The Law, the Gospel, and Something about Worship

Daniel Bush Uncategorized

By Daniel Bush & Noel Due

Excerpt from Daniel Bush & Noel Due, Embracing God as Father: Christian Identity in the Family of God (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014).

Because it’s so often misunderstood we need to linger on the relationship between the law and gospel. The freedom we have from the law of God isn’t a freedom from its perfection and righteousness (Psa 19:7–8; Rom 7:12), but from its condemnation (Rom 8:1). God’s law declares to us the holy and righteous character of God, mirroring what we ought to be but aren’t, holding us accountable (Rom 3:19). It’s often mistakenly understood, however, that Jesus nullified the law, removed our need to be accountable to it. But this is the farthest thing from the truth—hear his own words:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished (Matt 5:17–18).

Since the law of God remains in effect, we can’t ignore it. We should see, however, that in terms of the plan of salvation it has one purpose and one only: “[T]hrough the law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom 3:20). In other words, its purpose is to convict us of our sinfulness (Rom 3:23)—which is our failure to love God (Matt 22:37)—and drive us to the gospel of Christ to experience his love and redemption from the penalty of the broken law (Rom 3:24). Does the law teach us what holiness looks like? It does indeed because it announces the character of God. Yet striving after obedience to the law doesn’t make us holy. “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in [God’s] sight” (Rom 3:20). Rather, Paul directs us to strive after the one place in which we’re made holy, the one place our hard hearts are actually enabled to love God as we ought (Phil 3:8–16): the loving-faithfulness of God in Jesus Christ—the gospel.

Only Jesus has obeyed the law perfectly in love for God and man. In receiving his grace, the Father justifies us and creates in us a love for himself—we can love God only when we’re overwhelmed by his love for us. Hence, our love reflects his. Endeavoring to justify ourselves before God and others through obedience to the law never leads us to love God or others (Matt 22:37–40). Rather, it leads us into boasting and self-righteousness when we succeed—which breaks the law (1 Cor 1:29)—or beneath the crushing weight of guilt and shame when we fail. Only the gospel has the ability to lead us into love. This is why Paul writes:

The law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit (Rom 8:2–4).

He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Cor 1:30–31).

What we’re to set our minds on and what we’re to boast in, therefore, is the same thing: the loving-faithfulness of God in Jesus Christ—the gospel.

When the gospel isn’t at the center of one’s faith—that is, when one loses sight of God’s love—he or she will fall into one of two ditches. The first we can describe as the “happy moralist,” and the second as the “sad moralist.”

The happy moralist is convinced that God loves them, that’s he’s obligated to do so, as well as to bless them when they do good. They know he has some rules, but these can be reduced to a few duties, which one generally assumes they’re doing rather well at. Jesus harshly criticized happy moralists, contrasting their outward show of religion with their neglect of “the weightier matters of the law” (Matt 23:23), which speaks to issues of what is going on in the heart—justice, mercy, and faithfulness—and points out issues such as greed, self-indulgence, pride, hypocrisy, lawlessness, etc. In other words, the happy moralist doesn’t take the law personally and seriously enough, even while they might be overly scrupulous and even add works to faith. Such superficial law keeping, however, is another way of avoiding the humiliation intrinsic to entrusting themselves to the gospel—that is, seeing themselves as deeply sinful and in need of grace. The happy moralist doesn’t fully see how the law applies to them, and they actually feel they’re pretty good. Yet they’re easily irritated, judgmental, and find it difficult to receive criticism. They’re the Pharisee (Matt 23:1–36). Martin Luther admonished the happy moralist as follows:

You must get this thought through your head and not doubt that you are the one who is torturing Christ thus, for your sins have surely wrought this.… Therefore, when you see the nails piercing Christ’s hands, you can be certain it is your work. When you behold his crown of thorns, you may rest assured that these are your evil thoughts.

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42 (ed. Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehmann; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1958–1972), 7–14.

The sad moralists experience the weight of God’s law. They aren’t fooled into thinking they’re doing well in fulfillment of it. In fact, they’re very much aware of how much they’re failing and feel they ought to be doing better. The sad moralists are quite harsh with themselves, thrashing themselves with condemnation and doubling their efforts to obey. Trying to justify themselves through repentance, their consciences never find peace. Finally exhausted, they give in to apathy and self-indulgence, only to start the cycle of self-reformation over again. When the sad moralists read of God’s love for them in Christ, they aren’t comforted, but terrified; the joy of the gospel hasn’t infected their heart. Sad moralists, like happy moralists, also avoid the gospel, albeit differently. They avoid it by trying to prove they are worthy of God’s love and blessings by relying on their own righteousness. They look on others who seem to be enjoying God’s blessings with contempt because they aren’t working hard enough; they’re censorious, envious, and can be hateful of Christians with weak or different theology. They’re the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11–32). George Whitefield admonished the sad moralist as follows:

Our best duties are as so many splendid sins. Before you can speak peace to your heart you must not only be sick of your original and actual sin, but you must be made sick of your righteousness, of all your duties and performances. There must be a deep conviction before you can be brought out of your self-righteousness; it is the last idol taken out of your heart. The pride of the heart will not let us submit to the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

George Whitefield, “The Method of Grace,” The World’s Famous Orations (ed. William Jennings Bryan and Francis W. Halsey; New York: Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1906), n.p. Online: http://www.bartleby.com/268/3/20.

And David Brainerd, 18th-century missionary to the Native Americans, wrote:

When I had been fasting, praying, obeying, I thought I was aiming at the glory of God, but I was doing it all for my own glory—to feel I was worthy. As long as I was doing all this to earn my salvation, I was doing nothing for God, all for me! I realized that all my struggling to become worthy was an exercise in self-worship. I was not worshipping him, but using him.… Though I often confessed to God that I, of course, deserved nothing, yet still I harbored a secret hope of recommending myself to God by all these duties and all this morality. In other words, I healed myself with my duties.

Distilled from Jonathan Edwards, David Brainerd, and Sereno Edwards Dwight, The Works of Presented Edwards with a Memoir of His Life (New York: G. & C. & H. Carvill, 1830), 36, 38, 43.

Excerpt from Daniel Bush & Noel Due, Embracing God as Father: Christian Identity in the Family of God (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014).