Law & Gospel
This Sunday, we will examine questions 6-15 of the New City Catechism at East North Church. If you are following along with us with the book or on your app, then you will notice that these questions are all about God’s law and its purpose. Like God, his law (all of his commands in Scripture) point us to what is good, right, and perfect. Because of God’s goodness, we can be 100% confident that his Word points us to the best truth for our lives.
Jesus taught what appears to be an intimidating truth in John 14. “If you love me,” Jesus said, “you will keep/obey my commands.” Jesus also made another profound claim in Matthew 5. He told those listening, “You must be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.” The universal problem of humanity is that we don’t love Jesus (perfectly with all our heart, soul, mind, & strength) and therefore, we do not obey him in all that he commands. There is a huge gap between what we can affirm as good with our minds and mouths, and our tangible ability to live out that good in our lives.
So while God’s law always guides us to what is good, its existence, and even our affirmation of its goodness, do not serve to empower us to live it out in obedience. The law has the ability to reveal what is good and how we are sinners, but has no power to make us obey God or remove our guilt. We need the law to know what’s right, but the law serves a greater purpose than being the rules and regulations of Christianity. It makes us more cognizant of our sinfulness and our pervasive need for God’s grace.
In other words, the law is a set up for us to know just how much we need rescue, that we need saving, that we need good news that comes from outside ourselves, not inside ourselves. It provides us with good moral guidelines that we unfortunately don’t always keep so that we will know that we are always in need God’s help. We are nothing without saving grace.
Therefore, we can’t expect to enter into the holy perfection required by Jesus by keeping God’s law. Life is better when we do follow God’s law, but we don’t always do that, do we? The reality of personal holiness has to come as an external gift, not as a personal work, through faith in Jesus, who kept God’s law perfectly for me and sacrificed himself by taking the punishment due for my sin. I am justified, even before all of God’s laws, by the blood of Jesus. His works become my works. His righteousness I now possess by his grace.
This news motivates me to return to God’s law with a new perspective. I no longer see it as a means to gain God’s favor and approval. I start to see it as a gracious guidance towards my own good and the good of others. I also realize that when I mess up (and I mess up a lot) Jesus’ love, approval, forgiveness, and care fore me is unchanged. I confess. I believe. I live by faith.
The great reformer Martin Luther once wrote: "Whoever knows well this art of distinguishing between Law and Gospel, him place at the head and call him a doctor of Holy Scripture.” So by all means let us dive into this subject of the law together this Sunday, and let us aspire to keep God’s law together, but let us also remember our incapacity to keep it without grace and how the good news of Jesus comes in full response to our every need.