“The law was given through Moses,” John tells us, but “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
God has always been gracious and true. The law was an expression of his grace and truth. But in Jesus Christ, God’s graciousness and his truth are given their full and complete expression. The law, by which every human is condemned, is not the final word. But in Jesus Christ we have been given God’s final word—the greatest and most complete revelation of God’s grace and truth for humanity.
Grace triumphs over justice (James 2:13). Justice is real, and justice demands our condemnation, because all humans have broken the law of God, sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). But there is a word that follows justice, and that word is Jesus Christ, who not only was the author of the law, but is also the author of grace and truth, which brings redemption and salvation. The law brought condemnation, so we may see our sinfulness and our need for mercy (Romans 3:20). But grace and truth brought salvation, moving us by the kindness of God to turn to him for the mercy we need so badly (Romans 2:4; Titus 3:4-5).
Mercy triumphs over judgment, James says. Grace overpowers legal requirements. Through Jesus Christ, we are given something much better than we deserve. The last word, given at the last judgment, will be the triumph of grace and mercy.
Truth brings freedom
Jesus said, “The truth will set you free” (John 8:32). When we trust Jesus, when we believe the truth of his word of salvation for us, we are set free from the sin and death that imprisons us. We are no longer slaves of sin.
Those who sin become “slaves of sin” (verse 34). They become enmeshed in its power. But grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. When we trust him to be our salvation, we are freed from the condemnation of the law. We become one with him, at perfect peace with our Father in heaven. Even though we still wrestle with sin in this life and often fail, for the sake of Jesus we are not condemned (Romans 8:1).
Jesus teaches us that true righteousness involves much more than the law. It involves not just our behavior, but also our minds—our thoughts, our attitudes, our whole being. In Jesus, we can see that we fall short all the time. But in Jesus, we trust in God’s love and mercy for us.
Knowing that God will never forsake us nor leave us, we continue to fight against our sinful nature, trusting Christ to stand with us and strengthen us. In the confidence of his grace, we forgive one another, just as for Christ’s sake God has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32).
No way out
The law also offers freedom. The law forbids socially destructive behavior, and when people keep it, they are freed from all sorts of bad consequences. It is in every person’s own best interest that they seek to live by good and right behavioral guidelines.
But there is a problem: even though the law promised life, it became death, because it stirred up sin, and then it condemned the sinner (Romans 7:8-11). So we learn about our sinfulness from the law, which is holy, just and good, but the law offers no way to be delivered from its condemnation. Because we are sinners, the law rightly condemns and kills us and leaves us dead (verses 10-13).
Even though our condemnation under the law is just and right, God is not a prisoner of his own law or his own justice. God operates in perfect divine freedom according to his own will, and his own will is first and foremost a will of grace and redemption.
The law serves his purpose, not its own purpose, and God’s purpose, as Creator and Redeemer, is redemption. Redemption results in nothing less than a new creation. That is why James says that mercy triumphs over justice. God’s justice serves his redemptive purpose, and that is the only kind of divine justice there is.
In Jesus Christ, God does for us what we could never do for ourselves. Just as we could never create ourselves, so we could never redeem ourselves. There is no escape from the condemnation under which we all fall, unless God himself, the Creator and Redeemer, provides that escape. That is exactly what he has done.
Jesus declared, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17). The law condemns. But by grace and truth, which came by Jesus Christ, the world is redeemed. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Everything (even the law, justice and condemnation) serves God’s unchanging redemptive purpose. God’s covenant faithfulness, his word of redemption, is the word of grace and truth, which was revealed fully and finally in Jesus Christ.
Paul wrote, “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Jesus], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:19-20).
No matter how bad we are, there is good news: God loves us and forgives us for the sake of Jesus who redeems us. In Christ we are set free from sin, both from its condemnation of us, and from its power over us. The Holy Spirit reminds us and reassures us of God’s love for us and strengthens us to stay in the battle to turn away from sin.
Jesus, who is the perfect revelation of God’s grace and truth, set people free. He forgave them, taught them and gave them the sure hope of God’s love and salvation!
Author: Joseph Tkach