Sunday, May 28, 2006
Guest Blog: Law & Gospel
By Frank Marron (Lutheran)
Lutheranism maintains that the Holy Scriptures distinguish two ways God speaks to people – Law and Gospel. “Law” refers to the commands and will of God and is presented in a variety of ways, the most obvious being the 10 commandments. The “Gospel” is God’s communication with humanity whenever the emphasis is upon the actions of Him on behalf of mankind, the most obvious being the incarnation, perfect life, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as atonement for the sins of the entire world. Throughout the Scriptures the word “Law” often refers to the Penteteuch,or first 5 books of the bible, the “Torah”. When Jesus used the expression “the law and the prophets”(e.g. Matthew 22:40), this is the implication of the word. At other times “Law” refers to the 10 commandments specifically, or the will of God in general.
The Lutheran way of reading the Scriptures is that of a Christocentric approach: everything in the Holy Scriptures is somehow related to Jesus Christ, as substantiated by Christ Himself in the New Testament(e.g. Luke 24:25-27; John 5:39). Hence, even when someone who is relatively obscure in the Old Testament is mentioned, there is somehow a connection to the Christ. So when Rahab is mentioned in Joshua chapter 2, we see her significance primarily as an ancestor of Christ Himself in the flesh(Matthew 1:5).
Lutherans see the entire concept of “Law” in a three-fold way:
1. God’s curb on evil in society
2. God revealing sin to mankind
3. As a reminder of His will to believers
The first use of the “Law” in Scripture is best illustrated in Romans chapter 13, where Paul emphasizes that the civil authorities are God’s instrument for peace and stability in society. The primary reason for the necessity of this stability is to enable the preaching of the Gospel. The second use of the “Law” is to magnify the existence of sin in the heart of man. Although all men are born with a conscience( Romans 2:15), the will of God is often obscured and unclear throughout various cultures. Without the “Law”, mankind would be ignorant of the extent of his sinfulness and need for salvation(e.g. Romans 7:7-12; Galatians 3:23-24). The third use of “Law” is to always remind believers what the will of God is in specific areas. For example, a new believer may be unaware that abortion is murder and violates the will of God as specified in the fifth commandment. Also, new converts may not completely understand that when a man and woman live together outside of marriage, this violates the sixth commandment.
Perhaps the most instructive way to understand Law and Gospel is as follows:
There are two basic types of people:
1. those who live under the Law
2. those who live under the Gospel
As mentioned earlier, "Law" does not merely refer to "Torah", the first 5 biblical books, nor merely the 10 commandments, but the will of God as found throughout the Scriptures. Certain people read passages of Scripture as commands or prescriptions for their lives-these are those who live under the Law, thinking that what they do makes a difference to God as to their salvation. The same verses of Scripture read by a person living under the Gospel are seen as a description of his status before God on account of the finished work of Christ. What a difference it makes! Since all men are born under the Law, there is a natural tendency to view everything from this perspective. However, continued bible study, hearing the Word and receiving the Sacraments, enlightens the mind to give men freedom and true abundant life(John 10:10) . Hence, we are free to love our neighbor through good works, whereas living under the Law commands us to do so. We live out of being saved and adopted by God as his child, not in order to please Him.
A couple of examples might help. The person living under the Law would read John 3:16 as something he must do in order to be saved: he must believe in Christ.
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."
Hence, this verse would be read as a command of God, His will, what we should do. On the other hand, the person living under the Gospel sees this verse as a PROMISE of God which he trusts. This man knows that he is already saved by the finished work of Christ and that the Holy Spirit has created that saving faith within Him miraculously through hearing the Word(Romans 10:17).
Living under the Gospel is such a comfort and assurance, whereas the man who continually lives under the Law is never positive about his relationship with God. The first epistle of John is chocked full of apparent contradictions to the man living under the Law. 1John 1:6 says the man who sins walks in darkness with no life; verse 2:4 says we need to keep His commandments, and 3:10 says we must practice righteousness. These are plain commands of God to the man living under the Law. However, the man living under the Gospel reads the entire context of John's letter, seeing in verse 1:9 that even though we will always sin, God is pleased with our confession of sin because it always appeals to His Beloved Son's sacrifice as atonement for such. Also, in 3:23 we see that God's true will for us is to believe in His Son. To the person living under the Gospel, although he still sins while in this mortal body, he is not proud of it and confesses it. This man knows that he automatically produces fruits of the Holy Spirit because he is grafted into the true vine(Christ-John 15), and a good tree automatically produces good fruit. This man lives a life of continual repentance and faith in the finished work of Christ. This man understands that as long as he lives in the world, there are two natures within him: the Old Adam, as described by Paul in Romans 8, and the New Creation referred to throughout Paul's letters(e.g. Gal 3:28; 2Cor 5:17). The Old Adam always sins and is also referred to as the “flesh”, while the New Creation never sins and automatically loves, trusts, and obeys God. Hence, John's first epistle remains contradictory and confusing until we realize that John is at one place chastising the Old Adam and at another praising the New Creation within each believer.