The Biblical Data that supports Law and Gospel
Now that we have taken a look at dogmatics of law and gospel we should explore the biblical foundations for the law and the gospel because if it is not found in God’s word then it is not worth preaching at all.
The Law: Its Uses and Nature in Scripture
My contention is that general characteristics in the Reformed understanding of law are found in the biblical data including the first and third uses of the law. The law of God is a reflection of the Holy character of God and thus requires perfection as is clearly taught in Matthew 5:48: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” If one violates the law at one point then he has broken all of it (James 10:10-12). Thus, the scriptures clearly teach that the law requires as the Westminster confession says “perfect, personal, and perpetual obedience” (WCF 7.2; WLC 20, 93) and it is Holy because it is a reflection of the nature of God. In addition, the law is revealed to everyone, even those who lack special revelation, but have general revelation (Rom. 2:12-15). The law also points out our sin and misery and our desperate need for a savior (Rom. 3:20). The scriptures even go so far as to say that the law produces more sin in us as it says in Romans 5:20 “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased”. In light of these consideration it seems that pedagogical use of the law is taught clearly in scripture (Romans 3:10-12 ,3:19, 4:15, 5:13 ,7:5, 7:7, 7:12-13). Now that we have been shown to be dead in our sins by the law we can now be redeemed and live to God out of gratitude for what he has done for us and follow the law as a norm (Gal. 2:19-20). For all believers that are justified by faith are required to follow the law in its third use as Paul teaches us in Romans 3:31: “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” Thus, it seems that given the biblical data we are warranted in believing in the third use of the law as well as the rest of the teaching concerning the law in the Reformed tradition.
The Gospel: A Free Gift
My contention is that the Gospel taught in the Bible is the Gospel of the Reformation of a free gift to be received by faith alone through grace alone on the basis of Christ’s righteousness. We receive what God has given to us as a gift by grace and faith as Paul says in Ephesians 2:8 “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” Paul teaches in Ephesians that this is not of our own doing at all. Moreover, he teaches that this gift we have received righteousness not from us or anything we have done but by faith in Christ as he states in Philippians 3:9 “be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith”. This righteousness is from Christ and his obedience by fulfilling the law and giving to us as an unconditional gift by his free grace (Rom. 5:15; 8:1-4) . God gave us his righteousness and he took up the punishment of sin on the cross so that we can receive his gracious gift as Paul teaches in 2 Corinthians: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Moreover, another key point of the Gospel is that God out of his grace sent his son into the world to redeem us from the law so that we might become adopted sons and receive Christ’s benefits through faith alone (Gal. 4:4-5). Thus, it seems that the Bible is covered with the Gospel message of the Reformation (Rom. 3:20-31; 5:1-5; Gal 3:6-9).
The Relationship between Law/Gospel
In this section we will look at the relationship between the law and the gospel in the Reformed tradition and how that tradition is established by the word of God.
The Relationship of Law and Gospel in the Reformed Tradition
There are two antithetical hermeneutical moods that one ought to read the scriptures with in the Reformed tradition; they are the Law and Gospel. As I have mentioned in passing above the relationship between law and gospel to us is antithesis. As Dr. Scott Clark notes about the law/gospel distinction in the mind of the Reformed Scholastic Wollebius “They differ in their “proper material” (propria material). That is, the stuff of gospel is not the stuff of law. The law is about our “doing” (facienda), and the gospel is about our “believing” (credenda) .” Dr. Clark is emphasizing that the essential fundamental difference between law and gospel is that the gospel asks us to believe and the law asks us to do . This is why the distinction can also be seen as the antithesis between faith and works. However, Dr. Clark does note that the Law and Gospel are only antithetical to us as sinners but to God they are not antithetical . In other words, he is trying to say that the law/gospel distinction is analogous to the doctrine of divine simplicity, there may be distinctions to us as creatures, but to God it is all one; these creaturely distinctions are called “relative distinctions” . Beza thought that if one did not know the fundamental distinction between law and Gospel as two parts then this would lead to the corruption of Christianity . The Reformed antithesis between law and gospel are essential moods but there are other ways to view and express these moods in scripture.
The law and gospel distinction can be also seen as the antithesis between law and promise-fulfillment or between a covenant of works and a covenant of grace. Reformed theologians like Ursinus explained the distinction between law and gospel in language of the covenant of works and the covenant of grace . In other words, the covenant of grace is on an entirely different attitude than the covenant of works . The reason why they are different principles is because the law does contain promises but they are largely legal; they are based on our doing and following the conditions set before us . Whereas the Gospel or the covenant of grace is not based on our doing but based on Christ’s doing and we receiving this promise by faith alone. As Scott Clark Rightly points out about the relationship between the law/gospel distinction and covenant theology in the thinking of the Reformed theologian Ursinus:
“Ursinus’s construal of the law/gospel distinction would seem to make impossible any disjunction between covenant theology and the law/gospel hermeneutic. In other words, if we follow Ursinus, to preach covenantally is to preach the law (relative to justification) and the gospel as two distinct principles .”
It seems then that our covenant theology is going to be intimately connected to a Reformed conception of the law and the gospel distinction. Moreover, other Reformed theologians like Michael S. Horton also believe that there is a link between this intimate relation between covenant theology as it relates to the law gospel distinction . He writes “….law and gospel are distinguished and even opposed whenever we mean by these terms a covenant of law and a covenant promise .” In this quotation the law/gospel distinction are defined in terms of covenant theology and thus reinforces the close connection between law/gospel and covenants of grace and works. In lights of these considerations this seems to suggest that the law/gospel distinction is linked and grounded in the distinction between the covenant of works and grace.
The Law/Gospel distinction in Scripture
The law gospel distinction of antithesis is grounded in the scriptural distinctions between works/law and faith/promise. In Romans 3:21-23 Paul makes a distinction between the righteousness of God through faith in Christ and the law which has righteousness apart from this. In Romans 3:27 Paul makes a starker distinction when he says “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.” The Greek word here for “law” as used two times in this verse is no,moj and is probably best translated as principle or rule. The reason why it would not be best to translate no,moj as a command from the moral law of God or from the Torah is because faith is called a no,moj and faith is being contrasted with works in this verse. Moreover, above in the previous context (Rom. 3:21-26) Paul contrasts faith and works so that it would not make sense if he was using no,moj in this way because he would be contradicting himself in this verse. Thus, if we take Paul use of no,moj as a principle or as a rule then Paul would be teaching two distinct principles in the word of God: works and faith. This is nearly a decisive argument for the law/gospel distinction but there are other strong biblical arguments.
However, there are other strong biblical arguments throughout the writings of New Testament. In Galatians 3:18 Paul contrast between Law and Promise “For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.” Paul’s contrast is so stark that he argues that to even think that the inheritance came through law would exclude any notion of promise. This point is also reemphasized in the book of Romans as well as it relates to the promise of Abraham through faith and not through the law (Romans 4:13-16).
Another strong argument for the law/gospel distinction is found in the combined force of Romans 10:5-13 and Galatians 3:10-14. Romans 10:5 Paul argues that the righteousness based on the law is “that the person who does the commandments shall live by them.” Paul is saying here that a person who lives by the law is the righteousness based on the law. He contrasts this verse 6-13 with the righteousness by faith that does not find it’s righteousness in doing but rather believing and confessing. As it says in verse 9 “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Here Paul is contrasting this believing with the righteousness based on the law in verse 5 . A similar line of biblical teaching is reinforced in Galatians 3:10-14 when Paul understands works of the law (e;rgwn no,mou) as a curse because “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them (v.10).” Thus the e;rgwn no,mou requires perfect obedience in all of God’s commandments or else a curse. Verse 12 Paul indicates a clear contrast between the law and faith when he says “But the law is not of faith, rather "The one who does them shall live by them."” Paul is teaching that faith is not the same thing as the law because the law is about living by the commandments perfectly, whereas faith is just about “believing”. In verse 14 Paul concludes that we received the promised Spirit and the benefits of Christ through faith which is contrary to the law, as Paul says “so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.” These sections in the scriptures strongly support a robust law/gospel antithesis but the scriptures use different language like law and faith or belief in place of the law and gospel. This does not suggest that the law/gospel distinction is somehow unbiblical because the precise language is not found in scripture. If someone thought this was a legitimate criticism of the Reformed law/gospel distinction then to be consistent they ought to give up the doctrine of the trinity since the word trinity is never used in the Bible. What is important for a doctrine to be biblical is not that the precise wording is in the Bible but that the content and concepts are taught in the word of God.
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