Legal Restraints Contrasted With Ways of Grace

Ephesians 5  •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Eph. 5
It is a serious thing, while full of comfort and warning to our souls as well, that there is nothing that so condemns sin as grace. The law condemns it no doubt but the law in itself never judges the nature. It condemns acts. If applied by the Spirit of God, it leads one to gather what the tree must be from the fruit. It infers what the nature is, but it does not directly, and immediately, and entirely deal with it. Grace does. "What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son" (that is grace) "in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin" (as a sacrifice for it), "condemned sin in the flesh." Rom. 8:33For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: (Romans 8:3). God condemned the nature, root and branch, and executed His sentence upon all that man is in his best estate. No disguises could stand now—no excuses—all was brought into the full light of God Himself, and all condemned. It is the same thing from first to last.
Grace is that which strips off all the thin veils with which the flesh would cover itself in order that we should not learn what we are. Grace, while it puts away what we are, yet gives us the privilege of learning it, puts us on God's side to execute His judgment upon it, and enables us to deal with it with an unsparing hand just because we have a new nature given from God. We can afford to mortify cur members which are upon the earth because we have a new and divine life that death and Satan cannot touch. And therefore it is, you will find, that in those parts of Scripture where grace is most fully brought out, there we have the closest exhortations to holiness. Consequently, whenever souls are afraid of grace, they avoid the only thing which can produce real holiness; they avoid the only thing which can detect and destroy the vain show in which they are walking.
But there is another and a very serious thing for those who have received the grace of God, and who profess to stand in it. It is this, "God is not mocked." He will not allow that the name of His Son should ever be allied with evil. He will not allow that His grace should be pleaded as an excuse for sin. Grace has stretched out His hand and has plucked us from hell to carry us straight from the jaws of death into heaven itself; no less than this is done in principle when we receive the Lord Jesus. We are taken out of the net of the spoiler and set in the hand of the Father and of the Son, whence none shall pluck us. But if this be so, what is the practical purpose of God in it? What does He intend that we should do under the shelter of this almighty grace which has wrought such marvels for us? Assuredly, that we should never allow the natural evil of our hearts-that we should watch for God and be jealous for Him against ourselves. We are taken out of ourselves and transplanted into Christ. We become, therefore, (if we have faith in Him—if it be a real work of the Holy Ghost) identified in feeling with the Lord; we are put in the interests of God, if I may so say, against our own corrupt nature against evil everywhere, but above all wherever the name of Christ is named.
We have nothing directly to do with the corrupt world outside, but we have everything to do with our own corrupt nature, much to do with it for God, wherever it dares to show itself. In love to one another, and jealousy for the Lord, we may have to deal with it even in another; but then it must always be in holy love. For even where we have to watch over one another for the Lord, it is never in the spirit of law-never merely to condemn the evil, and then leave a person under the effects of his folly and sin.
But let us listen to a few words spoken to the Ephesian saints. First, in a verse or two of chapter 4: "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you." Evidently there you have what is to guide and form the spirit of my walk with my brethren. Is that all? No. It not only takes up our spirit toward one another, but we are reminded what God's way is toward us: "forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you." Then it goes on to another thing.
The Lord Jesus did not merely die to put away my sin, but to give me the immense privilege of being put before God in all His acceptance and loveliness. I could not be in heaven if it were not so—if it were only that sin were put away. God cannot have anything in heaven that is merely negative. Mere absence of evil is not enough there. If we are to be in heaven at all, God must have us there lovely in all the loveliness of Christ; and that, as far as the new man is concerned, He communicates to us here. Accordingly, it is said to us, "Be ye therefore followers [imitators] of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us." That is going further. A person might forgive another, but there might still be reserve remaining—a shutting oneself up in one's own little circle. Here on the contrary, we find there is to be the energy that goes out—the love which delights in another's good. It is the activity of love going out toward the saints. "Walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us."
But then another thing comes to light. There is danger even among the saints of God. The devil can come in and turn brotherly love to a snare, and this not only in the way of positive evil being allowed to break out, but in the unjudged tendency to it. "But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient; but rather giving of thanks." The Lord in no way forbids the happy cheerfulness which He loves in His saints. He does not call us to be monks, which is men's way of keeping the flesh under restraint, and only another form of self. We may have self under a legal form, and self under a lax form; but under any form it is not Christ, and the only thing which God values now is Christ.
"For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God." This raises a serious question for all of us. These are exhortations, not merely to apply to other people, to measure them by, but to take home to ourselves. They are for saints, not for the world. No doubt we find the evil warned against in the world, and our hearts ought to feel for those who shall have no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. But, remember that the primary object of the Holy Ghost was to warn and guard the saints themselves, who, desiring to watch against the evil distance of the flesh, will, directly they come together, find the danger of another thing, and that is evil nearness. Who then can take care of us if such be the dangers that surround us? Only God—but God still acting in the way of grace.
There is no reason why a soul should not have perfect confidence in God against self. But wherever there is the desire to have our own will and our own evil thoughts gratified—wherever there is the wish to have our way according to the flesh—depend upon it, the judgment of God will be there, unless the grace of God interferes to deliver the soul. This is a solemn thing, and one that we need to lay to heart. For the Lord is jealous on our behalf and He is jealous for His own glory. Therefore, may we be watchful. May we remember what He has written: that if "The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His," be on the one side, "Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity," is on the other. "Depart from iniquity." Is it possible that such a word could be said to the saints of God? Yes. It is the word of the Holy Ghost Himself, wherever the name of Christ is named. Let our souls then hold fast grace; but let us remember that the object of all the grace which has been manifested to us is that we serve God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear. It is always so.
There is another thought which seems to me of value—that sin, when looked at in the presence of God, always acquires its true name and character. I am not allowed to gloss over it and call it by a name that men might give it. For instance, there are a thousand things that men would call polite. What does God call them? A lie. Again, there are many things that men would say are allowable in the way of business. What does God call them? Dishonesty and covetousness. Such is God's sentence. And would we escape from it? No.
May we be jealous not to allow in ourselves the smallest thing that is contrary to God. What a list of things the Spirit of God here warns me against! I can look within and know how the heart there answers to the Word of God without that which has already put me on my guard. If I despise the warning, what then? I shall prove what I am, to the dishonor of the name of the Lord Jesus, and my own shame and sorrow. What an effect of a moment's gratification! If then a little word is as the letting out of water, what is a little act of sin, where it is allowed? The Lord keep us from little sins—keep us watchful, jealous, careful, but at the same time never letting slip grace -rather reminding and strengthening one another in that perfect grace in which we stand.
Let us remember that He who hath called us to watch against these things, has also called us to thank Him, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, always and for all things. Even if we have to humble ourselves before God for what we are, we are never to forget what Christ is for us and to us.
May we be kept faithful and circumspect in our ways for the Lord Jesus' sake.
"As He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy: for I am holy."