Arminian Today

A Jesus-Centered Arminian Blog

Law and Gospel

Having come face to face with my own sinfulness, my own lack of keeping the law of God, I have spent the last several months looking at the law and the gospel.  While this is not new to Christianity, it is fairly new to me.  I grew up in a church environment that was heavy on the law.  You keep the law and God was happy.  Break the law (which was often), God is now angry with you.  The gospel was not the end but only a step to helping me keep myself clean.  It was not Jesus period.  It was Jesus who now enables me to keep the law and when I fail, back to the beginning.

We all sin.  None of us are perfect.  We read passages such as Romans 3:23 and acknowledge the universal sinfulness of mankind.  But we miss the point that we are sinners ourselves.  I am not arguing that we wake up each day thinking “what can I do today to violate the law of God” but we do sin.  Whether we make sins into categories such as “sins of omission” and “sins of commission,” either way we do sin.  Apart from grace, none of us can stand before a holy God.  It is only through Christ that we can stand before a holy and totally pure God.  The reason Christ died for my sins is not simply to enable me to be holy on my own power but He died because I am a sinner in need of forgiveness because I do sin (1 John 2:1-2).

Consider the command of Jesus in Matthew 22:37-40:

37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

38 This is the first and great commandment.

39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Stop and consider how you are doing with that one?  I’m not even good at it.  I would love to say that I love God perfectly as Jesus taught.  I would love to tell you that my love for God flows into loving my neighbor as myself.  But the reality is that I fall way short of these two commands and Jesus said that law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.  Do these and you’ll be perfect!  But I don’t!

And thus the gospel comes into play.  The law condemns me as a sinner (Romans 3:19) and the law teaches me that I need a Savior (Galatians 3:24).  The law condemns me.  The gospel saves me.  The law shows me that I am a sinner (Romans 7:7).  There is nothing wrong with the law of God (Romans 7:12) but the problem is me.  I can’t keep the law.  No matter how hard I try, I fail.

The gospel preaches peace to me.  The law tells me to love God perfectly and my neighbor perfectly (Matthew 5:48).  The gospel tells me Christ died for my sins and the sins of not loving God perfectly nor my neighbor as myself.  The law tells me to love my wife as Christ loves His Church (Ephesians 5:25).  The gospel tells me that Christ died for the sin of not loving my wife as Christ loves His Church (I am far from a perfect husband).  The law tells me to pray, to worship, to evangelize, to give my money to the poor and to helping the kingdom of God, to do good to my neighbor especially of those of the household of faith, etc. but the gospel tells me that Christ died for my sins even the sins of not keeping the law perfectly.

Martin Luther taught two (and I would add a third) uses of the law.  Lutherans debate the third use of the law.  The three uses of the law are:

  • For society, to curb man’s sinfulness.
  • To condemn us a sinners and show us our need for salvation.
  • To help the Christian in sanctification.

These three uses of the law are seen not just in the Bible but in life.  Antinomians accept the first two uses of the law but not the third.  I believe in preaching all three.  Christians need to hear the law so that the Holy Spirit can help us in the process of sanctification.  So for example a believer hears that we should pray (Luke 18:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:17).  Prayer itself doesn’t justify us before God.  We are justified only through Christ Jesus alone by grace alone though faith alone.  Yet none would say that prayer is bad.  Yet prayer can become a law.  It was that way for me.  I once held that a person should pray for 2 hours a day or God was not pleased.  Prayer became a law and gospel for me.  But prayer is not the gospel.  The gospel is the death of Jesus for our sins and His resurrection for our justification (Romans 4:24-25; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4).  Thus Jesus died for my sin of prayerlessness.  Does this mean that I should not pray since Jesus died for my sin of prayerlessness?  By no means! The key is to see prayer as flowing from my forgiveness and not from the law.  I pray because Christ shed His blood for me (Hebrews 4:14-16).

This holds true of any law.  The law if holy and good (1 Timothy 1:8-11).  The law shows me how far I am far from the perfection of God.  But the gospel shouts to me that I am accepted in the Beloved.  I am holy before God because of Christ (Hebrews 10:10, 14) and not by my works.  The law tells me to pursue holiness (Hebrews 12:14; 1 Peter 1:15-16) and this is good.  The gospel tells me that I am accepted in Christ Jesus who bled and died for my sins (Romans 5:6).

This understanding of the law and the gospel has blessed me.  It has brought some joy to my soul where joy has been lacking.  For so long I have been full of pride, my own self-righteousness.  I thought God was honored by my prayer life, my evangelism, my passion for God.  Like Voddie Bauchman preaches, my works-righteousness muscle likes to flex.  I would have, in the past, gladly acknowledged Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and would have gladly told you that I was saved by His grace alone but in reality I was full of pride, thinking more highly of myself than I ought (Philippians 2:3).  I would have preached Christ but my focus was not on pleasing Christ per se but on men seeing how much I “loved” Jesus.  Oh how much pride was in my heart!  Oh wretched sinner that I was!

But Christ died for me.  Christ bled and suffered for my sins.  Jesus gave His life for my sins and now I am forgiven not because I keep the law but because I can’t keep the law (Galatians 3:10).  Christ suffered in my place, for my sins (Galatians 3:13-14).  I am saved now not because I keep the law but because of faith in Jesus Christ who gave His life for my sins.  What a blessing!  What a Savior!

I have no problem with the law.  The law is good.  The law comes from our holy God.  Yet too many Christians try to live the law.  You will always be falling short.  Always.  You will never obtain holiness by the law.  Even if you think (as I did) that I had obtained a level of holiness by my striving, inside (like me) you’ll know that you stand condemned because you can’t keep the whole law (James 2:10).  I have no problem preaching the law and calling Christians to repent of not keeping the law.  But the balance of this is the gospel.  The answer to not keeping the law is not more law.  The answer is the gospel.  The law condemns us as sinners.  The gospel comforts us by pointing to Christ who died for our sins (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).

Perhaps I am wrong on this.  I don’t think so.  I believe it’s biblically based.  I know that this teaching has pushed me closer to Christ and not away.  I still hate sin.  I really do hate sin.  I acknowledge that I do sin but I hate my sins.  I am so grateful to God for giving me His Son for my sins (John 1:29).  I stand condemned but Christ preaches to me no condemnation (Romans 8:1).  Satan accuses me of sin and he is right to do so.  But I trust in Christ alone for my salvation (Hebrews 7:25).  Jesus has promised not only to save me from my sins (Matthew 1:21; Romans 6:1-4) but He has promised to keep me (Jude 24-25).  I trust in Christ alone and not my works-righteousness before a holy God.

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