When we try to follow the Law and Christ, we’ve drifted away from the gospel, making it powerless. This is clearly Paul’s message in Galatians. In fact, he goes so far as to say they are cursed for doing so (see Gal.1:6-9). This is confusing for many devoted believers because they often confuse “grace-only” with license to sin, but this is no more true than that being legalistic gives you license to sin.
If I live under the Law, I can just hide my sin and play the religious hypocrite. If I just say I’m under grace, I can play the spiritual refugee and sin without repentance. These are the elder and prodigal brother bookends in Jesus’ story, respectively (Luke 15:11-32).
We must learn what both brothers had to learn, which is that everything we’re looking for is found in the relationship with our heavenly Father in Christ:
31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” (Luke 15:31 NIV)
And the only power to live a godly life is found in Christ’s life, and His life can only be accessed by grace through faith. The Law can never produce the righteousness of God, so the gospel cannot have anything whatsoever do with keeping the Law. As Paul says here:
21 “So that is why I don’t view God’s grace as something minor or peripheral. For if keeping the law could release God’s righteousness to us, the Anointed One would have died for nothing.” (Gal.2:21 TPT*)
As I’ve said in the past here, and in my book, Sonshift, the Law and grace are like opposite goal lines on a football field. When you run toward one, you’re running away from the other. To use Jesus’ metaphor, you cannot mix new wine in old wine skins. You must choose: either follow the Law or follow Christ. You cannot follow both.
4 You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. (Gal.5:4 NKJV*)
Law and grace are mutually exclusive because the Law requires our performance, but grace requires Christ’s performance in us. You must surrender the former in order to benefit from the latter. As soon as you attempt to make yourself right with the Law, you forfeit the power of Christ working in you. This is foundational to the gospel. We must begin by repenting from our dead works and put our faith fully toward God (Heb.6:1). And we must be careful to not pick the Law back up again once we’ve surrendered our hearts to Christ. This is what the foolish Galatians did, and Paul said they were bewitched (Gal.3:1), much like Eve in the Garden.
But we must also see that when we talk about grace we’re not talking about something passive, which is how a lot of Christians superficially define it. It’s not just getting something we don’t deserve, it’s the power of Christ’s life working in us.
Christ’s Spirit lives in us in order to train us and empowers us as He lives His life through us. This is the grace of God:
11 God’s marvelous grace has manifested in person, bringing salvation for everyone. 12 This same grace teaches us how to live each day as we turn our backs on ungodliness and indulgent lifestyles, and it equips us to live self-controlled, upright, godly lives in this present age. (Titus 2:11-12 TPT*)
Trying to add the Law to the gospel is putting oneself under the power of the Law of Sin and Death; it’s still earthbound, eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. But Christ has freed us to live according to His life in the Spirit (see Rom.8:1-4). When we’re alive to Christ’s resurrection power, we’re dead to sin’s power (Rom.6:2-11).
So, it’s not a question of effort but displacement. We let go of one to receive the other as a free gift. In other words, whose power are you using to follow Jesus in this world? Are you living according to your own internal law of “trying harder next time?” Are you living according to your efforts or His? The former is taxing, frustrating, leading to bondage; the latter is full of His joy, unfathomable love, leading to boundless freedom.
You decide which it will be.
In this regard, I really like how The Passion Translation renders this very familiar verse:
20 “My old identity has been co-crucified with Messiah and no longer lives; for the nails of his cross crucified me with him. And now the essence of this new life is no longer mine, for the Anointed One lives his life through me—we live in union as one! My new life is empowered by the faith of the Son of God who loves me so much that he gave himself for me, and dispenses his life into mine! (Gal.2:20 TPT*)
This is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Anything other than this is empty religion—a “fake gospel,” as Paul put it (Gal.1:6-7 TPT). It’s humanistic, powerless, and deceptive because it appeals to our religious propensity to eat from the wrong Tree. We must repent and surrender all our efforts to Christ, letting Him empower everything we do as we learn to remain in His love and live according to the power of His endless life.