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FFC2023 - PK's Blog - Law & Gospel - In That Order

Many preachers like me are fond of saying, along with the Protestant Reformers, that God speaks two words in Scripture – law and gospel

In short, the law tells us what we must do. The gospel proclaims what God has done

Here's the thing: many churches and preachers are good at preaching one or the other. Unfortunately, only some are consistent at both, and even fewer teach both in their proper order. 

If you preach only the law, you crush people. You first turn them into legalistic performers (trying their hardest) and then pretenders (faking it until they make it) until they ultimately pass out (give up, move on – usually broken and bitter toward God and his church).

However, if you preach only the gospel, you confuse people. You tell them they need a Savior without explaining why or what he supposedly came to save them from.

What's the solution? We need to preach both law and gospel and in that order.

First, we preach the law, all our holy and righteous God justly requires of us. However, we must do it for God's compassionate purpose - to heal people, not hurt them. And that's the law's first purpose: to diagnose our needs and drive us to the Great Physician, Jesus (Romans 3:19-20, 7:7ff, Galatians 3:21, 24). For this reason, the great 19th-century preacher Charles Spurgeon likened the law to a needle that must first pierce us if the silken thread of the gospel would mend us.

We then need to preach the gospel, all that our gracious and merciful God has done for us in Jesus Christ - meeting every demand of God's law on our behalf, in his life, death, and resurrection (Matthew 5:17; John 19:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21).

However, what happens next is critical. We need to trust the gospel. It's not law, and then gospel and back to the law to keep ourselves in the gospel. It's the law and then the gospel – and that's it. Once you sincerely turn to Jesus by grace through faith, he forgives and frees you (Romans 3:20, 28; 6:14; 10:4; Galatians 2:16; 3:10-11; Ephesians 2:8-10). God holds no wrath toward his children. Not now. Not ever (Romans 8:1-2). 

Of course, when this is properly understood, what does this make a free person do? It compels them to love their Liberator, and it compels them to love what their Liberator loves (Romans 8:1-39; 1 John 2:3; 5:3). That was Jesus' point when he said, "If you love me, you'll obey my commandments" (John 14:15). Jesus wasn't just saying what should happen. He was also saying what would happen. The key to producing heart-motivated, thankful obedience is ultimately love, not law - the goodness and importance of the latter notwithstanding (Romans 2:4; 1 John 4:19).

With that in mind, the early 20th century Princeton theologian J. Gresham Machen said, "The gospel does not abrogate God's law, but makes men love it with all their hearts." Not just law. Not just gospel. Law and gospel - and in that order. 

According to the Father's will, applying the redemptive work of the Son, the Holy Spirit uses the law to persuade and enable us to turn and trust in Christ's gospel. Received by God's grace alone through faith alone, the loving goodness of the gospel then prompts and promotes loving, grateful obedience in us. That's the faithful proclamation of God's two words in Scripture.