THE DOCTRINE OF
THE PROPER RELATIONSHIP OF LAW TO GOSPEL
A look at God’s Word by
The doctrine that God wants us to believe and teach does not consist of human opinion, or even of what men have deduced from the words of Scripture. On the contrary, the doctrine that God wants taught is the doctrine He has clearly and explicitly stated in the Words of Scripture. He wants us to believe and teach what He has said, not what we (or anyone else) think.
That being said, the Bible contains two totally different and distinct messages, or doctrines, the Law, and the Gospel. The Law is God’s message to the unrepentant. It exposes sin and warns of God’s wrath. In contrast, the Gospel is God’s message to those who repent and turn to Christ. Through it God assures us of His mercy and forgiveness, and through that assurance He brings us to faith in Christ (Romans and ).
The Law Cannot Make Us Righteous
Romans As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one.
[NOTE: Paul goes on to quote several passages from the Old Testament which prove that no one is righteous in the sight of God. Ps. 14:2,3, Ps.5:9 and 140:3, Ps. 10:7, Is. 59:7-8, Ps. 36:1.]
Romans 3:19-20 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and the entire world may become guilty before God. Therefore no flesh will ever be declared righteous [justified] in God’s sight by the deeds of the law: because the knowledge of sin comes by the law.
Verse 19 tells us that the Law is God’s message to those who are “under the law” (the unrepentant). And,
the fact that the Law makes the entire world “guilty
before God” tells us that everyone in the world is under
the Law. Verse 20 then tells us that no one [“no flesh”] will ever be
righteous [justified] through doing what the Law demands, because the
given to show us our sin (and need of a Savior).]
[NOTE: God works through the Law to call men to repentance and mercy. However, men can make the Law of no effect by rationalizing, or excusing, sin (Mark ). And, those who deny the truth of what the Bible says about creation and the fall make the entire Law of no effect for many, greatly hindering the work of salvation (1Cor. 1:17).]
Righteousness Comes Only Through the Gospel
Romans 3:21-24 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all and upon all who believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified [declared righteous] freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
Romans 4:3 For what does the scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness.
What shall we say then? That
Gentiles, who did not try to make
themselves righteous, attained to
righteousness, even the righteousness that is by faith. But
[COMMENT: The first passage (Rom. -24) tells us that there is a way of becoming
righteous in the sight of God, “apart
from the Law” and the “law and the
prophets” [the Old Testament] bears witness to that fact (
Because the Law was given to show us our sin (and need of a Savior), we
submit to [obey] the Law when we admit our sin and look to Christ for
Salvation Has Always Been Through Faith In Christ.
Galatians 3:8 The Word of God, having foreseen that God would justify the heathen through faith, proclaimed the gospel to Abraham in advance, saying, In you shall all nations be blessed.
Galatians 3:6 Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.
Galatians If the inheritance comes by the law, it is not given by promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.
Galatians 3:17 My point is this, the covenant concerning faith in Christ, that was confirmed by God at the time of Abraham, cannot be nullified by the law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, so as to make the promise of no effect.
Galatians 3:7 Realize therefore that those who trust in Christ are the children of Abraham.
Acts Nor is there salvation in any other: for there is no other name under heaven given among men, by which we must be saved.
[COMMENT: These verses tell us that Abraham “believed” the “Gospel” (the good news of forgiveness in Christ, 1Cor. 15:1-3) and through faith in the Gospel received the righteousness that is imputed “apart from the Law” (Rom. ). And, if Abraham became righteous in God’s sight through faith in God’s “promise”, then the Law which came 430 years later cannot “nullify” that “promise,” so as to change the way of salvation. On the contrary, the same righteousness that was imputed to Abraham has, throughout history, been imputed to all who believe (Gal. 3:7).]
Genesis I will put hostility between you and the woman [Eve], and between your seed and her seed; it will bruise your head, and you will bruise his heel.
Hebrews 11:4 By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which (faith) he was declared to be righteous.
Romans 4:6-8 David also describes the blessedness of the man, to whom God imputes righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.
Hebrews 11:13 These all died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them afar off, believed them, and embraced them, acknowledging that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
John this is indeed the Messiah, the Savior of the world.
[Comment: Adam and Eve received the same promise that was given to Abraham, the promise of a “seed” (descendant) who would break the power of sin. Since righteousness comes only through faith in God’s promise (of forgiveness in Christ), Able was counted as righteous because of his faith in Christ, not works. In the same way, all who were saved before the time of Christ were saved through faith in the “the Messiah, the Savior of the world,” not works. (See Heb. 11:1-40 and 12:1-2.)]
All Of God’s Promises Are Ours Through Faith In Christ
2Corinthians All the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, to the glory of God through us.
Galatians 3:5-6 Did God give you His Spirit, and work miracles among you, because you observed the law, or because you heard and believed the gospel? Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.
Galatians Scripture has concluded all under sin, that the promise might be given to those who believe, through faith in Jesus Christ.
1John 1:7 The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us of all sin.
[COMMENT: These verses tell us that we do not need a different faith for each promise of God, but “all the promises” are ours through faith in Christ. God sees nothing good in those who do not believe (Isaiah 64:6) and nothing bad in those who trust in Christ (1John 1:7, Psalm 32:2).]
In Christ We Are Free From the Law
Matthew For I tell you truly, Until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter or stroke will pass from the law.
Romans 7:6 But now we have been released from the law, having died to that which once bound us; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.
1Thessalonians Do your best to live quietly, mind your own business, and work with your own hands, as we directed you;
1Timothy 2:2 Lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
Hebrews If we sin willfully or deliberately after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins remains,
1Corinthians God who is faithful, will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear.
[COMMENT: These verses tell us that “not one letter or stroke” has passed from the Law. The Law still condemns the unrepentant. But, we are free from the Law in Christ. Not free to sin willfully, but free to live quiet and peaceable lives “in all godliness and honesty,” without being condemned by the Law.]
[NOTE: God first makes us righteous (through faith in the forgiveness that Christ won for us, 1John 1:7, 1Cor. 15:1-4), and then, after we are righteous, gives us His Holy Spirit enabling us to resist temptation and avoid willful sin (Gal. 5:16-18).]
Ezekiel 14:6 The Lord GOD says; Repent, and turn away from your idols; and turn your backs on all your abominations.
Psalm 51:17 God will not despise a heart that is humbled and sorry for sin.
Isaiah 57:15 For the high and lofty One who lives forever, and whose name is Holy, says; I live in a high and holy place, with him who has a humble heart and is sorry for sin.
Psalm 32:5 I said, I will confess my transgressions to the LORD; and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.
1John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Hebrews 11:6 Without faith [in Christ] it is impossible to please God.
[COMMENT: The purpose of the Law is to bring
repentance. True repentance involves a sorrow
“for sin” that will lead us to turn our “backs” on sin. However,
is incomplete without faith in Christ
(Heb. 11:6). The Law shows us our need for the forgiveness Christ won
The Gospel assures us of that forgiveness (Rom. ), and faith receives that forgiveness (
The only faith that makes us righteous in God’s sight is faith in Christ (Rom. ). Therefore, Law and Gospel are not being rightly divided whenever works are portrayed as what makes us righteous, or faith is portrayed as faith in the Law (believe and obey). Likewise they are not being rightly divided when the unrepentant are given a false assurance of forgiveness by being told that God accepts them because of their works, or when those who repent are robbed of their assurance of salvation by the bogus claim that faith is not enough. Nor are they rightly divided by those who portray salvation as being different during different periods of history. Because Satan is constantly coming up with new ways of confusing Law and Gospel I cannot begin to list all of them. However, because confusion on this issue hinders the work of the Gospel every serious Christian can profit from reading the book, “LAW AND GOSPEL” by C.F.W. Walther.