Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Holy Bible


Divine Providence: From God's Law to God's Grace

By Fr. Nikolaos Loudovikos

And behold, a man approached and said to Him, “Good teacher, what good thing should I do, to have eternal life?”  He replied, “Why do you call Me good? No-one is good, except one: God. And If you want to enter life, observe the commandments.” He said, “Which ones?” Jesus said, “’You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother’, and ‘love your neighbor as you do yourself.’  “All these I have observed,” the young man said. “What else am I lacking?” Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow Me.”   (Matth.19:16-21)

This excerpt, more than any other point in the Gospel, clearly indicates the birth of the Church, how the theology of the Incarnation is born, as well as its consequences. Christ is trying to guide the young man, from Jew to Christian. That is, to move from the Law, through to Grace. 'Good teacher, what good thing should I do, to have eternal life?'

Here we are dealing with a typically Jewish question. The entirety of Jewish wisdom has remained fixed on this point; even nowadays, if one goes to a Jewish community, one will notice this form of spirituality of “I give you - you give me”. The Jew has a very practical understanding of spiritual life: “All I have to do is to observe the commandments in order to ‘purchase’ eternal life, and nothing else. This mentality is a peculiar kind of legalism that hinges on the Law and the prophets. God is not present in the world, given that for Judaism, the Incarnation did not take place, hence only His Law is present. God never became man, He never came into this world, and therefore, only the Law exists in the place of God.

This is where the entire difference between Jewish mentality and Christian theology is found. Unfortunately, in practice these two are often confused, because many Christians often have a Jewish-leaning perception, as if the Incarnation did not take place. If the theory of “merits” (which the Roman Catholic church espouses) is void, then what counts is what I do - what I do must bear fruit in the faith that I have in Christ. And my faith must be proven in this manner otherwise, I too will come to accept the “merits of the saints” theory: “I deserve merits, because I am just, and I lend to others. The meaning of meritocracy is a legalistic one here, although it does contain a sense of giving. In Judaism, giving is precluded. Given that the Incarnation is denied, there is no personal relationship with God. The Christian however is inside His house, he is an adopted child of God, he is a brother of Christ, therefore God is by Grace also his father. The Holy Spirit is present. That is why he works miracles and is sanctified.

A relationship through Law is a relationship between someone who gives and someone else who also gives. God gives this much, so man gives as much; man gives this much, so God gives as much. The relationship through Grace is a relationship of excess. One may give more than the Law, and yet he receives through Grace far more than he could ever imagine. THAT is the difference.

“What good thing should I do?” The young man cannot perceive the Incarnation; he does not realize Who is standing before him -.surely Jesus is just a teacher of the Law? Thus, Christ tells him, “if you want to enter the life of God, observe the commandments”... which seems to imply that God is exempt and does not enter history - that He only gives commandments.

Quite often, we Christians use the word commandments and some people imagine we are referring to the Mosaic Law. But our commandments are found in Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. Entirely new things were spoken there, which go far beyond the Jewish law, and the things  described therein are such that the Jewish mentality cannot fathom unless it changed. The Jew has the mentality of give-and-take - a noble mentality, but still, reminiscent of deal-making:  If I do something good, I will have a blessing in my life: fields, wealth, good children, etc. Am I lacking all these things? Then something is wrong. Christ therefore tells the young man to observe the commandments - the ones he is familiar with - do not steal, do not kill, do not commit adultery, etc. But the young man persists. He senses that there is something more here. This teacher definitely knows something more. The young man has a cultivated spirit, because he is honest, he does indeed observe everything that he claimed. And yet, he adds: “What am I lacking?”

This question is no longer very Jewish. He has begun to be receptive of Christ’s revelation; he has become attracted to His personality; he has seen the miracles that He had performed. He now wonders "Why do I, who observe the commandments, cannot do what He does? What does He have, more than me?"

Christ's answer crushes Judaism, it completely crushes the legalistic relationship.

If you want to become perfect, you shall do what I do, you shall give it your all. I love you infinitely and you will love Me infinitely. THAT is the incarnation: it is man’s infinite love for God, Who was incarnated in the person of the maiden Virgin Mary - and the infinite love of God for His creation, with His Incarnation in response to the Virgin Mary’s infinite love for Him - that is, with His birth as a human being. This is a great mystery!

Christianity is a new dimension altogether; it is a madness. As a human being, Christ gives everything to the Father. The human will is submitted to the Divine Will; as a human being, He is completely open to the Will of God - an obedience that does not lead to earthly glory but to earthly defeat; it leads to the Cross. We are unable to comprehend this, and we do not comprehend it, even though we are within the Church and are baptized. And although we ask God to do something that we want, the joke is that He does it. But only to a certain point, because He wants us to likewise make a leap of faith from that point onward... to show Him that we look upon Him, not only for His giving hands, but that we also look Him in the eyes.


Translation by A. N.

Greek Text

Article published in English on: 7-9-2005.

Last update: 10-5-2020.