A Tale of Two Teachers
“For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
Romans 8:3-4 (NIV UK)
I grew up as a grandson of immigrants. Both of my grandfathers came to America as adults, one fleeing revolution and the other seeking his fortune. Both of them shared a similarity—both hoped to see their culture passed down to their grandchildren. And so I endured many an afternoon of ‘tutoring’.
My Russian grandfather would recite the Russian alphabet as if he was announcing a cattle auction. I tried hard to keep up. When he’d finished, he’d say, “Now you try.” I’d start and make a few letters in, but sooner or later I’d always fail. And with each failure, my Russian grandfather would threaten to spank me if I didn’t do better next time.
On the other hand, my Greek grandfather wanted me to learn Greek. He took a different approach. He would start slow, saying the first five letters of the Greek alphabet before pausing and giving me the chance actually to learn. When I needed help, he graciously stepped in, prompting me. And when I succeeded, he always rewarded me with a slice of baklava.
Both wanted me to learn their language, but one worked as a taskmaster of the Law, prodding me on, disappointed whenever I made a mistake, and trying to motivate me mainly by threats. The other worked under the code of grace, gently and patiently working with me, step by step—forgiving a misstep and rewarding success with love. But let me be clear, I don’t mean for anyone to conclude that I loved one grandfather more than the other. That’s just not true. In fact, I love them both—just as I love both the law and grace. What I want to show you is that grace is more powerful than the law to bring about God’s good purposes. That’s what Paul is writing about in the scripture quoted above.
God made a covenant of grace with Israel, to be their God and to enable them to be a channel of blessing to the future generations of all the families of the earth. The law was added in 430 years later to give them clear instruction about how to live within that covenant and to serve notice as to when they were departing from it. It was never meant to give them righteous loving hearts. It couldn’t protect them from temptation to sin. It was weak and could never bring about God’s covenant purposes for his people. It was mostly simply demanding and condemning. But by the working of God’s grace in us we are given new natures. The Holy Spirit gives us a share in Christ’s own mind and heart and we are transformed from the inside out and enabled to live a Christ-centred life as his beloved children.
Wonderful Father, you have wonderfully worked out a way for us to share your “culture”, to learn your language of faith hope and love, and to become channels of your blessings to others. In Jesus’ name, we pray.
Study by Joseph Tkach
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