What makes a Christian right with God? Do we gain that status by being “good enough” and keeping God’s law? Most of us would pretty quickly answer, “No, we can’t.” We live by grace. We might even add that living by the law is legalism—trying to make ourselves right through actions and self-will. And we would be right to say this. Mostly.
What sets the Christian faith apart from every other religion is that works do not justify us. That is, we are not made right and upstanding in the eyes of God because of what we do. We recognize that our works can’t accomplish this. We are justified by faith in Jesus’s perfect life, innocent death, and death-conquering resurrection. He is our atoning sacrifice—the sacrifice that takes on the punishment for another.
But often, we oversimplify and create “either/or” propositions out of lofty and complex aspects of faith. We say we are saved by grace, not law, and while it is true that Christ’s sacrifice is the most profound act of grace in history, it happened because of the law.
We needed an atoning sacrifice to fulfill God’s law. The two are inextricably connected—God’s law and Christ’s sacrifice. Sin could not go unpunished, and innocence cannot be handed out like candy at Halloween. God’s perfect justice includes God’s perfect mercy. So yes, we live by faith in the work of Jesus, and in so doing, we are evidence that the law’s requirement was met in Christ.
And our faith shows something more: we are now citizens of a new kingdom. We’ve been rescued from darkness and transferred to a “kingdom of light.” What does it mean to be part of a kingdom but to be under the law of the land? We are under the new law that was ushered in through Christ’s perfect atonement—a law of grace.
We are governed by grace, shaped by grace, and driven by grace. We obey God’s commands by grace and remember Christ’s work by grace. We cling to grace by faith, and so it is that we are saved by grace through faith, and that faith upholds God’s law. This is what makes us innocent in the eyes of God.