Categories
Life

Law & Gospel: Four Questions

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Yesterday, I wrote a post on how to ask questions that facilitate meditation and prayer when you are reading Scripture. In that post, the focus was on the character of God (utilizing the A-C-T-S acronym): What is God like? What does a text reveal about him? The questions below are related, but slightly nuanced: what does God require of us? This nuance gets at weight of the law and the glory of the gospel. It’s important to recognize this when reading Scripture, so let me briefly explain this concept known as “Law and Gospel.”

In some way, every Bible text is calling us to be something, feel something, believe something, or do something. This is law. (Note: This is often implicit, but because the Bible is a covenant document between God and his people, every part of Scripture is designed to conform us to be a certain kind of people.) Yet the problem is that we are unable to do what Scripture commands in ourselves. However, in his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus fulfills the law on our behalf, takes the punishment we deserve, and is raised to life triumphant. This is gospel–good news! Finally one has overcome sin and death! He has earned God’s favor because he, unlike us, did obey God’s law. And he has turned away God’s wrath because he, unlike us, satisfied God’s wrath on the cross. When we receive this gospel and it takes root in our lives, we are transformed from the inside-out. We participate in Jesus’ victory with him and are now empowered by God’s Spirit to actually do what God requires.

Thus the law drives us to the gospel, and the gospel frees us to obey the law. As you read Scripture and come across laws, commands, exhortations, etc., ask yourself the following four questions.

  1. What am I required to be/do/feel/think, etc.?
  2. Why can’t I do this? How do I specifically struggle with this?
  3. How did Jesus do this in my place (think of specifics from the New Testament)?
  4. How does the Spirit now transform me to obey from the heart?

How would you phrase these questions? What ones would you add that have been helpful to you? Be sure to check back in a couple days for more questions.

Categories
Theology

An Interview with the Apostle Paul on Faith, Works, Law, and Gospel

Thanks for joining me this morning as I interview the one and only, Apostle Paul. Paul, thanks for joining me today and helping me understand Galatians 3 a bit better. What a wonderful section, by the way! Well, anyway, let’s get started. Can you tell me the audience you have in mind?
Those who have been bewitched and are deserting him who called them in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel.

Wow, strong language. Why is this such an important issue to you?
It was before their eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.

Interesting. Well, note-to-self: a “different” gospel lacks the grace of Christ and the cross of Christ. I’ll remember that. What was your central concern as you wrote this portion of the letter?
Let me ask you…do we receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?…Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit and works miracles do so by works of the law or by hearing with faith?

I see. Let me try to sum that up: your central concern seems to be that faith, not works, is the foundation for the Christian’s life in the Spirit and progress toward perfection. Why is this the case?
[It was this way for]…Abraham [who] believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.

What does Abraham have to do with this?
Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.

Now Paul, I’m a Gentile (Polish, German, and Italian mainly, with a bit of Serbian). And the Galatians, they were Gentiles too. Why involve this Jewish patriarch?
[Because] the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

Earlier, you mentioned that we do not receive the Spirit by works of the law. What would happen if I relied on works of the law?
All who rely on the law are under a curse.

Why?
It is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”

But aren’t the most righteous people in the world those who live by the letter of the law? I mean, doesn’t their morality merit favor with God?
It is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”

But isn’t the law of faith?
The law is not of faith, rather, “The one who does them shall live by them.”

This all seems like terrible news–no one can be perfect. How then can we be redeemed from this curse of the law?
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.

How did Christ become a curse for us?
[As] it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.”

Of course! But going back to Abraham again: what then does this have to do with him and his children?
[This was] so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

Can you give an illustration or example to help me understand?
Even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified.

I’m not following you.
The promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.

I’m still lost, Paul. Can you explain further?
This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

Now I understand. So, just as a human covenant cannot be changed, so God’s promise (his covenant) to Abraham cannot be made void just because of the law–which came more than four centuries later anyway. In light of this, what is the purpose of the law?
It was added because of transgressions.

How long would the law be in effect?
Until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary.

Paul, I get the Abraham tie-in. But, angels? What gives? 
An intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.

Alright, so the law, given by angels, is not the fullest and final revelation of God. God’s ultimate revelation of himself comes from himself—in Christ—not from someone else. If all this is true, then wouldn’t it seem that the law is contrary to the promises of God?
Certainly not!

Why?
For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.

Why didn’t God establish a law that could give life and righteousness?
The Scriptures imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

So that brings it back to your central concern: faith is foundational in the Christian life. Those who trust in Christ receive the blessing promised to Abraham. You sure do tie up all your loose ends, Paul. But what about before Christ came and the possibility of faith in him?
Before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.

Since we now know Christ and have faith in his finished work, does that change things with the law?
Now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

Does that change the way God views us?
In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

We are sons of God, baptized into Christ, and clothed with Christ. Awesome! What then are the implications of this for everyday life?
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Marvelous. Beautiful. To close, can you sum up your argument in 140 characters or less? (That’s a popular way people express themselves in the 21st century.)
If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Thanks, Paul, for joining me! Again, Galatians 3 and this interview have proved beneficial to me, and I trust it will do the same for our readers. Praise God! 

Categories
Theology

The Center of Luther’s Theology

As a follow up to my post yesterday, I wanted to write about the center of Martin Luther’s theology. I am by no means a church history expert (or an expert on Luther), but I hope this will provide you even more insight into Luther’s heart for gospel-centered theology.

Without a doubt, all the aspects of Luther’s theology play a vital role across the spectrum of Protestantism today. The doctrine of justification by faith is typically the preeminent banner that flies over Lutheran theology, in particular. Perhaps, however, Luther’s doctrine of “law and gospel” was his theological center.

According to Luther, the revelation of God is made manifest in two ways: law and gospel. This does not mean the Old Testament is law and the New Testament is gospel. Rather, God reveals himself throughout the Bible—in both Testaments—through law and gospel. Throughout Scripture, God reveals both words of judgment (law) and words of grace (gospel). Indeed, grace is empty without hearing a word of judgment. A word of judgment drives to despair without grace.

The reason that the doctrine of law and gospel may preeminent in Luther’s theology (over against justification by faith) is that it logically precedes it. The law communicates God’s infinite holiness and how unworthy humans are of relationship with him because of their sinfulness. The word of forgiveness is found in the gospel. The gospel is only good news because of the incredibly bad news that humans cannot (even will not) be reconciled to God. Therefore, law and gospel paves the way for justification by faith. Rather than simply believing that God justifies sinners, law and gospel helps the Christian understand why God can justify sinners. God can only justify sinners because of his word of grace in the life, death, and resurrection of his Son Jesus. Once a person receives this by faith, they are justified in God’s sight.

Justification by faith may lead some to assume antinomianism. This is not the case, however, according to Luther. After justification (being declared righteous before God) by faith, the word of law plays a different role in the believers life than before. The law, which used to be a word of condemnation, is now the pathway to joy and blessing. It was formerly a word of “must do;” now it is a word of “get to.” As Luther himself writes, “Earlier it told me what I ought to do. Now I begin to adapt myself to it.”[1]

Finally, there is a constant dialectic between law and gospel which leads the Christian to believe he is at the same time both sinful and justified.[2] This was a hallmark of Luther’s view of the Christian life. Thus, there is an inherent link between law and gospel. The law is given to show our sinfulness even as Christians and our constant, continually need of the Redeemer. The gospel reveals Christ, the Redeemer, in all his saving might. Then, even after we are justified by faith, the gospel frees us to adapt ourselves to the law and live in a manner worth of our justification.

Whether or not we perfectly agree with Luther on this law-gospel tension as the center of Christian theology, we can be thankful for his relentless pursuit of gospel-centeredness in his own day as we seek to pursue the same in ours.

______________________

[1] Justo L. González, The Story of Christianity: The Reformation to the Present Day, rev. ed., (New York: Harper One, 2010), 51.
[2] Ibid., 62.

Categories
Theology

Why I Changed My Mind on Romans 7:14-25

Romans 7:14-25, is a controversial passage. As controversial as they come (well, maybe behind the one on tongues). Good, Jesus-loving Christians divide over what Paul is talking about. In case you are unfamiliar with the argument, there are three main views:

  1. Some believe that the “I” in the passage is Paul speaking autobiographically as a Christian, describing his Christian experience of struggling to obey the law.
  2. Others hold that the “I” is Paul speaking autobiographically of his non-Christian experience.
  3. Still others advocate that the “I” is Paul writing, from his present Christian perspective, as a non-Christian Jew living under the Mosaic law.

I used to be a staunch advocate that Romans 7 describes a normal, Christian (i.e. regenerate) experience (position #1). Last summer, I wrote an exegetical paper on Romans 7. As I studied the passage and began to write the paper, I changed my mind. Now I believe that in Romans 7:14-25, Paul reflects on his experience as an non-Christian (i.e. unregenerate) Jew under the law (position #3).

In the end, the main reason I changed my mind was due to the context of Romans and what Paul is arguing for as a whole. On the micro level, I cannot believe that the man who so firmly believes he is united to Christ would describe his Christian self as “of the flesh, sold under sin” (7:14). To hold to the regenerate position directly contradicts what Paul spent chapter six and the first part of seven explaining: that is, Christians are no longer slaves of sin (6:14, 17, 18, 20).

On the macro level, if we think about the wider scope of Paul’s letters, it would be strange for Paul to write this particular section (vv. 14-25) as a regenerate person with such an enormous emphasis on adherence to the law of Moses. It is true that the law reflects God’s nature and character, but this emphasis from Paul would actually push against the exact thing he teaches elsewhere: freedom from the burden, curse, and power of the law (7:1-6; cf. Acts 13:39; Gal. 3:10-14; 5:1-12; Col. 2:14). Simply, in Romans 7:14-25, Paul does not sound like his “normal” Christian self as he is portrayed in the rest of the New Testament. He sounds more like a Jew who senses the absolute hopelessness of banking on the law for salvation (cf. Peter’s remarks in Acts 15:10).

There are so many applications for this passage (I direct you to the paper’s link below for the ones I’ve found). One of the most prominent is that though Christians do struggle with sin, the struggle is simply not described in Romans 7. Romans 7 looks at sin from the perspective of slavery and defeat. This is not the Christian perspective on sin.

So there you have a couple very brief reasons I’ve changed my mind on one of the most controversial sections of Scripture. If you’re curious and/or have a free half-hour, you can read the whole paper.

Categories
Theology

Monday Miscellanies: Law

A guest post by Jonathan Edwards

79. Law

The natural reason why it is as Romans 7:8 ff. [says], “But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence,” etc. [The] reason why man has the more strong inclination to moral evil when forbidden, is because obedience is submission and subjection, and the commandment is obligation. But natural corruption is against submission and obligation, but loves the lowest kind of liberty as one of those apparent goods that it seeks; and when he disobeys, he looks upon it that he has broke the obligation. When he thinks of the perpetration of such a lust, and thinks how he is strictly upon pain of damnation forbidden, tied by such strict bonds from it, it makes him exceeding uneasy, the consideration is so against corrupt nature; which uneasiness takes away all liberty of thought, and makes the mind dwell upon nothing but the contrary and supposed good, the liberty, causes [him] to meditate upon the pleasantness of the act, and makes it appear much greater than otherwise it would do.

But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held, that we should serve in newness of spirit and not in the oldness of the letter. The motives to believers to perform the commands of God, are [not] because salvation is [upon] the condition of doing them, and damnation what we are obliged to for disobedience; but the amiableness of God, to whom sin is contrary, the loveliness of virtue, and its natural tendency to happiness, which has no such tendency as the other. Wherefore now in gospel times, ’tis requisite that all ceremonial commands should be abolished, which have no intrinsic direct loveliness, nor agreeableness to the lovely God, or tendency to happiness.