Law vs. Gospel

February 20th, 2008

There’s an interesting discussion at the Internet Monk’s blog, based on a recent broadcast of the White Horse Inn. (Links further below.) It’s very meaty and edifying, and is related to some of what I said in my last entry. (OK, so practically everything in theology is connected. But the connection here seemed particularly strong.)

Note: The following intro is sprinkled with links to Scripture references. They’ll pop up in a new window, and I tried to keep them concise (just a couple or a few verses each), so I hope you’ll take the time to open them up as you read–and get the richness of God’s word from the source, rather than just from this faulty conduit.

In the last entry, I mentioned how the Spirit works in God’s children, teaching us that we are sinners, showing us our need, and pointing us to Christ and to what he did for us. When Paul taught about the way that God convicts us of our sin, he emphasized the role that the written Law plays. All of us (even we Gentiles) do have God’s Law written on our hearts, so that we have an instinctive understanding of morality–against which we sin. But Paul says that a function of the written Law is to increase our sin–when we see the written Law, it confronts us with our sin. And not only that, but our rebellious nature is such that when we hear a command, “Don’t do this,” we may be more likely to commit that very sin!

The Law points us to our need, and to our utter inability to satisfy its righteous requirements that are based in the very nature and character of God. So when Christ comes, we fall at his feet, and know that we can only be justified by faith. Apart from our working.

That’s part of the reason that Christians struggle with the awareness of our own sin. The Law teaches us sin more clearly. Sin abounds, so that grace may abound to those who believe. And those who believe are exhorted to present ourselves as slaves to righteousness. But…As his children whom he disciplines, with the Spirit in us moving us to delight in God and his law, we struggle with our sin even more. Realizing the need to assure us in our struggle, Paul wrote Romans 8. In this life, in this unredeemed flesh, the struggle makes us look ahead in hope to the promised renewal of our bodies and all creation. God is our adopted Poppa, he has given us the Spirit to guarantee our inheritance, the Spirit helps us in our weakness, God uses everything that happens to our good, and nothing will separate us from his love. (And notice: In our struggles–both against persecution & suffering and against our own weakness–God promises that he will bring us through. God is moving heaven and earth so that those whom he calls and justifies, he will also sanctify and glorify. And nothing can stop his determined effort! Our security and our perseverance stands in the strength of the Creator God.)

OK, so, that was the introduction. :)

On to the links, with a (much briefer) description of the broadcast and discussion.

In “Good Advice vs Good News” [Update: Link is now expired], Michael Horton and friends discuss the Law vs. the Gospel. They touch on the Sermon on the Mount, and how Jesus sets the bar far higher than even the Mosaic Law had done. Some people talk as though Jesus just came to tell us to love each other–as though Jesus overturned the Law and replaced it with a law of Love. But… He made it harder! Who of us truly love our neighbors as ourselves? I have never for one moment loved the Lord with all my heart and soul and strength and mind. He showed the high spirit behind the letter of the law, penetrating to our very hearts. (When I explained the “if you look at a woman lustfully” verse to a Chinese friend, she said, “But then everyone’s guilty!” Exactly!) Jesus did show the high, hard way of truly following God. But then what he did was answer the demands of the Law with Gospel–that he saves those who believe, apart from our working.

The broadcast is a little over half an hour–if you have time to listen (maybe drop it on your mp3 player), it’s got a lot of meat.

Then Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk, posted an entry that began:

I love the White Horse Inn. Never miss it. I love Michael Horton and Rod Rosenbladt especially.

I love the Law and Gospel distinction. I use it. I teach it to my students. I stress it to my chapel preachers.

But sometimes…..sometimes you have a program like this week’s “Good Advice vs Good News?” and I’m left with a lot of questions.

His post, and the comments that follow, have some good, iron-sharpening-iron questions. Among other things, people want to make sure that when we distinguish between the Law and the Gospel, we don’t emphasize the Gospel in a way that denies the law–we should still seek obey the Sermon on the Mount, to follow God as Jesus showed us, to bear fruit. (A faith that does not result in works is dead. We are saved by grace through faith, but we were created in Christ to do good works, and to put off the works of the flesh and show the fruits of the Spirit that reveal Christ in us.) Michael Horton (the radio host) also chimed in, clarifying what they meant on the broadcast. They talk about the three uses of the law. It’s some great stuff.

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