Understanding law and gospel
Certain theological ideas have shaped me and have given me immense freedom. A second one is this: being able to discern between the good news in Christ’s forgiveness from the law. It freed me from having to measure up to the requirements of the law. Why is this important for me? Christians sometimes equate our level of spiritual maturity with how well we perform according to our moral standards.
My fellow brothers of the evangelical persuasion might cringe when I say this but this is a deception that has haunted and demoralized many Christians–young and old. It has tied down Christians from feeling real spiritual victory in Christ. It is a deception that the Apostle Paul had spoken about in Romans 7, but we have failed to recognize what he said because his context had to do with circumcision. Today, we are still bound by having to measure up to our biblical laws, which is just legalism but just in a different context.
To distinguish law from the gospel allows the message of the good news to come across clearly and undistorted from vain illusions of what the law can or cannot do.
The Law: demands everything but gives nothing.
The Gospel: demands nothing but gives everything.
The Law: shows us what godliness looks like but it cannot transform the sinner
The Gospel: is alone the power of God to salvation and transforms the sinner.
The Law: accuses and exposes our sins.
The Gospel: acquits and exonerates us of our sins.
The Law: diagnoses sinners.
The Gospel: delivers sinners.
The Law: is for those who think they’re good.
The Gospel: is for those who know they are sinners.
If these two ideas are muddied-up, we can incorrectly attribute what the law does as grace, or vice versa. In other words, in our minds, it distorts what the gospel was intended for. The law can only show us what godliness is and that we fall short of righteousness. I used to obey the law thinking that in doing so, I could be righteous. The truth is that the law is incapable of doing this–only the gospel can do this. It stole the joy that Christ gives because I ended up working so hard to earn God’s approval when it was free all along. As human beings, we seem to put so much faith in the law. We want the control so we believe the lie that the law has the power to scare people from committing wrongs, and into doing what’s right. But in doing so, we steal God’s glory, rather than give God glory. Hermann Sasse said:
Whenever the Law and the Gospel are separated from each other, wherever the connection between the Law and the Gospel is lost, then what Luther said proves itself to be true: Where either the Law or the Gospel is lost, then the other is also thoroughly destroyed. Every form of antinomianism necessarily destroys the Gospel. Where the preaching of the Law does not work the recognition of sins, how is it possible to experience or understand the forgiveness of sins?
Now I can walk in Christ with joy knowing that it is the gospel that frees me from sin, not the law. This profound truth is food for the soul; it can be transformational and bring joy back into one’s spiritual walk in the Christian faith. If Christians want to be theologically grounded, Law and Gospel must be rightly divided, and preached in its purity. When I preach, I try to apply this concept throughout each message. In the end, Christ is preached, and God is glorified.
I have also been influenced by a theology of mercy and God’s unconditional grace and love. I proclaim a gospel that brings freedom, reconciliation because I have full confidence that the power of God’s love can transform even the most depraved sinner into a living saint. The forgiveness of sins comes as a gift of God through faith, rather than by our good works or own merit. This has given theological depth to my life, my faith, my preaching, evangelism, and pastoral care.