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The Lord by wisdom founded the earth;
By understanding He established the heavens.
Prov. 3:19

Part 4 - The Application of Faith

Abiding in the Rule and Grace of Christ

A fourth place of abiding in Christ is abiding in His rule. The sanctifying work of Christ has set the believer out from under the rule and condemnation of the Law into the rule of Christ. As Head of the body of Christ and as Lord, Jesus rules over His people. This rule is of a different nature than the rule of the Law. It is likened to both the rule of a shepherd over his flock and the rule of a husband over his wife. It is a rule of love and grace. The rule of Christ over His bride is one of concern for her well-being and edification. To abide in Christ is to abide in His rule of love and grace. This is opposed to abiding in legalism.

Abiding in legalism

Those who abide in legalism live under the pressure of being accepted by God based on performance. Legalistic living looks for God's blessing based on the keeping of God's laws. This is a performance based relationship to God. In this context a person will imagine God to be angry with him during failure to live up to the standards of the law. During the time of failure one feels that God's wrath and condemnation are upon him, and that punishment will come. When one feels that he has lived up to the standards of the law he will feel that God should accept and bless him. Under legalism one expects either wrath or blessing based on performance.

Legalism underestimates the holiness of God and ignores propitiation through Christ. The holiness of God is so great that no sin, no matter how small, can go unanswered. Nothing short of perfection can be acceptable to a holy God. Those striving for acceptance by God based on performance must of necessity set a standard of righteousness that falls short of God's perfect standard. They may even set a relative standard based on other people's performance. This underestimates the holiness of God because it imagines that God will accept a righteousness that is short of perfection. God's standard is perfect love toward Him and other human beings. There is not even one moment in time that any person lives up to this standard. All are in one category: sinner. The Bible states, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). The law was given in part to teach this important lesson.

Abiding in grace

The Scripture continues: "being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (Rom. 3:24-26). Propitiation by the blood of Christ opens the way for life under grace. God's wrath for sin has been placed upon Jesus Christ who died in the place of every believer. To abide in the rule and grace of Christ requires a faith that sin has been dealt with through the atonement of Christ. It requires an acceptance that one's righteousness is the perfect righteousness of Christ imputed to the believer. This leaves no place for boasting or pride on the part of those in Christ.

Paul the Apostle wrote to the Galatians, "You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace" (Gal. 5:4). Here the word "estranged" means to do away with or make of no effect. In legalism Jesus Christ is ignored and done away with. One who lives in legalism has "fallen from grace." Abiding in Christ and living in legalism are incompatible.

Paul states, "Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another; to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God" (Rom. 7:4). What cannot be accomplished through legalism can be accomplished through the rule and grace of Christ. The place of being "married" to Christ rather than the law is the place where one can "bear fruit to God."

In Jesus Christ the believer lives in grace. Grace is not to be confused with mercy. Mercy is not getting what one deserves. Mercy has been shown to sinners in that Christ has suffered in their place. Grace on the other hand is getting what one does not deserve. It is God's unmerited favor. Mercy is passive but grace is active. It is God's work in a person's life to restore and transform. To abide in Christ is to abide in His grace. As lord, Jesus is conforming His people into His own image through grace. The believer is to submit to this process by abiding in grace, considering that God's help is received freely apart from merit.

"If you keep my commandments ..."

Jesus said, "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. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:10-12). Jesus further said, "You are My friends if you do whatever I command you" (John 15:14). The sanctifying work of Christ did not just set the believer apart from the rule of the law. It also set the believer apart unto the rule of Christ.

The commandments of Jesus are not the same as the commandments of the Law of Moses. The commandments of Jesus are those which instruct and lead a person to come unto Him and live in Him. The commandments of Jesus lead one to find in Christ an atoning sacrifice, Mediator, Priest, Lord, Shepherd, and Husband. John records of the Jews: "Then they said to Him, 'What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?' Jesus answered and said to them, 'This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent' " (John 6:28-29).

The summation of the Law of Moses is perfect love for God and perfect love for fellow human beings. Jesus fulfilled this law, not missing "one jot or one tittle." Jesus submitted to the love of the Father as a perfect man, and this through the power of the Holy Spirit. As a man Jesus was an instrument through which the love of God could flow. In this context Jesus said, "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." The believer is not called to generate or try to duplicate the love of God. The believer is called to be joined to Christ so that God's love can flow into him and through him. This can only happen through grace in Christ.

The fruit of love

When Paul wrote that love is the fruit of the Spirit, he added this, "Against such there is no law" (Gal. 5:23). The characteristics of God's love cannot be generated under the law. The law can point to that which is of love but it cannot give a person power to fulfill it. Jesus has brought the believer out from under the rule of the law into His own rule where grace is available. By grace "it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13). This is the work of the Spirit through Jesus Christ. This work of God's Spirit is quenched by legalism.

The illustration that Jesus gave of abiding in Him is that of a branch connected to the vine (John 15). Those in Christ are the branches and He is the vine. Fruitfulness comes from being joined to the vine. The branches don't produce fruit in order to qualify to be joined to the vine, as legalism portrays. Fruit comes naturally and freely because the branch is first joined to the vine. By grace one lives in Christ where God's Spirit produces fruit. Grace comes first and the fruit naturally follows.

The evidence of abiding in Christ is the fruit of love. This is love for the lost, love for God, love for fellow believers, and love for the Redeemer Jesus Christ. The just shall live by faith. A genuine faith will result in abiding in Christ which will result in fruit. James wrote, "Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, 'You have faith, and I have works.' Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works" (James 2:17-18). This Scripture complements Jesus' illustration of the vine and branches and shows what a genuine and living faith in Christ will result in: works of love. The solution to a lack of good works in one's life however is not legalism, but rather life under the rule and grace of Jesus Christ where the Holy Spirit flows in and through the believer.

Paul concluded his second letter to the Corinthians with this: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen" (2 Cor. 13:14). This is the environment of life under the rule of Christ, and these are familiar elements to those abiding in Christ as the Life.