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From time to time I make new entries into this continuing series called “Theological Primer.” The idea is to present big theological concepts in under 500 words. Today’s topic is as thorny as they come: the relationship between law and gospel.

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The Heidelberg Catechism (1563) is largely composed of three elements: the Apostles’ Creed (Lord’s Day 7-22), the Ten Commandments (Lord’s Day 34-44), and the Lord’s Prayer (Lord’s Day 45-52). It’s worth noting, as many have, that this most beloved of all Catechisms includes its exposition of the Law in the section on gratitude, not in the section on guilt. This choice reflects the widespread Reformation belief in the so-called third use of the law.

(1) The law is given to restrain wickedness.

(2) The law shows us our guilt and leads us to Christ.

(3) The “third and principal use” of the law (as Calvin put it) is as an instrument to learn God’s will. The law doesn’t just show us our sin so we might be drawn to Christ; it shows us how to live as those who belong to Christ.

In one sense Christians are no longer under the law. We are under grace (Rom. 6:14). We have been released from the law (Rom. 7:6) and its tutelage (Gal. 3). On the other hand, having been justified by faith, we uphold the law (Rom. 3:31). Even Christ recoiled at the idea of coming to abolish the law and the prophets (Matt. 5:17). Christians are free from the law in the sense that we are not under the curse of the law–Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes (Rom. 10:4)–nor is the law a nationalized covenant for us like it was for Israel.

But the law in general, and the Ten Commandments in particular, still give us a blueprint for how we ought to live. The Ten Commandments were central to the ethics of the New Testament. Jesus repeated most of the second table of the law to the rich young man (Mark 10:17-22). The Apostle Paul repeated them too (Rom. 13:8-10), and used them as the basis for his moral instruction to Timothy (1 Tim. 1:8-11). There can be no doubt that the commandments, even under the new covenant, are holy and righteous and good (Rom. 7:12).

We obey the commandments, therefore, not in order to merit God’s favor, but out of gratitude for his favor.

Don’t forget that the Ten Commandments were given to Israel after God delivered them from Egypt. The law was a response to redemption not a cause of it. We must never separate law from gospel. In one sense, the law shows us our sin and leads us to the gospel, but in another sense, the law ought to follow the gospel just as the giving of the Decalogue followed salvation from Egypt. Likewise, Ephesians 2 first explains salvation by grace and then instructs us to walk in the good deeds prepared for us (v. 10). Romans first explains justification and election, and then tells us how to live in response to these mercies (Rom. 12:1).

In short, we obey the law in gratitude for the gospel. As Louis Berkhof observed, we distinguish between the law and the gospel, but always as “the two parts of the Word of God as a means of grace” (Systematic Theology, 612).


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35 thoughts on “Theological Primer: Law and Gospel”

  1. StephenT says:

    “In one sense Christians are no longer under the law.” In one SENSE??? Just one … sense? My, look how far we’ve come. With all of the richness in scripture on this one topic alone. With all of the theological training invested in what the Gospel Coalition is trying to minister to its readers. With the entire English language at your disposal. It comes to this? “In one sense?” Yes, your post is structured in a way so as to never lose an argument. But it only scratches the surface of what Christ has done for us in relation to the law.

    “Likewise, my brethren, you have ***DIED*** to the law through the body of Christ, ***SO THAT*** you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead ***IN ORDER THAT*** we may bear fruit for God.” (Rom. 7:4)

    If nothing else, go back and listen to John Piper’s sermon on this passage from years gone gone by, on what it means to be dead to the law. It’s not hard to find. Listen to how he not only provides the theological primer, but goes out on a limb and feeds his Lord’s sheep, to help keep them from being choked by the “thorns” you allude to in your introduction.

  2. Andy Barlow says:

    Kevin,

    In your view, what is the role of the 2nd use of the Law in the life of the believer?

    Thanks!

  3. Andy Barlow says:

    To clarify, do you think that every time the believer encounters the Law, the Law is exposing the believers guilt and driving them freshly to Christ in faith? Or is the 2nd use more of an historical use i.e. exposing our guilt before we were Christians and driving us to Christ for justification?

  4. Kevin DeYoung says:

    The comment above about “in one sense” and the question about the role of the second use of the law are both addressed in the Westminster Larger Catechism:

    Q.96. What particular use is there of the moral law to unregenerate men?
    A. The moral law is of use to unregenerate men, to awaken their consciences to flee from wrath to come, and to drive them to Christ; or, upon their continuance in the estate and way of sin, to leave them inexcusable, and under the curse thereof.

    Q.97. What special use is there of the moral law to the regenerate?
    A. Although they that are regenerate, and believe in Christ, be delivered from the moral law as a covenant of works, so as thereby they are neither justified nor condemned; yet, besides the general uses thereof common to them with all men, it is of special use, to show them how much they are bound to Christ for his fulfilling it, and enduring the curse thereof in their stead, and for their good; and thereby to provoke them to more thankfulness, and to express the same in their greater care to conform themselves thereunto as the rule of their obedience.

    If the second use of the law is help us see the wrath of God against our sins, then it is a tutor which leads us to Christ. We ought not fear the terrors of God’s judgment as his beloved children. If, however, we think of the second use of the law more broadly, as that which can prompt conviction of sin (ala 1 John 1:9), then it continues to be of great use to the Christian.

  5. Timothy Durey says:

    StephenT – Language is limited so please don’t throw out Kevin’s point simply because you’re angry that he said “in one sense.” I think his overall point would intersect at points with yours. After all, I would imagine that you are not anti-nomian. You probably agree with Paul in Romans 7 that the law is good and right. You probably seek to obey the law that says you are to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself, right?

    You mention Piper. How do you feel about Piper’s book, “What Jesus Demands from the World?”

    I say all this not to get into a fight, but I’m simply becoming increasingly concerned by the tone that comes across in Christian conversations. I don’t believe we have to agree on every fine point, but when we have people who are conservative theologically, love Jesus and give evidence to it, let’s seek to show some more restraint.

    If I’m wrong, I pray God shows me.

  6. StephenT says:

    Timothy Durey– I do apologize for the way my emotions came across. It is not anger that I want to add to this discussion, and I think you have correctly identified some. It’s not anger I want to share, but alarm. The person who spotted the iceberg ahead of the Titanic was not angry, but he was emotional. It is hard to be alarmed without detracting from the true words contained in the post, and for doing so I am sorry.

    For me, to say “in one sense” we are not under law implies that, in multiple ways, we are. I realize we can split hairs about what “under the law” means. I can only say that if, as a new creature in Christ, you believe that there are ways to identify yourself as under the law, then yes, it would be my desire that God continue to show you more profoundly and intimately all the ways that you are not.

    After thanking you again for adding to the discussion rightly, I leave you with this one, hopefully less emotional thought. Isn’t it a curious thing that if Kevin had said, “in one sense marriage is the union between a man and a woman”, we would no doubt be reading lots of comments with lots of alarm? And yet we now live in an age in which the phrase, “in one sense we are no longer under the law” creates not a single stir?

    (Not with a bang, but a whimper)

  7. David Rea says:

    Hi Kevin. Know that I am very thankful for you, and the many others who have stood so firmly and winsomely for truth in the whole law/gospel debate.

    You wrote, “We obey the commandments, therefore, not in order to merit God’s favor, but out of gratitude for his favor…In short, we obey the law in gratitude for the gospel.” I think it might have been helpful for you to have nuanced your post just a bit. As you (and others) have stated so eloquently before, there are numerous legitimate motivations for Christian obedience. While gratitude is certainly foundational, it is not the only motivator. To me that clarification is everything in this debate.

    I know you limited yourself to 500 words or less but that clarification is just too important to be left out. Thanks so much for your faithful ministry.

  8. Timothy Durey says:

    StephenT, thank you for taking the time to respond and to clarify with graciousness.

    I do get the point of being concerned about what people are saying and I understand what you’re saying, too, about us not be “under” the law in any sense. That said, if someone said, “In one sense, marriage is a union between man and woman,” I would look for more clarity to figure out what that person means by that. Maybe they’re saying “in one sense,” because they’re clarifying that a man and a woman aren’t conjoined literally. Maybe they’re trying to emphasize some other point I’m not getting.

    I’m not trying to be difficult here NOR am I saying that I always act this way in conversations with people. But in the many conversations I’ve had, I’ve learned more-and-more that listening well must precede speaking with wisdom.

    Thanks again for your response Stephen. Every blessing in Christ is yours!

  9. John R. says:

    StephenT: I think you are overreacting, brother. A hermeneutic of charity would be helpful. “In one sense” is a common way of speaking, and the follow-up is “in another sense.” It’s not to say “There is ONE AND ONLY ONE sense,” and to read it in such a way makes it seem like you’re going out of your way to take offense–or perhaps taking up someone else’s. When describing the fact that something can be taken in more than a single sense, it’s not unusual, problematic, or alarming to express that using the “In one sense….but in another sense…” construct.

    Kevin has written many, many words on this subject, and has clarified, reclarified, and clarified again on it. So let’s not get carried away with one word.

  10. ryan says:

    This is obviously pointed towards Tullian. Cowardly not to just be upfront in your critique. Give the guy a break anyways these are secondary issues to say the least.

  11. Kim says:

    Recommended reading: The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung

  12. Kim says:

    Recommended reading for clarity: The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung

  13. Mark says:

    Ryan,

    “This is obviously pointed towards Tullian. Cowardly not to just be upfront in your critique. Give the guy a break anyways these are secondary issues to say the least.”

    First of all, I do not at all agree that the law and the gospel are secondary issues.

    Second, why do you assume that this is directed at Tullian? Is he the end all and be all of Law & Gospel? Kevin frequently addresses this topic. Why do you assume that just because he has addressed the issue at this time that he is pointing at Tullian and is “Cowardly”?

    The Law and Gospel has been discussed long before Tullian and will continue to be discussed long after Tullian.

  14. Mark says:

    Thank you, Mr. DeYoung for a wonderfully concise and thoughtful presentation on this issues!!

  15. Don J Chiechi says:

    When Jesus saw that Kevin he had answered wisely, he said to him:

    You are not far from the kingdom of God. Therefore, know and understand, before, I asked one question of your teachers of old. I told them to answer me, so that I would revel to them my authority. I asked them, “When the priesthood is changed, must the understanding of the law [written word] be changed also?”

    Your teachers reasoned, “If we say, ‘It is to change,’ he will ask, ‘Then why did you continue on this path in unbelief?’ But if we say, ‘It is not to change’—because we love being esteemed by humans more than praise from God, as well as we are afraid of loss from teaching the people, for [to us] they are children weaned from milk, who like to have precept on precept, line upon line; here a little and there a little.” So they answered me: “We don’t know.”

    Their going beyond what is written (which results in be puffed up–in being a follower of one over against the other) was permitted because their hearts were hard. But it [this teaching] was not from the beginning, for Adam was warned: “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it: for in the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die.”

    So now to this day it is repeated, “The uses (1st, 2nd & 3rd) of the law of the LORD”; Therefore, because you say this word, “The uses of the law of the LORD”, although I sent to your teachers, saying that you shall not say, “The uses of the law of the LORD”, behold I, even I, will utterly forget those who continue on in unbelief—those who would peddle the word of God for profit.

    For have I not called my children by a new and living way, which I have consecrated for them, through the veil, that is to say, my flesh; having me as the high priest over the house of God; saying, “Draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having your hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and your bodies washed with pure water. For you yourselves are letters from me, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts, to be known and read by everyone.”?

  16. Jake says:

    Open Letter to The Gospel Coalition: You Represent the Strong

    In light of Tullian’s post this morning, announcing his departure from the Gospel Coalition based on their disapproval of his particular way of articulating the gospel.

    Dear Gospel Coalition (and Mark Jones and anyone else in a tizzy about Tullian),

    You represent the strong. Just to be clear here, those are the sides you are marking off. You have the influence and the strength, and you knew that Tullian isn’t prominent among his PCA brothers (probably because he isn’t old and bald enough). You knew that you were his lifeline to influence. You are trying to nip his message in the bud before he gets too “big.” You know that Liberate is not near the platform of TGC. And you also know that Tullian’s message appeals to those gross people that we don’t really want in our churches.

    In my post last week defending Tullian, I tell the story of why I thought he was going to eventually be exiled. The way he talks about grace is indeed scandalous – it shocked the literal hell out of my baptist/Acts 29/Gospel Coalition-loving bones. (The way you talk about grace, Kevin DeYoung, is NOT any kind of stumbling block for anyone. It’s exactly what every non-Christian would assent to. It so appeals to the flesh in its emphasis on our glorious contributions that it does not make people want to love God or others more. It only amplifies hearers disgust with themselves, as they hide in the bushes with Adam and Eve, threading fig leaves together.)

    Am I merely framing this debate as strong versus weak for Tullian’s sake? Maybe, but I doubt it. I honestly think you are exiling him so that his influence doesn’t grow. You probably failed here and exacerbated his influence. The liberating message of Christ crucified for actual sinners has taken root, and the seed will grow. You will spend the rest of your lives trying to focus on your ministries and forget this moment, trying to forget the sweeping condemnation of Tullian’s invitation to all non-hypothetical sinners, but it won’t do any good. This is the heart of the matter. And you just chose your side.

    Jen’s article was a shot at Tullian. Tullian defended himself. Then your deceptive crew pled plausible deniability (“I don’t know why Tullian even went after her! How rude.”). This is what sickens me about you. You have been drawing Tullian out since you realized his gospel was being preached to the weary and downtrodden. You wanted the gospel that attracted the strong and influential and those who have it together.

    This is such a nuanced point, and I know that you will plead your confessions, which are nice, but I can see your actions here. Tullian is right to push people to distinguish law and gospel. Frankly, most of you aren’t doing it and have illustrated (Kevin DeYoung) that you have no clue how it is even done. Kevin DeYoung has clarified that he would rather die than see the sincerity of his good works brought under scrutiny. In fact, Kevin, it is only in your death that you will be free from their chokehold. You don’t know your motivation. If you had an ounce of self-awareness, I would hope you could admit your mixed motivations without theologizing them away. But you hide behind your theology and experience with college students whose guilt-riddled motivations lead them to you in droves, only to be confused about the worth of their performance until 20 years later when their mid-life crisis levels them, exposes the bankruptcy of their hard work that you pointed them to (and they perceived as salvation). I can only hope they stumble on someone who preaches like Tullian, so that they actually understand the gospel and repent of placing hope in their good works. Christ and him crucified (unconditional grace with no “buts”) is your congregant’s only hope. And as long as you keep preaching how you are, it is only an accidental or future hope.

    It’s all going to work out, and yes my thoughts are hasty. And maybe I’m over-reacting out of loyalty. And this time I didn’t send this article to Tullian for pre-approval. I don’t like you guys anymore. And I really wanted to. And Tullian really wanted to. And I am convinced you don’t like people who are actual sinners. I’m convinced the grace that you preach is reserved for those with gas in the tank, who come to Christ not only with faith but with at least an ounce of nervous energy. You want the response.

    The Reformed Pubcast guys, I am told, distanced themselves yesterday from Tullian as well (“Just because we had him on here doesn’t mean we agree with everything” – paraphrase. Nobody accused you of agreeing with everything, but we can all see this is a self-protective maneuver to protect your show. I hope it worked for you guys). Only a few weeks ago they were affirming Tullian (“So basically you are just saying what the Reformers said!” – paraphrase). Well, guys, you are also missing the significance of this. Your whole “theology of Calvin, taste of Luther” thing was confusing to begin with (I wondered how much of Luther you actually interacted with). Luther had more than a taste for beer, if that is what you are playing on. Luther had a taste to see weary-sinners, those pathetic ragamuffins that most pastors roll their eyes at, those downtrodden annoying old women who – even if they did have the energy to contribute – are not wanted by the church, Luther wanted to see them set free from the bondage of sin by the grace poured out in Christ’s death and resurrection. You guys have missed the point.

    This is a post that I wrote after a day of frustration and pacing around wondering what had happened, after Mark Jones douchey and condescending indictment. I feel the weight of this thing. I don’t know if anyone else’s concern has risen to the same level of frustration as mine has. Perhaps some can nod along with some of what I am saying. Perhaps others will write me off as a bit too grace-heavy, a bit unbalanced, and a bit vulgar. It seems like those were the same concerns leveled at Pastor Tullian, and Luther before him, and Paul before him, and Jesus before him.

    I’ll take it.

    Sincerely, Jacob Goff

    Update: The Reformed Pubcast Army (a good lot) has informed me that I caricatured their position. Bless those guys. I reacted to a brief remark on their show yesterday that seemed to indicate they weren’t as “on board” with Tullian as they seemed to be when he was on the show.

  17. anaquaduck says:

    I like the cart before the horse example mostly, in relation to our salvation it cannot be earned, we cannot put the cart before the horse. In order to be saved we must trust in Christ alone, then comes our transformed life of thankfulness & obedience. I think I have heard of Scripture being like a cut diamond which has many faces in order to bring out the fuller beauty of the stone/rock.

  18. Kim says:

    You have lost your way here sir. Please send time with the Lord. Shut it all down and spend time with the Lord.

  19. Kenton says:

    Hmm. Much of this seems good, but I think it is significantly lacking in theological nuance.

    While it is certainly true that the Law does these three things, I’d hesitate to say that Christians are to use the Law in these three ways. First, when Paul speaks variously of these three effects of the Law, he speaks historically. That is, the Law did these things in history, according to God’s divine purpose. The Law did restrain wickedness (as a pedagogue). The Law did expose sin (via sin’s rebellion and the Law’s condemnation). The Law did reveal God’s will and character. The Law did these things in the past, specifically among the covenant people, in the covenant land. Paul never describes the Law as doing these things in the present.

    In order to understand this view, we have to understand how Paul regards the Law. First, the Law is more often than not, the Law of Moses, the Law given on Mount Horeb in the Sinai, which began with the Ten Commandments but included all the other laws. Second, the Law of Moses, though we can characterize it as moral, civil, and ritual, was never divided into such laws. All the laws were moral, because they were given by God. All the laws were civil, because they formed the national law. All the laws were ritual, because their violation meant uncleanness and wrath. The Law formed a unit, a covenant system that regulated the Abrahamic covenant. That is how Paul regards the Law.

    The Law is holy, and the commandment holy, and righteous, and good. The Law is spiritual. And yet the two times that Paul describes those who return to the Law, he describes its commands as the observance of “days, months, seasons, and years”, and pertaining to “food or drink, a new moon, festival or Sabbath”, or a circumcision that “boasts in the flesh.” The Law might be spiritual, but it is rooted in what is earthly. Furthermore, the ministry of the Law is one of condemnation and death.

    In contrast to the Law, Paul puts forward the Spirit as its successor. The Spirit brings a ministry of life, eternal life, and genuine freedom from sin’s corrupting power. The Spirit transforms God’s people into the image of His Son, and fills their hearts so that they respond to Him as sons. The Spirit produces the fruit of righteousness and of God’s divine character within believers, and the Spirit, by filling the mind, enables the believer to put sin to death. The Spirit, then, becomes the liberating guide of the believer, who works Christ-shaped maturity within us. As a result, we have a new standard, which Paul calls the rule (lit. canon) of the new creation. He also calls this faith working through love, which is the fulfillment of the law and its righteous requirements, and the law of Christ. James calls it the law of liberty.

    When speaking of both the Law of Moses and the law of Christ, Paul says something curious. He states that, in his ministry to Gentiles, he lives as one who is not under the Law. But, he adds, this doesn’t mean that he is outside of the law of God, for he is under the law of Christ (1 Cor. 9:20-21). This, I believe, is the key to understanding just how Paul views the Law of Moses, and more generally, the law of God. The Law of Moses, the Sinai Law, is but one expression of the law of God. That is, it was the primary expression of it given to a chosen people redeemed from slavery but not from sin. And it is this Law that operates according to those three actions. On the contrary, the law of Christ (or of the Spirit of life in Christ) is the perfect and final expression of the law of God that pertains not to spiritual but earthly things, but to spiritual and heavenly things, namely, to the nature of God and of the Son of God, who will come from heaven to establish the new creation. Therefore, the Law remains useful inasmuch as it corresponds to and supports the law of the Spirit of Christ. But, Paul never uses the Law as anything more than additional support. Instead, the Law and the Prophets and Writings (in other words, the narrative-dominated canon) become exemplary and typological, serving to warn and encourage those who have received the sure and better covenant system in Christ through the Spirit.

    As such, there remains a sharp distinction between the Law of Moses and the gospel of Christ, but there is no distinction between the law of Christ and the law of God. In practice, what this means is that our preaching should not be from the standpoint of preaching the Law to convict and the gospel to save. We preach the gospel, which acknowledges sinfulness but focuses on Jesus as Lord and Messiah, the one who both saves those who believe and judges those who persist in unrighteousness. In our teaching, we preach the OT as example, and the NT as instruction and encouragement and warning. After all, the NT is not lacking in instruction, and it is certainly possible to have a full-orbed view of the Christian life without the OT (though it is divinely given for our encouragement and hope). We do not preach “law and gospel”, or, more accurately, the Law and the gospel. We preach the gospel, which carries the assurance of salvation for those who believe and judgment for those who remain estranged. And this gospel of grace carries with it the life-giving instruction in godliness and holiness by the Spirit.

  20. Kenton says:

    I should add that nowhere in the Bible is the Law said to be given in order for fallen man to attain to his unfallen state, or to get to God, or to heaven. Paul says that Israel has pursued righteousness and resurrection through the Law, as though the righteousness that leads to eternal life comes through human effort. Paul counters this at numerous points by saying that 1) The Law cannot bestow [eternal] life, so it also cannot bestow righteousness; 2) Justifying faith is believing that God can and will raise the dead (bring life from death, which is creation ex nihilo), and more specifically, that God raised Jesus from the dead; 3) God justifies those who believe in Christ, giving them His Spirit by which He will raise them from the dead as He raised Jesus our Lord. It is by this same Spirit that we live to God as His sons. Therefore, it is because salvation (the resurrection and the new Creation) comes by the act of God that justification (and forgiveness) comes by the will of God.

    The point is that the particular failing of Reformed theology is that it accepts Israel’s wrong view of the Law and Catholicism’s wrong view of justification and salvation. No, the Law doesn’t function as a means to get to God or reverse the curse or rise to heaven. And no, since salvation does not come as a result of accrued merit (by anyone) but by the act of God in the death, resurrection, and return of Christ, justification must come by faith in the God who will act in Christ to save those who trust in Him through Christ.

  21. Scott says:

    Jacob Goff, your contribution above is shameful and lacking in grace.

  22. Jake says:

    Sorry Scott. Just a little frustrated.

    Grace & Peace

  23. Binx says:

    Kevin has spoken, y’all. Issue settled.

  24. Pat Daly says:

    This is great. Thanks Kevin for making it so clear and concise. I appreciate your labours to help the blogosphere through this.

  25. B Zartman says:

    Thank you Kenton for your remarks. When I first read Kevin’s post, I very quickly thought about the work of the Holy Spirit also. Because I am an ‘older’ woman with no formal theological education (but have read widely from Owen, Marshall, Lloyd-Jones and others over the years), it was good to see your explanation as I could not have written it.

  26. Zeke Mulcaghey says:

    Binx,
    What exactly is the purpose of your comment?

  27. anaquaduck says:

    To claim that Reformed Theology takes the law & uses it like OT Israel is a bit off track, especially when we look at the doctrine of Grace, Martin Lloyd Jones (life through the Spirit )would be in agreement here. As Kevin points out regarding Jesus & Matt 5. Once receiving the gift of faith a believer gets to walk in the freedom of the Spirit which is in tune with Gods ways which are reflected in Gods law.

  28. Kenton says:

    I’m not saying that Reformed theology uses the Law as OT Israel did (in fact, OT Israel, when keeping the Law, did so properly, in contrast with “Second Temple Judaism”), I’m saying that Reformed theology (and really, Reformation theologies) regards the function of the Law in such a way, that is, as a [failed] means of attaining salvation, such that any discussion of the Law and the gospel immediately goes to issues of justification (as though rule keeping was by default an attempt to be justified). I don’t want to make this any more long winded, but the principle issue with this is that the issue of the Law is not with commands and merit (as such a view would cast it), but an issue with eschatology. That is, the Law, which prepared the Israelites for life in Canaan, exists in light of the Exodus, which delivered fallen people from a earthly power to a cursed land. The gospel, however, delivers people from this present evil age to the new creation. In light of such a deliverance, the new way of living must prepare us for life in the new creation. A misunderstanding of the Law obscures the primary reasons why we follow a new standard: not because commands are bad, nor because following commands means trusting in the flesh or self-righteousness. And most importantly, obeying God doesn’t depend on whether or not Christ “obeyed for us”, as though God’s law (whether of Sinai or of Christ) comprised an entrance exam for heaven. Rather, obedience is simply what people who believe in God’s salvation do. I should have been clearer, my bad.

  29. Binx says:

    Just finding it odd that this issue – the L/G distinction – was scarcely mentioned in these parts until Tullian stirred up a hornet’s nest. Both sides are partially wrong, by the way, but that’s neither here nor there.

  30. John Robinette says:

    I would like to encourage everyone to visit Mckenzie Study Center and read/listen to everything that Ron Julian has to offer. His book, Righteous Sinners, and his teaching issues like sanctification, set me straight on the very issues that are being debated. I honestly believe it will help both “sides”, as it were.

  31. John Thomson says:

    Although I find I agree with most of what Kevin says and find it helpful and edifying here I think he is wrong. Scripture does not make NT believers answerable to law (the Mosaic Covenant) in ANY sense. We are not ‘under law’ full stop. As soon as we say that the law is a ‘rule of life’ in any area we place ourselves ‘under law’. For Paul this is to ‘fall from grace’ and ‘from faith’ (for the law is not of faith… it is, in principle, a covenant of works). If we accept the law in any part we must accept the whole and that does not simply mean accepting its commands but also accepting its curse (Gals 3,4). The law is a unitary covenant. It cannot be changed, added to, subtracted from or altered in any way. To do so is to demean it and abuse it. Thus the believer (believing Jew for it was only Jews who were under it) must be delivered from it completely and is in Christ. He is not obligated to law (married to law) but to Christ and to accept again the authority of law would make him a bigamist.

    Of course, Christians can learn from the law as they learn from any other part of Scripture but to teach that they must obey the law is mistaken – it would make us all Jews.

    Kevin cites Roms 3:31… as those justified by faith we ‘uphold the law’. He seems to see this upholding in terms of the law as a ‘rule of life’ (not words he uses but I think the sense he means…. third use of law). I do not think this is the sense in which Paul means we ‘uphold the law’. He means that the due penalty of the law was taken by Christ and by accepting this is what Christ has done we are concurring with the law’s verdict. We are honouring its purpose. We are saying the law is right. We do not uphold/honour/defend the law by saying we will keep parts of it as they stand and reject others. Nor do we uphold the law by accepting its right to command but refusing it its very strength, the right to curse.

    Re Jesus use of the law to the rich young ruler, Jesus uses the law here for a) the rich young ruler was a Jew living before the death of Christ and under law b) the ruler was himself asking about life through law-keeping (what must I do…)

    Christ had not come to abolish the law… but to fulfil and the fulfilment takes place in him. In him the new age of the Spirit comes. Life in the Spirit is not about ‘keeping the law’ but about a life lived in the Spirit so that all the law ever was really about (love) is fulfilled in us which is precisely the point in Roms 13. It is remarkable that the NT writers, particularly Paul, never sends believers back to the law as the authority for godly living. He will, of course, cite the law, and not simply the Ten Commandments drawing principles for Christian living as he will do with the rest of Scripture but he never says anything remotely suggesting that the although they are not ‘under law’ nevertheless the law is a ‘rule of life’, a covenant to whose authority they are obliged. Indeed in Roms 7 it is only by deliverance from the law they can produce ‘fruit for God’, not, I repeat, deliverance from some of the law or from the curse of the law, but from the law itself.

    Re 1Timothy… the ‘lawful’ use of the law is not instruction for believers but to accuse and restrain unbelievers.

    1Tim 1:8-10 (ESV2011)
    Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine,

    Note it is not for the just but for sinners etc. Paul’s point here is that believers don’t need the law but the ungodly; the list of those who need the law is not a description of believers. Paul does not envisage believers inveigled in such gross sin.

    I fear the law as a rule of life finds more authority in Reformed confessions than Scripture.

    I could go on but I hope these comments thus far make room for reflection.

  32. Wow, hard to do this in 500 words, but well done. A few things you could adjust/add if you had 600 words:

    1) First, this is a technical point, but why not use Calvin’s order of the three uses (reverses use 1 & 2), rather than the Lutheran order? You are in a Reformed denomination, not Lutheran. See the Institutes, from which you quote on use 3.

    2) Since you base this on the Heidelberg, why not mention the whole structure of Heidelberg as based on Qs. 1-3? Particularly, question 3: “How do you come to know your misery? The law of God tells me.” Yes, you confirm the first (what you call second) use of the Law, but it is flat out prominent in the HC — question 3! — , which you appear to overlook.

    3) Then, in the comments, you affirm that the First Use (what you call second) continues in the Christian Life, from the WLC, but why not just use HC 115?: “No one in this life can obey the 10 Commandments perfectly; why then does God want them preached so pointedly? First, so that the longer we live the more we may come to know our sinfulness and the more eagerly look to Christ for forgiveness of sins and righteousness. Second, so that, while praying to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, we may never stop striving to be renewed more and more after God’s image, until after this life, we reach our goal: perfection.”

    And of course this in this section on Gratitude — the Christian Life. So I am not sure it is all that complicated. The Law is useful for the Christian both to convict and drive to Christ all the more, and as a guide as to how to live.

    We should strive to keep that balance in our ministries. What some are saying, rightly or wrongly, is that some in the Reformed world emphasize the Third Use almost to the exclusion of the First Use (what you call second), such that it ends up discouraging weak believers (aren’t we all at times?), by failing to remind them that they will fail in the Christian life, which is why Christ died for them. Then others say of these men, that by preaching the First Use to the Christian so much, they do not emphasize the Third Use enough and perhaps have an under-realized view of how much Christians can grow in holiness in this life.

    Again, we must strive for balance, and I thought this was a good post in that direction.

  33. I meant to add that we ought to qualify the often-made point that the Ten Commandments were given after their redemption from Egypt with what happens in Exodus 19, as the Commandments are given. God appears in an awe-full theophany, and the people are terrified such that they cry out for a mediator. So the Law came as grace, but it also brought fear. Were the people wrong to cry out for a mediator? And yet, they were already “saved.” Hence that wonderful line in the hymn, “Let us Love and Sing and Wonder:” (Jesus) has “hushed the Law’s Loud Thunder.” And this for believers. The Law can still bring terror/conviction, as well as sweet guidance. Psalm 119 AND Exodus 19. Again…. balance.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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