I finally got to see Les Miserables this weekend. It’s such a heartwrenching tale with themes of law, grace, love, sacrifice, injustice and mercy. I had avoided reading anything about the latest film version of Victor Hugo’s novel, which is why I missed this fantastic post from Mike Cosper at The Gospel Coalition about the theology of law and grace in this incredible story of redemption.
The Scriptures make it clear that the law cannot save us, in fact, the law’s purpose is to show us our sinfulness. And it is through grace by faith that anyone is saved. As Romans 3: 19-28 states (I’ve used the NIV here):
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.
21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in[a] Jesus Christ to all who believe.There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement,[b] through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.
This tension between law and grace embodies Les Miserables, as Cosper writes:
The contrast of Javert and Valjean is deliberate and clear. Valjean is determined to live a life worthy of the grace he’s received, and his sense of calling leads him to radical sacrifice for the sake of others. Javert, on the other hand, lives with unflinching loyalty to the law. His confidence in the law makes him utterly certain of both his own righteousness and also Valjean’s sinfulness.
The story sets these two on a collision course, a head-on crash between law and grace. Just as grace saves Valjean in the beginning, it is ultimately grace that he must count on in the end. As Javert pursues him, we see the effects of grace on a sinner, we see the oppressive power of both the law and someone’s past, and we see the incomprehensibility of grace to a life ruled by the law.
Read more here.