When relationships are concerned, there are some people who feel that humans should operate without any rules, merely focused on being sensitive to the other person’s feelings and doing what is good for them. Just being gracious to each other.

In a perfect world, where everybody had a God-like understanding and clear insight, that’s what we would expect.

In my experience and observation, that’s not what happens in this world where imperfect people must work with other imperfect people.

Without first teaching the law — explaining the rules that govern each relationship, expounding clear boundaries, explaining obligations and responsibilities of what is expected behavior–grace cannot be seen and understood as it should be.

Here is a true story:

Susan is a new nurse who is working with John, an older nurse supervisor. As a new nurse, Susan doesn’t know the rules of the job, however, she thinks she does. She has ideas of how things should work that are very ideal and nothing close to how things actually work in their hospital.

John is very gracious to her, realizing it’s only her first time in the hospital as a nurse. He gives her easier patients and takes the hard ones so that she won’t get overwhelmed early. He does many other things to help her but she doesn’t see it because her expectations were much higher and unreal. In fact, while other new nurses are praying they would have John as their supervisor, Susan was cursing him in her heart and acting stubbornly.

The purpose of the law is the teach us the reality of things so that when grace comes, we would welcome it, see it for the grace that it is and be grateful for it.

If a police officer stopped you for speeding and you knew you deserved a ticket that would have cost you $450 and time to go to the courthouse, you would drive away celebrating and appreciating that officer if he simply warned you and forgave you. You would do that because you knew the law. The law told you what you actually deserved. And then when grace came after understanding what you deserved, you saw it as the unmerited, and undeserved favor that grace is.

But if you didn’t know the law, including that the police officer had the authority to stop, interrogate, and give you a ticket for speeding, you could leave the situation angry. You could leave thinking, “how dare this man stop me and talk to me about the way I’m driving my own car. It’s my life and my car. Who does he think he is?”

The right order of things is that people must be taught the law or the rules before the can understand grace and receive it well. In a sense, the law is a schoolteacher that must first teach our hearts the reality before we can be ready to receive grace. Without that, we will spit on grace and despise it when it is shown to us.

It is true that grace is the key to all successful relationships. But we must always remember that the law (and justice) is the foundation on which grace stands. Without the law, there is no grace.