Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Law is the Gospel: My Wife is Food

It's quiz time. Who teaches that "The Law is the Gospel"?
     a. Thomas Aquinas
     b. Herman Hanko
     c. Federal Vision guys
     d. Karl Barth
     e. Mohamed
     f. John Frame
    g. John MacArthur
    h. Jehovah Witnesses
     i. Mormons
     j. The Pope

If you answered "All of the Above" you win. All teach rather explicitly that the law is the Gospel. Some of those of a more Calvinistic bent on the list are often accusing their fellow Calvinists on the list of being heretics of one sort or another but they are agreed that the law is the Gospel. A much longer list could be made of pastors who do not explicitly state that the law is the Gospel but act like it is. Moses is not Jesus.

Both Law and Gospel are good and both are from God but they are not the same thing. Food is a gift from God and so is my wife but my wife is not food and food is not my wife. I can only imagine the horrible results of thinking that my wife is food or that my food is my wife but they would not be as bad as if I were to think that the law is the Gospel.

The majority of the teachers above seem to think that what is most important for the converted Christian to hear is the law. But it is clear from the Scriptures that just like everyone else, the Christian needs both law and Gospel. The fear seems to be that if too much Gospel is given, then the Christian will fall into sin. But these churches still have all the sins found in churches that distinguish between Law and Gospel. According to Paul in Romans 7 and according to all observation, the preaching of the Law makes people sin worse. The Law does not make people better. It's counter intuitive but only the Gospel makes people better. Only the Gospel can heal us.

If the Law were the Gospel, Paul would not be writing to the Galatians and telling them not to return to the Law and speaking of them as being bewitched. Those who say that the Law is the Gospel seem to be acting in the same way that Paul's opponents were. Oh good, you're a Christian now. Enough of the forgiveness stuff, here's a list of rules to follow.

Saying that the Law is the Gospel always results in weakening both the Law and the Gospel. Christ preached the Law in such a way that every person present knew that they were real sinners worthy of God's temporal and eternal punishment. Those who say that the Law is the Gospel generally make the Law doable and preach the law unlawfully according to Paul's first letter to Timothy. The Gospel becomes a crutch for when you don't quite get it right. The Gospel turns into something that is not for real sinners but for the righteous. Jesus did not come for the righteous but for sinners.

Often Psalm 19 or 119 are quoted as proof that the Law is the Gospel. In Psalm 19, David says that the "Law" converts the soul. But the Hebrew word Torah has a much wider range of meaning. It more literally means simply "teaching" and refers to the entire body of teaching that the author had access to in what we would call the Old Testament. It would not refer to simply a body of legislation to be obeyed. Those who insist that Psalm 19 is saying that the Law in particular converts the soul are making the same mistake as the Jews. If they are right then there is no need for Jesus at all.


Anonymous said...

Same Law-giver.
Same Grace-giver.
Same Long-Expected Jesus.
Same God.

Chuck Wiese said...

I'm not sure I understand your point. I am not denying that both Law and Gospel come from God but they are not the same thing any more than salvation and damnation are the same thing.

Louis said...

Hi Chuck!

In the past couple of years I've become very interested in the distinction between law and gospel. I've enjoyed many of your devotionals. I'm curious if you've ever read John Frame's nuancing of the distinction in his book, "The Doctrine of the Christian Life"? (esp. pp. 182-91) Frame says there is an important sense in which gospel and law "overlap and intersect" (187). That is to say even the gospel "itself requires a certain kind of conduct (Acts 14:15; Gal. 2:14; Phil. 1:27; cf. Rom. 2:16)." (p. 185) He does acknowledge that people may define gospel in a more narrow way than is done by the Scripture for theological reasons and to that he "won't object too strongly." (188) I would really appreciate hearing your thoughts on this. If you don't have Frame's book I know where you can buy a copy. :)

Louis said...

Duh. I'm a stooge! I guess I failed your quiz. I just went back and looked and saw Frame's name on your list. So I guess you know where he stands. At any rate I would still like your interaction with his comments.


Chuck Wiese said...

If I were going to a Christian Bookstore it would be Baker Book House but with four kids my book budget and reading time is very limited and I just got a bunch as Christmas presents. Plus, I've got a few publishers that send me free books for review.

I have not read that book by Frame but he has a few articles online where he states his position. I'll try to find the best of the articles and respond to it on my blog when I get a chance.

Louis said...

Thanks Chuck,
I look forward to your comments. I'll be patient. As a father of four myself I well understand your situation!

Chuck Wiese said...

Louis: I just posted a response to an article I found by John Frame on Law and Gospel: