Silhouette of Jesus teaching disciples with the overlay text “The Gospel-Centered Life” and “The Law & The Gospel”.

The Law & The Gospel

When we consider the overarching narrative of God’s word, two themes consistently emerge: Law and Grace. Some may perceive them as contrasting concepts. The Law dictates our responsibilities and standards, painting a clear picture of God’s perfect standards. Grace, meanwhile, embodies the unconditional love of God, assuring us of salvation even when we fall short of these standards. Rather than opposing forces, Law and Grace work together, guiding our understanding of our relationship with God.

Overview of the Lesson’s Theme:

This week, we aim to answer pivotal questions: How does the Law function in our lives? Where does the Gospel’s message of grace intersect with it? And crucially, how do we live our lives reflecting both our reverence for God’s commands and our deep appreciation for His grace?

Some mistakingly view Christianity as a list of rules. But a closer look at the teachings reveals a different perspective. Paul clarified the relationship between the Law and Gospel to various communities, cautioning against veering too far in either direction.

The Law and Gospel: A Reflective Relationship:

Rather than a simple balancing act, the relationship between the Law and the Gospel is profoundly revealing. The Law stands as a stark mirror, unveiling our deep-seated sinfulness and our inability to meet God’s holy standards on our own. The purpose isn’t merely to make us feel our own inadequacy in achieving salvation—it underscores the fact that our salvation is entirely dependent on God’s grace and mercy.

Where the Law reveals our utter hopelessness in attaining righteousness on our own, the Gospel offers God’s incredible response. It’s a declaration that salvation isn’t about our effort or our goodness; we could never earn it. Jesus, our Savior, bridges the vast chasm that our sin creates. He lived the sinless life we couldn’t, taking upon Himself the entirety of our guilt and punishment.

In this light, the Law becomes a beacon that directs us unequivocally to the Gospel. Coming face to face with our depravity before an infinitely holy God, we are irresistibly drawn to the mercy and redemption available in Jesus. Embracing this grace, our hearts naturally desire to uphold God’s way of living — not from a sense of forced duty, but from a profound place of love and thankfulness.

As we continue this series, let’s see God’s commandments as illuminations, not impositions. They shed light on our relationship with Him, revealing the depth of His love and His desire for us to dwell securely within His kingdom.

The Paradox of the Law in the Bible

Highlighting Commands and Expectations:

Throughout the pages of Scripture, there’s a unique duality. We are met with an array of commandments, from the Ten Commandments given to Moses to the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. These directives provide a blueprint for godly living, setting clear expectations for how we are to conduct ourselves. Alongside these commandments, we encounter prophetic voices, psalmist cries, and apostolic teachings, all affirming God’s desire for a heart transformed by love, not just external obedience.

The Challenge for Believers and Non-Believers:

The intertwining messages of command and grace can be perplexing. Believers, with a desire to please God, might grapple with questions about how precisely to live out their faith. How much emphasis should be placed on the Law, and how much on God’s grace? Non-believers, when introduced to Christianity, might be puzzled by this duality. Is Christianity a religion of stringent rules, or is it a faith centered on grace and mercy?

For many, the Law can seem daunting, especially when read without the lens of grace. It paints a picture of God’s holiness and our inability to measure up. Yet, it is this very picture that amplifies the need for God’s redemptive plan and highlights the depth of His love for us.

Reconciliation with God: Grace or Adherence to the Law?

Paul, in his letters, consistently returned to this theme. For him and for us, the answer is clear: our reconciliation with God comes solely through grace. As he states in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”

However, this grace doesn’t nullify the Law. Instead, it fulfills it. Jesus himself said, “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” (Matthew 5:17). In His life, death, and resurrection, Jesus met the righteous demands of the Law on our behalf.

This paradox—that we are saved by grace alone, yet called to live righteously—serves as a powerful reminder. It reminds us that God’s love is so profound that He provides a path to salvation that we could never earn. At the same time, out of our profound gratitude for His gift, we seek to live in a manner pleasing to Him, not to earn His favor, but in joyful response to the favor He’s already given.

Two Extremes: Legalism and License

Defining Legalism and License:

At its core, legalism is an overemphasis on the Law to the exclusion of grace. It’s the belief that strict adherence to religious rules and codes is the primary path to God. In contrast, license—often termed as “cheap grace” or “antinomianism”—is an overemphasis on freedom in Christ to the point of neglecting moral and ethical principles, suggesting that because we’re under grace, how we live doesn’t really matter.

The Pitfalls and Misunderstandings:

  • Legalism: The danger here is turning faith into a mere checklist of do’s and don’ts. It gives a false sense of security, leading some to believe that as long as they follow certain rules, they’re right with God. However, this view neglects the heart of the matter: a genuine relationship with God built on trust and love.
  • License: On the other side, treating God’s grace as a free pass to live however one wants can lead to spiritual complacency. This perspective misunderstands the transformative power of grace. Grace isn’t just about forgiveness; it’s also about empowerment to live righteously.

References from Galatians and Romans:

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul addressed the issue of legalism directly. The Galatians were being misled by some who insisted that to be a real Christian, one had to adhere to Jewish customs, like circumcision. Paul countered this by saying, “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:15-16). He pressed on, emphasizing that if righteousness could be gained through the law, then Christ died for nothing.

Conversely, Paul addressed the issue of license in Romans. Some believed that because grace abounds when sin increases, one might as well continue sinning. To this, Paul responded, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1-2). For Paul, the grace of God didn’t mean a laissez-faire attitude toward sin but a call to a new and transformative life in Christ.

Together, these letters offer a profound insight: avoid the trap of trying to earn God’s favor or taking His grace for granted. Instead, let faith and grace guide a life marked by both freedom and responsibility.

The Intended Relationship Between Law & Gospel

The Guiding Role of the Law:

The law, as laid out in the scriptures, is not an arbitrary set of rules meant to constrain us, but rather a reflective tool. Like a mirror, it reveals our depravity and our inability to meet God’s standards on our own. It points out our blemishes and shows us our need for a Savior. It is this realization that then propels us towards the gospel—the good news of Jesus Christ, who fulfills the law on our behalf and offers grace and redemption.

Martin Luther’s Insight on Romans:

Martin Luther’s commentary on Romans stands as a pivotal exposition on the relationship between law and gospel. Luther recognized that while the law is good and reveals God’s standard, it could not provide the means to attain righteousness. It’s the gospel that grants this righteousness as a gift through faith. Luther wrote, “The law says, ‘do this,’ and it is never done. Grace says, ‘believe in this,’ and everything is already done.”

The Owner’s Manual Analogy:

Imagine life as owning a state-of-the-art vehicle. This vehicle, representing our lives, comes with an owner’s manual—the Word of God. The manual doesn’t exist to complicate the experience but to enhance it. If you decide to discard the manual, neglect regular maintenance, or use the vehicle in ways it wasn’t intended, it won’t be long before you experience breakdowns. The performance diminishes, repairs become costly, and the life of the vehicle is shortened.

Similarly, God, the Creator of our lives, has given us His Word as our “owner’s manual.” He knows every intricate detail about us—our design, purpose, strengths, and vulnerabilities. Ignoring His guidelines or misusing our lives leads to avoidable hardships. On the other hand, aligning with His design brings optimal performance and joy.

It’s imperative to recognize that God’s commands are not burdensome restrictions but pathways to the best life possible. His ways are always higher, filled with wisdom and love. As believers, trusting Him means believing that His intentions are always for our good. Living in obedience isn’t about legalistic rule-following but about embracing a loving relationship with our Creator, who desires the best for us. When we love Him genuinely, we naturally seek to align our lives with His ways, trusting that He always knows best.

The Gospel’s Role in Understanding the Law

1. Recognition of Our Sins and Understanding God’s Expectations:

The gospel starts by addressing the heart of our problem: our sin. Through the gospel lens, we come to a full realization of the gravity and depth of our sins, recognizing them not just as mistakes but as rebellions against a holy God. This recognition becomes clearer when we juxtapose our actions with God’s standards, as detailed in the law. But it doesn’t stop at the realization; the gospel simultaneously reveals God’s immense love and His expectation for holiness in our lives.

2. Freedom from the Law’s Curse through Faith in Jesus:

As Paul articulates in Galatians, the law has been our tutor, leading us to Christ. Once our depravity and inability to uphold the law are evident, the gospel presents the solution: Jesus Christ. By His sacrificial death and resurrection, Jesus took upon Himself the curse of the law, offering us redemption. Through faith in Him, we are no longer under the condemnation of the law but are granted the righteousness of Christ. This grace doesn’t belittle the law but fulfills it, as Christ Himself professed.

3. Transformation through the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit:

The gospel doesn’t merely offer redemption; it ushers in transformation. Upon accepting the gospel, believers are indwelt with the Holy Spirit. This Spirit works within us, not only helping us understand God’s commands more deeply but also enabling us to live them out. The dry, external adherence to the law transforms into a genuine, internal desire to love God and love others. The Spirit produces in us fruits like love, joy, peace, and patience, reshaping our lives to reflect the very character of Christ. This transformation is not a return to legalistic adherence but a fresh, Spirit-driven life that genuinely reflects God’s heart.

The Authentic Christian Response to God’s Law

The essence of Christian obedience is transformed when viewed through the gospel’s lens. While duty and reverence toward God’s commands are commendable, the heart of Christian obedience is love. Jesus himself said, “If you love me, keep my commands” (John 14:15). It’s not about ticking off a checklist; it’s about expressing our profound love and gratitude for what God has done for us through Christ. Our actions become a love song, an outpouring of gratitude, rather than a mere duty-bound response.

Prior to encountering the gospel’s transforming power, our world revolves around ourselves – our needs, our desires, our ambitions. But the gospel radically alters this self-centered trajectory. In recognizing the vastness of God’s love and sacrifice, our perspective shifts outward, turning our focus to God and His desires for us and the world. This isn’t a begrudging submission but a joyful alignment with God’s will, as we come to understand that His plans are infinitely better than ours.

At a cursory glance, the many commands in Scripture can seem disjointed or even arbitrary. But with a deeper understanding, we recognize a consistent thread: every command points us toward Jesus. Whether they show our need for a Savior, mirror His character, or foreshadow His redemptive work, the commands are signposts leading to Christ. As we read and reflect upon them with this in mind, our understanding of both the law and the gospel deepens, driving us to worship and deeper obedience. This isn’t about earning God’s favor but about recognizing the beauty of God’s story of redemption weaved throughout His commands.

The Gospel Grid & The Law

When approaching the vast expanse of biblical law, it can often feel overwhelming to discern its application in our lives. Here enters the concept of the “gospel grid”, a lens through which we can view and interpret the law, ensuring our understanding remains grounded in the grace and truth of the gospel.

In grappling with a moral imperative from scripture, typically three responses emerge:

  • Legalism: This is the belief that our standing before God hinges on our strict adherence to the law. It’s an effort-based approach, asserting that our righteousness stems from our actions and our ability to uphold every jot and tittle of the law.
  • License: This is the polar opposite. It’s a dismissive attitude toward the law, a belief that, since we’re saved by grace, obedience to the law holds little to no importance. It’s a grace without boundaries approach, often leading to a life devoid of the transformative power of God’s Word.
  • Gospel: This is the balanced and biblically accurate response. It acknowledges our inability to perfectly uphold the law and our deep need for a savior. It recognizes that while we are saved by grace, the law serves as a mirror, reflecting our imperfections and pointing us to Christ. Under the gospel response, the law isn’t a burdensome yoke but a guide that leads us to a deeper relationship with God.

To effectively apply the gospel grid to scripture, one might follow these steps:

  • Recognize the Imperative: Begin by identifying the moral command or imperative in the scripture.
  • Examine Personal Response: Reflect on your instinctual reaction to this imperative. Do you lean toward legalism, feeling the weight and burden of perfection? Or do you sway towards license, dismissing its importance?
  • Refocus through the Gospel Lens: Remind yourself of the gospel truths. Remember your righteousness is found in Christ, not in your ability to keep the law. Yet, also remember the law’s value in pointing you to Christ and guiding your walk with Him.

For instance, consider the command to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). A legalistic response might lead to a checklist mentality of good deeds, while a licentious response might dismiss the need for such love since grace covers all. The gospel response, on the other hand, would recognize this command as an invitation to reflect Christ’s love, made possible not by our might but by His Spirit working within us. It’s not about keeping score but about growing in Christ-like love, always relying on His grace and strength.

Practical Application: Understanding the Law through the Gospel Grid

To gain a deeper grasp of how the gospel grid functions in our everyday life, let’s engage with three distinct biblical passages.

  • Philippians 4:4–7:
    • “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
  • James 2:1–7:
    • “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ while you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there,’ or, ‘Sit down at my feet,’ have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”
  • 1 Peter 3:9:
    • “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.”

For each of these passages, consider the following questions to internalize their teachings through the gospel grid:

  • Identifying the Command: What is the core instruction or moral teaching in this passage?
    • Philippians calls us to rejoice and be free from anxiety.
    • James admonishes against showing favoritism.
    • 1 Peter instructs on responding with blessing, even in the face of adversity.
  • Personal Challenges: In what ways do you find it challenging to obey this particular command? What worldly or personal barriers stand in your way?
  • Jesus as the Perfect Example: Can you identify instances or stories from Jesus’s life where He exemplified this command flawlessly?
    • For instance, Jesus’s interaction with the rich and the poor, the religious elite and the outcasts, demonstrates a lack of favoritism and partiality.
  • Envisioning the Holy Spirit’s Power: How can the Holy Spirit empower and guide you to adhere to this command in your daily life? Recognize your dependence on Him and envision ways He might transform your heart and actions.

This practical application process is more than just an intellectual exercise; it’s a transformative practice that melds the truths of scripture into the fabric of our daily living, always through the lens of the gospel.

The Gospel’s Transformative Power

In our journey through the intricate relationship between the gospel and the law, we’ve traversed topics ranging from biblical paradoxes to the practical application of a gospel grid. What emerges from this exploration is a clear understanding that the gospel is more than just good news to be celebrated; it’s an active, transformative force that shapes our understanding, response, and even our relationship with God’s law.

The law, as a mirror, exposes our flaws, our imperfections, and our deep need for a Savior. It shows us where we fall short. Yet, the gospel steps in to bridge that chasm between our depravity and God’s perfect standard. It offers grace, redemption, and a renewed relationship with our Creator.

We are called not to be overwhelmed by the weight of the law or to be ensnared by the pitfalls of legalism and license. Instead, by anchoring our lives in the gospel, we’re empowered to see the law as a guiding light, illuminating the path toward a deeper relationship with God. It’s not about mere adherence to rules but about a heart transformed by the love of Christ.

So, as we move forward, may we cling to the transformative power of the gospel. May it be the lens through which we view God’s commands, the strength that empowers our obedience, and the love that fuels our every action. In doing so, we don’t just understand the law better; we step into the fullness of life that God has intended for each of us.

Sermon and Sandwiches

Reflecting upon a sermon after hearing it can deeply enrich our understanding and help us apply its truths in our lives. Engaging in conversation with others allows us to gain different perspectives and can transform a good message into a lived experience. Here are some conversation starters to help unpack today’s sermon and see its relevance in our everyday lives:

  • Understanding Law & Gospel: How has today’s message changed or deepened your understanding of the relationship between the gospel and the law?
  • Personal Reflection: In what areas of your life have you felt the tension between the expectations of the law and the grace of the gospel?
  • Legalism and License: Have you ever noticed times when you leaned more towards legalism or license? How does understanding the gospel help steer us away from these extremes?
  • Gospel Transformation: How have you personally experienced the transformative power of the gospel in your relationship with God’s commands?
  • The Gospel Grid: How can using the “gospel grid” change the way you approach Scripture? Can you think of any other passages where this approach might be enlightening?
  • Living by the Spirit: How have you seen the Holy Spirit empower you to live out God’s commands in a way that is motivated by love rather than duty?
  • Jesus’ Example: In what ways is Jesus the perfect embodiment of the law? How does focusing on His example help us in our daily walk?
  • Practical Application: Have there been moments when a specific Scripture challenged you, but understanding it through the lens of the gospel brought clarity?
  • Embracing Transformation: How can we encourage each other to continually embrace the transformative power of the gospel in our lives?

Remember, the goal isn’t just to dissect the sermon but to allow its truths to seep into our hearts and daily lives, impacting not just our understanding but our very way of living.

The Daily Devotion

Monday: Understanding the Relationship

Scripture Reading: Romans 3:19-20

Reflection: Consider the purpose of the law in revealing our need for a Savior. How does recognizing our own inability to meet the law’s standards point us toward God’s grace?

Prayer: Thank the Lord for the gift of His grace and ask for a deeper understanding of your need for the gospel in your daily life.

Tuesday: Legalism, License, and Gospel Living

Scripture Reading: Galatians 5:13-25

Reflection: As you read, identify the dangers of legalism and license. Reflect on how life in the Spirit helps us to live in the freedom of the gospel, not in the extremes.

Prayer: Ask God to fill you with His Spirit, leading you away from the pitfalls of legalism and license, and closer to a genuine gospel response.

Wednesday: Embracing Gospel Transformation

Scripture Reading: Ephesians 2:8-10

Reflection: Ponder on the transformative power of the gospel in your life. How does understanding salvation as a gift change your response to God’s commands?

Prayer: Thank the Lord for the gift of salvation and ask Him to continually transform your heart and actions through the power of the gospel.

Thursday: Applying the Gospel Grid

Scripture Reading: Philippians 4:4-7

Reflection: Use the “gospel grid” to understand this passage. How does the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, serve as a testament to the beauty of living in the gospel?

Prayer: Ask God to help you approach His Word with a gospel-centered mindset, allowing His truth to shape your understanding and response.

Friday: Jesus, the Perfect Fulfillment

Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:17-20

Reflection: Consider how Jesus perfectly fulfilled the law on our behalf. How does this understanding impact your relationship with Him and your daily walk?

Prayer: Praise God for Jesus’ perfect life and sacrifice. Ask the Lord to help you live in the light of His fulfillment of the law, drawing closer to Him each day.