March 29, 2020

It was a bad post and here’s my excuse

reDI shouldn’t have reposted my post on “I Want My Sermon On The Mount Back.” It was a bad post, and I’m retracting this repost. The original is intact and these comments are here, though closed.

1) I’ve had a brutal week. Good friend in Markey Cancer Center with leukemia. Conflicts at work. Finals. Denise and I traveling on different nights and barely seeing each other. Constant worry about my family.

2) I was leaving for a day at Georgetown College and I wanted to run a repost. I saw the Frame critique and read it twice. I remembered the older Horton/WHI piece and just thought “Similar topic. Post it with an intro.”

3) Several of you contacted me and said the post wasn’t timely. Appeared to be piling on. Even with a brief clarification, you were still right. I’m clearly in Horton’s corner on the issues that Frame is going after. I was just too tired to pay attention to my conscience.

4) I can’t always devote the time to thinking about what I post that I should. 5 classes a day. Real ministry. Trying to have a marriage, get rest and have some kind of inner life. I get a bit rattled. I need an assistant. I keep telling Denise that when I sell a million books…..

5) Dr. Horton: My apologies. It was a hasty and opportunistic post. I’m better than that. I’m sorry.


  1. I am with you, Michael. You wrote, “When I hear Horton and company disparaging N.T. Wright for saying ‘the gospel is the Lordship of Jesus Christ’ there’s got to be some cylinder that’s not firing.” It’s hard to understand why any Christian would take issue with “‘the gospel is the Lordship of Jesus Christ.” I love how N.T. Wright is always focusing on Jesus. There really is no other place to focus, if we are Christians.

    I also LOVE the sermon on the mount. Maybe it was that I was raised as Catholic and we stood for the reading of anything from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. I will go on record as saying that those four books of the Bible are the most important to me. I realize that it was still men sitting down and deciding what to write about Jesus did and we hope and pray and believe that they got Jesus’ words correct. There have been times in my life that the words of Jesus as written in the Gospels have truly been life-giving words for me as nothing else has been.

  2. “The cross makes it clear that God doesn’t save us by our discipleship, but how our discipleship get separated so far from our justification that they can be presented as almost two opposite systems disturbs me.”
    Agreed. I’m wrestling with this tension right now. Oftentimes a too strict of law-Gospel dialectic leaves you with nothing to do but say it ‘again and again.’ If you’re despairing then speak the Gospel, if you’re complacent then speak the law, but is that really the only two states for humans to be in? Gilbert Meilaender wrote a great essay on this called “Hearts Set to Obey.” You can read Neuhaus’ take on it here:

    Maybe distinguishing between ‘grace’ and ‘gift’ could be helpful. ‘Grace’ being God’s attitude of favor that gives us a new reality for our lives and ‘gift’ as everything given to us because of that attitude of favor. In that sense, we are saved by grace alone (pardon) and we’ve been gifted a new reality in which we can love and cherish the law of God (power). That being said, maybe over-systematizing this stuff is part of the problem. As soon as I think I’ve got it figured out and nicely packaged, I usually find myself repenting and falling back into the reality of God himself.

  3. Maybe a part of salvation is that we become able to show the kindness that flows from the Father through us to others, without our preventing it from happening?

  4. I’m looking for the balance too.

  5. Am I the only one who finds the Sermon on the Mount to be a joyful picture of what is possible for a community of believers who put Christ above all?

    Maybe it won’t happen until Christ returns… but when I see glimmers of it now, I recognize it as Truth. And Kingdom. And Love.

  6. Haven’t read Frame, but could not agree with you more, not just about Horton but about Reformed theology as a whole (and other systematic approaches) that take the “life” out of the Gospel by trying to define everything so that it fits neatly in their particular box.

    If the law is designed primarily to lead me to Christ, what am I being led to Christ FOR? Not just for forgiveness but also for transformation. “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin,* he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8.3-4)

  7. I’m at a loss. There’s something diagnostic about us if we diminish the Sermon on the Mount as not central to how we are called to know, love, follow and become like Jesus and be at home in his kingdom. Tho I am a poor example of following it, I know that Christ in me seeks to live this out more fully in my life. I’m with Kirkegaard, Bonhoeffer and Willard on this one. Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, Jesus intends to make us into the kind of people who will be living SoM’s, even if in our imperfections (which are also addressed in the SoM). Anything less than this would appear to be subterfuge.

    • Do you think that it might be an outgrowth of the teachings that ‘works’ have no value in Christianity? If true, that would also explain why the Gospel of St. Matthew 25:31-46 gets rough treatment from the same types.
      It’s a strange salvation that must distance the Savior from the saved.

      • You could be right, the pendulum often tends to swing too far the other way. Personally, I think it’s because the SoM unnerves us because it seems so beyond us. So we either make it irrelevant, spiritualize it, dispensationalize it, allegorize it or legalize it – making it a works thing therefore giving us cause to diminish its importance to our life in Christ as we categorize it as a law vs. grace thing. But how much more grace dependent will wel become as we begin to live out the SoM for love’s sake. Isn’t that why we are still here? To be “salt and light” as Jesus says in Matt 5? But I know very little in the end.

  8. To make a hard distinction between law and gospel seems artificial and forced upon the Bible. I think I agree with Scot McKnight who suggests that we read the Bible as one Story with many different authors who write “wiki-stories.” Each tell the story in their own way and it all fits together with the whole. Or put another way, each author has a micro story that contributes to the macro story (creation, fall, covenanted community, redemption, restoration)..

    Hard law/gospel distinctions seem to ignore this.

  9. I want my montypython back!!!
    “Blessed are the cheesemakers!!!” from the Life of Brian

  10. Don in Phoenix says

    (I was listening to Jack Hayford, whom I consider to be the dean of charismatic theologians, on TBN Sunday afternoon (before my nap, which happened to coincide with Joel Osteen). I didn’t get the statement which follows from him, per se, but his series of messages on Paul’s letter to the Colossians did provide some inspiration. The thought below, however, is original.)

    Christianity isn’t a system of propositions; it’s a system of PREPOSITIONS. God was IN Christ reconciling the world TO himself. We are saved BY grace THROUGH faith. Colossians is all about BY Christ, WITH Christ, and IN Christ. Christianity, as expressed scripturally, historically, liturgically, and sacramentally, is more about our relationships with God and each other.

    I think it’s the hyper-rational reformed/evangelical mindset that divorces concept from context, reducing theology to a system of propositions about God, and emphasizing our work in believing the right way rather than God’s redemptive work by, with, in and through Christ AND THROUGH HIS BODY.

    For most evangelicals, baptism is about affirming one’s (correct) belief, and communion is an opportunity to engage in a lengthy discussion of how our doctrine differs from that of others who claim to be members of Christ’s body. For the rest of the Christian world, baptism is akin to the Hebrew rite of circumcision, an initiation INTO the Body, and it’s about God’s action, not ours. Communion is about receiving Christ, union WITH Him, by taking His presence INTO ourselves. It’s bread, and it’s body. Its wine, and it’s blood. We proclaim (in the present) the Lord’s death (past) until he comes (future). Mysteries and sacraments don’t follow the rules of logic and systematic theology.

    Why does it have to be one or the other? Law or gospel? Faith or works? Such dichotomies have everything to do with our belief that we are saved by correct belief, rather than by God’s unilateral and extravagant grace, and they tend to discount the work of the Spirit in transforming us into His image. The Great Shepherd of the Sheep is making us perfect, sanctifying us “spirit, soul and body.”

    Everybody needs to stop defending Paul at the expense of Jesus, and trust God to conform us to the image of His Son as we feed on Him IN our hearts BY faith, WITH thanksgiving. (Does that sound Anglican enough?)

  11. It always feels to me that people are so enamored of grace that they go out of their way to de-emphasize works, lest someone ever come close to the idea that we’re saved by them, rather than saved to do them. Trouble is, they de-emphasize them so much that we’re not taught to do them. Neither the Sermon on the Mount, nor the Law—which, if we really do believe that Jesus is God, we have to recognize that He gave us both of them.

  12. for some odd reason i assume that when jesus says ‘do this’ and i know i cant my prayer becomes: make me the person who does…

  13. Michael,

    Allow me to rephrase your point here: This is clearly a case where biblical theology must trump systematic theology.

    I’m no Lutheran, but in any case I cannot hold to a total distinction between law and gospel. For there is grace in the law and obedience in the gospel. Romans 7:7, 1 Peter 4:17 and 1 Thessalonians 1:8

    Personal note: I enjoy when biblical theology trumps systematic theology, and I think Jesus did too.

  14. Oops, I meant 2 Thessalonians 1:8.

  15. The White Horse Inn is about law and gospel. That’s what it’s about. (Limiting the show to law and gospel is how they keep from disagreeing with each other.) Criticizing the show for not going beyond this subject is like criticizing a hammer for not being a crescent wrench.

    Yes, it can be frustrating. I was frustrated by the same episode. But my toolbox woud be a silly charade without a hammer in it.

    • The problem is, they are setting themselves forth as an example of how to reform Christianity. They have a lot of good things to say, but the answer is not simply in a box marked “systematic theology.”

  16. Could it be that Horton believes the law/gospel message and the work that has been done 2000 years ago by Christ is so disconnected from the modern church that he is focusing rather than being an all encompassing treatise? Chapter after chapter is his new book, the Gospel Driven Life is trying so hard to make me realize what certainty I can have in the completed work of Christ. He has explicitly stated that the new book is a follow-up to Christless Christianity.

  17. Gee, I really liked Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy and have recommended it to others, as well as N. T. Wright’s books–guess that I wouldn’t be in the good graces of the WHI folks.

    On another note, I pray that all goes well at Georgetown College where I graduated nearly 40 years ago.

  18. If the gospel is just a bunch of suppositional truths that you accept without it resulting in any kind of changed life then boo, give me materialist humanism anyday.If, on the other hand, the christian life really is another way, then folks might be interested. All this throwing-out-praxis (by calling praxis “law” and thus killing it off) seems more like a slippery theologican’s excuse for explaining why christians tend not to produce any kind of tangible difference in their culture.

    sorry if that’s a bit too polemic, but that’s how I see it.

    • That Other Jean says

      “:All this throwing-out-praxis (by calling praxis “law” and thus killing it off) seems more like a slippery theologican’s excuse for explaining why christians tend not to produce any kind of tangible difference in their culture.” –phil_style

      Amen, brother. Why call yourselves Christians if you aren’t going to do what Christ TOLD YOU TO DO?

  19. “It’s not an insult to the Gospel to seek to live out the Sermon on the Mount.”

  20. Well, you’ve hit the reason I can’t wrap my arms around Lutheran theology. We end up trying to say, at best, that Jesus giving the insight of how best to overcome evil (do good to those caught up in it) is “good” of him to tell us, we don’t deserve this “gift”, but it’s still not an act of “grace.” At worst we just don’t know how to even joyfully take up the work of being a disciple or apprentice of Jesus without feeling like we’re working against the gospel, or getting “saved” and becoming a “disciple” are two totally separate things. I’ve had seminary-educated Lutheran folks be offended at the suggestion that we are apprentices of Jesus; they told me that we were disciples of “the gospel.” Of course, this highlights the key point in this theology: only some of Jesus is good news. That’s just not a helpful foundation for living. If grace is something good that is given apart from merit, then there is a problem not calling the SoM and everything else we get through Christ an act of grace by God.

    “Am I naive to think that even “law and gospel” can continue being a helpful distinction without pushing other aspects of the New Testament to the back row?” I really don’t think it’s possible to call one thing “gospel” and something else “law” and get a different result. It inevitably leads to the conclusion that Jesus wasn’t presenting “the gospel” even though Luke thought he was even after the resurrection, or that people who give the gospel of the kingdom aren’t presenting “the gospel” (even though Paul also presented this as “gospel”). We are better taking the more holistic view that the NT itself takes that everything God is doing through Christ is “good news.” Jesus’ arrival, life, teachings, death, resurrection and continued life and reign and coming reign are all “good news” for the world. We’re called to receive and trust all of it–all of him–for our good and everyone else’s.

    I truly believe that when we attempt to divide Jesus himself–Jesus himself!–into parts that are “good news” and, thereby inevitably make some parts of him into something that isn’t, we’re going to get some serious distortions. The “gospels” are correctly named. All four of them are “good news” about the work of the God of Israel through Jesus from Nazareth, even if some parts are harder to take than others.

    • Jonathan Hunnicutt says

      I have similar reasons for being frustrated by the law/gospel dialectic. On one level, I see what the Lutherans are getting at, and I rejoice. But I cringe when they go too far. All of Jesus is the good news, not just justification by faith.

    • Aw T Freeman,

      You found us Lutherans out, our dirty little secret. We get knotted up in our underwear on sanctification. We tend to divide Law and Gospel rather than to merely distinguish. We at least imply that God is of two minds or has two wills or worse has changed his mind somewhere along the way. Fortunately , the Lutheran Confessions in the Book of Concord does not suffer from this confusion. I will summarize this in propositional form for easier reading::

      (1)Law of God (revealed/decalog) = The Will of God. There are not two wills of God..
      (2) The SAME Law/Will of God applies fully to christians and pagans alike.
      (3) God saved us in Jesus to restore us to the Law/Will of God.
      (4) Sanctification is a result of regeneration that gives us a start of inwardly keeping the 1st table of the Law: We start to fear, love and trust in God above all else. This results in production of the same outward 2nd table righteousness demanded of pagans and nothing more.
      (4) Sanctification and it´s fruit happen automatically. both first and second table fruit.
      (5) The outward second table fruit of sanctification looks identical to works of righteousness demanded by the law because it IS identical. The difference is tree and not fruit.
      (6) The difference between the works of pagans and the regenerate is inward/invisible in the tree/doer not in the outward/visible fruit/works.
      (7) We sin because we are sinners, automatically. We do good works from the heart because we are sanctified, automatically through faith.
      (8)Christians are driven to be outwardly righteous by carrot/stick of the law. We automatically do the same identical outward righteousness by the power of the gospel in faith.
      (9) Christians, insofar as they are not regenerate are still in need of the carrot/stick of the law to do outward righteousness.
      (10) This law work is called “mortification(killing) of the flesh. Words that indicate THIS work are “exhort” “evangelically encourage” “remind”. This is NOT sanctification but produces the SAME outward works of the second table by force at the same time sanctification is producing the same outward works in us automatically.
      (11) To tell a christian to “act like a christian” is a law statement, and is to tell him to do exactly the same as what is demanded of a pagan (as in the SOTM!).
      (12) To imagine that there are special, more spiritual laws, demanded of christians and called sanctification is wrong. This is only and exactly what is meant by the 3rd use of the law. The 3rd use is to tell us that this is not so. There is the same law required of pagans and the regenerate.
      (13) To imagine that the carrot/stick of the law is not necessary for christians is wrong and that now, as christians we must only “evangelically encourage” christians to some special kind of spirituality apart from the mundane keeping of the 10 commandments as father, mother, employee, employer etc, is wrong, and again is THE point of the “3rd use” or better “3rd purpose” of the law.
      (14) once again: we are saved with the end of restoring us the state of automatically keeping the law/conforming to God´s will because it is simply our nature to do so. automatically.
      (15) this will happen in the resurrection when there will be no need for law or gospel any longer.

    • the real deadly error here, is to imagine that there is some visible way to tell christian from pagan or whether we are beiievers or not by some “sanctified fruit” and so we all should become fruit inspectors. This can only lead to despair and away from Christ.

      And: this is impossible for (at least!) two reasons:

      (1). the difference is the inward start of keeping the first table and faith.
      (2) The fruit that results in the second table, outward righteousness, looks and is identical to that of the pagans, in fact, pagans often (usually?) outshine christians in outward righteousness because they think that their LIFE depends on it! The just, in constrast, live by the Faith.

      This is the error Lutherans properly warn against when they say that this error offers no confort to “terrified consciences”.

  21. Michael, here’s another angle of the problem as well: you mention that God doesn’t “save” us through our discipleship. But you know that the NT, let alone the entire scriptures, use the term “save” much more broadly than just in reference to being spared final judgment. We could do likewise, but we don’t, which distorts these exact issues. Doesn’t God “save” us from a great deal through our discipleship to Jesus? Of course he does. He saves from being instruments of evil to such a great degree, esp. for those closest to us. This is part of his grace to us, it is part of the good news about Jesus. But the Law/Gospel distinction can’t allow this to be called “good news” along with a great many other central parts to God’s own good plan and work, which turns the phrase “good news” into something counter to its plain meaning, a kind of religious term of art for insiders to the justification-system, instead of just what it sounds like: ‘good’, ‘news’ about Jesus.

    • God does not save us through discipleship but he does save us to discipleship.

      “{Jesus saves us] … so that I might be his own, and live under him and his kingdom, and serve him in everlasting righteousness. ”

      Explanation to the second article of the Apostle´s Creed in “The Small Catechism” by Martin Luther. This is considered official Lutheran doctrine.

      • fws,

        Luther’s statement is encouraging on one level, but it still distorts, or shrinks, the concept of “saved” from the NT usage, and the problems Michael highlights will remain as a result. According to the NT authors, Jesus “saved” some folks from leprosy, others from demons, as well as from God’s wrath. And that’s just a few examples. The same word gets used for “saved” and “healed” in numerous places. And he is given the name “Jesus” because he saves us from our sins” (not merely the judgment upon them, but our sins). Luther’s statement could read, to illustrate what I’m saying, “he saves us [from judgment] to save us further from our idolatry and make us his instruments for saving others.” Taking us on as his apprentices, making us more like him, giving his leadership and guidance, these are all part of how he is rescuing us from the mess we’re in. Therefore, the opportunity to be his apprentice is itself good news, regardless of the other things God is doing that is also good news. This is what the L/G theology doesn’t allow for. It just receive as (or with) grace Jesus the teacher, Jesus the mentor, or any Jesus but Jesus the sacrifice. Only the sacrifice is grace or “good news” no matter how good and helpful and necessary the rest of him is (and is still news to so many). It just makes no sense, doesn’t square with NT or common sense usage of “good news” and will continue to create the problems Michael laments here.

        • Sorry, it should read “It just DOESN’T receive as (or with) grace, Jesus the teacher . . .”

        • Well T Freeman I see your point, and it is a good and important one, but Luther´s words could only mean what you say if ripped from context.

          “Luther’s statement could read, to illustrate what I’m saying, “he saves us [from judgment] to save us further from our idolatry and make us his instruments for saving others.”

          I am not sure how “..that we should be with him, and live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in everlasting righteousness..” looks like a call to be missionary worker bees. I guess I was inviting you to actually read the Lutheran Confessions and see if you are still left with the same narrow impression of Lutheran theology. I wrote you a longer post. I am curious about your reply.

          “Taking us on as his apprentices, making us more like him, giving his leadership and guidance, these are all part of how he is rescuing us from the mess we’re in. Therefore, the opportunity to be his apprentice is itself good news, regardless of the other things God is doing that is also good news. This is what the L/G theology doesn’t allow for. It just receive as (or with) grace Jesus the teacher, Jesus the mentor, or any Jesus but Jesus the sacrifice.”

          I think I need to be careful here in my response because this is where I would get to read into or take out of what you say in a way that is not what you meant. So feel free to correct me, and I will most freely apologize where I need to okay?:

          This is helpful I am thinking that the difference is here in the “what” and in the “how”.

          Ok Mr. Freeman.

          All you say Christians are privileged to do is true. It is the same thing pagans are told to do in the SOTM and it is done the same “learned” way as pagans learn these things. Words like discipline, hard work, trial and error, delayed gratification,etc come to mind.

          This is called “mortfication of the flesh”. This and the outward righteousness that happens here is a work of God agreed. It is no visibly different than what pagans do and are required to do. Christians are also required to do ALL these things. I say this as a Lutheran Christian.

          And we fail at this daily. It looks like a daily death to ego and the old adam, and so look for our life not there , but in faith, to Christ.

          So where exactly is our disagreement and where does this put our discussion dear brother?

          Interesting and little known factoid: Leo Tolstoy tried his best to keep the SOTM as a life-long fixation. Mahatma Ghandi got his ´passive nonviolent resistence ideas directly from Tolstois writings about his efforts to keep the SOTM. Bayard Rustin, Dr ML King´s gay aide got his ideas from Ghandi and passed them to Dr King.

          ” Only the sacrifice is grace or “good news” no matter how good and helpful and necessary the rest of him is (and is still news to so many).”

          How so t Freeman ? This informs EVERYTHING in my life. ALL things become good gifts of God. good wine, food, drink, music. It is ALL redeemed!

          If I am right and the the opposite of evil is not goodness/righteousness but rather faith (“that which is not of faith is sin”) then this means that the difference is an invisible one and we christians seem all things “wordly” as redeemed/reconciled without a false distinction made between “profane” and “holy”. In the Incarnation the holy becomes profane right? The Lutheran idea here can only be understood in light of the incarnation. Only there.

          • fws,

            First let me say thanks. These are important topics, and I appreciate your interaction which has been in a good tone and spirit. I’m in the middle of some work, so I won’t be able to read the Lutheran Confessions this afternoon, but I will do so in the next day or so because I do want to hear from the best articulations from this p.o.v.

            In no particular order, a couple of thoughts: I was saying that “only the sacrifice is grace” because of this from I-Monk, in a previous conversation where he was trying to explain the Lutheran perspective to me (in which only some Jesus is “gospel” or grace): “Calling ‘commands’ grace is going to be an issue. You can call them true, helpful, etc. . . You can find another way to say the Law is good without saying the law is grace.” And he was including much of Jesus’ own teachings and invitations to discipleship in that ‘law’ category. So if Jesus says “Get out of the way! Car coming!” That’s not an act of grace, it’s law, in this perspective. That seems like a somewhat true, yet obviously odd and insufficient description of what’s going on. It is a half-truth at best. At least from Jesus’ perspective, I have no doubts that saying such a thing would be, above all, an act of undeserved love and kindness, which I thought was the definition of grace, and much of his teaching would be the same. What’s more, we view his teaching in a better light if we think of it as “grace” rather than “law” which sounds like some kind of power-play. It certainly helps my children listen and follow my teachings to them when they think of them as acts of and grace rather than “law.”

            My other reaction is this: I love the Lutheran reminder of how little (nada) we can do apart from Christ and that we all fall short in many ways. That said, #6 of the Confessions you mentioned seems to contradict I John, James, let alone multiple statements from Jesus himself and even Paul in many places. Yes, in the very short term (in some instances) faith is all internal or hidden. But not in the long term; in the long term what we love and trust becomes observable by our actions, generally speaking. Any ‘trusting Jesus’ that doesn’t bear his kind of fruit over the long term is not the kind of trust that Jesus is asking for, not according to the NT. The church can, does and should be able to say that this or that conduct is inconsistent with God’s leadership. And it can, does, and should not keep associating with folks who claim to be Christ’s but keep acting in a clearly contrary way. But it does not follow that the church that accepts this truth will make fruit inspecting their chief vocation (no more than those of a more Lutheran bent will all become wanton and thoroughly immoral). I’ve been in the dark places questioning my own legal status with God, but Lutheran-like theology telling me that it was all internal and my manner of life was irrelevant didn’t help pull me out. Only a more wholistic response of trust to a Person, for everything, not just justification, put me on a path to recovery and joy.

            Lastly, I minister largely in an inner-city environment. Trust me, the parts of Jesus that I’m arguing are good news (the mentoring, the guidance, the teaching, the formation into a different way of life) are good news to the young men who have no father, who deeply want one, and who know that their inherited way of life is bankrupt. These are kids who have seen several of their contemporaries murdered or be convicted of murder and everything else. Yes, life after death is good news to these kids. So is the stuff Jesus majored on.

  22. Law and gospel is not a dichotomy, per se, but a paradox that is not foisted upon the Scriptures, but pervades them: God kills to make alive, speaks a word of judgment and a word of grace–and often simultaneously. This does not mean, however, that one is able to flatly categorize discrete texts as “law” (e.g. Romans 12-16) or “gospel” (e.g. Romans 1-8): the distinction is ultimately a pragmatic one–that is, it has to do with how a given text “functions” on the hearer.

    So take, for instance, Matthew 28v20: Jesus is “with us always.” Good news, right? The Son of God will never leave us nor forsake us. Gospel–through and through. But if you are someone who is feeling convicted by some sin that you have committed, so you thought, in secret, this may not function like good news; in other words, you’d hear it as Law.

    As a LCMS Lutheran, I will be the first to admit that we often bungle exegesis–on the SoM in particular–trying to remain faithful to our L/G paradigm. We’re getting better, though. Read Jeffrey Gibbs commentary on the SoM in his recent Concordia Commentary on Matthew. He makes clear that the SoM is for disciples of Jesus (i.e. Christians; cf. Mt 5v1-2), and so ought to be read as “3rd use” of the law (to use our categories), or as a guide. The Beatitudes are thus the Gospel “doorway,” as Jesus pronounces His sola gratia blessing on those who trust in Him. To read the whole SoM as 2nd use of the Law–the so-called “theological” use, that drives us to Christ–is to fundamentally mis-read the text. It may function as 2nd use, to be sure, but its intention is nevertheless to be taken seriously. Jesus actually desires for His redeemed Church to live this way.

  23. Dunker Eric says

    Jesus turns the question, “how little can we do and still be right with God?” to, “how much can I do for God?” This grows right out of the realization that we are saved by grace. We don’t need to do anything, but if we get it, we will want to–really, really want to.

    Any stingy version of grace that doesn’t have us asking how we can give everything to God, give more, do more is missing the point.

    Of course, I don’t give everything to God, and the grace comes in there, too. But I don’t see any value in trying to defend my failure. It’s still a failure. Even with grace, what I should be doing matters, and what I actually do matters, too. Not to be saved, but because it is pouring out God’s love onto the world, and accomplishing his divine will.

  24. Appreciate your “Update” comments, but isn’t this just a bit confusing? Linking to Frame’s long-simmering personal dislike of Horton disguised as a book review is fine. But rather than take issue with Horton on a completely separate subject (how to distinguish between Law and Gospel), why not add your own critique of evangelicalism to the mix? The Law/Gospel distinction is one of emphasis; the Christless Christianity Critique is one of substance.

  25. Keith Price says

    Jesus preached the gospel, had a high view of scriptures (the Law), and instructs us in the gospel with the SOTM. How can these be at odds? Perhaps the problem lies in our understanding and definitions of the words gospel and law.

    “It’s not an insult to the Gospel to seek to live out the Sermon on the Mount.” – IMonk

    But, it is an insult to the Gospel to NOT seek to live out the Sermon on the Mount.

    • “But, it is an insult to the Gospel to NOT seek to live out the Sermon on the Mount.”


    • “It’s not an insult to the Gospel to seek to live out the Sermon on the Mount.” -IMonk.

      “But, it is an insult to the Gospel to NOT seek to live out the Sermon on the Mount.” -Keith

      But… it’s also an insult to God to not actually live out the SOTM. That’s where we need gospel and grace Horton style that is all God’s action in Christ to redeem and reconcile us messed up sinners, otherwise we’ll end up turning the Gospel into a new law.

      • Keith Price says

        Jon, I agree and you have made a good addition. But, I have a question? Is the SOTM a part of the law or a part of the gospel?

        • what in the heck is SOTM?

          • duh. sermon on the mount… okayyyyy.

            What Christ has done for us and outside of us: Gospel

            what we do or are required to do: Law

          • Keith Price says

            “What Christ has done for us and outside of us: Gospel”

            Certainly this is the gospel and is good news. But is it the “whole” gospel? Is not the gospel of the kingdom as preached by Jesus and taught in the SOTM a part of this also? Is the gospel also what Christ is doing for us and inside of us?

            “what we do or are required to do: Law”

            This is also true. But would this be the understanding or meaning of the word(s) as spoken by Jesus? I think it would be part of the definition, but not totally. I think a big part of the problem or argument or whatever we want to call the issue is that we have too narrow a definition and understanding of the terms “gospel” and “law.” We see these as opposites, words that are at odds. Yet, I do not think they were at odds for Jesus. Therefore, I must conclude that there is a problem with my understanding or definitions or context.

            By the way, I’m still working on it…

          • “What Christ has done for us and outside us: Gospel. Certainly this is the gospel and is good news. But is it the “whole” gospel? Is not the gospel of the kingdom as preached by Jesus and taught in the SOTM a part of this also? Is the gospel also what Christ is doing for us and inside of us?”
            Keith, I pretty much agree with you but think narrow definitions might actually help rather than hurt the conversation. Would it be fair to say that God’s gospel action could be characterized as both ‘pardon’ and ‘power?’

            Pardon, where the law leads us to repentance, killing us, and the gospel makes us alive in Christ. Here grace would be God’s attitude of favor towards us.

            Power, the gifts God gives us because of this new attitude of favor. Here the law should be loved, cherished, and obeyed, especially as taught in the SOTM!

            But in all this, you’re right in saying God’s Word shouldn’t be pitted against itself. God’s Word is unified. But it does different stuff to ‘me’ because I’m not unified with it, that’s, I think, where the law gospel distinction is helpful.

        • most words in the bible have a broad and a narrow meaning don´t they? example: the 4 “gospels”. and then when the gospel is distinguished as not being The Law.

          But then this is to distinguish isn´t it? not to divide. How would one devide law and gospel on Good Friday or Looking at a crucifix? and if the Law of God= The Will of God (and it does!) then God does not have two wills but only one.

          God´s will to save us is then not a different will than that found in the Law.

          Be careful not to create an argument or a difficulty where there is not one.

          In distinguishing law as what we must do, God´s Holiness, and Gospel as what christ did outside of us and for us, in this distinction, the SOTM is clearly law.

          If we are talking about sanctification ,then it is about gospel, but probably not in a way you would accept. sanctification (narrowly speaking!) happens automatically. it is not something we can coach.

  26. Jesus concludes the SoM in Matt 7: 24″Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock….26But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.
    I’m still at a loss on this one. Perhaps, I’m misunderstanding their point because I don’t see how we can get around Jesus concluding remarks and their implication for anyone who would follow him. We may differ in our understanding of what all he means by wise/foolish and rock/sand in regards to their impact on our overall relationship with God but that he did not intend for us to grow into them seems incredulous.

    • mick

      isn´t this a straw man? Of COURSE God intends for us all to keep his holy law! This IS his plan and the ultimate aim of our salvation. God requires keeping the law of everyone, pagans and christians. alike.

      but you are saying something different maybe?

  27. “It’s not an insult to the Gospel to seek to live out the Sermon on the Mount.”

    This hits the nail on the head. In striving to be Christlike and obey his commands, we become better ambassadors and witnesses for Jesus. And the fact that we do it imperfectly should not lead us to abandon that way of life but to draw closer and surrender more to the Lord. Perhaps it’s one of the paradoxes of Christianity, but we who believe and follow ought to be used to those!

    • John,

      since when is obeying christ´s commands and trying our best to keep the law any different visibly or outwardly that exactly what is required of your pagan neighbor? How is it visibly ANY different at all? is there anything you DO differently to be righteous than your pagan neighbor does or is required to do?

      Is there some set of good works that are reserved for only christians to do and not for pagans?

      do you or your pagan neighbor draw closer to Jesus by your or their indentical efforts at doing good works or being a nicer guy ?

      St Paul was the “chief of sinners” . was this hyperbole on his part,? How does this reflect on your plan to be a better ambassador or witness for Jesus?

      • I never used the term “good works,” and it’s somewhat telling that you derived that from my comment because in reality it’s a great oversimplification. What I’m talking about is a transformation to Christlikeness and obedience that permeates and informs all we do. And yes, it will look different from our pagan neighbors if it really partakes of the reality of Jesus. For one thing, we will be people who take seriously Jesus’ command not to worry but to trust him in all things; we won’t be buffeted by external worldy vagaries and forces; we have a hope that overcomes, and that will show, as it most certainly did with Paul. There are many other ways it will be and look different as well, and they are there in Scripture if you look for them.


        – John

  28. I had a preacher that taught, “justification by grace as shown in deeds.” The deeds (or works) follow the salvation, and the salvation is not dependent on it.

    The word “grace” in the New Testament is “charis” in the Greek. If you go back to the first century understanding of “charis,” it applies not only to gifts and the giving of gifts, but to the appropriate response. The Greeks pictured “charis” as a dance, the Greek “Graces” in a circle, hand in hand, dancing together. The symbolism is critical – if the giver, the gift, and the response move together, the dance continues. The minute any part of the chain is broken, so is the grace.

    So what is the appropriate response? Josephus said that we should receive the gift, and then do everything in our power to repay the giver, even though we cannot repay in kind (lest it be a loan, not a gift). We repay by bestowing honor and praise to the giver. And I can think of no better way to repay a giver than to try and follow their instructions on how to live my life. Isn’t that what the Sermon on the Mount is? So if I neglect Jesus’ teachings (or try to use logic to get around them), I am not demonstrating my responsive grace because I am not honoring the giver. And the circle of grace is broken. But if I try to live a better life, just the effort is a form of honor and praise. Thus the circle continues.

    To me, that is a wonderful illustration of what the Gospel really means. Yes, salvation if free. But if I really want to show my thankfullness to God, I need to at least make an effort to live out his teachings. To claim “grace alone” without a response is really to say that my actions don’t matter and God will forgive and still give grace. But that is the heresy of “cheap grace.” It is an attractive earthly proposition (“Lie! Cheat! Steal! Fornicate! God will forgive!”). But it has no relation to the teachings of the Bible, Old Testament or New, Gospel or Epistle.

    Therefore, I cannot claim that God does not want some response from me. Not that he wants the OT Law necessarily, but God is also not granting freedom from any guidance about how to live.

    • Jay

      Since when does becoming a christian excuse us from keeping the same law as the pagans or trying to be at least as outwardly righteous as they are? since when does being a christian excuse anyone, christian or pagan from trying to keep the SOTM?

      what is this business of motive that you are inserting here as if christians don´t have as many base motives as pagans do and are not just as sinful and self-deceiving and sel-serving?

      “But if I really want to show my thankfullness to God, I need to at least make an effort to live out his teachings.” Yes. AMEN brother! Do you DO that? You SHOULD do that! and so should pagans be thankful to God and serve him only.

      Ok. I miss your point I think?

  29. The Frame critique is pretty strong, but I think very needed. As someone who runs with the “Young Restless Reformed / “New Calvinist” / “Gospel Coalition” crowd, I’ve been increasingly worried that we’re headed in a dangerous direction…

    Reading Frame’s reviews articulated a lot of what I’ve been unsettled about, namely that we’ve taken a very particular theological lense and said that anyone who falls outside of it is “Christless” or opposed to the gospel.

    Thinking out loud here: I think I just said the emperor has no clothes. Would you please read and correct me if I’m out of line?

    • i read your blog. The problem I see is the word “gospel” tossed about, with no definition of that word. I see the same problem with those who toss about the term “christ-centered”

      These terms are meaningless if then don´t mean something eh?


      Jesus, who he is, what he did, why he did it, and to what end is not the center, it is not the most important thing on the list. It is the point of everything Christian. Including the Law.

      Now: If the theological terms and discussions we have are about Him in this way then we are having a Christian discussion. If not we are having a different discussion, Which is FINE. Not every discussion needs to be a “christian” one.

  30. I don’t quite understand how the Sermon on the Mount become problematic. I guess it has to do with reading the Gospels through the Epistles (which flips things upside-down) – but I can’t follow the logical leap that gets to that point.

  31. Frankly, I think what Horton and the WHI crowd are discussing in respect to the Sermon on the Mount is classic confessional Lutheran theology. I also think that much of Frame seems to dislike in Christless Christianity can be found in much of confessional Lutheran scholarship.

    Where I think the rub comes in is that Horton and Riddlebarger are not Lutheran, but Reformed. If there denominational label was a little bit different, I don’t think anyone would be surprised one whit.

    Them, and others at WSCAL seem to often fit in this strange no-man’s land between continental reformed theology and confessional lutheran theology.

  32. I would point people to the “Epitome of the Formula of Concord”, article VI: “Third Use of Law”, in which the following is stated:

    “…Now, as regards the distinction between the works of the Law and the fruits of the Spirit,
    we believe, teach, and confess that the works which are done according to the Law are and are
    called works of the Law as long as they are only extorted from man by urging the punishment
    and threatening of God’s wrath.”

    “…Fruits of the Spirit, however, are the works which the Spirit of God who dwells in believers
    works through the regenerate, and which are done by believers so far as they are regenerate
    [spontaneously and freely], as though they knew of no command, threat, or reward; for in this
    manner the children of God live in the Law and walk according to the Law of God, which [mode
    of living] St. Paul in his epistles calls the Law of Christ and the Law of the mind.

    “…Thus the Law is and remains both to the penitent and impenitent, both to regenerate and
    unregenerate men, one [and the same] Law, namely, the immutable will of God; and the difference, so far as concerns obedience, is alone in man, inasmuch as one who is not yet
    regenerate does for the Law out of constraint and unwillingly what it requires of him (as also the
    regenerate do according to the flesh); but the believer, so far as he is regenerate, does without
    constraint and with a willing spirit that which no threatenings [however severe] of the Law could
    ever extort from him.”

    The key point is the difference the law plays in the life of the believer. As I have heard many say, it is the difference between “have to” and “get to”. I couldn’t truly love as an unbeliever, because I was merely doing it to earn God’s favor; under God’s grace, I can love selflessly, without any concern of carrots or sticks. I think the other key part of preaching law is having the sacraments at the ready to bind the broken hearted and to strengthen the weak for righteousness and good works.

    • Might I add that Lutherans also teach that this obedience is only possible through the Holy Spirit’s regenerative work in us. It’s not about teaching the old Adam new tricks; it is about the old Adam dying in the waters of baptism and a new being raised to life through the daily work of the Holy Spirit, through the ministry of word and sacrament. As Paul says in his letter to the Philippians, it is God who does this regenerative work and it is He who will finish it. That ministry of the word includes the preaching of the law.

      • i find the augsburg form of sanctification helpful. It talks about sanctification as being the weak beginning of keeping the first table of the law.

        This establishes three important things:

        (1) sanctification proper is invisible.
        (2) it cannot be coached using the tools of the law …eg “try harder to trust God more!”
        (3) It implies that the visible fruit of sanctification, the keeping of the second table, is essentially identical to righteousness worked by the law in pagans.

        Lutherans, especially many “conservative/confessional” ones in exactly these three points wouldn´t you agree dear dumb ox?

        • I’m of the opinion that one has to go back to the confessional documents of the church (Lutheran in this case). Therefore, yes, I agree that going back to the Augsburg confession is a great idea. I think it is easy to “Readers Digest” doctrine in the confines of the internet, where posts of more than a hundred words are rarely read. It’s also easy to create strawman arguments from a passing comment. If one is looking for amunition to shoot down someone elses opinion, one is going to find it. If ones goal is to broaden oneself by understanding a differing opinion, then he or she will have to do some digging and research.

      • “It’s not about teaching the old Adam new tricks; it is about the old Adam dying in the waters of baptism and a new being raised to life through the daily work of the Holy Spirit, through the ministry of word and sacrament. ”

        We lutherans confuse often, sanctification with the mortification of the flesh where the Holy Spirit uses the Law on us.

        We hear words like “discipline ” “denial” “take up cross” as “evangelical calls to sanctification” or a “3rd use of the law exhoration” “sanctified living” . This is really the Holy Spirit´s use of the Law to kill the Old Adam, make him submit. To kill our wills.

        Most of all, the Holy Spirit used the law to destroy our Will Power,

        Our Will Power is ever alive and active in creatively trying to avoid death by feigning to be of service in making us into better men and women.

        Our Will Power too must die.

    • Excellent . Ox is not so dumb.

      where Lutherans get works in through the back door is when they start to imagine that the fruit of sanctification are not “spontaneous”. they talk about “evangelical encouragement” “reminding” “exhorting” as though that is about sanctification and not about the law and mortification of the flesh.

      Worse they imply that there is some class of works that are more sanctified than what the pagans do. The difference is in tree not fruit. faith not works.

      Chrstian righteousness looks the same as pagan righteousness. period.

      The other way Lutherans get wadded up in their underwear is to imagine that christians do not need still the SAME carrot/stick of the Law. We preach against antinomianism but then also teach that there is some special “nice” or “evangelical” form that law needs to take.

      Suggestion: The message of Law and Gospel needs to look exactly identical when preached to christian or pagan. This is the Lutheran teaching actually.

  33. When our theology is so precise that Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount can be discarded as just a hyperbolic rant designed to drive us to the Gospel supposedly (which He never gets around to discussing in terms that would satisfy any good “Lutheran”!) , something is wrong. This type of theology pits scripture against scripture and turns the Gospel into licentiousness. Thanks for mentioning it!

  34. I think we would do well to follow the example of Paul himself who seems to think that believers can be given ethical instruction while living “Christ-centered, Gospel-driven” lives. Parts of Romans 12 certainly seem to make use of the Sermon on the Mount as something believers should strive for in obedience. If the categories of Law/Gospel are pushed so tight, we might have to start lopping the ends off of epistles as well as the Sermon on the Mount!

    Also, James seems more than happy to apply the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount to believers, even calling the legitimacy of their professed faith into question if they don’t!

    • St James: Works are to breathing as faith is to the body.

      What does it say about your breathing if you are “striving” to breathe?

      Your diagnosis would be a correct one: There is something terribly wrong with your breathing. This is not to say that your breathing is not necessary or required does it?

      “Gospel-driven”? sounds like alot of work to me!

      Josh C: Of COUSE you not only should but you MUST try your very best to keep the SOTM and the Laws of God summarized in the 10 commandments and all the other Laws of God, even those about speeding and littering that are issued by the government. And you should try to do it well. AND you should do it willfully and cheerfully (ah here especially don´t forget the law about paying your taxes!)

      And I am all for calling the legitimacy of your faith (or mine) into question if I do not do ALL these things the law demands. They are reasonable, good and just and serve my neighbor. And I need to do them all cheerfully , willingly and from the bottom of my heart as though they are second nature to me.

      Is there someone on here who is suggesting anything less than this?

    • Did I miss your point?

      Mine is that we get our “ethical points” precisely and directly from the 10 commandments and the sermon on the mount, and that we are clear that God demands that we do these things and does not offer an alternative option. We should not make up our own “roll-your-own” spiritual guidelines to “grow closer to Jesus”.

      Not coincidentally, these exact same “ethical instructions” (make that “What you need to do or die” not the “10 suggestions”) are required of christian and pagan alike.

      I trust you fully agree with me!

  35. Michael:

    If we think of sanctification as really simply faith, or as the Augustana says “the weak beginning of keeping the first table of the Law” and as the invisible added ingredient to outward righteousness, or the keeping of the second table of the Law, then this avoids several nagging problems:

    (1) it says that the line between christian/pagan is an invisible one
    (2) It says that the difference cuts down the middle of each of us and not between “us” and “them” in that it implies that the keeping of the second table looks and is identical between pagan and non-pagan and that the method God uses for producing these works is identical in both christian and pagan apart from faith.
    (3) It avoids the idea that being righteous is qualitatively different as to fruit between pagan and christian. Fruit produced by faith is the same second table righteousness produced by the threats of the law. .
    (4) it suggests that the only difference is in the tree/doer (faith in heart) and not in the fruit/act. we sin automatically because we are sinners.
    (5) it avoids “spiritualization” of the christian life. and avoids the evangelical monasticism of avoiding certain books and music and such. The world and all in it , even meat offered to idols, becomes redeemed/reconciled, pagan and christian… in faith.
    (6) it provides the right meaning to the phrase “the just shall live by faith”.