Posts Tagged ‘Grace’

lawcup

I know someone, who claims they are a believer in Christ and that grace rendered the Old Testament Scriptures outdated and the Biblical moral law irrelevant. They believe a false teaching that is called “antinomianism” which is a doctrine of demons straight from the pit of Hades.

Antinomian means “anti = against + nomian = law” against law or in opposition to the law

“The Gospel proclaims liberty from the ceremonial law: but binds you still faster under the moral law. To be freed from the ceremonial law is the Gospel liberty; to pretend freedom from the moral law is Antinomianism.” ~ Adam Clarke

The contemporary evangelical theologian J. I. Packer defines five strains of antinomianism:

1. Dualistic Antinomianism (Gnostic): This view sees salvation as for the soul only and bodily behavior as irrelevant both to God’s interest and the soul’s health…

2. Spirit-centered Antinomianism: …puts such trust in the Holy Spirit’s inward prompting as to deny any need to be taught by the law how to live. Freedom from the law as a way of salvation is assumed to bring with it freedom from the law as a guide to conduct.

3. Christ-centered Antinomianism: …argues that God sees no sin in believers, because they are in Christ, who kept the law for them, and therefore what they actually do makes no difference, if they keep believing.

4. Dispensational Antinomianism: …denies that biblical law is God’s direct command and affirms that the Bible’s imperative statements trigger the Word of the Spirit, which when it comes may or may not correspond exactly to what is written.

5. Situationist Antinomianism: …says that a motive and intention of love is all that God now requires of Christians, and the commands of the Decalogue and other ethical parts of scripture, for all that they are ascribed to God directly, are rules of thumb for loving, rules that love may at times disregard. ~ J. I. Packer (from Concise Theology pp 178-180)

Here is a short list of the errors of antinomianism:

1. How the antinomians view justification:

a. That the justification of sinners is an imminent and eternal act of God, not only preceding all acts of sin, but the very existence of the sinner himself, and so perfectly abolishing sin in our persons, that we are as clean from sin as Christ himself.

b. That justification by faith is no more but a manifestation to us of what God did before we were created. That because God laid His iniquities upon Christ, God cannot charge one sin upon a man who believes this teaching.

2. That men ought not to doubt of their faith, or question, whether we believe, or not: That we ought no more to question our faith than to question Christ.

3. That believers are not bound to confess sin, mourn for it, or pray for the forgiveness of it; because it was pardoned before it was committed; and pardoned sin is no sin.

4. That God sees no sin in believers, whatsoever sins they commit. That God can see no adultery, no lying, no blasphemy, and no deceit in believers for though believers do fall into such transgressions, yet all their sins being pardoned from eternity, they are no sins in them.

5. That God does not get angry with the elect, nor does he discipline them for their sins; and to say that he does so is an injurious reflection upon the justice of God.

6. That by God’s laying our iniquities upon Christ; he became as completely sinful as we, and we as completely righteous as Christ.

7. That believers need not fear either their own sins, or the sins of others for that neither their own, nor any other men’s sins can do them any harm, nor must they be concerned for their own salvation.

8. They will not allow the new covenant to be made properly with us, but with Christ for us; and that this covenant is all a promise, having no condition on our part. They do not absolutely deny that faith, repentance, and obedience are conditions in the new covenant; however, they say that the conditions are not on our part, but upon Christ; and that He repented, believed, and obeyed for us.

How the Word of God answers the antinomian:

Rom. 3.23-25

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.”

Rom. 8.3-4, 30

“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

2 Cor. 5.19-20

“That is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

Gal. 3.13-14

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit[a] through faith.”

Eph. 1.17

“That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him”

2 Cor. 13:5

“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!”

2 Peter 1:10

“Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.”

Titus 1:16

“They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.”

1 Cor. 10:12

“Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”

1 John 1: 7-10

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

James 3:2

“For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.”

Psalm 51:1-6

“Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.”

Romans 7:21

“So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.”

Ephesians 4:30

“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”
1 Timothy 1:13

St. Paul said, “though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”

1 Cor. 11:32

“But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.”

Hebrews 12:8

“If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.”

2 Cor. 5:21

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Jeremiah 23:6

“In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.”

1 Cor. 5:12-13

For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

1 John 3:4

“Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.”

Romans 4:6, 22-23

“Just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: But the words “That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness. It was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone.”

Romans 2:8

“But for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.”

1 Peter 4:17

“For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the Gospel of God?”

Luke 13:3

Jesus says, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Luke 29:47

“And that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

Acts 3:19

“Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out.”

John 3:36

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”

Hebrews 8:10-12

“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”

The covenant of redemption was made between the Holy Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The covenant of grace, into which believers are taken, there is a Mediator, and this Mediator is Christ Himself.

In conclusion*,

Paul’s seventh argument against the Judaizers is this: If the law is kept as a way of salvation, it produces only death and destruction because of its curse. Thus, the Judaizers really destroy the law by misusing it. On the other hand, on the basis of grace we keep the law. Thus, the way to magnify the law is to use it properly, not as a way of salvation but as a guide to holy living. The Spirit, not the law, gives life, and life yields obedience to the law (Galatians 5:13ff.).

Paul begins by saying that we are free from the law as a slave-master, but not free to sin (5:13). True moral freedom means loving God and loving one’s neighbor as oneself. Those who do not love show that they are not free and are still slaves of sin (vv. 14–15).

Paul goes on to say that if we live by the Spirit, we will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. This sounds at first as if Paul is saying something mystical: Just yield to the Spirit and you will float along doing good and never sinning. This is not at all what he means. Being led by the Spirit means doing certain things and not doing other things, and it is the law that shows us what these are. It is the law that shows what loving our neighbor entails. Thus, the Spirit-led person is the person who studies the Bible and obeys it, not as a means of salvation but in a spirit of gratitude and out of a desire for holiness.

One of the major problems in Christianity has always been “antinomianism.” It is still a great problem today. We hear from some teachers that it is possible to have Christ as Savior but not as Lord, as if we could chop God in half and have a relationship with only half of Jesus. The outer fringe of this heresy teaches that it does not matter how you live so long as you claim the promise of salvation. This is not the teaching of the New Testament. Paul lists a whole catalogue of sins in Galatians 5:19–21, and then says, “Those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

A mere profession of faith does not get you into heaven. What is required is a continuing relationship with God, the sovereign Savior of men. That relationship means bowing the knee and serving Him because He has saved you.

Some nominal “believers” are professors of faith only. All who claim to be in Christ must also be possessors of faith. Read slowly and carefully the two lists of Galatians 5:19–23. Where do you need help? Pray through each of the sins and blessings listed. Examine yourself, and ask God to grant His Spirit to transform your life.

*Concluding remarks taken from Ligonier Ministries devotional “Grace Fulfills the Law.”

byGraceFaith

“Salvation is like a house built beside a broad and busy highway. Like everyone else, I was born on that highway and was spending my life following it to its destination. At first the trip had been exciting and almost effortless, the constant flow of the crowd carrying me along. However, the farther down the road I got, the more difficult things became; my original joy had dissipated and I noticed that my fellow travelers rarely laughed anymore and their occasional smiles seemed forced. The backpack I had been issued at the beginning of my journey had grown heavier every day, and I was now permanently stooped from its weight. Worst of all, I had been overtaken lately by an unexplainable fear of reaching the end of the highway’.

‘One day my attention was drawn suddenly to the side of the highway to a magnificently constructed house. Over its narrow front doors a sign silently announced in bold red letters: ‘Whosoever Will May Enter and Find Rest’. I do not know how I knew it, but I realized that if I could reach the inside of this beautiful house I would be saved from the highway and its destination. Pushing my way through the mass of indifferent travelers, I broke clear of the crowd and ran up the steps to the front door. But, it was locked. Perhaps it’s only stuck, I thought, and tried again. It refused to open. I was confused. Why would someone put up a sign inviting people in and then lock the door to keep them out? Not knowing what else to do (I refused to return to the highway), I pounded on the door, and shouted for someone on the inside to open it, and tried to pick the lock – but it was useless’.

‘Suddenly a voice spoke my name, and I spun around. It was the Builder of the House. He placed in my hand a key with one word carved on it: FAITH. Turning back to the door, I inserted the key in the lock, twisted it, and heard a reassuring click. The door swung open, and I stepped across the threshold. Immediately the backpack fell from off my shoulders, my back began to straighten like a wilting flower reaching for the sunlight, and from deep within me my soul breathed a sigh of relief as an extraordinary sense of peace and well-being wrapped itself around me. The Builder of the House welcomed me to my new home, explaining that everything in the house was now mine to enjoy. This was the house that grace had built, and faith was the key’.

‘Surveying my new surroundings, I saw that the House of Salvation was a house with many rooms and I was only in the foyer. Across the way was a door marked Answered Prayer. Next to it was another Daily Victory, and next to it, Every Need Supplied. The row of doors, each promising some spiritual blessing, stretched endlessly throughout the house. The discovery of these other rooms puzzled me, for I failed to mention that the foyer in which I stood was jammed with people. It seemed that everyone who entered the house stopped in the foyer, never advancing beyond it, as though the foyer were the entire building’ – remember that as well.

‘This was little better than the highway. Couldn’t they see that there was more to the House of Salvation than the foyer? Surely, the Builder intended every room to be occupied. Hadn’t he said that everything in the house was ours to enjoy? I, for one, had no desire to spend my life standing in a foyer. This was my Father’s house; I was his child, and all he possessed was mine. I went to the door marked Answered Prayer, grabbed the knob, and twisted. It was locked. I went to the next door, the next, and the next. All were locked. Nevertheless, this time I didn’t try to pick the lock or knock the door down. I remembered my encounter with the front door and knew I had a key for that. Although I had been in the house only a short time, I had somehow managed to accumulate a large number of other keys. Rummaging through my collection, I selected one tagged Doing Your Best, and tried it. It did not fit. Nor did the one tagged Religious Activity. The key of Sincerity proved useless. Next I tried the key of Tithing (I was getting desperate); but it was as powerless as the others. I was beginning to understand why the foyer was so crowded’.

‘And then I heard a familiar voice. It was the Builder of the House. ‘Child’, he said, ‘do you remember the key I gave you to enter my house?’. ‘Yes, I remember’. ‘What was it?’. ‘Why, it was the key of Faith’, I answered’. Now listen, the Builder said: ‘The key of Faith is the master key that unlocks every door in the house’. Faith is the master key of the Christian life. From start to finish, salvation is ‘by grace through faith’. Everything we get in the Christian life we get by grace through faith. Grace makes it available and faith accepts it. Grace is God’s hand giving; faith is man’s hand receiving. Faith possesses what grace provides. Grace is God’s part; faith is man’s part. It is our positive response to God’s gracious offer. Everything God demands of man can be summed up in one word: faith.”

~ by Ronald Dunn

Do you, like me, have family members who do not believe in Jesus? If so, we are in good company. So did Jesus. And I think this is meant to give us hope.

According to the Apostle John, “not even his brothers believed in him” (John 7:5). That’s incredible. Those who had lived with Jesus for 30 years really did not know him. Not one of Jesus’ brothers is mentioned as a disciple during his pre-crucifixion ministry. But after his resurrection and ascension, there they are in the upper room worshiping him as God (Acts 1:14).

Why didn’t they believe? And what made them change?

The Bible doesn’t answer the first question. But I’ll bet it was difficult to have Jesus for a brother.

First, Jesus would have been without peer in intellect and wisdom. He was astounding temple rabbis by age 12 (Luke 2:4247). A sinful, fallen, gifted sibling can be a hard act to follow. Imagine a perfect, gifted sibling.

Second, Jesus’ consistent and extraordinary moral character must have made him odd and unnerving to be around. His siblings would have grown increasingly self-conscious around him, aware of their own sinful, self-obsessed motives and behavior, while noting that Jesus didn’t seem to exhibit any himself. For sinners, that could be hard to live with.

Third, Jesus was deeply and uniquely loved by Mary and Joseph. How could they not have treated him differently? They knew he was the Lord. Imagine their extraordinary trust in and deference to Jesus as he grew older. No doubt the siblings would have perceived a dimension to the relationship between the oldest child and their parents that was different from what they experienced.

And when swapping family stories it would have been hard to match a star appearing at your brother’s birth.

Jesus out-classed his siblings in every category. How could anyone with an active sin nature not resent being eclipsed by such a phenom-brother? Familiarity breeds contempt when pride rules the heart.

More pain than we know must have been behind Jesus’ words, “a prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household” (Matthew 13:57).

So as we assess the role our weak, stumbling witness plays in our family members’ unbelief, let’s remember Jesus — not even a perfect witness guarantees that loved ones will see and embrace the gospel. We must humble ourselves and repent when we sin. But let’s remember that the god of this world and indwelling sin is what blinds the minds of unbelievers (2 Corinthians 4:4).

The story of Jesus’ brothers can actually give us hope for our loved ones. At the time his brothers claimed that Jesus was “out of his mind” (Mark 3:21), it must have appeared very unlikely that they would ever become his disciples. But eventually they did! And not only followers, but leaders and martyrs in the early church.

The God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” shone in their hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of their brother, Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:6).

So take heart! Don’t give up praying for unbelieving family members. Don’t take their resistance as the final word. They may yet believe, and be used significantly in the kingdom!

And while they resist, or if they have died apparently unbelieving, we can trust them to the Judge of all the earth who will be perfectly just (Genesis 18:25). Jesus does not promise that every parent, sibling, or child of a Christian will believe, but does painfully promise that some families will divide over him (Matthew 10:34-39). We can trust him when it happens.

It is moving to hear James refer to his brother as “our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory” (James 2:1). Can you imagine what this phrase meant for James? The Lord of glory had once slept beside him, ate at his dinner table, played with his friends, spoke to him like a brother, endured his unbelief, paid the debt of his sin, and then brought him to faith.

It may have taken 20-30 years of faithful, prayerful witness by the Son of God, but the miracle occurred: his brothers believed. May the Lord of glory grant the same grace to our beloved unbelievers.

~ John Bloom

Believe it or not, the purity of the Gospel’s proclamation depends on the distinction between Law and Gospel.

James Nestingen wrote:

When the Law and Gospel are improperly distinguished, both are undermined. Separated from the Law, the Gospel gets absorbed into an ideology of tolerance in which leniency is equated with grace. Separated from the Gospel, the Law becomes an insatiable demand hammering away at the conscience until it destroys a person.

When the Law and Gospel are properly distinguished, however, both are established. The Law can be set forth in its full-scale demand, so that it lights the way to order and, through the work of the Spirit, drives us to Christ. The Gospel can be declared in all of its purity, so that forgiveness of sins and deliverance from the powers of death and the devil are bestowed in the presence of our crucified and risen Lord.

Or, to put it another way, “The failure to distinguish the law and the gospel always means the abandonment of the gospel” (Gerhard Ebeling). A confusion of law and gospel is the main contributor to moralism in the church simply because the law gets softened into “helpful tips for practical living”, instead of God’s unwavering demand for absolute perfection. While the gospel gets hardened into a set of moral and social demands that “we must live out”, instead of God’s unconditional declaration that “God justifies the ungodly.” As my friend Jono Linebaugh says, “God doesn’t serve mixed drinks. The divine cocktail is not law mixed with gospel. God serves two separate shots: law then gospel.”

As I mentioned in my previous post, while there are a host of great resources available to help you better understand the important distinction between the law and the gospel, I found the most helpful resource to be John Pless’ easy-to-read Handling the Word of Truth: Law and Gospel in the Church Today. In the first chapter he summarizes C.F.W. Walther’s six ways in which the law and the gospel are different. I’ve already highlighted the first three. Below are the second three. Recovering this distinction is THE answer to the church rediscovering the gospel in our day:

Fourth, Law and Gospel are distinct when it comes to threats. Walther puts it simply: “The Gospel contains no threats at all, but only words of consolation. Wherever in Scripture you come across a threat, you may be assured that the passage belongs in the Law” (Walther, 11). The Law threatens sinners with punishment, pronouncing a curse on all who fail to live up to its requirements (Deuteronomy 27:26). The Gospel announces forgiveness for those crushed by the threat of the Law, for Christ Jesus came into the world to rescue the unrighteous (1 Timothy 1:15).

Fifth, the effects of Law and Gospel are different. Walther summarizes the threefold effect of the Law: (1) It demands but does not enable compliance. (2) It hurls people into despair, for it diagnoses the disease but provides no cure. (3) It produces contrition, that is, it terrifies the conscience but offers no comfort. Walther echoes the early Lutheran hymn writer Paul Speratus, who captured the biblical teaching of the Law’s lethal effectiveness:

What God did in is Law demand
And none to him could render
Caused wrath and woe on ev’ry hand
For man, the vile offender.
Our flesh has not those pure desires
The spirit of the Law requires,
And lost is our condition.
It was a false, misleading dream
The God his Law had given
That sinners could themselves redeem
And by their works gain heaven.
The Law is but a mirror bright
To bring the inbred sin to light
That lurks within our nature.

Public debates have raged over whether or not the Ten Commandments should be displayed in courtrooms and classrooms. Sometimes well-meaning people have argued that placards containing the Ten Commandments would have a positive effect on public morality. Actually, Scriptures teach that the Law makes matters worse, not better. Knowledge of the Law does not entail the ability to keep it. The Law not only identifies the sin but also, like a swift kick to a sleeping dog that arouses the animal to bark and bite, the Law stirs up the power of sin (Romans 7:7-9). The Law brings death, not life, for it is a letter that kills (2 Corinthians 3:6). Without the Gospel, the Law can only be the cause for grief, as it was in the case of the rich young man who thought himself capable of keeping the Law (Matthew 19:22).

At each point, the Gospel is completely different from the Law. While it is only through faith that we receive the benefits of the Gospel, the Gospel itself creates faith (Romans 1:16; Ephesians 2:8-10). Rather than provoking terror of conscience, anguish of heart, and fear of condemnation like the Law, the Gospel stills every voice of accusation with the strong words of Christ’s own peace and joy guaranteed by the blood of the cross. The Gospel does not set in place requirements of something that we must do or contribute. “[T]he Gospel does not require anything good that man must furnish: not a good heart, not a good disposition, no improvement of his condition, no godliness, no love of either God or men. It issues no orders, but changes man. It plants love into his heart and makes him capable of all good works. It demands nothing, but gives all. Should not this fact make us leap for joy?” (Walther, 16).

Sixth, Law and Gospel are to be distinguished in relation to the persons who are addressed, “The Law is to be preached to secure sinners and the Gospel to alarmed sinners” (Walther, 17). The secure sinner is the person who glories in his own self-righteous-ness. In the words of Lutheran theologian Gerhard Forde, the secure sinner is “addicted either to what is base or to what is high, either to lawlessness or to lawfulness. Theologically there is not any difference since both break the relationship to God, the giver.” Addicted to that which is base, secure sinners will excuse or rationalize their sinful behavior. They will live, to use the words of the confessional prayer, “as if God did not matter and as if I mattered most.” They will assert that their body and life and that of their neighbors are theirs to do with as they please. Or secure sinners might be addicted to that which is high. Like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable (Luke 18:9-14), secure sinners will trust in their own righteousness, their self-made spirituality., The sinners who are snug in their own righteousness rehearse the Ten Commandments and conclude that they, like the rich young man in the Gospel narrative, have kept all of these rules and are deserving of God’s approval. To those ensnared in either of these securities, blind to God’s demand for total righteousness, the Law is to be proclaimed full blast so all presumption might be destroyed.

To those who have been crushed by the hammer blows of the Law, no longer secure in their lawlessness or self-righteousness, there is only one word that will do. That is the word of the Gospel. The Gospel is not a recipe for self-improvement. It is that word of God that declares sins to be forgiven for the sake of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. It is all about Christ and what He has done for us. “Law is to be called, and to be, anything that refers to what we are to do. On the other hand, the Gospel, or the Creed, is any doctrine or word of God which does not require works from us and does not command us to do something, but bids us simply accept as a gift the gracious forgiveness of our sins and everlasting bliss offered us” (Walther, 19).

When Law and Gospel are muddled or mixed, the Holy Scriptures will be misread and misused. Without the right distinction of the Law from the Gospel, the Bible appears to be a book riddled with contradiction. At one place it condemns and at another it pardons. One text speaks of God’s wrath visited upon sinners, while another declares His undying love for His enemies. Throughout both the Old and the New Testaments, the Scriptures reveal both God’s wrath and His favor. The Scriptures show us a God who kills and who makes alive. This God does through two different words. With the word of His Law, sinners are put to death. It is only through the word of the Gospel that spiritual corpses are resurrected to live in Jesus Christ.

~ Tullian Tchividjian

If we are going to understand the Bible rightly, we have to be able to distinguish properly between God’s two words: law and gospel. All of God’s Word in the Bible comes to us in two forms of speech: God’s word of demand (law) and God’s word of deliverance (gospel). The law tells us what to do and the gospel tells us what God has done. As I mentioned in my previous post, both God’s law and God’s gospel are good and necessary, but both do very different things. Serious life confusion happens when we fail to understand their distinct “job descriptions.” We’ll wrongly depend on the law to do what only the gospel can do, and vice versa.

For example, Kim and I have three children: Gabe (17), Nate (15), and Genna (10). In order to function as a community of five in our home, rules need to be established–laws need to be put in place. Our kids know that they can’t steal from each other. They have to share the computer. Since harmonious relationships depend on trust, they can’t lie. Because we have two cars and three drivers, Gabe can’t simply announce that he’s taking one of the cars. He has to ask ahead of time. And so on and so forth. Rules are necessary. But telling them what they can and cannot do over and over can’t change their heart and make them want to comply.

When one of our kids (typically Genna) throws a temper tantrum, thereby breaking one of the rules, we can send her to her room and take away some of her privileges. And we do. But while this may rightly produce sorrow at the revelation of her sin, it does not have the power to remove her sin. In other words, the law can crush her but it cannot cure her–it can kill her but it cannot make her alive. If Kim and I don’t follow-up the law with the gospel, Genna would be left without hope–defeated but not delivered. The law illuminates sin but is powerless to eliminate sin. That’s not part of its job description. It points to righteousness but can’t produce it. It shows us what godliness is, but it cannot make us godly. As Martin Luther said, “Sin is not canceled by lawful living, for no person is able to live up to the Law. Nothing can take away sin except the grace of God.”

While there are a host of great resources available to help you better understand the important distinction between the law and the gospel, I found the most helpful resource to be John Pless’ easy-to-read Handling the Word of Truth: Law and Gospel in the Church Today. In the first chapter he summarizes C.F.W. Walther’s six ways in which the law and the gospel are different. I will highlight the first three today and the second three later this week.

First, the Law differs from the Gospel by the manner in which it is revealed. The Law is inscribed in the human heart, and though it is dulled by sin, the conscience bears witness to its truth (Romans 2:14-15). “The Ten Commandments were published only for the purpose of bringing out in bold outline the dulled script of the original Law written in men’s hearts” (Walther, 8). That is why the moral teachings of non-Christian religions are essentially the same as those found in the Bible. Yet it is different with the Gospel. The Gospel can never be known from the conscience. It is not a word from within the heart; it comes from outside. It comes from Christ alone. “All religions contain portions of the Law. Some of the heathen, by their knowledge of the Law, have advanced so far that they have even perceived the necessity of an inner cleansing of the soul, a purification of the thoughts and desires. But of the Gospel, not a particle is found anywhere except in the Christian religion” (Walther, 8). The fact that humanity is alienated from God, in need of cleansing and reconciliation, is a theme common to many belief systems. It is only Christianity that teaches that God himself justifies the ungodly.

Second, the Law is distinct from the Gospel in regard to content. The Law can only make demands. It tells us what we must do, but it is impotent to redeem us from its demands (Galatians 3:12-14). The Law speaks to our works, always showing that even the best of them are tainted with the fingerprints of our sin and insufficient for salvation. The Gospel contains no demand, only the gift of God’s grace and truth in Christ. It has nothing to say about works of human achievement and everything to say about the mercy of God for sinners. “The Law tells us what we are to do. No such instruction is contained in the Gospel. On the contrary, the Gospel reveals to us only what God is doing. The Law is speaking concerning our works; the Gospel, concerning the great works of God” (Walther, 9).

Third, the Law and the Gospel differ in the promises that each make. The Law offers great good to those who keep its demands. Think what life would be like in a world where the Ten Commandments were perfectly kept. Imagine a universe where God was feared, loved, and trusted above all things and the neighbor was loved so selflessly that there would be no murder, adultery, theft, lying, or coveting. Indeed such a world would be paradise. This is what the Law promises. There is only one stipulation: that we obey its commands perfectly. “Do the Law and you will live”, says Holy Scripture (Leviticus 18:5; Luke 10:25-28). The Gospel, by contrast, makes a promise without demand or condition. It is a word from God that does not cajole or manipulate, but simply gives and bestows what it says, namely, the forgiveness of sins. Luther defined the Gospel as “a preaching of the incarnate Son of God, given to us without any merit on our part for salvation and peace. It is a word of salvation, a word of grace, a word of comfort, a word of joy, a voice of the bridegroom and the bride, a good word, a word of peace.” This is the word that the church is to proclaim throughout the world (Mark 16:15-16). It is the message that salvation is not achieved but received by grace through faith alone. (Ephesians 2:8-9). The Gospel is a word that promises blessing to those who are cursed, righteousness to the unrighteous, and life to the dead.

~ Tullian Tchividjian

For centuries, Reformational Theologians have rightly noted that in the Bible God speaks two fundamentally different words: law and gospel. The law is God’s word of demand, the gospel is God’s word of deliverance. The law tells us what to do, the gospel tells us what God has done. So, when we speak of the distinction between law and gospel we are referring to different speech acts–or what linguist John Austin calls “illocutionary stances”–that run throughout the whole Bible. Everything in both the Old Testament and the New Testament is either in the form of an obligatory imperative or a declaratory indicative. “Hence,” wrote Martin Luther, “whoever knows well this art of distinguishing between the law and the gospel, him place at the head and call him a doctor of Holy Scripture.”

This may seem like a distinction that would fascinate only the theologian or linguist. But, believe it or not, every ounce of confusion regarding justification, sanctification, the human condition, God’s grace, how God relates to us, the nature of the Christian life, and so on, is due to our failure to properly distinguish between the law and the gospel.

Ignorance of this distinction between Law and Gospel is one of the principal sources of the abuses which corrupted and still corrupt Christianity. (Theodore Beza)

Virtually the whole of the scriptures and the understanding of the whole of theology–the entire Christian life, even–depends upon the true understanding of the law and the gospel. (Martin Luther)

Obviously, both God’s law and God’s gospel come from God which means both are good. But, both do very different things. Serious life confusion happens when we fail to understand their distinct “job descriptions.” We’ll wrongly depend on the law to do what only the gospel can do, and vice versa. As Mike Horton says, “Where the law pronounces us all ‘guilty before God’ (Rom 3:19-20), the gospel announces ‘God’s gift of righteousness through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus’ (vv 21-31). The law is unyielding. It commands, but doesn’t give. The law says, “Do!”, but the gospel says, “Done!”

So, I’m going to be doing a series of posts that will spell out this distinction and hopefully explain why it’s so important. If we are ever going to experience the unconditional freedom that Jesus paid so dearly to secure for sinners like me, we must have a clear understanding of this crucial distinction.

To get things started I thought I would post this poetic and helpful hymn from Ralph Erskine where the job descriptions of both the law and the gospel are clearly spelled out and distinguished. Enjoy…

The law supposing I have all,
Does ever for perfection call;
The gospel suits my total want,
And all the law can seek does grant.

The law could promise life to me,
If my obedience perfect be;
But grace does promise life upon
My Lord’s obedience alone.

The law says, Do, and life you’ll win;
But grace says, Live, for all is done;
The former cannot ease my grief,
The latter yields me full relief.

The law will not abate a mite,
The gospel all the sum will quit;
There God in thret’nings is array’d
But here in promises display’d.

The law excludes not boasting vain,
But rather feeds it to my bane;
But gospel grace allows no boasts,
Save in the King, the Lord of Hosts.

Lo! in the law Jehovah dwells,
But Jesus is conceal’d;
Whereas the gospel’s nothing else
But Jesus Christ reveal’d.

~ Tullian Tchividjian

Faith Alone = By Jesus suffering and death on the Cross-as the substitute for us all for all time, Jesus purchased & won forgiveness & eternal life for us. Those who hear this Good News and believe it have the eternal life. Through faith in Jesus Christ, we receive forgiveness and become a new creation.

Grace Alone = God loves the people of the world, even though they are sinful, and rebel against Him. They do not deserve His love. However, God sent Jesus, His Son, to love the unlovable and save the ungodly.

Scripture Alone = The Holy Scriptures, the Bible, is God’s inerrant & infallible Word, in which He reveals His Law and the Gospel of salvation, healing & deliverance. It is the testimony of divine revelation in Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word; the standard & trustworthy source of the doctrines of the Christian Church.