“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not commit murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:10-13)
“The law of liberty” is a poetic way of saying “grace.” Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jn. 8:32). He also said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (Jn. 14:6). In other words, Christ Himself is the Truth that makes us free when He saves us by His grace. But grace gets even better: “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (Rom. 8:2). In other words, apart from Christ, we’re under God’s judgment against our sins; but when Christ saves us, He sets us free specifically from God’s righteous wrath, and He does so by grace.
The Law of Moses, to which James referred, wasn’t the Old Testament means of salvation. The Ten Commandments were never designed to save anyone. Instead, they reveal God’s nature and character, which is perfectly holy. The light of God’s holiness also exposes our sins, as Isaiah discovered (Isa. 6:1-5). The Law, however, had no provision for forgiveness, only judgment. It taught us of our need for a Savior and prepared us for Christ’s advent and the grace by which He would save us.
Jesus summed up the Law’s continuity in two commands, both of which were to love – God and other people (Mt. 22:37-40). To use God’s name as a cussword and to skip church just because we don’t feel like going both fail to love God. Likewise, adultery and murder both fail to love one’s neighbor. The failure to love my neighbor is, by definition, a failure to love God, because the Ten Commandments comprise the one Law. The apostle John said, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 Jn. 4:20).
A friend once said that men think like waffles and women think like spaghetti. Her point was that men tend to compartmentalize things, while women tend to connect things. She was right; but we all tend to rationalize our sins. I can justify my lies, but yours are intolerable. My anger serves a purpose, but yours is indefensible, especially when you direct it at me.
Instead of making excuses for sins, though, the law of liberty – that is, God’s grace – imputes to us Christ’s righteousness. So, Christ frees us from the penalty of the Law since He bore our sins and took the wrath we deserved. If we’re born again, we’re judged by the law of liberty, which means that we’re judged by grace. That is, we’re redeemed. Since Christ has born God’s judgment against our sins, there’s nothing left to judge. God certainly disciplines His children, but they’ll never face His condemnation, as Christ has already born the full force of God’s judgment for our sins.
Also, the same grace that saves us enables us to speak and act according to God’s will. We can submit to His will because He empowers us. His mercy triumphs over judgment.