January 21, 2021

The Law/Gospel Rant

preacherNOTE: Despite the fact that this post is law, you should still read it 🙂

I want to talk about a specific problem in preaching and teaching: the problem of preferring law over Gospel.

I consider the primary problem with preaching and teaching in my Southern Baptist tradition these days to be an obsession with (or addiction to?) preaching the “law.” To put it mildly, it’s brutal out there. In many churches and ministries, you’re getting clubbed into putty with the law and hearing slightly less Gospel than what you’d get in fifteen minutes of country music, all courtesy of a preacher who has no excuse not to know better.

I’m using the simple Lutheran “law/Gospel” division here: all of scripture is either what God commands/demands under penalty or what he promises/provides freely by grace. This is law and Gospel. “Do” or “Done.” Moses or Jesus. God the accountant older brother or God the Father of the Prodigal. Advice or announcement. Sinai or the cross. Threat or comfort. Blessing or curse. You do it or else. God did and praise.

If you get this, Luther said, you are a theologian even without the degree. So if you don’t know this, learn it, and if ou learn it, use it. Go to New Reformation Press and get you some Rod Rosenbladt or, if you’re up for it, the book by Walther. (Lutherans can make suggestions for the rest of us on this.)

There’s a lot to discuss with this topic, because I believe genuine discipleship, which has aspects of law to it, grows out of and lives in the Gospel, not the law. (Think of Gospel as soil and law as fence. How does your garden grow?) The Gospel is the Gospel of the Kingdom, and the King has a moral law. So I’m not simplistic. I sometimes hear people that I really respect do things with the Law-Gospel distinction that makes my skin crawl and that sounds like weird dispensationalism.

But let’s get this clear: I’m going to err on the side of the Gospel, not on the side of the law, so just expect that and understand it’s why I love Capon and Zahl. And don’t think it’s an easy thing for me to be consistently Gospel centered in my own life. God has really humbled me on this one through events in my own family. I have so much law stuffed in me from growing up Baptist that sometimes I’m useless. I could preach a great “beat-you-around-the-ears” law sermon in my sleep. When I hear preachers pummeling their people with the law and acting like the Gospel isn’t in existence anywhere in scripture, I understand how you can know better, but still get to that point.

For one thing, most of us have heard so much law preaching that we’re drowning in it. Most Baptists love it, too, or say they do. “You really told them today, preacher. You let ’em have it” or my fave as a young preacher-boy “You really stepped on our toes today.” I must not have done it right then, because the law KILLS you, not annoys you, so you can be resurrected, not corrected.

I could name preachers all day who made their reputations on being law preachers, and they are popular because we love to hear someone preach our congregation or youth group right into the ground. When our people sleep and our youth group doesn’t care, we love to hear someone come in with the big stick and humble those uncaring sheep. Right?

Law preaching is powerful. It feels powerful. Even when it’s done poorly and just amounts to nagging, it makes the preacher feel like he/she is doing something. That’s one reason it’s so popular- you’re telling them what to do. You’re like Moses hitting the rock. Look what I did, you bunch of stubborn yokels. And joined with invitationalism and revivalism, it works. It fills the altar with crying students. I brings people down to get baptized for the 5th time and really mean it this time.

The Gospel, on the other hand, takes the power out of your hands. It’s the announcement of what God has done. You aren’t powerful at all. You’re one loser telling a bunch of other losers that they are going to be treated like winners. Bread for the thieves. Pardon for the unquestionably guilty. Love for rebels. You’re announcing that everyone gets paid the same. You’re issuing banquet seats to people who have no right to a ticket because they are dirty and sinful. You’re telling sinners that the lamb of God has paid the bill and it’s not going to appear on their charge anywhere.

You are telling people it is too good to be true, but it is too good and completely true, and it changes everything.

Apparently this must not be very exciting to a lot of preachers, because they just don’t enjoy preaching it (and often enjoy saying why they despise free grace.) I’m not saying they never say “Jesus died for you,” but it’s not a finished salvation given as a gift to sinners with nothing put empty hands. It is, as I usually hear it, something Jesus did that made salvation “possible.” Possible. If salvation is just “possible,” I’m toast. Burned on both sides.

If I can go to hell, I will. It’s that simple. (Sorry Catholic friends, but that’s what happens when you keep reading a thread like this. You should have turned back the first time I said “Luther.”) If Jesus closed hell by taking it upon himself for me and anyone else who believes, if hell has been conquered and sin/death defeated by the resurrected/reigning Jesus, then I can be saved. Because God does it and God promises it. (I’m enjoying the fact that I’m irritating some readers right now. See, the Gospel can be fun.)

What I hear in the pulpit is a lot of phrases like “get your priorities and values straight” or “do what pleases God.” This kind of talk can make some sense once we’ve been to the cross and understand the Gospel, but it is deadly if you put your hope in such efforts.

Remember this: Discipleship will put you in despair without the Gospel. Discipleship that’s rooted in law will just drive you into despair or Pharisaism. Discipleship needs to grow out of the Gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit magnifying Jesus and the love of God.

You can recognize law preaching because it’s always full of references to the Bible being a “handbook for life,” full of principles for a successful life. If your Bible is just a handbook for life, throw it away.

The Bible is the story that delivers us the Gospel. It’s point is to get you to Jesus, the one mediator between God and man. It’s a big book to get you to a short message. You buy the whole field, but the treasure is the Gospel, not the book of Judges or financial principles from Proverbs. Once you have the Gospel right and you know what preaching is all about, then you can read and preach Leviticus or Malachi or whatever you want, as long as Jesus is in his proper place and the message is the Gospel, not the law, or the old covenant, or this week’s good advice.

I really think we have an army of preachers who think that people ought to come hear them “preach” about various life questions and issues. How to have a great family. How to get along at work. How to use money. How to discipline kids.

Why would I want a preacher to tell me anything about these things? Why are preachers talking about sex, politics and what Jesus wants you to eat? Can anyone admit that the preacher’s ego is often inflated to dangerous level when we let his/her advice about politics or parenting become legitimate material for preaching.

Preach the Gospel, brother. Then sit down, be quiet and let’s do something else. We can pray, sing or go eat. All good.

The Bible is about the Gospel. You are about the Gospel. Give me enough of the law to make the Gospel good news, though I’ll admit I’m not one of those people convinced that we need to try and recreate Bunyan’s conversion. I’m with Spurgeon on that one. Our job is to keep the Good News out there.

Law preaching demotes the preacher, often abuses the congregation, denies them the Gospel and offers a false hope in things like “getting serious about pleasing God.”

Law youth ministry is a waste of your time. If all you’re doing is trying to make kids behave, make good choices and buy into the church as a place to hang out, then by all means, get another job. Or be honest and just say you’re a moralistic therapeutic babysitter carrying out the wishes of the church to not have any kids make bad decisions.

What is ministry? Get them to the Gospel and Jesus, sister. Let Jesus decide if they need to be in jail or not.

In other words, it’s an unmitigated disaster unless the Gospel is heard louder, longer and much clearer than anything else.

I’d really like to apologize to anyone- and there are a lot of these people- who ever showed up at church and heard the “good news” that if they would take their talent and use it for the Lord, they’d be blessed. Or if they surrender their all to Jesus, they’ll be happy no matter what happens. Or if they will stop making excuses and get serious about following Jesus, they can please God.

Really, I apologize. We’ve got better news than that.

We’ve got the news that if everything sucks, asteroids hit the earth, you die, the economy tanks, no one at work likes you, Christians are jailed, your computer breaks and your kid turns out to be a lawyer, you still can’t stop the Good News of what God has done for you.

We’ve got the news that God has declared religion out of business. We’ve got the news that the church has nothing to offer or say except the Gospel, so that should simplify your search for a church. We’ve got the news that at the end of the world, there’s going to be a party for you and me, where we’re going to be embraced, loved and taken to the new heaven and the new earth completely on the free grace of God in Jesus.

We’ve got the news that the law has been satisfied and love is what remains. Faith, Hope and Love, and the greatest of these is Love, because we know who he is. Death has become resurrection. A world of hurt has become a new heaven and a new earth….in the GOSPEL.

Can we preach this please? My soul needs it and I am not alone.


  1. The “schoolmaster” line needs to be put in full context, something like Gal 3:15-4:10 maybe.

    Pedagogos is a slave with the job of seeing that a child is brought to maturity through all the necessary kinds of training. He was a surrogate parent of sorts, in charge of all the development of a minor child.

    Paul sees the old covenant as a pedagogos and the new covenant as treating us like sons who have come into our full sonship.

    In many chuches, as soon as you walk in the door, the pedagogos takes out the stick of the law and beats you for not being a good Christian last week and not wanting to be a better one this week.

    The old covenant did its job, but anyone who reads the Bible and says we need more old covenant religion has missed the entire point of Galatians. The Judaizers (or whoever) were seeking to bring old covenant practice into a new covenant community. Paul is saying “First grade is over. We don’t have to have our knuckles cracked with a ruler any more. Not if we are sons. We will be treated as sons, not as slaves….unless we volunteer for slavery.”

    • I don’t dispute anything you said – it was a reading of Galatians and the realization that we are saved as well as sanctified by Grace alone that changed the course of my life and ministry 27 yrs ago. But, since then, I’ve seen too much “sinning so that Grace may abound” to think the only way the Church misunderstands and misappropriates Grace is by erring on the side of legalism. I believe that antinomianism is much more rampant than legalism and that cheap Grace is much more of a threat than any ruler-wielding padagogos. The legalists are easy to spot – it’s a straight up us-against-them. But the wolves in sheep’s clothing who talk about Grace are much more subtle – and dangerous.

      • Isn’t it possible that the very reason we have so much antinomianism in the church is that the church has lost the gospel? After all, it is the Law that stirs up sin and increases it!

        • Of course that’s part of the problem. But Grace without repentance is license. The Prodigal Son could not experience the Grace of the Loving Father until he had been drawn by that Love to repent and return to the Loving Father. I think another problem is that judgment is confused with condemnation. How many times have you heard the “there is no condemnation in Christ” mantra used when questions of ethics/morality are raised? Which is usually accompanied by an admonition not to be “judgmental.” It’s clear in Jesus’ relationship with his disciples (Mt 18) and in Paul (I. Cor 3) that judgment is an ongoing element in the life of a believer.

          • One of the problems in many evangelical churches with which I am familiar is that the “law” that is preached is the Culture War diatribe against society and culture in general, and there is actually not a lot of emphasis even on Christian behavior. Another problem is that pastors have abandoned the true pastoral role of being caregivers for people’s souls and have instead focused on programs and morality-based “preaching.” There are gospel ways of helping Christians put off sin and put on Christ, but it can’t be done from the “stage” or through a packaged course on discipleship.

            So, you have your points, but we must pursue the inefficient, non-spectacular, daily Gospel-soaked solutions, and not take the shortcut of trying to control people’s behavior.

          • “The Prodigal Son could not experience the Grace of the Loving Father until he had been drawn by that Love to repent and return to the Loving Father”

            No, I don’t believe the text supports this view. In fact, what is actually recorded is the Prodigal Son has his eyes set on manipulating his father into letting him back into the household. In fact, his main motivation is that he’s hungry and he knows his father’s servants eat well.

      • Glad you said sanctification is by grace alone. that helps me see your position. But:

        I think there’s a little understood fact about human sin that renders the oft-repeated dichotomy of legalism vs. antinomianism(or licentiousness) kind of silly. It’s that an antinomian– one who sins more, cause “hey God forgives me” –is a slave to a law, and the Gospel alone can set him free. Maybe not the OT law, but then neither is most Christian legalism. the law is their craving, their biochemical desires, their felt needs, their personal fulfillment, any number of motivating factors that cause the idolatry of the self. In the same way it could be said that a Pharisee was an licentious addict- one who couldn’t put down the law when it ceased to glorify God. Much like an alcoholic or a college student at a frat party.

        I just hate to see unnecessary dichotomies set up because they cause people to think there’s two(or even more) solutions, and they must be collected like Easter eggs before one “really has it” or “is truly saved.”


      • Tom Meacham says

        OK, now I am a total fan of Internet Monk. I don’t know what kept me away for so long. Patti & I were part of a storefront Lutheran “experiment” from ’00 to ’07 that had to close down. We used to say “Grace, grace, grace. It’s all about grace,” and “God seeks us out and loves us into wholeness”. Now Patti & I are languishing in the big downtown Episcopal Church which Patti finds extremely strange. And yet there are sweet, thoughtful Christians in the Episcopal Church (as well as any Baptist church), though how they come to be that way is a complete mystery to me. I guess they find Grace at the altar, confessing their sins and receiving Christ’s gracious presence in their lives (either through communion or an altar call). And in Lutheran Churches you often find sin and forgiveness preached by a bored pastor to boring people who just like the church lifestyle.

  2. Isn’t this rant just a long way of repeating Matthew 5:17? “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

  3. Thank you. That was a beautiful summary of what churches need to preach today. I recently moved and am now in the process of looking for a new church family. Moralistic preaching is common and gospel saturated preaching is not. Thank you for this articulate post that captures much of what I’m looking for as I continue my search.

  4. That is exactly what our churches (and me) need today. We hear that we need to “do right” and don’t realize that Christ already “did right” for us.

  5. One of the great failures in the western Church seems to be that we are prone to preach a new Law thinking its the Gospel just because its not the old Law. Our hearts are very twisted that way and kills me. I need the genuine “It is finished!” Gospel to live.

  6. Scott Eaton says

    Michael, can you share some examples of some really good gospel sermons?

  7. ‘You can recognize law preaching because it’s always full of references to the Bible being a “handbook for life,” full of principles for a successful life. If your Bible is just a handbook for life, throw it away.’

    Agreed, the Bible is much more than a handbook for life – but it is that, too.
    2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
    When we accept His free gift of grace, God doesn’t leave us hanging, trapped in sin. He has given instructions on how to live a life pleasing to Him! Not to earn salvation, but to live it. I’m so thankful that I don’t have to earn salvation – I’d never measure up! But I’m also thankful I don’t have to continue wallowing in the mire, that He will pull me out and set my feet on solid ground.

    • @ Dan V
      It might help to consider the micro-context of 2Tim 3:16-17 to reconcile your comment with the quote if iMonk.

      «14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how a from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.»

      Paul is saying that the sacred writings have power to change us (make us wise) as long as we use them to God’s appointed end («for salvation») and use God’s appointed means («through faith in Christ Jesus»).

      I take it to mean that whenever I read a portion of scripture God’s aim is to show me how that portion witnesses to Christ and His finished work so that faith in Him is kindled and I become wiser for salvation.

      By this I am changed. But I am changed by the gospel expressed in a particular passage of Holy Scripture. Dows that make sense?

      BTW: Please excuse my englisch. I’m swiss. 😉

  8. Scott:

    Will Willimon, hands down. Has an occasional podcast.
    Paul Zahl http://www.allsaintschurch.net/ASC_sermons.html
    Capon’s book on the Parables
    Luther, The House Postils or any collection of sermons

  9. Complete honesty here? Grace – freely given, as you portray it here – sounds (just as you said) WAY too good to be true. I am saved by grace, but as the church has taught me for lo these many years, though grace was my introduction, law is what is required of me once I am in. I think that is why law preachers are so popular – because they pander to the continuing mindset that I’m just not doing enough, and if I’d only do more, God would be pleased. And the real killer? Hanging the carrot out there that says there is a place you can be where if you do enough you will be ultimately accepted.

    In my heart I know this is just not true, but there are a load of scriptures when carefully applied (or misapplied, as the case may be) that make me feel eternally insecure.

    Thank you for your thoughtful writing. It helps me on my journey to find real peace in salvation.

    • Grace to me feels like high-deductible health insurance, use only in emergency

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      And the real killer? Hanging the carrot out there that says there is a place you can be where if you do enough you will be ultimately accepted.

      A place the guy up front doing the preaching is comfortably in, but you can never get in no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try. Then comes the condescencing diagnosis of the In-Crowd as to why you can’t, and it all becomes just another game of one-upmanship. Just like high school.

  10. Yes, most of us aren’t taught law-grace, but law-grace-law

  11. Hi Michael,

    Thank you for a clear warning against legalism. In order to balance it with the other half of the truth, please consider writing a post against Antinomianism.

  12. Not just Galations, but also so many parts of Romans. And more than that, in the astounding life of Jesus, who shocks me at every turn, and will probably continue to shock me for the rest of my life. To His Glory.

  13. Are you saying that after the gospel has been made clear, pastors should not teach us what advice the Bible offers on how to live as Christians, marriage, parenting, how to deal with depression, how to evangelize, etc?

    • Lynette,

      I think it depends upon how the topics are approached. Example if Christian living is defined as a set of rules, including how much money to give to the church, whether you can partake in adult beverages, etc. that is the law.

      If Christian living is defined as showing grace to your neighbor and to your family, which is much harder to do, then that is the Gospel. An example of that kind of grace would be missing church to take a neighbor to the hospital.

    • They should NOT say that to be a good Christian you have to home school, vote whig, always attend Wednesday prayer meeting, baptize you kids by age 12, etc….

    • Lynette…at the risk of overstating here. I don’t think the Bible gives us “advice…on how to live as Christians, marriage, parenting, how to deal with depression, how to evangelize, etc.”

      With all due respect, that is simply not what the Bible is about. But your question points out that this is the common conception most people have of the Bible—it is a book of instructions for us to follow, a book of advice for our lives, a book of principles and how to’s that we can apply. Certain small parts of the Bible contain such teaching, like sections of the Book of Proverbs.

      But the overwhelming theme of the Bible is the Good News of God overcoming the Bad News of sin, evil and death and making a new creation filled with new people who are filled with the Holy Spirit and living in gratitude for Jesus and his redeeming work to the Father who has brought us home wholly by grace.

      • Mike, I disagree. When we face problems in life, I believe we should look to God for answers, through His word. For example, if someone is depressed they can look to psychology and get all kinds of answers of what to do, or they can look to the Word of God and find specifics on how to deal with depression, which central to that is the gospel. Why look to the world for answers when God gives us everything we need for life and godliness?
        The Bible’s answers to life’s questions and problems are incomplete to a non-Christian, they are still good advice and practical (such as waiting until marriage to have sex), but there’s no power to live in God’s ways for non-believers. Only through a true relationship with God, which is through the gospel, can we live by His Spirit and put off our old ways on put on His ways.

        • Lynette, I would like to hear an example of how the Bible “teaches” us to deal with depression.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            MORE BIble Study, MORE Bible memorization/rewordgitation, and Five-Fast-Praise-the-LORDs, of course, always delivered in-your-face from a one-upmanship position.

            After a couple years in such a Godly (TM) environment, discovering Dungeons & Dragons was like going over the Berlin Wall into the West.

          • Mike,
            I will gladly answer your question about ways the Bible teaches about how to deal with depression, but first I would like to get a better idea of where you are coming from.
            I agree with what John wrote below, “To understand the gospel is to live the Christian life” and I believe growing Christians use the Bible to know how to seek God and become more like Christ, how to live, etc. So everything we do should have Christ at the center, and specifically, the gospel- the cross, the resurrection, as the center. And therefore the way to understand how to be a godly wife, parent, sibling, neighbor, church member, etc., will be learned from the Bible, as we grow in our relationship with its author, since God speaks to us through His word. Jesus gave us commandments and said that He is the fulfillment of the law. Paul gave us commandments, there are many teachings in the Bible both before and after the cross. I don’t understand what you are saying IF you are saying that we should not look to the Bible to find out how to grow and change and live in our relationship with our Lord.
            What is your perspective?

        • Any clergy or lay person who tells a severely depressed person that the Bible is the antidote for that illness could very well end up with blood on their hands. It’s no different than counseling parents of a child with cancer that they can pray it away.

          God does give us everything we need, and that includes medication and therapy and a whole lot of other things in addition to the Bible.

        • It’s not a matter of the gospel on one hand and how to live the Christian life on the other. To understand the gospel is to live the Christian life, to live in the Kingdom of God. The Bible is not primarly a self-help or therapy book; that’s not its purpose. It’s the messy and sprawling story of God’s reckless redeeming grace and favor to us utterly fallen humans, inviting us to his kingdom and his banquet, most supremely and shiningly in Jesus, of course.. That’s its purpose.

    • Lynette, thank you for continuing our discussion.

      I certainly don’t want to give you the wrong idea by overstating my position, but it seems to me that the pendulum has swung so far away from the gospel in evangelical churches toward “how-to” teaching such as “Five Steps to Being a Better Parent,” or “Ten Principles about How to Manage Your Money,” not to mention the consistent drone of preachers “challenging” us to be more devoted to God in a thousand different ways, that the message has become much more about what we do than what Christ has done and what he does in us by the Spirit. People have come to view the Bible primarily as a manual for living. Our religion has become what one has called, “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” That is, it’s about my behavior. It’s about me becoming a better person and more fulfilled. It’s about my efforts to please a distant God. As a pastor, I can’t tell you how many people I’ve spoken to or counseled in our churches who are trying to function on all the wrong assumptions, trying to be acceptable to God rather than living gratefully in his acceptance in Christ.

      When we view the Bible as our “instruction book,” especially in our narcissistic American culture, we go to it as we would to a personal trainer for exercise and diet advice. And somehow the whole thing gets turned around so that it becomes about me, my growth, my development, my personal fulfillment and transformation. One more thing to check off my list–now I have in order my physical life, my work life, my family life, my spiritual life. And we love it because we get to try and control the process.

      Lynette, of course Christians need instruction. But there are Gospel-soaked ways by which this happens that are utterly contrary to the ways our cultural Christianity based on moralism teaches us.

      • Mike, I think I understand what you mean by Gospel-soaked ways of instruction. I think the best preaching gives a clear gospel explanation for 2 reasons- so people who don’t understand the gospel can hear it and hopefully believe, and for those who do understand the gospel to be encouraged by the reminder of what our Savior has done for us. Also, I think the preaching should go further, past “milk” to “solid food,” to deeper teachings, Hebrews 6:1-3.
        A good sermon should instruct us in God’s ways, so that we know how to live:
        2 Timothy 3:14-17

        To answer your question of how the Bible teaches us to deal with depression, I hesitate to answer because I have a long answer, and I don’t want you to have preconceived notions about where I am coming from, based on people you have known, etc. Some people who have responded to my earlier posts here I did not “feel the love” from and I felt judged and that they assumed where I was coming from. If you are against what I am saying, I would prefer you ask a question to clarify rather than cut down what is assumed to be my view.
        Having said that, I will try to be concise, but depression is a multifaceted topic.
        First, there are many different causes of depression.
        1. Physical, such as a thyroid problem, a brain injury, hypoglycemia, etc. Hopefully the physical cause can be identified by a doctor and treated, for example thyroid medicine, rather than immediately prescribing an antidepressant.
        2. Psychological//spiritual, such as trauma, grief, guilt (false or true), unresolved anger/bitterness, anxiety, etc.
        I think identifying the causes of depression can be a huge help in finding out how to find help. Depending on their symptoms and the causes of depression, the Bible can offer a ton of help on the subject. Another factor with depression is that many times people’s responses to depression can further add to their depression. So in cases where the cause may not have a specific Biblical answer, the Bible can help people to know ways to respond to their situation than can bring help, peace, comfort, etc.
        To just choose a couple examples:
        Most people deal with depression at one time or another, including great people of faith such as David and Elijah, pastors, etc., even Abraham Lincoln and other famous historic people. Looking at some of the people in the Bible who had depression can bring comfort and guidance to Christians nowadays dealing with depression, such as Psalm 32, 38, and 77. I think there are times when God has a purpose for our depression, that there is something He is doing in our lives through the depression to bring us into a closer relationship with Him and to teach us things that we would not otherwise learn.
        Another way the Bible can help depression is if it is caused by true guilt and/or anger/unforgiveness/bitterness. The Bible has much to say on these topics, such as seeking forgiveness from God and possibly also from those we’ve wronged, and it’s SO freeing when we do that! This brings us right back to the gospel, that we are free in Christ from what we’ve done, and don’t need to be weighed down by our guilt and shame over our sins, because in Christ we are forgiven completely and His Spirit is working in our lives. We are new creations and set free from the bondage of sin.
        In my own life, when anxiety has been overwhelming, there are times when Philippians 4:4-9 has been a HUGE help, especially trying to give thanks to God and get my mind off of what is overwhelming me.

  14. Does the Calvinist teaching concerning the separate covenants of grace and works make it difficult to focus on the gospel? It seems to teach that grace is what God does and works are what we do… (gospel-law). Just curious.

  15. I’m lovin’ this post imonk! (though the Calvinist/Armenian discussion following in the comments is too big to wrap my beady little brain around.)

  16. You’re pouring the 200-proof stuff, my friend. No ice, no water, no ginger ale. The way I like it. It’s what made an Augustinian monk go giddy and have a Reformation. You’ll find out who the drinkers are right away if you keep pouring that stuff.

  17. For a refreshing change of pace, and some Christ centered sermons try these links.


    http://www.htlcms.org/sermons/ ( This is Pastor William Cwirla’s church website, and there are some fantastic sermons here.

    Try these first.


    http://www.htlcms.org/sermons/sermon/losing_your_religion/ (This one is really entitled ‘Religious Crap’)

  18. Right on.

  19. Mike, Thank you for linking to Walther’s “The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel”. It’s good to know that people are finding it and using it. I wondered where all the extra hits came from, and am glad to see it came from here, where that fine work would be exposed to a larger audience than it otherwise would if it stayed in Lutheran circles.

  20. I think one thing is required of me, though, to accept the grace of God: I must repent. This was our Lord’s first sermon (Matt 4:17), which Paul reflects in that same letter to the Galatians (5:19-21).

  21. Like the rest of the law, you can’t repent perfectly. Like the rest of the law, it’s commanded and can’t be done unless the Spirit is at work in us already and if Christ is the basis of our acceptance.

    There’s the word that will distinquish a law preacher from a Gospel preacher immediately. A law preacher says repent or else. A grace preacher says that your repentance is just simply seeing what you CAN’T Do and what Christ HAS done.

    • “A grace preacher says that your repentance is just simply seeing what you CAN’T Do and what Christ HAS done.”

      That’s great, Michael. I am going to remember this.

    • Then I humbly submit that the grace preacher is incorrect. Repentance is not “just simply seeing”, it is turning away from sin and toward God. God wants more than acknowledgment (even the demons acknowledge). He wants what is rightfully His: our complete and uttermost love and devotion.

      The atonement of Christ is a gift, received by those (and, as I read it, only those) who want it. And what is the nature of this gift? Is it a ticket to heaven? A get-out-of-hell-free card? No, it is a gate, which opens on the narrow way which leads to life. Shall I stand outside admiring the gate? Shall I say that God made the path, then He made the gate so that I don’t have to follow the path? Or shall I acknowledge that the purpose of the gate is to put me on the path; which leads soon to my own cross?

      If I follow some other path, no matter how straight and narrow it may be, it will not lead to God. If I follow the path and stop at the gate, saying “Who needs this gate? I have a path!” I will not reach God. If I stand outside admiring the gate, discussing it with others, defending the gate from its detractors, but never enter in, what good does it do me? If I enter the gate but turn back because the path is too difficult, will I ever reach God? Of course not.

      So who would want this gate, this gift of atonement? Who can truly accept it? Those who have repented, and are earnestly seeking the way to God.

    • Gordon: Go read the Catholic Catechsim on the state of a child immediately upon being baptized. Compare it to your view of the purpose of the atone (and btw Catholics say that baptized infants are justified). Then tell me why your view isn’t basically the same: Atonement makes Christian life possible. That life is lived by way of own turning from sin.

      As I said: I’m toast if that’s the case.

      • By golly, you’re right! And I get a free dog soul with conversion: http://www.irreligion.org/2008/08/27/all-dogs-go-to-heaven/

        But seriously, why do you say that you are toast? Are you saying that you cannot or will not repent? Are you suggesting that it is not possible? Maybe I should go listen to some of those sermons you linked rather than dragging this on.

        • Wow. I get it. I see it now. “It is finished.” I can’t explain it, but I get it. So why does Paul have that list in Galatians? I’ve gotta think about this.

          • I am sorry to keep doing this, but this is amazing! This is worth shouting about. That list of “sins” in Galatians makes so much sense, it’s a “beware” list not a “thou shalt not” list. I wish I could explain it. This is something people can accept as truly good news. I can’t believe I never understood this! If only I could explain it!

  22. How does this viewpoint affect believer’s baptism? Is it necessary if the Spirit is already at work? Is it necessary for the Spirit to begin work? Is it a symbol of imperfect repentance? Honest question.

    • Jjoe, I keep checking back to see if someone has answered you. I hope Michael does answer, as I would like to hear too.

    • No one who practices believers baptism considers it “necessary” as in “baptism itself removes sin” except for the Campbellites. Baptists consider it “necessary” but not in an efficacious sense. Paedo Baptists, such as Lutherans, do consider baptism necessary in the active sense. See Luther’s small catchism vs the Second London Baptist confession.

  23. Christopher Lake says

    As one who heard much Law preaching as a child, and almost no Gospel preaching (at least, that I can remember), I do think that we need Gospel preaching for believers, but we also need Law/Gospel preaching for the non-Christians who may be present in the congregation on any given Sunday.

    For the believers, I also think it is helpful for the preacher to at least talk about living holy lives *in light of* the Gospel. Not so that we can be saved or “keep” our salvation but *because* of the fact that we *are* saved, if we acknowledge our bankruptcy before God, and repent and trust in Christ alone (as He tells us). Hebrews does tell us to “strive for the holiness without which we will not see the Lord.” We are perfectly holy in Christ, positionally, and this should be emphasized in the pulpit. Scripture also exhorts those who are positionally holy in Christ to strive for holiness of life.

    • I grew up in a “holiness” church where much of the teaching was from Paul’s epistles and targeted at women (dress, hair, jewellery, etc). For someone who taught grace, Paul still had a lot of rules in his letters. I know well the feeling of thinking I was going to hell from M-F and the emotional sermons and repentance that happened every Sunday. I left this church with much guilt in my 20s and still struggle with grace/law issues. I am no theologian, but have found this discussion very thought provoking. Christopher’s comment about “holiness” brings back some of the things I still have question.

      • Christopher Lake says


        It sounds as if the teaching (in your church) that was “targeted at women” might have been built on a misunderstanding or misapplication of Paul’s texts. It is so important to know and understand the issues which Paul was dealing with in the culture of that time. I have to wonder, respectfully, if the pastor who was preaching in your church had done the necessary exegetical work and research to understand those texts. If the preaching tended toward “rules,” the answer might well be no.

        • Christopher, sadly the preaching tended toward the rules, an outward “holiness” , not inward. I had never read the Bible through until I left that church and had been raised on certain scriptures, often out of context, that “supported their doctrine”. Later I devoured the scriptures and every commentary I could find and for the first time came to understand justification and grace. But the old ways of thinking still come back from time to time. Reading this post and the comments has been very helpful. The commenter a little further down who distinguished between justification and sanctification clarified things further.
          Thanks for replying.

  24. Donalbain says

    So, you aren’t a fan of Ray Comfort then? 🙂

  25. You were also talking about another Lutheran dichotomy without mentioning it: Theology of Glory vs. Theology of the Cross

  26. Todd Erickson says

    A couple of thoughts:

    1. The mentions that I’ve seen on this thread regarding holiness are really, so far as I can tell, talking about justification. As in, “My holiness is Christ’s holiness, through salvation”. But, at least from a Wesleyan standpoint, I’m not sure that that’s what holiness is really about. So

    2. Initial salvation saves us from death, from corruption, from blindness (spiritually), from a great number of backward leading elements. It should begin the lifelong change of who we are. But that lifelong ministry of repentance and inward change (what Nazarenes refer to as Santification) is also seen as a lifelong continuance in becoming more and more like Christ on an inward basis, which in turn influences our outward actions/beliefs/efforts.

    3. So holiness becomes not, in fact, some state of justification where God is no longer going to strike us down for being outside of the law due to some law based balancing of our state, but rather a process of seeking more and more to live in Christ’s love, and have that element by the defining description of our existence.

    4. I think that for far too many people, Grace is just another legal term. “somebody else has paid what I owe”. And it stops there? It has no ramifications? It has no effect on your life? you aren’t changed and consumed by that meeting with God? His presence, His Spirit, His essence, doesn’t act as a catalyst to completely consume and dynamically change what you once called “your life”? Then by God, friend, what Gospel are you listening to?

    God doesn’t just want to change you from hell, He wants to change you and the entire world around you into what creation was meant to be.

    • Thank u for your post

    • Todd,
      As to your point #4. Who is saying or teaching that in this comment thread? The subject is the misuse of the moral Law in preaching or teaching that eclipses the Gospel. This is a far greater problem than real antinomianism, at east in the more conservative wing of the church. In 95% or more of the churches I’ve been to, it’s all about what we need to do, should do, not do and how to to do/not do it. These commands, principles, rules etc. are powerless to create the behavior they demand, so when people fail to live up to them, antinomian is the charge laid against them, and harsher preaching of the law is Rx’d to remedy the situation.
      No one here has said that real faith won’t result in a changed life. Luther and the Lutheran confessions have a whole lot to say about the proper place and need for good works that spring from true faith, so do all of the traditions represented on this thread. However, that is not the subject at hand.
      Listen to the sermons I linked to above and see if they have nothing to say about the Christian life.

      • Todd Erickson says

        I suppose that it’s far more a sense of what isn’t being said.

        Grace should lead us to places other than what we can or cannot do. So far, in this discussion, it’s only an alternative to the law.

        Unfortunately, I don’t have time to listen to the sermons that you linked. If you had text versions, I could read them very quickly and respond, but I simply don’t have hours to sit around and listen to sermons.

        What I have seen, say, John Piper say about Grace is that it is a means of transaction, of justification. If that is one’s understanding of Grace, then it creates a very limited worldview of the ministry of Jesus, does it not?

        • Todd,

          Pastor Cwirla’s sermon links have both the print version and the Mp3 versions on the same page. (Also, you are lucky if he preaches for 25 minutes, with 20 minutes being about average.)

          I don’t know what Piper teaches about grace so I am not in a position to confirm or deny our agreement with him. If you have represented him accurately then, we most certainly do not agree with him.

          The classic understanding of grace in our tradition is the unmerited favor of God toward us because of Christ and His work. It is God’s personal disposition towards us. This is juxtaposed against God’s wrath and our emnity towards Him. It’s the exact opposite of transactionalism.

          • Todd Erickson says

            I don’t understand how you can see the whole “our emnity vs. God’s wrath, etc.” as non transactional. It seems to me that if the whole point of Grace is that God is angry, then we have a defining issue with who God is. In addition to what God’s wrath is actually like.

            I don’t see anywhere in the bible where God’s wrath is A. eternal, B. pointless, or C. simply because he likes being angry and vengeful at people. It’s always purposeful.

            In fact, much of God’s wrath in the OT (where we see most of it) is almost certainly God not protecting people from the consequences of their actions in the world. The curse that God delivers so much of the time is rather an absence of Grace.

  27. I wonder if it’s a good idea to send the link to this to a Youth Pastor acquaintance of mine who, well, does this:

    Law youth ministry is a waste of your time. If all you’re doing is trying to make kids behave, make good choices and buy into the church as a place to hang out, then by all means, get another job. Or be honest and just say you’re a moralistic therapeutic babysitter carrying out the wishes of the church to not have any kids make bad decisions.

    I’m seriously praying about it. And the background is not SBC.

    • Chuck Dotson says

      Re; youth pastors, brother you said it! Student ministries are some of the worst offenders in swapping the Law and Gospel. I had a younger friend tell me that the student ministry he attended in college frequently told students to not “bring your mud into the house of the Lord”. My friend left that group shortly thereafter.

      It breaks my heart when l think of all the millions of people who have been burned out, burned up, and just plain destroyed by legalistic preaching, youth ministry, and congregations. It’s probably not a coincidence that the ascendency of legalistic preaching has been accompanied by the rise of virulent atheism…

  28. dumbox: I’ll take a brief stab at answering your question. No, covenantal theology should not make it difficult to focus on the gospel. In broad terms it teaches that the covenant of works was instituted in the garden, broken by Adam and Eve and now is fulfilled in the work of Christ. (second Adam) The covenant of grace as instituted at the time of Abraham, speaks of Christ and in subsequent scriptural revelation begins to further open and enlarge what we know about Jesus life and ministry to be and how He is the “gospel” or fulfillment of all of God’s promises. Covenant theology teaches that all who live in unbelief are accountable to God under the stipulations of the covenant of works (which they cannot fulfill) while those who are “in Christ” live within the glory of the covenant of grace and ought to(if they understand it correctly) be people who talk about nothing but the gospel and grace of God. Perhaps it would be helpful for you to check out some of the books Michael Horton has written on covenantal theology. You may not agree with what you read but he would make more sense. blessings. ronh

  29. Iv’e re-read this 2 times now Michael and in reading it again my thought is this: The gospel always liberates and the law merely castigates . I’d have to agree with you on the you either get it or you don’t.

    Luther said, “There are two hindrances to the Gospel: the first is teaching false doctrine, driving the consciences into the Law and works. And the second is this trick of the devil: when he finds that he cannot subvert the faith by directly denying the Gospel, he sneaks in from the rear; raises useless questions and gets men to contend about them and meanwhile to forget the chief thing…”

    I can’t tell you the # of times I have forgoten that chief thing. I am still recovering (and so are my listeners I can only guess) from preaching my fair share of law and a be good gospel with no true gospel to be heard within a country mile and can only imagine the damage I did and the missed opportunities in failing to simply announce this glorious gospel. This post is cause for both sober examination and wonder filled gospel reflection.


  30. u2wesley:

    At what point will I know that my repentance is not license? Who will tell me when I’ve repented enough?

    • If I gave you a number, quota or other paramater, wouldn’t that be legalistic? :o)

      It’s not an issue of quantifying or qualifying adequate repentance. Repentance is a gift granted by God, not some state of mind we work ourselves into in order to try to please God. Repentance is the fruit of being drawn by the Spirit to saving faith in Christ.

    • Both those questions are questions answered by the Gospel. They are non-sequitors to those who believe the Gospel.

  31. Growing up in my middle-of-the-road CofC church, our working definition of grace was “do your best and God will handle the rest”. Not until much later did I realize that my best could handle about 0.0% of what was required.

    Now I know that its all Christ or nothing at all. But those wriggly little tendrils of self-reliance are still there and will take any opportunity to take my gaze away from Christ and turn it inward. That’s why I need to read stuff like this. And why I long to hear more of it in my home church. But for now this and other resources will have to do.

  32. All this high churchy Lutheran dude can say is “Amen! Hallelujah! Preach it, brother!”

  33. From “the Doctor” himself, the great Martyn Lloyd- Jones preaching on Rom. 6:1:

    “The true preaching of the gospel of salvation by grace alone always leads to the possibility of this charge being brought against it. There is no better test as to whether a man is really preaching the New Testament gospel of salvation than this, that some people might misunderstand it and misinterpret it to mean that it really amounts to this, that because you are saved by grace alone it does not matter at all what you do; you can go on sinning as much as you like because it will redound all the more to the glory of grace. If my preaching and presentation of the gospel of salvation does not expose it to that misunderstanding, then it is not the gospel. Let me show you what I mean.

    If a man preaches justification by works, no one would ever raise this question. If a man’s preaching is, ‘If you want to be Christians, and if you want to go to heaven, you must stop committing sins, you must take up good works, and if you do so regularly and constantly, and do not fail to keep on at it, you will make yourselves Christians, you will reconcile yourselves to God and you will go to heaven’. Obviously a man who preaches in that strain would never be liable to this misunderstanding. Nobody would say to such a man, ‘Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?’, because the man’s whole emphasis is just this, that if you go on sinning you are certain to be damned, and only if you stop sinning can you save yourselves. So that misunderstanding could never arise . . . . . .

    Nobody has ever brought this charge against the Church of Rome, but it was brought frequently against Martin Luther; indeed that was precisely what the Church of Rome said about the preaching of Martin Luther. They said, ‘This man who was a priest has changed the doctrine in order to justify his own marriage and his own lust’, and so on. ‘This man’, they said, ‘is an antinomian; and that is heresy.’ That is the very charge they brought against him. It was also brought George Whitfield two hundred years ago. It is the charge that formal dead Christianity – if there is such a thing – has always brought against this startling, staggering message, that God ‘justifies the ungodly’ . . .

    That is my comment and it is a very important comment for preachers. I would say to all preachers: If your preaching of salvation has not been misunderstood in that way, then you had better examine your sermons again, and you had better make sure that you are really preaching the salvation that is offered in the New Testament to the ungodly, the sinner, to those who are dead in trespasses and sins, to those who are enemies of God. There is this kind of dangerous element about the true presentation of the doctrine of salvation.”

    (from Lloyd-Jones, “The New Man: Romans 6”)

    As a seminarian, this quote haunts me. I am all too aware that my gospel preaching is so frequently tainted with law. Would that I would preach the true glory of the gospel!!

  34. Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing and then putting this on your blog. Some preaching of the law is not as blatant as the examples given. It can be very subtle. And, in some churches, it doesn’t always come from the pulpit, but from small group leaders.

  35. This post is a great one, and it focuses on the main problem of the church-unbelief. I know that the term unbelief was not employed, however, that is the sum of the matter. We do not believe God. This unbelief is what God charged against the Israelites after having brought them out of Egypt, saying “many perished in the wilderness and that they could not enter in because of unbelief”, Heb.3:17-19.

    Do we believe that God’s salvation is complete, needing Nothing from us? Do we believe that it is as effectual as complete?

    God saves the entire individual: our souls, our minds, our deeds, and on the last day, our bodies.
    He justifies us, then cleans us. This justification is based on the work of the Lamb, and so is the sanctification. As I trust God, I’m empowered by God to obey His commands. Recall that the Law is a command AND a penalty. When God commands in the Gospel, it is always in light of the Gospel.
    For example, we are to not steal, but instead to work with our hand to give to him who is lacking, Eph. 4:28. All of the commands given us are given to us as children that have already been accepted and cleansed. Now, as Christians, God commands us because we have been bought with a price, and we are not our own. My child does not have the right to walk according to her own thoughts and ways, she instead must listen to Dad, and if she doesn’t, she isn’t thrown out of the family, but chastised. This is the chastisement “of which all are partakers” Heb.12:5-8. So, God does in fact clean up our outward conduct so that it is fitting with His character and the justification that we’ve received. This is how the adornment of the Gospel in our lives takes place, to the end that other sinners may see and glorify God.

    At the root of all sin is unbelief. We believe God to be a liar, or are very suspicious of Him, although, with our mouth we declare that God cannot lie. Our actions demonstrate what it is that we trust, and it is the lack of confidence in God to be our whole satisfaction in life that enables us to commit the sins through which we hope to attain some measure of satisfaction.

    So, our Christian walk begins and is carried on to completion by faith in the Son of God who gave himself for us and died for us. Our obedience is the work of God applying the salvation that Christ earned to our lifestyles. We repent and believe the Gospel as a daily walk, a lifestyle. We are constantly turning from sin to Christ for fresh cleansing and empowering. To do otherwise is to walk in unbelief and procure the displeasure of God. It is a displeasure when we try to accomplish God’s work, not trusting Him to complete the work that He began. This trust in Him must be according to His word-nothing more, nothing less. Faith believes God, continually. And when we fail, we believe Him anew, because His mercy through Christ endures forever.

  36. Michael, I wonder if this discussion went in the direction you had hoped. The Old Testament is still valid, right? The 10 Commandments still commandments? We may not need to obey all 613 of them, notably the dietary and ceremonial ones, but doesn’t the spirit of the Law still trump man’s law?

    When we’re talking about salvation, grace is the only way to go. I’m with Luther on that point, for having read Ephesians 2 correctly. But let’s remember that Luther wanted to kick James out of the Bible. James, perhaps the most Hebrew book in the NT, pushes works a little too much for Luther’s taste, but I think Luther over-reacted due to his upbringing. Works (or Law, if the two are related) are useful after-the-fact of salvation. Show me your faith without works and I by my works will show you my faith–says James.

    Can’t the Law still be useful to Christians as a means of discipline and accountability?

    Foremost of the commandments in the Law is Deuteronomy 6:4-5: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”

    Still valid, right?

    • Please read my earlier post. There is a difference between “Torah” (the five books of Moses, God’s instruction), and “Law” (the commandments given at Mt. Sinai for Israel). The Torah is the bigger story that includes the Law. The Torah is critical of the Law. The Torah says the Law cannot save. We do not even need to go to the NT to get this perspective. Moses himself says over and over again that the Law will fail because of people’s inability to keep it and that the only hope lies in God’s gracious provision of a circumcised heart, a new Spirit, and a King who will renew God’s blessing in all creation.

      Agreeing with this, and seeing the new era of grace appearing in Christ, Paul makes it perfectly clear in Galatians: “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law” (Gal 5.18).

      Gospel-oriented instruction for Christian growth and sanctification has nothing to do with the Law, except to cause us to continually turn us to Christ and his Good News.

      • Chaplain Mike, thanks. I’ve been fishing for definitions and this helps.

        I’m also a big fan of Jeremiah 31:31 ff:

        31 “The time is coming,” declares the LORD,
        “when I will make a new covenant
        with the house of Israel
        and with the house of Judah.

        32 It will not be like the covenant
        I made with their forefathers
        when I took them by the hand
        to lead them out of Egypt,
        because they broke my covenant,
        though I was a husband to [d] them, [e] ”
        declares the LORD.

        33 “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
        after that time,” declares the LORD.
        “I will put my law in their minds
        and write it on their hearts.
        I will be their God,
        and they will be my people.

  37. Calling the law still “valid” runs up against a lot of Pauline language, not to mention the “fulfillment” language, “shadows” language, law “kills” language and so on.

    The law is true. The law is good. The law never points us in the wrong direction. The law glorifies God. Can I keep going?

    The law kills me. The law cannot save. It cannot maintain the life of God. It can never forgive. It can never show mercy. It cannot make me right with God. It cannot motivate me with Gospel obedience.

  38. But do you consider Deuteronomy 6:4-5 part of the Law? Love the LORD your God…

    And what about the commandment in the NT that says “You must be born again.”? Would you consider that Law or Gospel?

    Maybe both?

    • Ted:

      Dt 6:4-5 is the law that Jesus uses to kill the Rich Young Ruler. It kills all of us in the 1st commandment. Only Jesus did it PERFECTLY. You folks need to get the difference between the value of doing something and the impotence of doing it sufficiently to save or make a rel with God.

      You must be born again is pure law that opens the door to pure grace, unless you think you birth yourself.


  39. Scott Miller says

    Its funny that I read this on Monday.
    On Sunday my pastor, in a Spurgeon-esque, Calvinist leaning Baptist church, said basically that “if you aren’t showing fruit, then you need to repent because you aren’t a Christian”. Not repent and confess your sin – repent because you are not not and never have been a Christian!

    • Just ask how much fruit and who gets to make the call.

      • Exactly the problem with Marxism, too: “From each according to his ability; to each according to his needs.”

        Who gets to make the call?

    • Bill Crawford says

      Although I believe Reformed theology is biblical, I often see what you relate – giving sovereign grace with the one hand and taking it away with the other through shifting the focus from God’s graciosness in Christ to our efforts. It kills me everytime and takes me a while to recover.

  40. From what I have seen and experienced, legalism is pretty much the default setting for all man-made religion. And, for myself, walking, living, and thinking in the realm of grace requires constantly readjusting my mind and heart. God’s saving grace is something we can never merit or earn, but it is something we have to keep our minds and hearts tuned into — so if there is such a thing as a saving “work”, I would say that it is the work of continually denying self and relying on Christ and His work as complete and all sufficient. Sure, sin can keep us blind to or running from God’s grace, but I would add that legalism is an even more effective way of dodging grace and the transforming work that the Giver of grace wants to do in our lives. What Jesus did on that cross not only paid the penalty for all sin for all time, it also delivered the ultimate insult to fallen human pride and self-righteousness. And it’s that insult — that reality that we can never earn or deserve or own or control God’s freely-given grace — that serves as the rock of offense over which many continue to stumble.

  41. This is not a rhetorical question – I really would like an answer. Why if we are called to preach the gospel, not the law, do we concentrate so much on the law issue of homosexuality? Especially when it is a minority interest.

    • Todd Erickson says

      Because we have come to believe that so much of our lifestyle (whether as Americans, or whatever else) is normal and necessary, so we don’t question what we do…instead, we go looking for faults in others to focus on.

      In addition, in America especially, America was founded by people with the “City on a Hill” mentality, that America was somehow innately a “christian nation” and that therefore anything it did was the will of God. So people doing “unchristian things” in the “Christian nation” are automatically the enemy of God, and can be treated accordingly.

      However, if you don’t think of America as the last bastion of Christendom, a lot of that falls apart very quickly.

    • The Law shows the world sin. The Gospel shows the world to one and only salvation from that sin, Christ crucified. Because Christ died for all does not mean that we turn a blind eye to sin, but rather use the Law to show sin and the need for a Savior. Once sin is realized and the need for a Savior is recognized we can use the Gospel to show that all sins have been paid for on the cross.

      Now as for homosexuality refer to what Paul writes in 1Cor. 6:9.

  42. I had a dream this morning, this is usually my most enlightening theological introspection. No I’m not saying God told me, but it was interesting. I was chatting with my Lutheran pastor friend and I mentioned perhaps our understanding of Christ passion lied somewhere between the two camps? Sometimes simplicity is the greatest solution. Jesus Christ has died for our sins, it is finished, and is faith ,hope,and love that dashes us against it.

  43. Todd @9:08 AM,


    You are making a whole raft of assumptions about my position that I don’t think are warranted. God’s wrath is never pointless, and not because He ‘likes’ to be angry. I honestly don’t know how you are extracting that from what I said. As to God’s wrath not being eternal (at least in respect to the final state of the wicked) your problem is with the text of scripture not with any assumed belief on my part.

  44. I was largely bemused through much of the rant and then through much of the ensuing discussion. Then I’ve been listening to the podcast and a little bit of a light flicked on. I get the part of the rant about the sort of legalism that crushes people. Hey, I was the teen father standing on the edge between looking/stepping further into Christianity or turning toward the non-Christian pluralism that was also part of my childhood formation. I was that teen father who was kicked out of a church during a service from the pulpit because a teen father holding his sleeping infant daughter ‘disturbed’ those good folks. (Marc Antony’s repeated phrase ‘honorable men’ comes to mind.) So yeah. I understand that problem in visceral ways that many probably don’t.

    With that said, I’m not sure it’s possible to even have a meaningful discussion unless we make some effort to use words the way they are actually used in the Holy Scriptures. In this discussion, it seems to me that much is revolving around many and varied interpretations of the words in use. In fact, even the title of the post seems to set “Law” and “Gospel” as antonyms when, in the context of scripture they aren’t really even in exactly the same sphere.

    Contrary to some of the modern Western usage of “Law” as some sort of universal, generic rule most likely tied to the philosophical idea of “natural law”, I’m hard-pressed to find any place in our scripture where it is used that way. (And since that’s really a modern philosophical idea, it would be pretty anachronistic if it were.) Rather, “Law” or “nomos” (and variants) in the Greek seems to pretty much everywhere refer to Torah, the works of Torah that identified the Jews as the people of God, and the Way of Torah by which and under which they shaped their lives. That’s a very specific usage with a great deal of scriptural and historical weight. It seems to me that that must be the starting point for any discussion, not some abstract idea of “Law”. It also seems to me that if you fail to grasp that, you also fail to grasp the significance of things like what Jesus was saying when he called himself the Way and many other such things.

    The “Gospel”, or good news, or euvangelion, is fundamentally the proclamation the crucified and risen Jesus is Messiah and Lord. I once went through and found every place where the “gospel” was expanded in the NT (rather than simply referenced) and that is pretty much right on target. And, as NT Wright points out, historically it’s what the word meant – a proclamation of a new Lord. Now the euvangelion of Jesus is good news for many reasons. Fundamentally, of course, it’s good news because, unlike most others, he is a *good* Lord. He has defeated all powers, including death, and as such we are no longer subject to them. We are no longer ruled by death and the other powers cannot wield it as a weapon to dominate us. He has united the nature of man with that of God so that in and through him we might become one also with God. He is a Lord of mercy, the epitome of the God Jonah understood all too well, an understanding which thoroughly pissed him off.

    But in their usage in the Holy Scriptures, “Law” and “Gospel” are not two poles of one idea. They just aren’t. They each bring in some very different topics and ideas. I would suggest that both are words that it is important to understand in the way they are used and to allow that understanding to sink into you and become a part of your identity and the manner in which you view the world. But do so in the sense they are actually used. It’s hard, because the cultures involved are ancient and in many ways alien to us. But we can learn to see at least as through a glass, darkly.

    Certainly legalism is wrong. But I don’t think it is helpful to attempt to fight it by reinterpreting the Holy Scriptures through modern lenses.

  45. Hi Michael. I’ve been re-reading Against Heresies by St. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons (a one-time student of St. Polycarp who sat at the feet of St. John the Theologian). I find I’m curious how you react to Chapters XXXVII through XLI of Book IV of that work. If you haven’t read it recently and don’t recall your reaction, not problem. As I said, I was just curious. I know you’re swamped writing your own book and likely getting ready for another school year.

  46. The Law Gospel distinction is not a ‘modern lens’ through which we view the Scriptures. When believers and their particular situations are addressed by the scriptures, they are either commanded or exhorted to do/not do something, or they are told what God has done. It is just that simple. To deny the distinction you have to overlook the manner in which the scriptures address the individual.

    Furhtermore, this is the only hermeneutic that can make sense of God’s seemingly contradictory behavior in large parts of the scriptures.

  47. Here’s how I understand it. (In an overly simplistic way that will make watchbloggers pull out their red pens 🙂 )

    Law required perfect performance, and since we are not perfect, law is impossible to fulfill. Hence, the law is good, but cannot save.

    Gospel requires faith. Either (1) God chooses to whom He will give faith, and coversly, from whom he will withhold faith (Calvinist), or (2) Good freely gives faith, but true faith requires some human decision to accept it or not to reject it.

    If perfect faith is required, then it must be a gift from God. If a human decision to accept (or not reject) faith is required, then God must allow imperfect decisions. Otherwise, faith is like law.

  48. I like your summary, Charley. It makes sense to me (I think!)

  49. ZebraKickRealHard says

    If someone is taking God’s good grace and using it as an excuse to continue in a way that is unpleaseing to God there is no real repentance their; but that is something that remains entirley between God and that person… No amount of “law”, or a dose of Sunday church will change that…

    What will change a person is taking the focuse of f of them and putting it on to someone else… Such as: spreading the good news, turning the other cheek, making disciples of his people…

    As anyone ever noticed after you’ve done something for someone else like giving rice to a hingry family or opening a door for your irritating co-worked that its suddenly not about you and it’s about them.

    I feel strongly that you can never overcome a sin or a grow if you only focuse on you; which is what church is so much about these days… Come to chruch on Sunday feel convicted for a day fall back into your same stride the next and we’ll see you in a week… Debating over what kind of church is better will get you no where…

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Does that have anything to do with the comment from somewhere that “You can tell when a Christian leader is in trouble when he stops preaching on what he’s for and only preaches on what he’s against”?

  50. Hi Michael,

    It’s been some time since you’ve written this, but I want to thank you for writing this. It’s so true! Thanks for the freeing text.

Speak Your Mind