Throughout the New Testament the Holy Spirit regularly compares and contrasts “law” and “grace.” By the apostle John, the Spirit delicately balances the two when he says that “the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). One shocking feature of this passage is its impressive use of the word “but.” Notice it is absent. While some translations do insert the word “but” between “Moses” and “grace” (cf. KJV, NKJV), the original Greek has nothing of the sort. “But” is intentionally left blank.
But why? God’s law and his grace often seem at odds. One rejects, but the other redeems. One judges, but the other justifies. Did not Moses give one, and Jesus give the other? No. Jesus gave both the law and grace. It was “Jesus who saved a people out of the land of Egypt” (Jude 5). It was Jesus who “used to speak to Moses face to face” (Exodus 33:11). It was Jesus who “gave to Moses…the two tablets of the testimony…written with the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18).
Nevertheless, what John’s passage does intend to communicate is that the “grace and truth” from Jesus Christ are far superior to the law. Jesus’ revelation through Moses was merely “our guardian until Christ came” (Galatians 3:24), to bring the “knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). It was only given to lead us to grace, that we might “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15)!
Jesus himself has heaped this “grace upon grace” (John 1:16) on me. On him “I have leaned from before my birth” (Psalms 71:6) when he formed me “in the likeness of God” (James 3:9), the pinnacle of his creation. Oh, but I profaned all his blessings and dashed his image to pieces. I offered myself to disobedience, greed, and sexual immorality. Desperate, I became self-righteous, using God to glorify myself. Yet by his never-ending grace, he gave me gifts I do not deserve. He ripped apart my lies with his law. He showed me the hell in my heart. Oh, but how quickly and sweetly he bound me up by giving me faith in his promises that I might “receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness [to] reign in life through…Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17).