Perhaps when we talk about grace and law, we shouldn’t present the issue as ultimately being an oppositional either/or proposition as much as we might present the issue as being, ultimately, a complementary and layered proposition. In other words, it’s not about grace versus law. Instead, it is about how the grace that Jesus speaks of is able to complement the obedience to law that God put into place very early in man’s existence.
It would seem that if there isn’t God’s law, there is scant need for God’s grace. And likewise, God’s grace can only be fully manifested if there is God’s law. Rather than law and grace opposing each other, they exist as complements but even, maybe, as dependents, too, in God’s way of ruling his universe. First, God began loving his people (and they him) through law and then, later, God upped the ante by loving his people even more by sending Jesus with a message of grace that was to be placed on top of the law. Like layering in a cake, maybe. God’s beauty shines through his law and grace, respectively, but mix the two together – now we are really talking about something beautiful and powerful.
Paul clearly discusses, in Galatians 2:17-21, that law can only lead to death. There is no one, including Paul, who can keep the strictures of the law completely and perfectly. As a result, the law condemns everyone to death who attempt to keep the law perfectly.
Abraham, for example, was found to be righteous but his salvation was necessarily found outside of the law. It was faith that made Abraham a righteous man – not being able to keep God’s law perfectly. Paul gratefully found salvation not through the law but through Jesus (Gal. 2:17-21). To wit, Hebrews 7:26-28 demonstrates that the imperfection of the law is complemented by the perfecting action of grace.
Whereas God’s law sufficiently depicts the essence and nature of God and his expectation of obedience, it can’t save. God’s grace, through Jesus and our faith, completes the saving.
But the law is far from being without merit. Paul encouraged his Galatian readers to obey the entire law (Gal. 5:13-14) and Paul listed approved and disapproved actions of believers (Gal. 5:22-25; 5:19-21). Christians are bound by obedience and the desire to live lives of upstanding character and humble faithfulness.
The good news is that when our obedient desire falters or our faithful efforts become passionless, God’s grace can complete what we are unable to complete – a total giving of self to God for salvation. In the end, law and grace complement each other in wonderful ways.