So this week, we start covering the Law Gospel Distinction. I feel like this has been a hot topic in the group over the last few months and that is so exciting to me because this was really where I began to be able to feel less burdened in my Christian life. Lately, we’ve had so many posts from women of all different backgrounds saying that they don’t feel saved because they’re not holy enough and they can’t be holy enough. I often felt that (and still do sometimes) before I really learned the reformed view on law and gospel, so if you have posted about struggling with assurance in the group, I want you to know that I am talking to you!
Now, my favorite favorite favorite teacher on the Law Gospel Distinction is my mother in law’s rector, Jacob Smith over at Calvary-St. George’s church, here in NYC. Calvary St. George’s has hosted the Mockingbird conferences up here, for those who are familiar with it, and they also have a few podcasts connected to the Mockingbird Podcast Network. I will link to helpful podcast episodes over the course of the week from this and other podcasts that might not be highly known in this group (unless you’re like a super podcast junkie), like Gretchen and Katie’s, Freely Given and The Shorter (on the Westminster Shorter Catechism), and of course, the Theology Gals podcast, as well.
So, like a few other weeks, I want to have a focus verse for this week from Romans 6:23:
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
I think this verse does a really good job of showing the essence of the Law Gospel Distinction, though the book of Romans itself is full of emphasis on both law and gospel. I really hope having these proper categories can be encouraging for all of you. It might get a little bit heavy, but at the end of this week, I want us all to have hope in Christ’s finished work on the cross.
So what is the Law?
This is something that can be confusing for people, though it really shouldn’t be, but I think it’s largely confusing because a) legalists love to add to the law and b) a lot of people have been taught that the law of God doesn’t play a role in our lives and therefore, it has not been important to learn it. So, in other words, it’s confusing because of both legalism and antinomianism.
In the early church, the Law was always referred to as the Old Testament laws, but as anyone who has read the Old Testament knows, there’s a LOT of laws! Some of them make sense like “do not murder, do not steal,” but others just sound weird like, “you shall not wear cloth made of wool and linen together” (Deuteronomy 22:11), like what’s the deal with that? And then you have the Oral Torah of Rabbinic Judaism, which wasn’t even written down and could be seen as the Pharisees’ interpretation of the spirit of the law. Are we just supposed to follow all of that? I thought we were under grace now!
The Old Testament laws were divided up mainly into 3 different categories: the Judicial law, the Ceremonial law, and the Moral law. The Judicial law was given specifically to Israel as a way to rule their country. These laws include the Moral law, but also include things like the earthly consequences for stealing or adultery. The Ceremonial laws were the laws given to Israel for when they were going to the temple to worship, they had to be ceremonially clean to be in presence with God. These include laws like women having to live in a tent outside during their period and not being able to go to the temple for the duration of their period. Both of these aspects of the law don’t fit into Christianity because they were designed to point to the coming of Christ and Christ then fulfilled those laws (Matthew 5:17-20). He became the sacrificial lamb that makes us clean and able to have fellowship with the Father.
This leaves the Moral law, which is most known to us as the 10 Commandments, though it goes a little further than that, as Jesus elaborated in the Sermon on the Mount. While the 10 Commandments do give us a firm list of things to not do, there is a flip side of each of them to positively affirm. So, not only are we not supposed to use the Lord’s name in vain, but we are supposed to honor him in our speech and affirm his holiness and goodness. This is evidenced really well in the Westminster Larger Catechism, as well as the Heidelberg Catechism. The Heidelberg is actually a great read overall because it’s divided up into sections based on the 3 uses of the law. I may make a few graphics at some point compiling the Catechism as divided, just to make them easier to see together, but really go back and read some of the Heidelberg posts we’ve already done (I’ll try to get the album updated by tomorrow now that our internet is working).
While we are not under the penalties of not keeping the law perfectly (meaning, that those who are in Christ do not need to fear death and hell), all of the laws of God are useful to the lives of the believer. Over the next 3 days, we will be covering the 3 fold use of the law, which is summed up as:
- As a mirror, reflecting back to us, our shortcomings in light of God’s perfection. (Guilt)
- To restrain evil. (Grace)
- To guide us to do rightly (Gratitude)
It’s my fear that most churches give the gospel and once you become a Christian, go right back to the law, but instead of using it for the 3rd use of the law, only use the first use of the law, and thus create a generation of Christians who doubt their salvation. My friends, the wages of sin are death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
It’s also important to remember that laws were given for the good of God’s people. The law is good, it is perfect. It is not given because God wants to punish us, it was given to us because God wants us to be holy as our Father in heaven is holy.
I do also want to reiterate that this happens under the context of a covenant. The Covenant of Works is a covenant of “do this and live,” but we are now in the Covenant of Grace, which is “Jesus has done, now live in that forgiveness.” So the Law Gospel Distinction answers the question of, “how then do we live?”
The Reformed Catechisms & Confessions address the Law here:
- Belgic Confession, Articles 24-25
- Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 91-115
- Savoy Declaration Ch 7, sections 1-5; Ch 11, sections 1-6; ch 16, sections 1-7; ch 19, sections 1-7; ch 20, section 1; ch 21, sections 7-8
- 39 Articles of Religion, Articles 7, 14
- WCF Ch 7, sections 1-6; Ch 11, sections 1-6; ch 16, sections 1-7; ch 19, sections 1-7; ch 21, section 1; ch 22, sections 7-8
- WLC Q&A 91-153
- WSC Q&A 39-85
- 1689 LBCF Ch 7, sections 1-3; Ch 11, sections 1-6; ch 16, sections 1-7; ch 19, sections 1-7; ch 21, section 1; ch 22, sections 7-8
Resources on the Law:
- Ligonier Threefold Use https://bit.ly/lig3folduse
- Theology Gals The Law https://bit.ly/tgTheLaw
- Theology Gals The Importance of the Law https://bit.ly/tglgimportance
- Theology Gals The Ten Commandments https://bit.ly/3ovdmVy
- Mockingbird God is Law https://bit.ly/3e6olQw
- Mockingbird Why the Justice of God is Good News https://bit.ly/3eaEcO5
- Mockingbird The Law https://bit.ly/31HxEBa
- Reformed Pilgrims Decalogue https://bit.ly/3mtCFVV