Last week there was some discussion about whether a new believer must go through a time of law in order to truly experience grace. I have wondered about this for a while myself. No, I don’t have a definitive answer, but here are some of my thoughts.
I cannot believe that it is necessary for a new believer to come under law in order to find grace. Everything is wrong with that. Coming to Jesus, almost by definition, is coming out from under the condemning law and finding the joy and freedom of grace. The law kills; grace reveals life.
When the Israelites came out of Egypt, God gave us a wonderful illustration of the salvation story of the believer. There are so many parallels. Coming under the blood, passing through the water, deliverance from false gods and bondage, defeat of the enemy—on and on. But many people who see this amazing parallel think that the forty years of wandering was also parallel to what happens in the life of the new believer. I would agree that it often happens, but it certainly didn’t have to happen.
If you remember the story, the Israelites could have entered the Promised Land (which is not an illustration of Heaven, btw) right away. They escaped Egypt by the hand of God, crossed the Sea, worshiped God at the mountain, and were supposed to enter the Land. It was their own lack of faith that stopped them. If they had faith, they would have lived in cities and houses they did not build, drunk from wells they did not dig, and eaten from vineyards and fields they did not plant. God would have chased away their enemies and would have provided all these blessings and more for them. But they did not believe.
I believe the Promised Land is a picture of the Christian life. This is what is supposed to happen. The new believer should enter into a relationship with Jesus and walk in that relationship in faith and freedom and joy. All that is needed is already provided. This is the rest God has promised for His people. We are supposed to rest.
But unbelief is natural. Our flesh maybe cannot stop us from accepting the love of God in Jesus and finding the forgiveness of our sins, but it will try very hard to stop us from enjoying the new life God has provided. The flesh does not trust the rest that the Lord provides. Instead, the flesh will superimpose its system on the Christian life. If I had to work to be acceptable before Christ, then I will work to be acceptable to Christ. If I lived in fear of rejection before Christ, then I will expect to live in fear of rejection from Christ. This is the flesh at work.
The new believer is used to his flesh. Unless there is someone to help guide him away from the flesh and toward the Spirit, he will fall back on the flesh system to understand his new faith. If the church system is just the religious version of his flesh system, the new believer will find a message of performance and bondage immediately upon conversion. His flesh, and the accumulation of the flesh of others in the church system, will not find enough faith to enter into the Promised Land. He will wander in the wilderness, somewhere between belief and freedom, until he accepts the rest of the gospel.
So here’s my summary: It is not necessary for a new believer to enter a time of law, but it is natural. He will remember the difficulty he had in removing the giants of sin and struggle in his life before Christ and he will expect that those giants will be just as difficult to remove after Christ. He will think that he has to do it all himself and many churches will support his thinking. He will hope that he has the help of Jesus and the opportunity for a new beginning, but he will find the old failure and frustration again. This is natural—unless we help him understand that there is a better way.
I’ll have more on this tomorrow, but I would love to hear your thoughts.