What is the Law & Gospel?

The Apostle Paul stated a fundamental truth when he addressed the Greek philosophers while he visited Athens (in Acts 17), he said the following statement in Acts 17:28,

“for in Him we live and move and exist…”

From this we can see the fundamental truth of man’s complete dependency upon God, not being limited to merely creation, but also that God sustains the life of His creation. This can be resumed in the following quotation from A.W. Tozer’s Book, The Knowledge of the Holy,

” It may be stated as an axiom that to stay alive every created thing needs some other created thing and all things need God.  To God alone nothing is necessary.”[1]

God is the only being that is self-sufficient.  Also since God is the Sovereign Creator, His creation is dependent upon Him for their being.  It could be said that God requires nothing of us, yet we are dependent upon Him in light of our human frailties (John 15:5, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing).

In the book of Hebrews we find scriptural support of this truth as Christ is described as Sovereign in the creation of the world and in sustaining His creation in Hebrews 1:2-3,

“in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.
3 And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,”

Firstly, we see the Sovereignty of Christ in creation, which is not limited to just the Son, but is ultimately a work accomplished cooperatively by the Divine Trinity.  As we see in Hebrews the involvement of the Son, in Genesis we see the involvement of both the Father and the Holy Spirit, in Genesis 1:1-2,

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
2 The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.”

We can see the involvement of the Father(1:1), as well as the involvement of the Holy Spirit in Genesis 1:2.

Secondly, we can see that God sustains His creation.  The breath of all mankind is in His hand as Job states in Job 12:10,”In whose hand is the life of every living thing, And the breath of all mankind?”
This dependency upon God is not limited to sustaining our lives merely on an external basis, but man’s dependency upon God is required due to man’s moral corruption and depravity.  The following are some verses which verify the vileness of man:

Genesis 6:5, “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually”.

Genesis 8:21 “The LORD smelled the soothing aroma; and the LORD said to Himself, “I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done”.

Job 15:16 “How much less one who is detestable and corrupt, Man, who drinks iniquity like water!”

Some may still try to justify their righteousness by saying that they have done good deeds, and in the balance of their good deeds they outweigh their sins, and therefore they can be accounted as morally upright.  However this is a false notion because firstly no one has any good works that can be offered to God, they are just like the displeasing offering of Cain as Isaiah says in Isaiah 64:6,

“For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”

Jesus stated the same in Matthew 15:18, “But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man.”

The Apostle Paul states that mankind is corrupt, and that there are none righteous; Romans 3: 9-12,

“What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; 10 as it is written, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; 11 THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; 12 ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.”

This presents a problem because a Holy God cannot dwell with iniquity because to do so would contradict God’s standard of perfect holiness (Psalms 24:3-4 “Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? And who may stand in His holy place? 4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood And has not sworn deceitfully.”) Secondly, the response of a Holy God towards those who commit iniquity is God’s divine justice and wrath;

Psalms 5:5 “The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes; You hate all who do iniquity.”

Romans 2:5 “But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,”

We can determine from these passages that God’s wrath is not against the sin, but rather the sinner.  Also, if we were to suppose that God’s wrath were only against the sin, then God would only have to through our sin in Hell, and not the sinner, but as we have examined the corruption of man we see that man is culpable for his sins, and is not a victim of his sins.

How then can a just God justify sinners, as it says in Hebrews 1:3, “…When He had made purification of sins…”?  How was Christ able to atone for sinners when this conflicts with the justice of God, as this divine dilemma is stated in Proverbs 17:15,

“He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, Both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD”.

How can God justify sinners without being an abomination unto himself in light of Proverbs 17:15? There has to be an exchange, a substitute, that must bear the punishment of God’s wrath in order to reconcile man with God.  This substitute is Jesus Christ, who living a sinless life on earth and bore the wrath of God on the cross in order to reconcile to God everyone who believes in the gospel.  Christ not only bore the wrath of God on the cross, paying the penalty due to mankind by Adam’s transgression, but Christ also imputed his righteousness to those who believe the gospel based on his perfect obedience to God’s law, clothing them with his righteousness; 1 Corinthians 1:30 ” But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption.”  Also through Christ’s resurrection we know that the atonement was accepted by the Father, and as Christ rose from the grave on the third day those who believe in him, God will also resurrect from their state of being dead in sin to being alive in Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit in taking out their heart of stone and giving them a heart of flesh and God putting His Holy Spirit in them so that they walk in obedience to His commandments(Ezekiel 36:26-27).

Romans 3:23-24 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;”

Jesus is the only mediator between man and God by which sinners are reconciled to God as stated in the following two verses:

Acts 4:12 “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”

John 14:6 “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”

The salvation that was purchased by Christ on the cross does require a response as Christ proclaimed;

Mark 1:14-15, “Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

The mandate of Christ is to repent and believe the gospel.

First, believing in Christ is required for salvation.  Faith consists of three parts: a knowledge of the Gospel, the indicatives: a belief in Christ’s deity, sinlessness, perfect life of obedience, death, burial, and resurrection, and his righteousness being the sole basis that sinners are justified before God.  The second part of faith is an assent to these facts, indicatives of the Gospel, believing that they are trustworthy, and lastly trusting in Christ alone for salvation rather than in one’s own righteousness (A useful discussion of faith by R.C. Sproul: http://www.ligonier.org/blog/what-faith/).

Repentance is a fruit of faith which accompanies saving faith.  Here is a quote from John Calvin briefly explaining the relationship between faith and repentance,

“That repentance not only always follows faith, but is produced by it, ought to be without controversy (see Calvin in Joann. 1:13). For since pardon and forgiveness are offered by the preaching of the Gospel, in order that the sinner, delivered from the tyranny of Satan, the yoke of sin, and the miserable bondage of iniquity, may pass into the kingdom of God, it is certain that no man can embrace the grace of the Gospel without retaking himself from the errors of his former life into the right path, and making it his whole study to practice repentance. Those who think that repentance precedes faith instead of flowing from, or being produced by it, as the fruit by the tree, have never understood its nature, and are moved to adopt that view on very insufficient grounds.”(John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion.  Book III, Chapter III, Section I (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 1997).

Repentance is not merely being reconciled with man, but realizing that sin is against God;

Psalms 51:4,”Against You, You only, I have sinned And done what is evil in Your sight, So that You are justified when You speak And blameless when You judge.”

It is the realization of one’s vileness before the Holy God, and as a result fleeing from your sin, and clinging to the cross of Christ.  It is not a mere emotional experience, but it is also followed by continued repentance because believers still sin, and therefore must fight against their sin because as the author of Hebrews writes, “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.”(Hebrews 12:14).  Repentance is not a onetime event at conversion, but is followed by a life of repentance as God convicts the believer of their sins, leading them to repentance, and progressively sanctifying the believer to grow in their conformity to the image of Christ.

 

Here are some more detailed resources I have written on the Law & Gospel:

https://1689reformedbaptist.wordpress.com/2015/07/15/the-law-gospel-distinction-in-the-christian-worldview-evangelism/

https://1689reformedbaptist.wordpress.com/2015/07/30/a-historical-and-theological-analysis-of-the-neonomian-controversy-in-17th-century-england-part-i/


[1] The Knowledge of the Holy A.W.Tozer,pg.88

All scripture citations from NASB 1995 Update

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