The Law is not the Gospel

Question 4: What does the law of God require of us?

Answer: Christ teaches us in sum, Matthew 22, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

Great confusion and spiritual distress will arise in a Christian’s life if the law and the gospel are not distinguished from one another.  The law teaches men and women of God’s demands for moral uprightness (Right now, I am speaking of “law” as God’s unchanging moral standard, not as the covenant that came down at Sinai.).  In short, the law commands perfect love – love for God and neighbor.  This love is written upon our hearts (Rom. 2:13-15) and must be fulfilled personally, perpetually, and perfectly.  To obtain a fuller sense of the law’s demands, one may turn to the Ten Commandments, which the catechism explains later on, or to the various commands in the Old and New Testament that call people to live an upright life.

Just think about the implications of this distinction. If the law relates to God just requirements, it does not speak of His grace.  Therefore, it does not inform us of the accomplishments of Jesus Christ and His gracious gifts of forgiveness and free righteousness.  Instead, the law enjoins that we personally achieve righteousness.  Some old sayings go like this: “What the law demands, the gospel gives.  The law says ‘do’ and the gospel says ‘done’.”  In short, if we make “love” or even “following Christ’s example” into the gospel, we have confused justice with mercy and misunderstood God’s glorious grace.

Photo credit to Nataraj Metz

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