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:
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 Covenant Theology?
Most of the content on this topic will be coming from J. Ligon Duncan’s Covenant Theology lectures from Reformed Theological Seminary. They are completely free on iTunesU and also on RTS’ website and will be linked. A lot of what Dr. Duncan covered in his lectures comes from O. Palmer Robertson’s Christ of the Covenants, which I will also link below. These works are very thorough and are excellent assets for if you want to learn more, you can just consider this a primer on covenant theology. I will warn that Robertson’s book is very intellectual and I am not sure that I would recommend it to someone who is newer to reformed theology because it might be too much in the beginning while you’re trying to learn other stuff. That said, preparing for these posts has given me the opportunity to listen to Dr. Duncan’s lectures for the second time and I think that if you are newer to reformed theology, I would probably stick to the first section for the beginning and then move on to the more advanced content when you feel more comfortable.
Links: https://amzn.to/2GFSJV5, https://bit.ly/3hz5ON7, https://bit.ly/33HvAL8
This will be covered from a paedobaptist perspective. This means that we (and most of historic reformed Christianity) practice infant baptism. We will cover the differences between credobaptist covenant theology and paedobaptist covenant theology. If you are in a reformed church and have questions, remember that you can and should also ask your pastor for their thoughts, as well. Theology Gals can be great for online fellowship and learning, but it’s no replacement for the church and you should always read things you see online alongside scripture so you can discern the truth.
What is it?
Dr. Ligon Duncan defined covenant theology as the gospel set in the context of God’s eternal plan of communion with his people and an outworking in the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. It is both a hermeneutic and a blending of biblical theology and systematic theology. It is also the Bible’s way of explaining several important themes:
- The atonement
- The sacraments
- The way of setting forth and explaining the continuity of redemptive history
- The dynamic of God’s sovereignty and our responsibility in living the Christian life (law and gospel)
Covenant theology is an important paradigm to use as we read scripture because it helps us see the Old Testament as a Christian book. Dr. JI Packer said in the intro to The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man (written by Herman Witsius in 1990), “the gospel of God is not properly understood until it is viewed within a covenantal frame.”
Biblical Theology & Systematic Theology
Biblical theology reads forward through scripture and understands how God operates chronologically across time. Systematic theology looks at the entire Bible to see what it says about a given topic. Systematic theology also takes what the Bible says on one topic and relates it to other topics.
The way this works together is covenant theology involves:
- Taking a biblical theological survey over how a topic is treated throughout the entire Bible
- Taking a look at historical theology and how the church has historically treated the text
- Summarizing a topic
- Relating it to other scripture
- And bringing it all together
History and Definition of Covenants:
Many people think that covenant theology developed as a response to dispensationalism, but it actually predates dispensationalism by almost 300 years. While it was codified by Ulrich Zwingli during the reformation, Irenaeus outlined covenant theology in a very similar way to the way Robertson does and used the concept of the covenant to argue against Gnosticism in book 4 of Against Heresies. O. Palmer Robertson’s definition of a covenant is almost identical to how Irenaeus describes it, “a bond in blood sovereignly administered.”
Monergism’s website explains covenant theology as:
“Covenant Theology organizes biblical revelation around three unified but distinct covenants: the Covenant of Redemption, between the persons of the Trinity in eternity past, in which the Father promises to give a people to the Son as his inheritance, and the Son undertakes to redeem them; the Covenant of Works, which God enjoined upon Adam in the Garden, solemnly promising him eternal life if he passed the probationary test in the Garden of Eden (also, many covenant theologians see the covenant given on Mount Sinai as being in some sense a republication of the Covenant of Works); and finally, the Covenant of Grace, which God first entered into with Adam immediately after the Fall, when he promised to send a Seed of the woman, who would defeat the tempting serpent (Gen. 3:15). In the Covenant of Grace, God promises a champion to fulfill the broken Covenant of Works as a federal representative of his people, and so to earn its blessings on their behalf. All the later covenants of the bible, such as those which God confirmed to Noah, Abraham, David, and the New Covenant which promises to fulfill these prior covenants in the prophecies of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, are all organically connected, essentially being different administrations of the one eternal Covenant of Grace, which build upon each other and are all brought to completion in the New Covenant which Christ inaugurated with his shed blood.”
This is also a very helpful series in understanding covenant theology and baptism.
Heidelcast Series: I Will Be A God To You And To Your Children
Theology Gals Episodes on Covenant Theology:
Covenant Theology with R. Scott Clark
Covenant Theology and the Church with R. Scott Clark
Evaluation of the Differences between Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology with Rob McKenzie
By: Theology Gals Contributor
The Chalcedonian Creed
This creed is really important to help with understanding the error of Eternal Subordination of the Son. It is pronounced Cal-seh-don, not Chal-seh-don.
History of the Creed:
The Chalcedonian Creed was adopted at the council of Chalcedon, which met to fight against Monophysitism (the belief that Jesus only had one nature) in 451. Monophysitism became a theological issue because Eutyches, a presbyter/Bishop that was present at the council of Ephesus and who fought against Nestorianism (the belief that Jesus had two distinct natures that were joined by one will). Unfortunately, his passion against Nestorianism went so far that he went to the other extreme and taught that Jesus had one will and one divine nature.
There’s a few subsets within Monophysitism that have different nuances within the beliefs that I won’t be able to fully break down here, but I may try to revisit them later. There is a Trinitarian Glossary (http://bit.ly/tgtrinitygloss) with a brief overview of most of them. I do want to point out a couple of phrases in the Chalcedonian Creed that address specific heresies:
- “Co-essential” is directed at Arianism
- “Co-essential with us” is directed at Apollinarianism
- “Two natures” refutes Eutychianism
- “Without division, without separation” refutes Nestorianism
That said, it is important to recognize that Jesus had both a divine nature and a human nature and that each nature had its own will. I will also be discussing this a bit more in tomorrow’s post on the Athanasian Creed, but the CARM link below thoroughly outlines where we can support Jesus having both a human and divine nature through scripture.
Controversies Regarding the Creed:
The Chalcedonian Creed was not as readily accepted as the other creeds I’ve talked about. The Coptic Church dissented on the decision because they held more closely to a oneness view. The Oriental Orthodox Church also did not agree because they didn’t see the creed as being against Nestorianism enough. Churches that rejected the Chalcedonian creed formally separated from the Eastern Orthodox Church, as well. This schism resulted in a mass persecution of Coptic Christians by Eastern Orthodox Christians. This was sadly the first time in Christian history where Christians persecuted other Christians.
Reformed Liturgical Use and Confessional References:l
The creed is affirmed currently by Anglican churches and Dutch Reformed churches, but not as widely proliferated as other creeds. I think it’s largely put on the back burner in favor of the Athanasian Creed, which we will be discussing tomorrow.
Resources to Learn More:
The Nicene Creed
Creed comes from a Latin word, credo, which means “I believe,” so creeds are a statement of belief, particularly about Christianity. These are things that the church has historically taught through the entirety of its existence to distinguish what makes Christianity different from other religions.
History of the Creed:
The Nicene Creed is the most thoroughly documented creed that I am addressing. It was originally adopted by the Council of Nicea (the first ecumenical council) in 325 AD to resolve the Arian controversy, which denied the divinity of Jesus. I’ll be addressing Arianism and other trinitarian heresies in December.
The creed was modified at the second ecumenical council (the council of Constantinople) in 381 to include the section on the Holy Spirit and affirm his divinity, in addition to Jesus’. The third ecumenical council (the council of Ephesus) affirmed the 325 version of the creed as a defense against Nestorianism in 431. The earliest written copy we have is from the council of Chalcedon in 451.
It is currently the only authoritative ecumenical statement accepted by Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, the Persian church, and most of Protestantism, including the Anglican communion.
Controversies Regarding the Creed:
The third ecumenical council affirmed the 325 version of the creed and explicitly banned the creation of any other creed or changing the Nicene creed. This ended up setting the stage for the Filioque controversy. Filioque is a Latin word meaning “from the Son.” That phrase was not originally in the 325 creed and was added in the 6th century by some Latin speaking churches in Spain.
The Eastern Orthodox Church does not say that clause because they argue that it violates Canon VII from the council of Ephesus banning changing the creed. The Filioque was formally adopted by Roman Catholicism in 1014, but this caused such a great conflict within Eastern Orthodoxy that the churches severed ties in 1054, known as the Great Schism. While there were other factors contributing to the Great Schism, it seems that the filioque is such a big component that it still proves as an obstacle to reunification efforts.
Reformed Liturgical Use and Confessional References:
The creed is mostly said before the Lord’s Supper and is also said as a confession of faith on major Sundays in the church calendar.
Resources to Learn More: