Beginning Bible students also fall into the trap of believing that there is a radical difference between Law and Gospel, or between Law and Grace. In some circles this difference is so pronounced that a week will not go by without emphasizing it. Little by little it becomes so dominant that nothing else is seen in the Bible: thus the rubric replaces the very words of God the Word, and the hearers become dormant and unfed.
Frequently, such ideas are couched in terms of distinctions: there is a distinction between Law and Gospel, or there is a distinction between Law and Grace. So what can the word, distinction, possibly mean? Does this not mean that Law and Gospel, or Law and Grace do not have the same content, essence, and meaning? This, we claim, is wrong; no such distinction really exists.
Have you not read:
“Honor your father and your mother: that your days may be long on the land which the Lord your God gives you.” — Exodus 20:12
How can you possible read this without realizing that Christ is the only child to ever, honor His Father and His mother perfectly? So, planted right here in the middle of the Law of Moses is the assurance that the Son comes to fulfill all of the Law’s righteous demands for us. How is it, then, that we can think of the Law as different in content, essence, or meaning than the Gospel?
“Do not think that I have come to destroy the Law, or the Prophets: I have not come to destroy, but to fulfill: for truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, one iota or one tittle shall never ever pass from the Law, until everything is fulfilled.” — Matthew 5:17-18
“When they had arrived, they said to Him, Master, we know that You are true, and show no favoritism to any man: for You do not regard the status of men, but teach the way of God in truth: Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” — Mark 12:14
Here, both Jesus and His adversaries understand that this tests to see if Jesus really obeys the Law. Jesus prevails because He does obey the Law.
“A certain lawyer stood up, tempting Him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? [Jesus] said to him, What is written in the Law? How do you understand it? He replied, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. [Jesus] said to him, You have answered correctly: do this, and you shall live.” — Luke 10:25-28
If the Law and the Gospel were really different in kind or in quality how could both Jesus and the lawyer understand correctly that the Law is about love? Wouldn’t the Law necessarily be about condemnation if Law and Gospel or Law and Grace were really distinct? Or how is it that the Law is about Jesus, Who is the Gospel, the living Grace of God?
“Philip finds Nathanael, and says to him, We have found Him, of Whom Moses in the Law, and the Prophets, wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” — John 1:45
Jesus, while teaching the Law says:
“Did not Moses give you the Law, and yet none of you keeps the Law? Why do you go about [seeking] to kill me?” — John 7:19
And so Paul understands the meaning of the Law to be about the Gospel of Christ:
“This I confess to you, that after the way which they call heresy, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets….” — Acts 24:14
“When they set a day for [Paul], many came to him at his house; to whom he explained and witnessed about the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both from the Law of Moses, as well as from the Prophets, from morning until evening.” — Acts 28:23
So how is it that the Law justifies if the Law is really distinct from the Gospel in nature?
“For not the hearers of the Law are just before God, but the doers of the Law shall be justified: for when the Gentiles, who do not have the Law, do the Law by nature; these, not having the Law, are Law within themselves: which proves the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, so that their thoughts either accuse or else excuse them.” — Romans 2:13-15
Or why would the Law be important to the Gentiles in any way if Law and Gospel really differ in kind.
“For circumcision really profits, if you keep the Law: but if you are a Lawbreaker, your circumcision is made uncircumcision. So, if the uncircumcised keep the righteousness of the Law, shall not uncircumcision be counted for circumcision? Shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfill the law, judge you, who by letter and circumcision break the Law?” — Romans 2:25-27
So if keeping the Law is righteousness for the uncircumcised, how can it be different from the Gospel?
“I came as a Jew to the Jews, so that I might persuade Jews; to those who are under Law, as under Law, so that I might persuade those who are under Law; to those who are without law, as without law, not without law toward God, yet in Christ’s Law, so that I might persuade those who are without Law.” — 1 Corinthians 9:20-22
The answer is that the difference does not come from the Law itself, but from the attitude and means by which we approach the Law: for the Law itself is always good and always filled with the Gospel. The Law always had as its intent that it be approachable through the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Jews seeking to approach the Law in the flesh, put themselves under the Law, finding only condemnation. The Gentiles being without the Law, made no approach, finding blessing in the obedience of simple conscience. Paul, who is in Christ, builds on the Law by the power of the Holy Spirit. This, then, is the better way with which Paul persuades Jews under the Law, and Gentiles without Law to come to the Law of Jesus and become builders on its foundation. This always was the original intention expressed in Exodus 20:12.
“So then the Law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, in order that we might be justified by faith.” — Galatians 3:24
It is absolutely impossible that a tutor accomplish any goal by teaching that which is contrary. Nor does a tutor succeed via condemnation. The Law itself is given only to a redeemed people and speaks only of freedom and love, condemning only those things which oppose freedom and love. “The Law was our tutor to bring us to Christ,” precisely because the Law teaches the Gospel with unmatched clarity. What Galatians repeatedly condemns is not the Law; but rather the works of the Law done in the flesh. So in contrast to dead works of the Law done in the flesh, we fulfill the Law of Christ.
“Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the Law of Christ.” — Galatians 6:2
So where did this perverted use of the Law come from? Did it not come from the Pharisees? Is this not Paul’s whole argument in Romans? The Sadducees did not believe much of anything; they were happy in their unbelief as long as they kept their temple power: so Christ drove them away. The Pharisees, on the other hand, applied rule upon rule in order to keep the Law by the flesh. Neither Pharisees nor Sadducees received Jesus, the King of the Law; neither of them sought to keep the Law by the Spirit.
“It is the Spirit that brings to life; the flesh profits nothing: the words that I speak to you, they are Spirit, and they are life.” — John 6:63
It has often been said that the Law is a curb on society, a mirror of reality, and a guide for sanctification. This approach completely ignores the context of the giving of the Law: thus it is terribly misleading.
First, the Law is given to a redeemed people, it is not given to bring people to redemption. Pesach, Pascha, or Passover, which corresponds to the death and resurrection of Christ is now a past event. The Law is most certainly not an overture for evangelism. So the Law builds on redemption and is in no way its precursor.
Second, the giving of the Law is most closely related to Shavuot, Weeks, or Pentecost. Pentecost marks seven cosmic events: the giving of the Law, the establishment of Israel as a new nation under Law, the ascension of Jesus into heaven, the seating of Jesus on the throne of David in heaven, the opening of the Scroll in heaven, the coming of the Holy Ghost with power, and the birth of The Church. Hence, the Law is not our tutor bringing us to Christ as our Savior: that is a Passover act. The Law is our tutor bringing us to Christ as our LORD, Master, and King. So the Law commands to “honor father and mother” as its centerpiece, which is an act of Pentecost.
Third, so yes, the Law is the only guide for sanctification, since it teaches us how to live a Christ-like life. Yet, even this is misinterpreted.
What we frequently have in mind when we think of curb, mirror, and guide is the horribly punitive model left over from the Middle Ages: that the Law is primarily about the punishment of sin and sinners. If we wish to find such a model, we should look to Passover, not to Pentecost: for Passover is behind us. Yet, what does the Law itself say? “I have brought you out of the land Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” The Law is not a litany of threats about sin, it is the condemnation of all things that tend to slavery. In the seminal idea of freedom it is not possible to list all things that are free, it is only possible to name the boundaries of freedom, which may not be crossed.
So, if the Law is the only guide for sanctification, it is only so in Christ-like living; it is only so in absolute real and perfect freedom; it can only be so in love, hence the exhortation to love both God and neighbor; and it has nothing to do with the terror of sin. The terror of sin should have been sufficiently learned in Egypt: for the terror of sin is learned from sinful behavior.
What shall we then say about the Law as the mirror of reality? Does it help us to see our own sin and corruption more accurately? Is that what the Law says about itself? In no way. The only true mirror of reality is in, “looking unto Jesus… (Hebrews 12:2; Jude 1:21)”: for here alone is the Perfect Man in the fullness of His stature. So, once again, our only mirror can be found in Christ-like living, freedom, and love. Hence, it is not a mirror at all; rather, it is a brilliant flame in the darkness, our tutor, guiding us to Christ.
How then can the Law possibly be a curb on society? Has any person ever hated or forsaken sin out of mere fear of the consequences? Au contraire! “The goodness of God leads you to repentance? (Romans 2:4; 11:22)”, and repentance follows redemption.