Law and Gospel


(A personal note: I want to thank all of you who are praying for my health. I believe in the healing power of prayer.)

Melissa was driving to work on an overcast day — a reflection of her dreary soul — as she contemplated why her Christian girlfriends were not showing the fruits of their salvation. Quite the opposite of Melissa’s spiritual growth, her friends continued walking in the world — partying, drinking, drugs and immorality.

Donald sought counsel from his pastor regarding his Christian brothers who had no interest in going to church or studying the Bible. Their attitude was that the Bible is just a collection of ancient fables and tales.

Gathered around a lunch table were several young Christian women. I approached them expecting to hear a fruitful discussion on some deep, theological doctrine; but these unmarried, twenty-somethings were talking about their prescriptions for birth control pills.

Kristy, who had introduced me to Calvary Chapel, enjoyed sitting around the pool smoking pot. “It’s natural,” she said,” … and not like tobacco.”

(Excuse me? They’re both weeds!)

Brad asked Jeannie — a supposed Christian — to attend a Saturday night Bible study. Jeannie was leery as she asked aloud, “Who stays home on Saturday night reading the Bible?”

(Well, I do.)

Church can be a dangerous place for the unsuspecting elect. Where are the truly saved who are justified by the blood of Christ, and sanctified by the Spirit? Brothers and sisters who have renounced the world and walk in reverence and obedience?

Some will accuse me of preaching legalism — that we are saved by works not by faith.

Legalism is a heresy, but so is antinomianism (against the law). Paul, with his gospel message of faith by grace, was thought by some Reformers to be antinomian in his theology. In some quarters of the modern Church, Paul is denounced as a heretic, and his epistles are disregarded.

… because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight .(Romans 3:20).

… nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified  (Galatians 2:16).

Conversely, the Book of James was resisted by early Church fathers who thought it preached legalism.

But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18).

You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone  (James 2:24).

Careful study will reveal that there is no contradiction between Paul, and the brother of our Lord. James is speaking of justification not salvation. Both men would agree that we are saved by faith to perform good works as Paul explains to the ecclesia at Ephesus.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them (Ephesians 2:8-10).

The Law of Moses has not been abrogated at least in the moral sense. Otherwise, what did Jesus mean when He said:

Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill (Matthew 5:17).

Understand, Christ is not speaking of all 613 mitzvot (ceremonial ordinances), but the commandments of God. Indeed, through the end of the chapter He not only specifies, but elevates the moral precepts given to Moshe at Mt Sinai.

For example, if you are angry with your brother you are guilty of murder … if you look upon a woman with lust you have committed adultery … and so forth.

And yet … and yet … there are Christians who believe that Christ saved us not from sin, but from the Law.

To some, going to church on Sunday is nothing more than punching a ticket to heaven. If you go to Church with a hangover — well, that’s just exercising your Christian liberty. You don’t have to repent nor confess your sins. That is taking grace to the nth degree.

My brothers, this doctrine is prevalent within the modern, evangelical church — and it is a heresy as described by Paul.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1-2)

This is so troublesome to me that I have devoted much study trying to discover the genesis of this false theology. Examine the following quote from one of the leading Reformers:

Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides … No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins? Pray hard for you are quite a sinner. (1)

Was the author suggesting that we freely sin — even to commit murder and adultery — or was he glorifying a God who is so merciful that He will forgive even the vilest of transgressions?

Hyper-Calvinists will refer to this quote of Martin Luther to defend their doctrine of eternal security. John Agricola, a disciple of Luther, preached an antinomian interpretation of the stated quote, and was defamed as a heretic when he died in 1566.

In his Solus Decalogus est Aeternus (Antinomian Theses and Disputations, published in six volumes, ca. 1537), Martin Luther sought to refute the Antinomians who were teaching that man is neither condemned by works of the flesh since the Law was an instrument of the old dispensation, nor justified by righteous deeds since man is saved in the new dispensation by grace alone. (Readers of this blog know I have serious theological issues with dispensational theology, Some church historians trace the modern Dispensational movement to Agricola.)

Paul had to correct the Gnostics who were preaching the same doctrine — that man is an independent creature, no longer under the Law and free to follow his own impulses and desires.

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ (Colossians 2:8).

O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called “knowledge” (gnoseos, Gr.) which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith (1 Timothy 6:20-21).

The clarification of his later writings are evidence that Luther understood the harmonious teaching of Paul and James.

Therefore it must be that those who would rid the Church of the Law are either devils themselves, or siblings of the devil. It doesn’t matter that they preach and teach a great deal about God, about Christ, about grace and the Law. (They are) libertines, who give permission to all kinds of infamous deeds. (2)

You have heard frequently that there is no better way of teaching and preserving the pure doctrine than that we follow this method, namely, that we divide Christian doctrine into two parts, law and gospel; as there are also two things which are set before us in God’s word, namely, either wrath or grace, sin or righteousness, death or life, hell or heaven. And these matters are certain and clear. (3)

Luther explains in a lengthy dissertation that the Law was fulfilled in Jesus Christ who was the first fruits of God’s righteous plan of salvation. The moral law is not erased, but made manifest through the power of the Holy Spirit working a perfect work in those who are called.

Kathy, a Catholic sister, confessed that she sleeps with a different man every weekend. “Oh, we don’t do anything,” she said, “… just sleep together, get up in the morning, take a shower and fix breakfast.”

Incredulous.

Look, Christ would not approve, and Kathy would say I’m being judgemental. However, Jesus did not say, “Do not judge.” Study the entire passage in context — Matthew 7:1-6. Our Lord commands us to not judge with hypocrisy. If I’m sleeping with my girlfriend then I have no right to judge Kathy. Since I have lived a celibate life I have every right to judge her. Paul said to not associate, or eat with one who claims to be a Christian, but lives an immoral life (1 Corinthians 5:11).

Of course, Christians must judge (and righteously so) according to both the Law and Gospel, but I fear the narrow path has become less crowded (Matthew 7:13-14).

Suggested Reading: Christ Our Lord, Messiah Gate, 15 October 2014.

Notes:

1. A letter from Martin Luther to Melanchthon, Letter 99, 1 August 1521.

2. Don’t Tell Me That from Martin Luther’s Antinomian Theses (Lutheran Press 2004).

3. First Disputation Against the Antinomians, from Martin Luther’s Antinomian Theses, 18 December 1537.

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2 thoughts on “Law and Gospel

  1. retiredday posted this on Messiah Gate @Blogspot:

    The longer I live, the more I notice that there are a whole lot of professing ‘Christians’ who seem unwilling to submit their personal lifestyles to the authority of Scripture or the lordship of Jesus Christ. Maybe it’s a matter of not having the desire to dig too deep or to be too ‘extreme’, but the common thread in most cases seems to just be that people don’t really want to think about spiritual matters too much. It’s OK to be a sports fan (fanatic) or go crazy for your favorite band or celebrity. But there’s something unsettling about being sold out to ‘religion’. The popular attitude is that Christians who take their faith seriously are seen as ‘weirdos’.

    The fear of being seen as a religious zealot is so deeply ingrained in American society that Islamic terrorists are routinely categorized as ‘religious extremists’, as if there is no difference between an extreme Muslim and an extreme Christian. This attitude reflects more concern for how fundamental one’s beliefs are than for the actual beliefs themselves. And that is because of a growing assumption that it doesn’t matter what we believe, just as long as we believe in something.

    But studying the Bible, examining and understanding doctrines of theology such as you have touched upon here, require an honest intellectual pursuit of the truth — a hungering and thirsting after the things of God. That’s what being a true believer is all about — not being satisfied with religious formulas or rules — not being focused on external behavior with which you can measure your holiness or justify your pride. And that honest pursuit is called walking with the LORD. Jesus said to follow him, and that’s what being a Christian is all about. We need to follow him.

    When we trip and fall, he will pick us up and we go back to following him, not human wisdom, traditions or customs, but God the Son, the Messiah, our LORD, our Savior. The examples at the beginning of this article are of people who simply are not walking with Jesus, like many so-called Christians are doing these days.

    “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise” (Ephesians 5:15)

    “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:23)

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  2. Outstanding comment!

    Several months ago, against my better instincts, I befriended a woman who claimed to be a Christian. She was an out-of-work music teacher. I told her about a teaching job in the music department of a local Christian academy. She used me as a reference.

    Long story, short … she didn’t want to answer questions about her living arrangement (sharing an apartment with a long-term boyfriend), and their drug addictions (she was a heroin addict).

    I can’t disclose the details, but she almost destroyed me. But by the grace of God I endured her betrayal and lies with my soul and faith intact.

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