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I grew up as a grandson of immigrants. Both of my grandfathers had journeyed to America as adults, one fleeing a revolution and the other seeking his fortune. But both of them shared a similarity – they both hoped to see their culture passed down to their grandchildren. So I endured many an afternoon of “tutoring.”
My Russian grandfather would recite the Russian alphabet like he was announcing a cattle auction. I tried hard to keep up, but always fell behind. When he finished, he would say, “Okay, now you try.” I’d start at the beginning and maybe make it a few letters in, but sooner or later, I’d always fail. And with each failure, my Russian grandfather would threaten to spank me if I didn’t do better next time.
On the other hand, my Greek grandfather wanted me to learn Greek. But he took a different approach. Rather than threatening punishment and zooming ahead, this grandfather would start slow, saying the first five letters of the Greek alphabet before pausing, and giving me the chance to actually learn. When I needed help, he graciously stepped in, prompting me. And when I succeeded, he always rewarded me with a slice of baklava.
This is my Tale of the Two Teachers. Both wanted me to learn their language (for good reasons!). But one worked as a taskmaster of the Law, prodding me on, disappointed whenever I made a mistake, and trying to motivate me mainly by threats. The other worked under the code of grace, gently and patiently working with me, step by step – forgiving a misstep and rewarding a success with love.
But let me be clear, when I make this contrast, I don’t mean for anyone to conclude that I loved one grandfather more than the other. That’s just not true. In fact, I love them both – just as I love both the law and grace.
What I want to show is that grace is more powerful than the law to bring about God’s good purposes. See how Paul writes about it in Romans:
For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned in sin the flesh, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:3-4)
God made a covenant of grace with Israel, to be their God and to enable them to be a channel of blessing to the future generations of all the families of the earth. The law was added in 430 years later to give them clear instruction about how to live within that covenant and serve notice as to when they were departing from it. It was never meant to give them righteous loving hearts. It could not protect them from temptation to sin. It was weak and could never bring about God’s covenant purposes for his people. It mostly was simply demanding and condemning.
But by the working of God’s grace in us, we are given new natures. The Holy Spirit gives us a share in Christ’s own mind and heart and we are transformed from the inside out and enabled to live a Christ-centered life as his beloved children. Our Triune God has wonderfully worked out a way for us to share in his “culture,” to learn his language of faith, hope and love and to be channels of his blessing to others. Now that’s a reward that far surpasses even baklava! I pray that we all come to know God’s covenant love and grace ever more powerfully in our daily life.
I’m Joseph Tkach, Speaking of LIFE.