Grace in Government

 •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 11
Listen from:
It has often been correctly stated that grace and government are separate aspects of God’s dealings with man, and that while they run together, they do not annul one another. Grace does not cancel government, but neither does government revoke grace. However, there is another most important characteristic of God’s ways with us, and that is that God will never allow government to become more prominent than His grace. Rather, grace will always be paramount, for God delights to bless. Another has most aptly commented that “God is light, and we make Him a judge by our sins, but God is also love, and none have made Him so.” When the necessity for judgment and government has long passed away, grace and love will be celebrated for all eternity.
The Golden Calf
There are a number of occasions in both the Old and New Testaments where we see this precious truth exhibited. When the children of Israel sinned seriously in the making of the golden calf, God’s righteous judgment demanded that they be consumed (Ex. 32:9-109And the Lord said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people: 10Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation. (Exodus 32:9‑10)). But Moses, no doubt with the mind of the Lord, interceded for the people, and God acted in grace. His grace did not eliminate His government, however, for we read that “there fell of the people that day about three thousand men” (Ex. 32:2828And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men. (Exodus 32:28)). However, God in His grace was able to go on with His people and pardon their sin, although the tabernacle was no longer in the midst of the camp.
Later, we see the same grace toward Moses himself. His sin of smiting the rock instead of speaking to it (Num. 20:7-117And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, 8Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink. 9And Moses took the rod from before the Lord, as he commanded him. 10And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock? 11And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also. (Numbers 20:7‑11)) resulted in his not being allowed to lead the people into the land of Canaan. Yet the Lord gave him a signal honor, in that he took him up to the top of the mountain of Nebo (Pisgah), where he was able to view almost all of the land, from north to south. To view as much of the land as is recorded (Deut. 34:1-41And Moses went up from the plains of Moab unto the mountain of Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, that is over against Jericho. And the Lord showed him all the land of Gilead, unto Dan, 2And all Naphtali, and the land of Ephraim, and Manasseh, and all the land of Judah, unto the utmost sea, 3And the south, and the plain of the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, unto Zoar. 4And the Lord said unto him, This is the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, saying, I will give it unto thy seed: I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes, but thou shalt not go over thither. (Deuteronomy 34:1‑4)), he would have had to see almost 100 miles in every direction. Since Mt. Nebo is only about 2,300 feet above sea level, this was a miracle that the Lord allowed, as to see that distance naturally from this height would normally have been impossible.
We come to Samson, who was twice delivered from women with whom he should not have kept company, but the third time, when he dallied with Delilah, God in His government allowed him to be overcome by the Philistines. But grace intervened at the end, when Samson requested once more to be strengthened by the Lord (Judg. 16:2828And Samson called unto the Lord, and said, O Lord God, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes. (Judges 16:28)). God granted his request, and in breaking the supporting pillars of the building in which he was at the time, “the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life” (Judg. 16:39). Not only were thousands of the Philistines slain at this time, but God’s glory was vindicated, for the Philistines had ascribed their victory over Samson to their god Dagon.
We pass on to David, and we are all familiar with his sin with Bathsheba. God’s grace forgave his sin (2 Sam. 12:1313And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord. And Nathan said unto David, The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die. (2 Samuel 12:13)), but God’s government demanded that he restore fourfold. In fact, David himself pronounced his own sentence (2 Sam. 12:66And he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity. (2 Samuel 12:6)), when Nathan the prophet used an illustration to convey to David the gravity of his sin. David did in fact restore fourfold, as four of his sons subsequently died—the first baby born to Bathsheba, Absalom, Amnon, and eventually Adonijah. However, it is evidence of God’s grace that Adonijah did not die until after David had himself passed away; he did not live to see the final result of God’s government.
Finally, when we come to the New Testament, we do indeed find God’s grace abounding. While we find that God’s government continues to operate, it might rather be called the government of the Father, for we are now in a far more intimate relationship with God in this day of His grace. God’s grace was surely active in the Old Testament, but the whole economy before the cross was one of law, where man was under testing. Now God is dealing with this world in grace, and believers enjoy a relationship that was never experienced before.
Saul of Tarsus
In keeping with this relationship, we find the government of the Father exemplified in the beloved Apostle Paul. As Saul of Tarsus, he richly deserved to fall under God’s government as an unbeliever, for he persecuted the church of God. But grace picked him up and made of him possibly the greatest servant the Lord ever had. However, his life even as a Christian was not free of failure.
After ministering to the Gentiles for many years, he greatly desired to go up to Jerusalem, to seek the blessing of his own nation, the Jews. In spite of the fact that the Lord Himself had told him that “they [the Jews] will not receive thy testimony concerning Me” (Acts 22:1818And saw him saying unto me, Make haste, and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem: for they will not receive thy testimony concerning me. (Acts 22:18)) and that the universal testimony of his brethren was that he should not go up to Jerusalem, Paul went ahead. When in Jerusalem, he even went so far as to take part in a Jewish ritual of purifying, along with four Jewish men (Acts 21:17-2617And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. 18And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present. 19And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry. 20And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law: 21And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs. 22What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come. 23Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them; 24Them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law. 25As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication. 26Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them entered into the temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them. (Acts 21:17‑26)). This eventually resulted in a riot by the Jews and Paul’s arrest by the Romans.
Paul’s Imprisonment
We cannot help but admire Paul’s zeal for his own nation, but he did suffer under the government of God for going against God’s expressed direction for him. He spent over two years in prison in Caesarea, then a further two years in prison in Rome, and between these prison terms he had a most hazardous journey from Caesarea to Rome. Yet in all this we see the abounding grace of God.
First of all, the Lord gave Paul two very special communications along the way (Acts 21:11; 27:23-2411And when he was come unto us, he took Paul's girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles. (Acts 21:11)
23For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, 24Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee. (Acts 27:23‑24)
), assuring him of His love and care and telling him to “be of good cheer” and to “fear not.” Despite his failure, the Lord confirmed to him that He could, and would, continue to use him in blessing to others. More than this, he was given the unique opportunity of speaking privately and publicly before some of the highest Roman leaders, as the Lord had foretold to Ananias (Acts 9:1515But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: (Acts 9:15)). Finally, God’s grace triumphed in that during Paul’s time in Rome, he was able to write the so-called “prison epistles” of Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians and Philemon. (Second Timothy was also written from a Roman prison, but not at the same time as the others.) God overruled so that the church might in all ages have the benefit of Paul’s ministry, for there is no doubt that what he wrote has had a far more widespread effect than what he preached during his lifetime.
All this was indeed the government of the Father, who on the one hand made His servant feel the effect of his failure, yet encouraged him along the way and used it all for blessing in the end. While there is no excuse for our failure, God looks at the motives of our hearts and does not allow Satan to prevail through that failure. God is indeed a God of government, in keeping with His character of light, but His grace tempers His government and triumphs in the end.
W. J. Prost