pharisees from understanding Love, when Jesus healed a blind man by spitting on mud on Sabbath day.

    Grace makes one love and loving
    Grace affects the heart. It allows the wicked, sinner from receiving from Jesus.

    The two persons who has great faith in the bible are the
    Centurion and the Syrophoenician woman –
    BOTH ARE GENTILES… THEY KNEW NOTHING OF THE LAW

    also, the rich man, self righteous – who came to Jesus, who was obedient to the Law, did everything according to the Law. Jesus gave him the Law and one thing He lack. give to the poor all your wealth.. and the man simply cannot.

    (Luke 18:20-23)

    now another rich man named Zacchaeus, a sinner – but then Jesus came to Him. Grace came to Him. He was found. and at the end, Jesus did not require him to give to the poor and yet Zacchaeus said

    “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I am giving to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone, I am paying it back four times as much!”

    amazing…. amazing grace….

    The use of Law is indeed to show us, how limited we are. to show our sinfulness.

    “For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.”
    – Romans 3:20

    But the Grace of God. Empowers us over sin.

    “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace”
    – Romans 6:14

    oh boy… long post..so sorry…

    grace and peace

    • B Treece says:

      Savedbygrace,

      I first want to say that I love your emphasis on grace, justification by faith alone, our need for grace over law, etc. I love all of that, and how God has used it in my life!

      My point in this post was to say that the Law, used rightly (pointed at the sinner’s conscience to show failure, not obedience), is a tutor to bring people to Christ. The Holy Spirit uses the law and the conscience to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment.

      You are, of course, completely right about the way that the proud use the law to self-justfy, but that is the same problem as godless people taking advantage of grace (which also happens all too often). My point, again, was that the law exists to humble the proud, that *then* God might give grace to the humble. But it doesn’t work the other way, biblically.

      Grace and peace to you, sbg,

      Britt
      crossonmyback

      • Charlie Marquez says:

        I think we could all talk about this all day. One point to B Treece – I think grace gets a bad rap for lawlessness. People don’t take advantage of grace. You can’t take advantage of grace. You can only disregard God’s law, and that has nothing to do with grace. Grace is unearned free liberating freedom to the sinner powerless to meet God’s holy standard. The willfully sinful godless man is not taking advantage of grace when he does what he does. He is simply living godlessly. And that has nothing to do with grace. Titus 2:11 -12 says that grace trains the regenerate heart for godliness. Godless men know nothing of grace.

      • savedbygrace says:

        what you said is indeed true.

        grace and peace

      • savedbygrace says:

        Absolutely charlie.. you are right.

        @”You can’t take advantage of grace”
        – totally agreed. when you are under grace, grace takes over you.
        – sin shall have no dominion over you, when under grace

        @”The willfully sinful godless man is not taking advantage of grace when he
        does what he does”
        – I couldn’t agree more.
        – unbelievers sin, because they are sinners because of Adams sin.
        – by one man’s offence, the entire world is made sinner.

        @”Godless men know nothing of grace.”
        – the world understood grace as the one defined in the dictionary.
        – a grace that covers your law breaking… or when you’re late for class,
        you have 30 min grace period.
        – the world abuse grace this way.

        I can spend my whole life talking about Jesus and his love.. but that will fill up this entire comment..
        🙂

        thank you all

        grace and peace

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