Saturday, February 5, 2011

Law and Gospel and Golawspel

One of the distinctions of Reformation and Lutheran Christian preaching that I have found life changing is the proper distinction of Law and Gospel.  I don't have enough time or space here to do this proper justice, but this distinction has truly changed my view of life and given me hope rather than dread in my Christian life.  The core of this doctrine is that God's Law (summarized in the Ten Commandments and expanded upon by Jesus) reveals our sin, it shows how we are desperately sinful people incapable of delivering ourselves through our own efforts at morality.  A lot of what passes for Christian sermons emphasize the law - even though they speak Jesus name, the sermon is law from beginning to end - what you should be doing as a Christian, how you are to love others, how you are to live, what you need to be doing to grow as a Christian, etc. etc.  It is all about law, and mostly about you.

Great Book on Law & Gospel
This is not the Gospel - it turns the good news of Jesus death and resurrection into a new Law (or Go-law-spel as Michael Horton calls it), a new set of requirements to keep. It offers no hope. We will fail. Every time. The good news of the Gospel is that Christ died for me and redeems me - it is a free gift. I do not need to do one thing, I cannot do anything to save myself.  He has done all - he even gives me the faith to believe!! Christ on the Cross for my sins is the essential Gospel message, the absolutely 100% free gift - I am a child of God and daily live in that truth.  He is my salvation.  He builds trust in my heart as I hear about His great love for me.  I believe and know that Jesus will take me to heaven when I die - not based on anything I ever said, prayed, did, or performed - but based on His mercy and grace alone.

Image Courtesy Victorian Web
The sad truth is that a lot of Churches say they believe in salvation by grace through faith, but then they burden their people down with law - preached week after week from the pulpit.  I recently listened to a "sermon review" on Pirate Christian Radio, and even though I knew that the sermon was wrong, it was being critiqued, and the law application of Scripture was not even correct (the Scripture being used had nothing to do with the topic it was being applied to), I felt this sense of dread creeping up - and I thought - I remember this! This is what I used to feel in Church listening to all this law that I cannot possibly fulfill, focusing inside on myself and my inability to keep the law, and looking around me and thinking everyone else seems to be doing okay, what's wrong with me!  The truth is, no one was doing okay, those sermons crush and offer no hope.  If you are in a Church that does not proclaim the law to crush you and reveal your sin, but then turns around and offers Jesus Christ as your redeemer, focuses you back on confession of sins and forgiveness - the one who perfectly fulfilled the law for you, who saves you through the Cross by His mercy and grace - if your Church only gives you the law, or tells you how you should live to 'overcome' - leave now, get out - it will destroy your faith and leave you without hope. The more you focus in on yourself and your own ability to keep the law and fulfill God's commands or live the Christian life the more you will go down that rabbit hole of despair.  Jesus death on the cross is an objective truth, outside of yourself.  He gave Himself for your sins.  Your sins are covered - focus on Him and His mercy and grace.   


  1. The distinction between law and gospel should be an easy thing, right? It is not. They are regularly conflated by all denominations. Scripture states, "God reveals his covenant to those who fear him." The implication there is that it is hidden to those who lift up the self or an idol. The hard part here is seeing it when the idol is "moral living," faith, family, and apple pie.

    Ideas should be communicated as simply as possible. So here is my stab at it. . . We are required to obey the law, we do not. Therefore, we need the gospel, the sacrifice of Jesus for our sin. As Luther said, we still must obey the law, but it does not save us, nor can it, but still we must obey.

    God does not change his Word or his nature, he covered the sins of Adam, Abel, Noah, Abraham, Moses, in the same way, their faith in his provision, the death of a substitute, the covering of the skins, the eating of the sacrifice, the cleansing by the blood. Shall we subvert his ancient ways by again turning to shriveled fig leaves, filthy rags, and cobwebs of our pathetic attempts at morality? You and I know It can't be done!

    If God chooses the weak to shame the strong, the foolish to shame the wise, perhaps he has chosen a people such as us to shame those who have made imperfect obedience their covering before a Holy God --such things will not stand!

    It is under the covering of Gods promise to faithfully uphold his covenant, to cover our sins, to accept us upon his merit, not ours, that we stand, and we can do no other!

  2. Great blog. I'm peeking at it during a Packer time out. My team!


  3. Great post!

    Rightly dividing the law from the gospel is not easy, but it must be done.

    At the end of a proper law/gospel sermon, no one should be left standing (including the preacher)...but Christ Jesus. Everyone else should have been cut off at the knees by the law.

    The law is done to that the gospel can also be done to you...Christ handed over to of charge. And new life can begin again.

    Thanks, very much!