There are those who do not believe that there is grace in the law—as if the help God gives us with restraining evil and promoting peace is not undeserved.
But it is undeserved—and so, in fact, it is all of grace that God has given us a perfect and wise law to disciplenate the nations (Ps 19:7; Dt 4:6-8; Mt 28:17-20).
Because the law is grace, every part of it is grace also. The commands are grace. The judgments are grace. The sentences are grace.
So it is grace that God forbids murder and sodomy. It is grace that he demands death for those who practice them. And it is grace that he requires this death by communal stoning.
Stoning is grace. Can you fathom that? Can you believe it? Modern mores assure us that we are wrong. Stoning is barbaric. Even modern Christians believe that the law of the Lord was perfect back then, but not now. Today we have better ways. Modern laws have improved on God’s.
This is a neo-Marcionism—related to the popular notion that the God of Abraham and David was much angrier and judgier than were Jesus and his Father. But “Abraham rejoiced to see my day,” and “the Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in covenant love” (Jn 8:56; Ps 103:8).
How can stoning be grace? In at least four ways:
- By giving us opportunity to uphold God’s image. In stoning a criminal, we mutually confess in corporate embodiment that no one can deface an image of God without forfeiting the right to image him themselves—and being made forthwith to give account to him for it.
- By giving us opportunity to exercise God’s image. When we act in God’s behalf, restoring order and upholding justice, we become more like him. It is grace that God permits us such feeble representation of his perfection, rather than destroying the offender directly, and it is grace that he uses the occasion to sanctify us and conform us more closely to himself.
- By giving us opportunity to preserve God’s image in our community. Man is not an island; God is represented in society as well as in the individual. When we uphold God’s law, we repent of the evil done, and appeal to him for peace among our people instead of judgment.
- By giving us the opportunity to sincerely confess the grim severity of failing to image God. Together we take up, as it were, pieces of the law tablets and the altar, so as to remove the criminal from among us, returning him to the dust by pulverizing him with the very commandments and worship of God. We physically image in our bodies the invisible spiritual truths that sustain us, and we learn to fear the Lord.
Stoning is grace. We cannot be more gracious or loving than God. It is impossible; absurd. Yet because of our hardness of heart, we earnestly produce counterfeits of the real things in order to accommodate our sin.
It is not real grace to mothers who abort their babies when we do not punish them as God requires. It is not real love to men who befoul themselves with other men when we give them a lighter penalty than they deserve.
Neither is it grace to the victims of these crimes, and the many more that follow when we do not punish them as we ought. And more crimes must follow, because our fake grace replaces one other that ties together those listed above: the grace of command. The law is a schoolmaster that instructs us in God’s ways—and in not straying from them, when we see those who do punished. It teaches us a command of the law, and it commands us by the fear of the law (Rom 13:3; 1 Tim 1:8–11). Thus it restrains further evil, not only by removing the lawless from among us, but by guarding others who learn its lesson from the same judgment for disobedience. In this, of course, it also drives us to the cross of the Lord Jesus by reminding us that it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb 10:31).
So when we refuse to purge the evil from among ourselves, it is not grace to us. In our refusal, we tacitly align ourselves with evildoers—against God.
A people that so rejects the grace of God’s law cannot expect the grace of his mercy. They will, rather, inevitably suffer the destruction of their children, of their men, and of their women. It cannot be otherwise, for God gives us over to these things so as to destroy us. When we make ourselves a spoiled and useless image, we become suitable only for the fire.