Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:00

Law and Gospel

Written by Rev. G.R. Procee
God's Word is the Truth. That is not something God's children maintain by outward confession alone; but it is something they experience in their lives. One of the strengths of God's Word is that His Word can be experienced. One can know by personal experience that God's Word is true.
Many subjects are dealt with in GodÕs Word. One distinction commonly used in Reformed theology is that God's Word consists of Law and Gospel. God calls sinners to salvation by using His Word in the life of individuals by reflecting on His Law and His Gospel. By the application of the Holy Spirit, GodÕs Law and Gospel are experienced in spiritual life. God awakens, strengthens, purges, and renews spiritual life by means of His Law and Gospel.

Law and Gospel always belong together. The Reformer Martin Luther emphasized the distinction between Law and Gospel, but never wanted to separate them. Luther stated that the Law consists of everything that is God's will for us. These are the Ten Commandments and the Pauline admonitions. They are examples of the lovingkindness of the Lord Jesus in which He gives us a pattern for our conduct. God's Law consists of everything God requires of man. His Law shows us the LordÕs will for our whole life.

God shows us our misery due to sin by means of His Law. By nature, we do not obey GodÕs will. That is the cause of our misery. God shows us that our condition is extremely serious. We transgress all of God's commandments. Therefore we cause God's judgment to fall upon us.

We are under the curse of God's Law and God shows us our sins and shortcomings by means of His Law. The Law shows me my guilt and it describes the just punishment of God that is due to me.

By means of the convictions that are experienced God is at work to reveal His salvation to me. He is preparing me for His salvation which is portrayed in the Gospel. The uncovering function of God's Law may never be separated from God's Gospel.

God shows us not only His law but also His Gospel revealed in His Word. It is through the Gospel that God calls us to salvation. The Gospel consists of the salvation of God. It shows us His grace for sinners; that the Lord forgives sin and the Gospel teaches us to walk in a new life of dedication to Him. The Gospel consists of God's gracious dealings that lead the soul to a new life with Him and irresistibly guides us into a new walk with Christ. This is the Gospel--the liberating, glorious and most comforting Gospel. It is the preaching of salvation worked and applied by our all sufficient Saviour. The Gospel preaches that Jesus saves His people from sin, from its dominion, slavery, guilt, and misery.

During their life on earth GodÕs children learn to fight against sin. That is a battle within between the old man and the new man which is being formed after the image of Christ. This battle can be very severe. The end result is, however, that in heaven God's child will be completely delivered from all sin. All this is experienced by God's power and grace, and this blessed salvation is preached by the Gospel.

We find the Gospel in the many promises of salvation in God's Word. Over against the curse and the just punishment of God, the LordÕs call to salvation goes forth throughout the world and He proclaims: ÒTurn unto Me all ye ends of the world and be ye saved.Ó In the Gospel God shows us the way to be delivered from the punishment of God and to receive His salvation.

We should never separate Law and Gospel. If we do we will run into serious problems. If only the Law is preached, people are led to either a works righteousness which cannot stand before God, or to despair. Emphasizing the Law over against the Gospel leads people to trust in their own works instead of trusting in Christ and His complete righteousness. The other possible effect of over-emphasizing GodÕs Law is that people are cast upon their own abilities which are never sufficient; they can never meet the standard of GodÕs Law. Then they will feel that they must fulfil this as a duty without which they cannot be saved; and they will despair.

On the other hand, if people are exposed to a one-sided emphasis on the Gospel, they become either presumptuous or very licentious. When people become presumptuous, they will have a shallow understanding of salvation and assume that salvation is for them, while lacking the awareness of what they are saved and redeemed from. In other words, there still will be no room for Christ in their lives. They will not need the saving work of Christ, for they have never been uncovered by GodÕs Law, because they only know the Gospel.

Another effect of emphasizing the Gospel over against the Law is that people will become licentious. That is, they will become sloppy in their walk and will easily sin against GodÕs commandments. They do not live according to God's will and are not bothered by their sins or their transgressions against God's Law. There is no hating of sins, neither sorrow for sin. There is no knowledge of sin and no breaking with sin. Such people only want to hear about God's love and compassion, but not about God's demands and laws.

The Lord places Law and Gospel together in His Word. The Law makes room for the Gospel. John the Baptist preached the Law in order to make room for the Gospel. He had to prepare the way for the merciful Redeemer, by preaching the Law. Before He spoke of the remission of sins, the Saviour Himself, at the beginning of His ministry, preached a sermon which in its searching and self-revelatory character was a more alarming address to the corrupt natural heart than the first edition of it delivered at Mount Sinai. This sermon preached by Christ is known as the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).

Christ's atonement is to be offered to those who are conscious of guilt and in order for guilt to become conscious there must be the preaching of the Law.

The Lord connects Law and Gospel in His preaching, but also in the proclamation of the Ten Commandments. The introduction to the Law is: ÒI am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.Ó In this phrase the Lord shows the sufficiency of His help, grace and mercy. He opens Himself up to a sinful people. It is only after this introduction that God proclaims His will. The Law is given in the setting of the Gospel.

This reminds us of Lord's Day 2 of the Heidelberg Catechism which teaches us that we know our misery from the Law of God. ÒThis teaches us ChristÓ, the answer states. There you see again the close connection between Law and Gospel. Therefore, we need to maintain both Law and Gospel in the preaching of God's Word. The Word must be both uncovering and comforting. It must rip away our self-made coverings and show us the true covering in Christ Jesus.

By showing the Law and revealing the Gospel, the Lord leads people to recognize, to deplore, to confess and to forsake transgressions. He is a complete and perfect Saviour, for God has exalted Him to give repentance, and forgiveness of sins. Have we become acquainted with Law and Gospel?

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