Ben Patterson tells a story that separates for us the difference between law and grace:
“It was his first year of teaching and R. C. Sproul faced 250 students in his Old Testament class. On the first day he informed them all that the assignments included three papers, the first due September 30, the second October 30, and the third November 30. He emphasized that each of the papers must be turned in no later than noon on the due date. An F grade would be assigned to any late papers, no exceptions. “Does everybody understand?” he asked. “Oh, yes,” they all said. On September 30, 25 of the 250 students didn’t have their papers ready. They begged for mercy from Dr. Sproul, for an extension, please, please, please. They were, he said, “in a posture of abject humility,” pleading for grace. And he gave grace, but with the warning, “Don’t let it happen again. Remember the next assignment is due October 30, and I want those papers in.” They promised yes, absolutely.
October 30 came and this time fifty students were without papers. They stood outside his office in terror. Really, they didn’t budget their time well; it was midterms and homecoming and they were swamped—one more chance please. Sproul yielded to their entreaties, but with another warning: “Don’t let this happen again.” It did. On November 30, a hundred students came casually into class minus their papers. They weren’t worried in the least. They told professor Sproul to chill out, they’d get their papers to him in a couple of days. Sproul took out his black grading book and his pen and asked a student, “Johnson, where’s your term paper?” Johnson said he didn’t have it, so Sproul wrote an F in the book. He asked another student the same question: “Greenworth, where’s your paper?” He didn’t have it, either. Sproul wrote another F in the book.
The class was furious! As one person, they shouted, “That’s not fair.” Sproul bristled. He said, “Johnson, did I just hear you say that’s not fair?” Johnson replied, “Yes, that’s not fair.” Sproul answered, “Well, I don’t ever want to be thought of as unfair or unjust. Johnson, it’s justice that you want?” Johnson said yes. “Okay,” said Sproul, “If I recall, you were late last time, weren’t you?” Johnson said yes. “Then I’ll go back and change that grade to an F.” He erased his passing grade and gave him an F. Then he looked at the class and asked, “Is there anyone else who wants justice?” There were no takers. (Ben Patterson, He Has Made Me Glad, pp. 39-40.)
The two covenants contrast one another. The first one was rule based, focused on the outside and was for a nation. The new covenant as Jeremiah predicted would be grace based, written on our hearts (31:33) and for the individual (33:29-30). The old covenant revealed our sin; the new covenant forgave it all. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)
In the realm of my sin, I don’t want justice… I desire forgiveness. Give me grace.