What is the Gospel?

What is the Gospel?

I know what you may be thinking. “I’m already a Christian, I already know the gospel, why do I need to read this?” *scrolls past, ignores, mentally marks as irrelevant* My friend, if you are breathing, this post is for you. The gospel is not just for unbelievers, it is for Christians, too. We all need it. We need to be reminded of who God is, what he’s done, who we are in Christ. While this post will contain a gospel presentation for non Christians, I want you sisters to know that I’ve had you in mind while I’m writing it. We never outgrow the gospel.

Like yesterday’s post, this will involve some points from some previous posts and I will link all of them down at the bottom, if you would like to read them. I also want to remind you what the focus verse is for this week, Romans 6:23:

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

And one more reminder of Ephesians 2:8-10:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not 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, that we should walk in them.

What isn’t the Gospel?

Again, I want to start off with what the Gospel is not. It is not Your Best Life Now. It is not self help, this is not an area where you can pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. We contribute nothing to our salvation except the sin that made it necessary (Phillip Melanchton). 

This is also not something you can “live out.” We don’t live the gospel, we are recipients of God’s great love, mercy, and forgiveness. Now, living in light of the gospel does bring us back to the third use of the law, but it is not the gospel. And I would argue that those who say that we need to live the gospel by doing anti abortion advocacy or supporting homeless shelters do not understand the law or the gospel. Those things are good things and things Christians can and should do as part of their witness, but being active in those ways is not sharing the gospel or Christianity, they are part of our lives as citizens of the Kingdom of God and living in the world. 

It is also not calling someone a sinner. That’s part of the first use of the law and it is the premise that allows us to understand that we need a savior, but that is not the whole story. The gospel is supposed to be Good News and that is not good news.

Then what is the Gospel?

I think one of the most prevalent false ideas in the world today is the idea that there is a such thing as a good person. Humanly speaking, I can see how you would see how some people can seem better than others. Especially in this post-Holocaust era, where we see so much evil and corruption and we know that we are not that bad. But yet, we all know that we’re not perfect. Especially those of us that are reformed Christians, we understand total depravity and we get it. And even James 2:10 says, “For whoever keeps the whole law, but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” So this first use of the law is the premise by which we come to the gospel.

Because of our sin, we are unable to have fellowship with God. In fact, 1 John 1:6 say that “If we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” But God loves his children, so as John 3:16 says, he gave his only Son as a propitiation for our sins. To say it a different way, in our sinful state, we are unable to access God on our own, but God still wants fellowship with us. So, he sent Jesus to die for our sins. But he didn’t just die for our sins, he lived a perfect and sinless life on our behalf, so that when we stand before God, we do not need to fear judgment, we can be comforted knowing that not only was Christ’s death in our place, but God looks at us as if Christ’s life was also in our place and we are now seen as blameless before God.

Now, it’s important to recognize that this isn’t something that just happens to everyone no matter how they feel about God. It’s not an “all roads lead to heaven” type of thing. God extends mercy and grace to those who are his. Romans 8:28-30 explains it as:

And we know that all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

This is a gift freely given and open to anyone for the taking. You don’t need to pray a prayer or write today’s date down on a card to keep in your wallet. God is giving you a new heart and he is making all things new. You are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). 

So how does this relate to legalism, antinomianism, or lordship salvation?

You may remember a few months ago, I did a Theological Errors Week post on Lordship Salvation and another on the New Perspective on Paul and said later on that I would be covering the Law Gospel Distinction during Reformation Month. Well here we are and I want to make sure I explain this all well and tie it back together.

In the Whole Christ, Sinclair Ferguson notes that legalism and antinomianism are two sides of the same coin. It can be easy to assume what a legalist needs is more grace and what an antinomian needs is more law, the truth they both need a proper understanding of the gospel. We need the gospel preached every Sunday, not as an altar call moment, but so that we have a right understanding of who we are, who God is, and how we are to live.

The argument is not that the law is for non Christians and the gospel is for Christians, but rather that both the law and the gospel serve different functions for Christians and non Christians. For the Christian, in light of this forgiveness, Paul wrote in Romans 6:1-3 (3rd use of the law):

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we, who died to sin, still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized in Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

In The Reformed Brotherhood’s podcast, Jesse notes that “the law and the gospel are different, but they’re inseparable friends.” When we flatten the differences, we either cheapen grace or make it unattainable. As we begin to close out Reformation Month, I also want to encourage you guys to check out Sinclair Ferguson’s The Whole Christ. I said in August that the book was a game changer for me and it is definitely true, it is a lifeline. We all need the truth of the gospel, Christians and non Christians alike. 

All Theology Gals episodes on this (in the order that I would listen to them in):

http://bit.ly/tglgimportance, http://bit.ly/tgGospel, http://bit.ly/tglawgospel, http://bit.ly/tgTheGospel, http://bit.ly/tgLawGospelP1, http://bit.ly/tgLawGospelP2, http://bit.ly/tgTheLaw, http://bit.ly/tglordsalvation, http://bit.ly/tglordcontroversy, http://bit.ly/tgantinomlegal, http://bit.ly/tgordosalutis, http://bit.ly/tgGoodWorks, http://bit.ly/tgsanctification, http://bit.ly/tgpracticalLawGos, http://bit.ly/tgcanwehave, http://bit.ly/tgassurance, http://bit.ly/tglordselfhelp, http://bit.ly/tgparentinpews, http://bit.ly/tglawgosparent 

Related Unit Posts: (in order I would read them in)

The Reformed Catechisms & Confessions address the Gospel here:

  • Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 1-51
  • Belgic Confession Articles 20-26
  • Savoy Declaration 8-18
  • WCF Ch 8-18
  • 1689 LBCF 8-18
  • 2nd Helvetic Confession Ch 8-11, 13-16
  • 39 Articles of Religion Articles 9-18

Resources on the Gospel:

Resources on the Law Gospel Distinction:

 

Lordship Salvation

Lordship Salvation

This is another one that is a bit close to my heart, partly because a few Lordship teachers are men who I’ve greatly benefitted from, but also because learning about this controversy helped me come to the reformed understanding of law and gospel. I will be speaking about law and gospel in October for reformation month, but the podcast episodes that I’m linking here (especially the Reformed Brotherhood) and the two books I read in prep for this unit (Christ the Lord which was compiled and edited by Michael Horton, and Sinclair Ferguson’s The Whole Christ) were such a comfort to me and I so highly recommend them if you’re looking for a new read.

Also want to note that this is not a heresy, those that teach it are brothers in Christ and clearly do love the Lord. This view is not compatible with reformed theology and is barely compatible with Calvinism. I also want to give a MASSIVE thank you to Coleen Sharp for helping with so much of this. You can tell that this is something she is very much passionate about and the TG podcast episodes on this topic have been a huge blessing in my life in really shaping my understanding of theology as far back as the 2017 episode that I got mentioned in.

What is lordship salvation?

The Lordship controversy was a debate between dispensationalists. Both sides are in error and inconsistent with Reformed theology. Both are built on a dispensational framework. On the anti Lordship side was Zane Hodges and Charles Ryrie that taught you could be a carnal Christian, and not grow in obedience. This was a type of easy believism or free grace. This is contrary to a Reformed understanding of justification, sanctification, and union with Christ. Zane Hodges went so far as to promote a type of antinomianism. 

On the other side was John MacArthur. MacArthur was right to oppose the theology of Ryrie and Hodges, but MacArthur promoted another error.

According to Dr. MacArthur in his book The Gospel According to Jesus, the distinctives of Lordship Salvation are as follows:

    1. The gospel calls sinners to faith joined in oneness with repentance.
    2. Salvation is all God’s work. Those who believe are saved utterly apart from any effort on their own. Even faith is a gift of God, not a work of man.
    3. The object of faith is Christ Himself, not a creed or a promise.
    4. Faith therefore involves personal commitment to Christ.
    5. Real faith inevitably produces a changed life.
    6. God’s gift of eternal life includes all that pertains to life and godliness.
    7. Jesus is Lord of all, and the faith He demands involves unconditional surrender.
    8. Those who truly believe will love Christ.
    9. Behavior is an important test of faith.
    10. Genuine believers may stumble and fall, but they will persevere in the faith.

 

So distilling this down a little bit, Matt Slick again at CARM says this:

Though there are variations on what Lordship salvation really is, it is basically the view that in order to become a true Christian a person must receive Jesus as both Savior and Lord and that he must also cease from sin or be willing to cease from sin in order to be saved (i.e., repent). The controversy deals with whether or not salvation is a one- or two-step process.

Links: https://bit.ly/gracelordship, https://bit.ly/gqlordship, https://bit.ly/dglordship, https://bit.ly/rplordship  

Who teaches or affirms lordship salvation?

  • John MacArthur
  • Todd Friel
  • Paul Washer
  • David Platt
  • Justin Peters
  • John Piper

Where do they get the foundation for what they believe?

This view is very much inseparable from dispensationalism, which we’ve already covered in a previous TEW. In fact, Dr. MacArthur says in The Gospel According to Jesus that this is an issue specifically for dispensationalists and that covenant theologians do not have this problem. He also focuses on scriptures that emphasize showing good fruit and having a changed life after regeneration.

A Reformed Response:

A lot of this section was written by Coleen. She put things so well that I didn’t really want to change too much, but one quote from her that really helped in this was:

MacArthur himself doesn’t include Reformed theologians in the debate saying, “Yet the fact remains that virtually all the champions of no-lordship doctrine are dispensationalists. No covenant theologian defends the no-lordship gospel.”. Even MacArthur essentially writes covenant theologians out of the debate basically implying we don’t have the antinomianism problem.  If he would have clarified that statement explaining Confessional Covenant Theologians, I would agree with him.  Unfortunately there are antinomians within certain covenant theology camps of hyper Calvinism, but those either deny the confessions altogether or take exceptions to them.  Reformed confessions leave no room for antinomianism, as neither does true covenant theology. 

In the book Christ the Lord, Rick Ritchie explains:

Must one submit to the lordship of Christ in order to be saved? What often remains unnoticed in the current debate is that, while the two sides differ in their answer to this one question, they both come to the question with a common theological background, dispensationalism, which determines in advance the possible range of answers. We might call the proponents of the two positions “Dispensational Lordship Salvationists” and “Dispensational Decisional Salvationists.”  Before we offer our support on one side of the debate, we ought to take notice of the fact that both parties occupy the same theological continent and have pledged allegiance to the same doctrinal constitution. The better question for us might not be, Which side shall we support?” but,  “How can we avoid the mine fields of both positions and find our way back to our true country?”

To many American Christians, dispensationalism is not just a peripheral set of doctrines tacked onto a core of beliefs held in common with the rest of Christendom. Dispensationalism is the grid on which these Christians hang all of their doctrines, even the ones they claim to derive from other Protestant theologies. When dispensationalism is the interpretive grid by which theology is understood, it affects even the understanding of those doctrines which originated outside of the dispensationalist system.

When we witness MacArthur and his adversaries using Luther and other Reformation theologians to support their respective positions, we might be tempted to think that they are our cousins in the Reformation faith; however, even when they use the same vocabulary as the Reformers, their interpretive grid has already given to certain key terms a meaning that is foreign to the theology of the Reformation. This is never more evident than where they speak of “law” and “gospel.”

One response I really appreciate from Michael Horton is, “We’re not saved by making Jesus savior or Lord. We’re saved because he’s savior and Lord.” My husband took that even a step further and said, “how can Jesus send anyone to hell if he wasn’t their Lord?”

Historically faith is defined as knowledge, assent, and trust. Dr. MacArthur redefined it as knowledge, assent, and a determination of the will to obey. This ultimately adds works to faith, which changes what is meant by sola fide, faith alone. 

Lordship Salvation also does not recognize law/gospel distinctions. For instance, Dr. MacArthur calls the story of the Rich Young Ruler “gospel.”  In the story of the rich young ruler, Christ gives him law to show him he is not perfect. One purpose of the law is to show us our sin. To call this story “gospel” would mean the “good news” (gospel) is do more, obey more. This is not good news. 

Links: http://bit.ly/wscallord, http://bit.ly/trblord74, http://bit.ly/justifsanctif, http://bit.ly/ctlordship,  

A reformed view of the church needs to have room for false converts. There is a distinct difference between the visible church and invisible church, but the difference is one of the heart.

All Theology Gals episodes on this (in the order that I would listen to them in):

http://bit.ly/tglgimportance, http://bit.ly/tgGospel, http://bit.ly/tglawgospel, http://bit.ly/tgTheGospel, http://bit.ly/tgLawGospelP1, http://bit.ly/tgLawGospelP2, http://bit.ly/tgTheLaw, http://bit.ly/tglordsalvation, http://bit.ly/tglordcontroversy, http://bit.ly/tgantinomlegal, http://bit.ly/tgordosalutis, http://bit.ly/tgGoodWorks, http://bit.ly/tgsanctification, http://bit.ly/tgpracticalLawGos, http://bit.ly/tgcanwehave, http://bit.ly/tgassurance, http://bit.ly/tglordselfhelp, http://bit.ly/tgparentinpews, http://bit.ly/tglawgosparent 

The reformed confessions also address this in:

  • Belgic Confession, Articles 23-24
  • Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 2, 81, 87-90
  • Savoy Declaration Ch 10-20
  • 39 Articles of Religion, Articles 16 and 27
  • Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&A 29-33, 35, 87
  • Westminster Larger Catechism Q&A 58-59, 66-71, 75-78
  • WCF Ch 10-19
  • 1689 LBCF Ch 10-20

The above are also expounded of here: http://bit.ly/apmordosalutis

Gratitude [Reformation Month 2020]

Gratitude [Reformation Month 2020]

Now in full disclosure, my husband thinks that this use of the law should go after the gospel because this use of the law assumes the gospel. The more I thought of it, the more I agreed with him, but I wanted so badly to end the week with the gospel, so we’re just going to ignore that, but feel free to read these in opposite order, if you so choose.

Of course, a reminder of our verse for the week, Romans 6:23:

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

But I also want to give a reminder of a verse that we looked at in the beginning of the month, Ephesians 2:8-10:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not 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, that we should walk in them.

What is the Third use of the Law?

Today, I want to talk about the epistle of straw. That’s right, if you remember the post on Sola Fide, you know that Martin Luther called James the epistle of straw because it so heavily emphasized works in a role of our salvation. As I stated Saturday, I do believe that all scripture is God breathed, it is for our good and correction, and I would include the book of James in this scripture. But before I get super deep into it, I want to give yet another Bible verse to give a bit of a proper context for how we’re reading James and this is from the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

How is it that the same Moral Law that is used to show us how sinful we are can also be used by us to show how grateful we are to God? In John 14:15, Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” I think sometimes, we hear that and emotionally go to the place of the first use of the law instead of what it’s supposed to do, which is prompting us to show gratitude. 

James 2:18 says

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works and I will show you my faith by my works.

Now, the context of this verse has been talked about briefly in my Sola Fide post and I definitely recommend it.  But I also encourage reading the whole book of James and also 1 Corinthians 13, especially as we move towards the election on Tuesday. Jesus also said, “By this they will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.” This week’s Heidelberg reading was on the 9th commandment and I encourage especially paying attention to that in your interactions with others in the coming days. This should be an area where the Christian community is a model for the world and we have sadly been just as deep in the mud. That was a little bit more geared towards the first use, but I find it necessary right now and I just wanted to add that before I got back on topic.

Anywho, what I meant when I said, “we hear that and emotionally go to the place of the first use of the law,” is we often take “if you love me, you will obey my commands,” and “faith without works is dead” to make faith a work and therefore something we have to do. But obedience of the law as a way of salvation is a weight we cannot bear! In the life of the Christian, the third use of the law is for us to show gratitude to God for the atoning work of Jesus on the cross. We are not saved by our works, but we are known by our fruit.

In a sermon called The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, Anglican pastor, John Fonville notes this based on a book of the same name by Walter Marshall:

What you do is not instrumental to your salvation. I want you to listen to Walter Marshall as he explains it in his book. He says, “holiness is not a means to an end. Holiness is not the instrumental means by which you achieve salvation. Your good works do not save you. Rather, holiness is part of the end itself.” You are saved in order to do good works, which God prepared in advance so that you should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10. Good works do not achieve salvation. Good works are the fruit and result of saving faith. 

Link: https://apple.co/31XeCHo 

If God says what he desires for us is to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with him” (Micah 6:8), we should be happy to do that because Jesus has given us the ability to do that and because we love him and we want the world to know we love him. This is the maker of heaven and earth, who loved us so much that he sacrificed his only son to redeem us, justify us, and make us holy. Who would not be happy to love a God like that? But, I’m getting ahead of myself to tomorrow’s post.

That said, I do want to circle back to Matthew 11:28. As I said before, the weight of earning our salvation does not fall on us. His yolk is easy and his burden is light. As we move forward in our walks the process of sanctification will be going through us as we draw nearer to the Father and become more like the Son through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is good news, my friends. God loves us enough to save us as we are, but thank God that he doesn’t leave us there.

Related Unit Posts:

 

The Reformed Catechisms & Confessions address the Law here:

  • The Section of the Heidelberg Catechism on “Gratitude” falls under Q&A 86-129
  • Savoy Declaration 19, section 6-7
  • WCF Ch 19, section 6-7
  • 1689 LBCF 19, section 6-7

 

Resources on the Third Use of  The Law:

Grace [Reformation Month 2020]

Grace [Reformation Month 2020]

This is something that kind of floored me a little bit when I was first learning about the 3 fold use of the law. Grace? How does grace have anything to do with the law? As I have told you in other posts (I think my New Perspective on Paul one is where I am most explicit here), the last few months, I have been trying to work on loving the law and seeing the benefits of having it, knowing that the real problem is myself and not the law. This second use of the law is a really great way to see the overlooked benefits of the law, so I hope that this is encouraging to you. As we go forward, let’s remember our focus verse for the week, Romans 6:23:

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

So what is the Second use of the Law?

So, how many of you have atheist friends that think adultery is wrong? Now, obviously, this would require you to have non Christians as friends, so if you for whatever reason only know Christians, play along with me anyway.  Have you ever asked them why they think adultery is wrong? One of my closest NYC friends is an atheist and we often talk about morality, each giving our differing perspectives. If I ever ask why she thinks something is wrong, she normally answers that it hurts someone else, so it’s automatically wrong. So, naturally, I ask, “but if it makes the person doing it happy, why should they care if they hurt someone else?” and then she normally responds with some sort of answer about how not everything that makes you happy is good for you, like if you want to eat junk food 24/7, that’s not good for you no matter how happy it makes you.

This is an example of something we call common grace. Common grace is the benefits God gives to humanity regardless of whether or not they are part of the elect. Examples of this are things like intellect, specialized skills that people have and develop over the course of their lives, and the one we’re going to focus on today, the ability to discern right from wrong.

Regardless of whether or not someone is a Christian, there are things that we as a society have deemed as unacceptable behaviors (though that list seems to be ever shrinking in America and a lot of the west, sadly). Many of them are things that could be found in the Moral Law, like murder, stealing, cheating on your spouse, and lying. While we would argue that society is borrowing their morality from Christianity in these instances, oftentimes people have other motives to want to do the right thing, like wanting to be seen as a good person or wanting to avoid the negative outcomes of breaking the law or violating cultural norms.

Yet in all these things, God is glorified. Yes, you read that right. God is glorified when a sinner does not sin. This is the second use of the law, to restrain evil. That is a grace. Does this mean that this means the unregenerate have a way to earn their salvation? Not at all, look back to yesterday’s post on the first use of the law. But if having a law in place and having a conscience is one of the ways that God limits the havoc that evil behavior wreaks throughout humanity, then yes, this is a good thing. John Calvin puts it this way in Book 2, ch 7 of the Institutes:

The second office of the Law is, by means of its fearful denunciations and the consequent dread of punishment, to curb those who, unless forced, have no regard for rectitude and justice. Such persons are curbed not because their mind is inwardly moved and affected, but because, as if a bridle were laid upon them, they refrain their hands from external acts, and internally check the depravity which would otherwise petulantly burst forth. It is true, they are not on this account either better or more righteous in the sight of God. For although restrained by terror or shame, they dare not proceed to what their mind has conceived, nor give full license to their raging lust, their heart is by no means trained to fear and obedience. Nay, the more they restrain themselves, the more they are inflamed, the more they rage and boil, prepared for any act or outbreak whatsoever were it not for the terror of the law. And not only so, but they thoroughly detest the law itself, and execrate the Lawgiver; so that if they could, they would most willingly annihilate him, because they cannot bear either his ordering what is right, or his avenging the despisers of his Majesty. The feeling of all who are not yet regenerate, though in some more, in others less lively, is, that in regard to the observance of the law, they are not led by voluntary submission, but dragged by the force of fear. Nevertheless, this forced and extorted righteousness is necessary for the good of society, its peace being secured by a provision but for which all things would be thrown into tumult and confusion.

Link: https://bit.ly/2HH9wrM 

The Reformed Catechisms & Confessions address the Law here:

  • The Section of the Heidelberg Catechism on “Grace” falls under Q&A 12-85
  • Savoy Declaration 19, section 5
  • WCF Ch 19, section 5
  • 1689 LBCF 19, section 5

Resources on the Law:

Guilt [Reformation Month 2020]

Guilt [Reformation Month 2020]

This is the most commonly used purpose of the law in American evangelicalism today. While I am not going to mince words here (I think at this point, you all know I love you enough to say what needs to be said), I don’t want to harp too hard on this one, not out of a desire of minimizing sin, but because I know that at different points in our lives, we will need the law and others we will need the gospel. Being an admin in this group, we get to see many posts that we don’t push through and we also get sent many anonymous posts that we end up privately counseling group members in because we are not sure that the group would be an edifying place for their concerns. If you follow the group pretty closely, you probably see a lot of posts from ladies who really struggle with assurance and really truly see the magnitude of their sin as an offense to God. As I said in yesterday’s post, I am largely writing to ladies like you. And when this is the condition of your heart, you need to be reminded of the gospel because you have such a high view of the law. 

That said, as I was thinking about today’s post, I started thinking about Ray Comfort’s evangelism tactics. I have definitely sung his praises in this group often and this is going to be no different. He is such a great evangelist and I am so thankful for his ministry. But the reason I was thinking of him is how well he lays out all 3 uses of the law and ties it back to the gospel in his evangelism. So, I think he can also be a really good model for us as we go out and share our faith with others. We obviously don’t have to follow it to the T and I think we can adapt it based on the interactions we have with each other, but notice that he never leaves this as “you don’t deserve salvation, the end.” Evangelism is always going to be incomplete if it doesn’t include the second part of Romans 6:23.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

So what is the first use of the Law?

The Mirror. God is holy. I think this is one of the attributes that we will never truly be able to appreciate on this side of heaven. We tend to reduce God’s holiness to hymns, things we can celebrate and enjoy. But as my pastor preached this past Sunday, when people in the Bible encounter God’s holiness, they know that there is something “other” about him and they are often afraid of God. This is even evident in the interactions people have with Jesus. My pastor preached on Mark 4:35-5:43 this Sunday and reiterated that in each encounter people had with Jesus, their interaction was awe and bewilderment. “Who is this man that can calm the seas and the storm?” He is beyond any capacity we have for goodness.

One of the ways God reveals these things about himself to us is through the Law. When the 10 commandments were given to the people of Israel, he starts the giving of the law by reminding Israel of the covenantal relationship he has with them:

And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord (YHWH) your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Exodus 20:1-2)

So we see this, this is who God is. He is holy and he gave us his standard of Holiness. In Same Old Song’s episode called “You Can’t Handle the Law,” Aaron points out that people often think that the 10 Commandments and the moral law are actually something attainable, but God takes it beyond the letter of the law and gets into the spirit of the law, to our intentions. This is why I originally brought up Ray Comfort. If you’ve seen any of his videos, you kind of get used to him talking about sin. “So what you’re saying is, you’re a liar, a thief, a blasphemer, a murderer, and an adulterer at heart and you have to face God on Judgement Day. If he judges you by the 10 commandments, are you going to be innocent or guilty?” Man, does that pack a punch. Sin is serious to God. It is not something we should take lightly or be comfortable with. When held up to that perfect standard, we all fall short. Romans 3:23 says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We cannot escape that part of our nature. But the good news is that God is just and his justice was satisfied. In the words of “Before the Throne of God Above”:

When Satan tempts me to despair

And tells me of the guilt within

Upward I look and see Him there

Who made an end of all my sin

Because the sinless Savior died

My sinful soul is counted free

For God the Just is satisfied

To look on Him and pardon me

The Reformed Catechisms & Confessions address the Law here:

  • The Section of the Heidelberg Catechism on “Guilt” falls under Q&A 1-11
  • Savoy Declaration 19, section 6
  • WCF Ch 19, section 6
  • WLC Q&A 149 & 152
  • 1689 LBCF 19, section 6

Resources on the Law:

What is the Law? [Reformation Month 2020]

What is the Law? [Reformation Month 2020]

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:

  1. As a mirror, reflecting back to us, our shortcomings in light of God’s perfection. (Guilt)
  2. To restrain evil. (Grace)
  3. 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: