I'm getting into this late and I am not really responding to any one person, but I am going to give me view on the whole Law vs. grace thing. But keep in mind this is detailed and long, but it gives what I think to be a framework in which to understand the Law and the Old Covenant with the New Covenant and grace. Also keep in mind that I am not going to quote verses for everything that I can quote for (that would take me a little while to get done), but if you want to know where I got something, I will gladly provide it.
First off, I find the whole "law vs. grace" idea to be a false dichotomy, as if to say that law and grace are in total opposition to each other. I could accept punishments of "law vs. grace" since grace is forgiveness, but this is not what is meant so much when people talking about the law and grace. Sometimes it is taken so far as to speak of law referring to any moral guideline and grace to be referring to the lack of moral guidelines one must follow. Even if it is not taken that far, it is sometimes see as following any type of law (and not just the Law of Moses) is a rejection of grace, and that is something that I do not accept either. Beyond that, it also paints the picture of those under the Old Covenant being saved by works whereas under the New Covenant people are saved by grace and do not have to follow any codes of conduct to remain saved.
I prefer to, instead, term things in matters of "the letter vs. the Spirit," which is the comparison that Paul himself uses. Even then, I don't see the letter (referring to the written Law of Moses) as being in opposition to the Spirit, but instead the letter being a code which, while it is good, does not perfectly govern all aspects of behavior. Then the Spirit alongside Jesus' teachings and example of his lifestyle can be seen as correcting and completing the Law. What do I mean by that though? In order to see that, I think we need to patterns of humanity as a whole in order to understand the purpose of the Law, which then in turn will reveal the purpose of Jesus and the Holy Spirit with the New Covenant.
Before we go into this though, let me give you frame work in which I see things from Adam and Eve till the future in the new earth:
| The age of innocence - From the creation of Adam and Eve till the fall of Adam and Eve |
The age of ignorance - From the fall of Adam and Eve till the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai
The age of the Law - From the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai till the death of the Messiah
The age of the Messiah - From the death of the Messiah the Baptist till the second coming of the Messiah
The age of perfect knowledge - From the second coming of the Messiah for eternity
Furthermore, I separate under the age of ignorance the time before Noah and the time after Noah.
Finally, I do not subscribe to the idea that after the fall all humanity was always totally wicked, but instead left to their own devices, humanity would fall deeper and deeper into wickedness.
So from the fall of Adam till the time of Noah, humanity kept falling deeper and deeper into wickedness. The result is that humanity came to the point that their hearts were thinking only evil constantly (Genesis 6:5), with the exception of Noah and his family. God's solution to this then was to destroy humanity through the flood except for Noah and his family. But then afterwards God said that he would not do what he had just done again. Furthermore, He states that from the point of youth (not infant hood but adolescence) people think of evil (not evil continuously necessarily). So if God will not destroy all the unrighteous as He just did but He wants to get rid of wickedness that people have as their enter their adolescence and prevent the decay of society that had previously happened, what would He do? He would do things that change the behaviors of men.
So fast forward to Moses. What does God do? He gives a law to govern the behavior of the Israelites. It was given because of transgressions, in order to curb them. However, there was four things about the Law of Moses that was given:
| 1) The Law did not stop people from sinning in the end, but as a result there were more transgressions with the Israelites corporately(Romans 5:20). A reason for this is given by Paul in Romans 7. |
2) The Law didn't give any solutions for the most part on what do do when there was a struggle to obey, but it simply demanded obedience. It left people for the most part without any solution to the problem of sin that they faced. There were a couple prescriptions given that did offer solutions, such as not marrying outside of the Jewish race and destroy idols and their altars, all in order to avoid idolatry. But advice like this was not common.
3) The Law did not speak of how to do what is right (righteousness), but instead said what not to do (sin). This corresponds to what Paul writes in Romans 3:20-22 (depending on the translation also) Thus, it can not make a man righteous itself because it only speaks of some forms of sin. It was incomplete as an all encompassing moral code. This is what Jesus states in Matthew 19:8-9. Divorce was permitted under the Law, but it in fact was not fine under any circumstances. Instead, the Law governed only part of the sinful behavior, but did not dictate the right thing to do was to stay married (with the exceptions of course). Why? Because people were stubborn and wouldn't because of stubbornness and ignorance accept a prohibition of divorce and so it would surely not be successful at stopping sin, but a demand for a certificate for a divorce might.
4) This goes somewhat along what number 3, but the problems with rules can be two fold. Sometimes, people find loopholes in the law where it should in fact apply. Also, sometimes a rule can be strictly applied to a situation when it should not be. No amount of rules, exceptions, and additions can ever successfully get rid of those two problems.
While the Law was not successful at getting rid of sin for all those whom were under it, it was part of God's plan to bring a solution to the sinfulness of humanity. And the Law itself was good, but it wasn't a perfect example of holiness, righteousness and good, but only a partial guidance. It at least the got rid of some ignorance.
Now fast forward to the time of Jesus. There seems to be a change of the message that was being preached. In Luke 16:16 it is said before John the Baptist the Law of Moses was preached, but with the John the Baptist and onward (including Jesus), a new message was delivered. And we can see that in the preaching of John the Baptist himself. In Luke 3:10-14, the Baptist teaches people to do things, such as sharing tunic or food with those who have none, which are not literally spoken of in the Law of Moses. The advice to the soldiers (presumably Roman and not Jewish) especially is not strictly in the Law.
Now one might say the meaning of those things were in the Law, and that is quite true. However, this is to go beyond the letter of the Law (which Paul speaks of) itself. In doing this, one then recognizes the Law of Moses is not complete but that there are some form of gaps in its governance of behavior.
Now John the Baptist and his preaching were precursors to the coming of the Messiah Jesus. It laid the ground work, so to speak, for the Jesus in commanding repentance and in teaching things that go beyond the Law of Moses. And we witness in Jesus similar teachings to John the Baptist. Compare for instance John in Matthew 3:10 and Luke 3:9 with Jesus in Matthew 7:9. Also consider that Jesus' ministry incorporated baptism (though not necessarily by Jesus himself) which John the Baptist had. Jesus was taking in John the Baptist's teachings, which were the message of the kingdom and getting away from strictly preaching the letter of the Law.
Not only did Jesus take in the Baptist teachings and methodology, but He went further and totally revolutionized teachings about morality. Look at the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. We witness Jesus talking about certain ideas that were derived from the Law and correcting and/or adding to it (though the Law itself never prescribed sin itself), so that teachings were brought out it in a way that the Law does not speak of. The perfect example is that of adultery. Adultery under the Law was only spoken of in the physical action. But Jesus goes on further and applies adultery to the intention and desires of the heart. Here we see Jesus beginning to overcome the third and the fourth problems of the Law that I mentioned previously. But he does that not only by His teachings, but also by His actions. He is the exact nature of God as a human, and so He knows exactly how a person should act (without written rules to describe it) and does so perfectly. Both His teachings and His example show a greater good that is closer to giving people a perfect idea of righteousness than the Law does (though not perfect yet, but I will get to that briefly in a minute).
But not only does Jesus teach morality in a greater way than the Law does, but He also gives practical advice as to how to overcome the struggle against sin. Going back to the discourse on adultery, Jesus goes on further to say that if something causes you to sin, get it out of your way. He does this too with murder and anger. Jesus' teachings is also solving the second problem of the Law by commanding people to go be reconciled with their brother (and this solves the problem of hatred which is a form of murder).
So what is essentially happening is that Jesus is presenting a greater way than the Law. It is not in opposition to the Law. Instead Jesus' teachings incorporate the intent of the rules in the Law of Moses. Many times even, Jesus agree with certain sects within the Pharisees regarding behavior (the Pharisees didn't all agree in everything). But He wasn't a Pharisee, nor was He preaching simply the Law, but He was preaching a greater thing that governed the same behaviors that the Law was trying to govern. So the Law wasn't really annulled, as if it suddenly became invalid. Instead, a greater way was presented. The only contradiction is with a strict interpretation of the Law without regard for intent (but we don't need to really worry too much about intent with the Law because Jesus tells us what we could know by the Law if we understood its intent fully today).
Furthermore, by Jesus' death (and resurrection), Satan lost his stranglehold over humanity (see my thread on atonement) and as a result people could be free from sinning in order to obey and serve God and thus people could have forgiveness (Acts 26:18 says that forgiveness comes when people go from Satan's dominion/kingdom to God's dominion/kingdom). His death allows humanity to be free from sin and not to sin as a result of rules (the process Paul speaks of in Romans 7 in talking about the Law). In doing this, the first problem of the Law is overcome.
Beyond that, Jesus fulfills and overcomes the sacrificial system, just like He did with the rules in the Law of Moses concerning behavior. One might say the Law is a type of Jesus.
In Jesus solving the problems of the Law and fulfilling the Law, one would say that the Law lead to Jesus, just as Paul speaks about in Galatians 3:24. The Law is a type of Jesus that He fulfills. But even beyond that, the Law also gives knowledge to men so that are no longer as ignorant in order for them to be able to recognize the Messiah Jesus when He came.
In all this, the Law is never annulled. Jesus Himself spoke against the Law being annulled in Matthew 5:19. Instead, the meaning of the Law is incorporated into the greater way that Jesus provides, the way of righteousness.
The Law is still usable for those who are unrighteousness (and presumably ignorant) at 1 Timothy 1:8-10, but it is not of any value in comparison to Jesus and is in fact hazardous to those who are set free by Christ (Galatians 5:1-4). Why? Because the Law itself in the Old Covenant is closed, and it is incomplete. By following it strictly, by the letter of the Law, one is no longer avoid all sin, but only the sins spoken against in the Law (but the Law does not speak against every single form of sin or how to avoid sin). But this is where the Spirit comes in. The Spirit in conjunction with Jesus' teachings and example shows us how we are to live and shows us without written rules which prone to human error in interpretation and application. It is by the Spirit through faith that we learn how to act and thus have a hope for God to call us righteous (Galatians 5:5).
Now as I said though, we don't have a perfect idea of righteousness yet. We are still in ignorance in some ways. But John writes in 1 John 3:2 that we will see Jesus exactly as He is so we will be able to be exactly as He is. Even in Jesus providing an example for us, He doesn't show us what to do in each situation. He is no longer here on earth. But His teachings and example gives us many principles and how to apply them, which is superior to the letter of the Law in showing the way of righteousness. We just don't know how to perfectly apply them so we are still left with some ignorance, but we will when we see Jesus exactly as He is.
But in between now and then, we have the Holy Spirit to guide us and to take away some of our ignorance, so its not as if we are left with no hope of progression. He will correct our understanding and application of the teachings and example of Jesus so as to be closer to Jesus, even though we can not see Him now.
In summary, God is trying to get rid of the ignorance of righteousness that humanity has. The Law was a tool that had its purpose to get rid of ignorance and lead to Jesus. The Law has fulfilled its purpose and now Jesus shows the a way that allows us to be closer to perfection. And God will finally solve the problem of ignorance of righteousness entirely when Jesus comes and we see Him exactly as He is. This is also in conjunction with the power of total obedience to what we know given to us by Jesus' death freeing us from sin.
Now I know this doesn't address everything (such as punishment vs. grace), but it gives a framework to work from. I'll get into the other issues as they come up.