Most American Christians don’t know the proper distinction between Law and Gospel.
If asked they might think that perhaps the Law is the OT and the Gospel is the NT. Though some might correctly understand the difference between the Ten Commandments ( or Ten Words) and the Gospel, most of them don’t hear enough of the Gospel. To those, the Gospel isn’t for believers but that the Gospel is somehow only for the moment of conversion and now you need to stay on the track of the Law. In this odd fashion the Christian has commingled the Law and Gospel so that they can hardly be considered Christian at all if they truly believe that they are kept in saving grace by their works instead of the Gospel.
There is the danger in mixing Law and Gospel. If you mix them, shake them, and stir them; you will always end up with Law in your Gospel, you will always end up with works in your grace, you will always end up in pride or despair, in self righteousness or in doubt. This is why it’s imperative to understand that the Gospel keeps you in the faith while the Law always has you accused and never has enough deeds to know if they are enough. How then should Law and Gospel be separated yet together? They should be distinguished and used properly. Romans chapter 3 expounds on these two uses of the Word.
“Now we know that whatever things the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may be brought under the judgment of God. Because by the works of the law, no flesh will be justified in his sight; for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. But now apart from the law, a righteousness of God has been revealed, being testified by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ to all and on all those who believe. For there is no distinction, for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God sent to be an atoning sacrifice through faith in his blood, for a demonstration of his righteousness through the passing over of prior sins, in God’s forbearance; to demonstrate his righteousness at this present time, that he might himself be just and the justifier of him who has faith in Jesus. Where then is the boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. We maintain therefore that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” -Romans 3:19-28
The knowledge of sin comes by the Law (Rom 3:20) while forgiveness of sins comes by the Gospel (Rom 3:28). Mixing the two up, proclaiming the Law as the Gospel and the Gospel as the Law has dire consequences. This would not only produce antinomianism or legalism; but ultimately, stating a justification by works. Making the Christian religion the same as all others, a works righteousness with no sure salvation or merit.
Is it Law or Gospel or Law and Gospel?
We cant always know if someone is repentant. Sometimes it is clear and obvious. The self righteous proud sinner needs the Law while someone broken, terrified, and contrite by their sin needs the Gospel. However, you cannot always know who needs either; therefore you preach them both. For everyone needs to know that they are damned in their own unrighteousness (Rom 3:23) and that their only hope is in the righteousness of God (Rom 3:22). Therefore, we don’t mingle and cross the two into a works based salvation but we proclaim the Law and the Gospel, distinguishing them both but never mingling the two. Keeping them separate but giving them both. This is the way of preparing hearts for repentant faith, removing all self righteousness, so that Christ’s righteousness can be planted in it’s place, by grace through faith.
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