In the last blog, we discussed two different ways of distinguishing between law and Gospel.
One definition, rooted in Hebrews 10:1, says the law relates to the Gospel as a shadow relates to the object which casts the shadow. By the shadow of something, I might be able to get an idea of what the real thing is; I should recognize it. But when I have the real thing, I have greater clarity, more accurate details and specifics about what the shadow was revealing.
The other definition characterizes law as “that which commands all good, and forbids all evil,” while the Gospel “contains the free promises of God made unto us in Jesus Christ, without any respect of our deservings.”1 By this definition, the law is not a shadow of the Gospel, but something that is the opposite of the Gospel. In the previous devotion I discussed a significant implication of the different outcomes these definitions produce in how we view both law and Gospel.
I'd like to discuss another implication of one of these views over the other. It seems that the definition saying the law commands all good and forbids all evil, while the Gospel contains the free promises of God in Christ, is behind many responses people often make if pressed about their behavior. You've heard it said, and may have said yourself, “I'm not under the law; I'm under grace,” in response to a question about your behavior. And it may have been perfectly appropriate, depending on the context. However, the logic often behind such a statement may not always be biblical thinking. The reasoning may be a version of this: If the law commands all good and forbids all evil, then any requirement that someone makes of me must therefore be under the law, and we all know we are not to live under the law.
However, if the law is a shadow of the Gospel found in Christ, then the law showed us what God was like, and Jesus Christ, in the Gospel, shows us with even more clarity what God is like. And, since Christ is the fulfillment of the law, I am no longer under the written code, but under the person, Jesus Christ. That doesn't mean there isn't anything specific written, but that the old written code is no longer in authority, but Christ is over me as revealed in the Gospel. And the Gospel can make requirements of me, as the law did, yet they are rooted in the person and work of Christ. In light of what Christ has done on our behalf, saving us, we are drawn to Him, indwelt by Him and being conformed to Him. So Christ's law of love, or His humility which considers others better than ourselves, really are imperatives, or rules, by which we are called to live. These don't earn our salvation; they grow out of our salvation.
This is why Paul could require certain behaviors of the recipients of his letters. And why he could quote the law, but interpret it through the Gospel and talk about how it is still applicable to us; all the while insisting we are not under law. In Paul's mind it seems to be a different construct than, “We are not under that which commands us, but only that which makes promises but no demands.” Rather he seems to have us under a, “We are not under the written code, but the Person code—the person of Jesus.”2
So we find Paul regularly connecting us not to the law but to the person, Jesus Christ and His saving work on our behalf as the rule we are under.
We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” (Romans 15:1)
Paul draws a line from the rule, “we are not to please ourselves, but our neighbor,” to the person and work of Christ on our behalf, “for even Christ did not please himself.” Again,
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 4:31—5:2)
Even in marriage the Gospel rules our lives, conforming us to the image of Christ.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:25-27)
Examples of this abound. Christ Himself gave us a parable which teaches the same principle in Matthew 18:23-35.
Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. The servant fell on his knees before him. “Be patient with me,” he begged, “and I will pay back everything.” The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
This first part of the parable pictures our salvation. The servant owed the king something the size of a large national deficit. There is no way it can ever be paid back, no matter how committed, or how much the servant promises to do right. All that could be done is take his and his families lives away as an exchange for the debt they could not pay. But that master took pity on him. Not because of the sincerity of the begging (there is no way he could have thought he would ever have been able to pay back the king), but because of something found in the king. But then,
...that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. “Pay back what you owe me!” he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, “Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.” But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.
This man had been forgiven a debt he could not repay, but when he found his fellows servant who owed him a significant (just over 3 months wages) debt, but not unpayable, he refused to show the same kind of mercy. He should have connected the dots... the forgiving mercy of God which He received becomes the motivation for how he lives. But he failed to connect the dots. Grace received should have been grace empowering, but he did not receive the grace for what it really is. So when the first master, the king, found out,
...the master called the servant in. “You wicked servant,” he said, “I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.
The Gospel becomes the reality upon which we base our lives. This man wasn't told that he should have done so because God said so, though that would be true enough. He should have forgiven the fellow servant just as he had been forgiven. The Gospel is the reality that the shadow Law pointed to. In the shadow we see that God delivered the Israelites out of Egypt, then gave them the law—salvation before holiness. So the Law contained Gospel hints all the way through. But these aren't as clear until we come to the clarity of the Gospel.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,
1Richard Greenham; language updated. Quoted in Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649. This is not the first writer I've run across that communicates this. In fact, this would be a commonly held view.
2The “written code” is a phrase referencing the Law (Rom. 2:27,29; 7:6; Col. 2:14). This is not to say that the Gospel is not written. It is indeed written and we have it in Scripture. However, it is about the Central Character of the Gospel, Jesus Christ, living in us by His Spirit (the Spirit of the Son). So this is not a disparaging remark about the fact that it is written; maybe a contrast with the law written in our hearts by Christ's Spirit dwelling in us... the Christ written about in the Gospels and applied in the Epistles.