MEMBERS: Law/Gospel Distinction (Transcript)

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Justin Perdue: Welcome to the members’ podcast. As always, we do mean it from our hearts when we say thank you. All of you members who support us financially and partner with us in this way, don’t underestimate what your financial gift for a month does for Theocast. We mentioned in the regular part of this podcast that we hope to turn even this episode into a primer. The publication of that kind of literature, including the ability to pay for services that transcribe these podcasts, and such would not be possible without your partnership with us. Thank you for that and continue to spread the word about Theocast so that we can continue to offer more podcast resources, and also offer more written material. We have hopes and plans and designs, and we want to see those things come to fruition. We trust that you do too. Thank you for your partnership.

What we want to do now, as we alluded to in the regular episode, is we want to continue to spin out the implications of the distinction between Law and gospel. In particular, we want to think about implications as it pertains to assurance.

There are all kinds of fallout from collapsing Law and gospel, but keeping an appropriate distinction between Law and gospel leads to rest, peace, and assurance. The hope for our conversation in the next 15-20 minutes is that we can spend some of those things out.

Jon Moffitt: The primary mission of Theocast, as we see it every week, is to help weary pilgrims find rest in Christ. We try very hard to see what robs it and what brings it; Law-gospel distinction, I think, is probably one of the key components to finding rest in Christ.

As someone who was beginning to become a very angry Calvinist who “glawspeled” everything, I didn’t understand that Christ was giving Law to his followers not as legitimate followers, but those who were following him around until they left in John 6. Jesus kept giving them Law to help them understand that they didn’t need a better righteousness, and they didn’t need healing, and they didn’t need Jesus to provide food; they needed the living water; they needed the living bread. Jesus even used cannibalism to help expose how off they were when it comes to accepting Christ as pure and 100% unadulterated salvation and nothing added by you.

For those of you who struggle, you look at your life and say, “I just don’t measure up. I can’t measure up. I don’t feel like I have enough.” I just want to dip in right there and say if you have any, that is enough. The sad part about Law-gospel distinction is that when you mix the two, you’ll never know if you have enough because the Law is so demanding. How can you even remotely measure them? Where’s the line on the wall where every Christian walks up to and says you can get on the ride to heaven? “We don’t know where that line exists except here: either it’s in Christ or out of Christ. That’s where the line is – in Christ or out of Christ. How are you in Christ, according to the gospel? By faith.

Jimmy Buehler: I think one of the greatest tragedies that have come in the evangelical church is that we have taken one of the sacraments of the church, and we have made it a time of Law. I’m talking about the Lord’s Table. For so much of my life, the Lord’s Table was a time to morbidly introspect the deepest recesses of my heart and try to discern, “Am I good enough to receive this? Am I worthy to receive body and blood of Christ? Where in essence, I think it would make the Reformers turn over in their graves when we take something that Christ has given us like that. He has given us the Lord’s Table as what? As a means to increase our faith and establish our faith.

Justin Perdue: To sustain it and confirm it.

Jimmy Buehler: Right. For me, it was just a deep time of Law. “Have I done this? Am I worthy of this?” Where the Lord’s Table forever stands as a testament that I am never enough, but that Christ is enough on my behalf.

Do we examine ourselves? Do we examine ourselves at the Lord’s Table? Scripture calls us to that end. But even in that sense, we’re talking about 1 Corinthians 11 like, “Examine yourselves corporately. Are you sinning against the brethren by the way that you’re participating in the Lord’s Table here?” It’s not this morbid introspection of, “Am I good enough? Have I done enough? Have I repented sincere enough? Have I confessed enough?” Rather we approach the Lord’s Table as those who are sick with sin and say, “I need this. I need this meal. It is a hot meal on a cold day of my soul. That’s what I need.”

Justin Perdue: The Lord’s table has been turned into such a moment of anxiety for so many people. Any introspection knows no end. Is it about our performance and how I’ve sinned and all these things, but like you even said, is my repentance sincere enough, or am I grieved enough over my sin? Do I feel badly enough over my sin so that I’m worthy to come to the table? The answer to those questions is most certainly not. If what it means to be a worthy participant at the Lord’s Table is that you have done or feel appropriately, then none of us should ever come.

But as Calvin says, the table is not for the strong; it’s for the weak. We agree completely with that. It is for those who understand that they’re weak, needy, and are debtors to grace, and have no shot on their own and know that they have blown it this week.

Those are the people that come to the table to receive Christ – his body and blood, his merit, his perfect obedience, his perfect record, his atoning work, and satisfaction of the entire penalty of the Law for us. That’s what we receive by faith in the table. The collapsing of Law and gospel is this constant exhortation and beating of the drum that you hear in so many pulpits in context to examining and assessing your life. “There are all kinds of people who profess faith in Jesus. How do you know that you’re legit? Well, look at your life. “We agree with the confessions that we can have our assurance bolstered by looking at the fruit in our lives, but we could never find our assurance and confidence in looking at our lives. But that’s what it seems like these guys are telling us – to look at your life to know that you’re in Christ. I can be encouraged, but I could never know that I’m in Christ by looking at my life. Are you kidding me? It’s a circus going on in my mind and heart; it is often not pretty; it is anything but consistent; It ebbs and flows and comes and goes; man alive – it’s really no place to stand.

We’ve talked about the Sermon on the Mount earlier where Jesus, at the end of chapter 5 verses 45-48 in that section, he talks about God and what God is like. He tells us that we must be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. Again, we take him at his word that what’s required is perfection. He’s told us in the early verses of chapter 5 that we need to have a righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisees, and the Pharisees were pretty righteous when it comes to keeping the Law externally.

Jimmy Buehler: Paul said he was blameless.

Justin Perdue: I trust that Paul and the Pharisees, in general, lived more disciplined lives than most of us. And Jesus is like, “Your righteousness better be far superior to theirs if you’re going to be with me forever in heaven.” How could we ever assess our lives and then know that we’re in Christ? Can’t be done.

We obviously are just pointed back in on ourselves; we’re pointed to quicksand, not solid rock. The inconsistency is abounding here, and I could rant on for a long time because the same individuals who tell us to assess our lives to know that whether we’re in Christ will have us sing “The Solid Rock” at the conclusion of their message. Well, which is it? Because you just lambasted me for 45 minutes and now tell me to sing about Christ. I’m confused.

Jon Moffitt: I think all the confusion also is a morality outside that we always emphasize. How do you look on the outside to the world? How does the world observe you? What Jesus does in the Sermon on the Mount is he says, “God looks at your heart. He doesn’t look at your actions. I looked at your heart.” Everybody can look at your actions and assume you’re a pretty solid guy. For the most part, the world can look at Jon Moffitt and say, “Jon Moffitt is a law-abiding, solid guy,” and God looks at the heart and says, “He is evil, desperately evil.” God knows every thought and intention; He knows my fears, my anxieties, my lust; He knows my bitterness; He knows when I am envious. If we’re talking about a balance here –I’ve got the Holy Spirit in me now, I’ve been transformed into His image, I have a new heart and a new desire – so do my godly desires outweigh my sinful desires? I don’t think so. I don’t know if I could ever even measure that. But that is what we are being told, that if your godly desires don’t outweigh your sinful desires, then you may not be a believer.

Here’s what the Bible even tells us: that we don’t even know the extent of our sinful desires. God hasn’t even revealed to us how evil we truly are. If you are looking even to desire like, “I desire God more today than I do my sinful desires, therefore I must be a believer,” you are going to be a wreck. That is where people find themselves. I have to say God looks at the intentions of your heart and says, “Christ covers your intentions. The ones that are not godly, they are fully covered.”

Jimmy Buehler: Telling somebody, “It’s okay, God knows your heart,” those are not comforting words. When I’m struggling with some weaknesses and some sins and somebody says, “Jimmy, it is okay because, in the end, God knows your heart.” Yes, and that’s exactly what I’m terrified of because my heart is wicked. There is no health in me. I don’t think I can look at something in the past 24 hours that I’ve done with completely pure and holy motives.

Justin Perdue: You can try your whole life.

Jimmy Buehler: I won’t even go that far. I can just go 24 hours.

We don’t look within. If we are constantly looking in for assurance, we will never find it. That is what the Law ultimately points us to. When we preach and collapse categories of Law and gospel, where we turn people to ultimately are their efforts, their merits, their own works, and deeds done in righteousness rather than the finished work of Christ.

Justin Perdue: The reality is that most people show up to church again, if they’re aware and honest at all, and they’re thinking, “I have blown it this week. What do you got for me?” What’s sad is that we receive messages so often that where we’re being asked to assess our performance, “Have you failed in this way?” I’m sitting there thinking, “Yeah, I’ve most certainly failed.” Have you done enough here? “No. I have not done enough that way.” Is the trajectory of your life satisfactory? “I don’t think that it is, and I have no idea how to even measure that because God’s Law is not relative in any sense.” This is something that we beat that drum constantly.

Jon, you mentioned this earlier, but to pick back up on it, there are two places that we can stand with respect to the Law: we either have broken it and stand condemned, or we have kept it perfectly and are thereby righteous. There’s nothing in between.

There is no relative keeping of the Law that is meritorious in any sense. We can’t measure our keeping of the Law like we would a child’s height against the wall because the Bible is clear: you’ve either kept it, or you’ve broken it. It’s very confusing for us when we’re told to examine our lives and use the Law that way.

We’ve done podcasts before where we’ve talked about the uses of the Law, and I’m not going to do that right now, but using the Law lawfully means that we keep the uses of the Law in view and that when we preach the first use of the Law, which is to show us our sin and drive us to Christ, that we’re clear about that.

Then when we’re preaching the Law as a guide for our lives, we don’t preach that in a threatening way, but we encourage people: “These things are good for you. These things are bad. In Christ, align your life with God’s word, but do that knowing that you’re safe and that God is working in you by his Spirit to accomplish His good work in you.”

Jon Moffitt: Hopefully, you are hearing the importance of learning how to read your Bible and how to decipher sermons that you hear. Am I receiving Law, or am I receiving gospel? Every single man around the microphone respects the Law and upholds the Law and thinks the Law is good.

The two greatest Laws, the two greatest commands that we have, we wholeheartedly make it our ambition to love God and to love our neighbor – and we think those are good. Those are good ambitions because we find our rest and assurance in the gospel; our rest and assurance and the gospel frees us from condemnation, fear, and dread to delight in God’s Law because we are not obeying it to receive something from God. We’re obeying it because we think it’s good, and we think it’s pure, and we think it glorifies God and accomplishes His mission. As we love each other, it accomplishes the mission of furthering the message of rest to the world.

When you do not separate Law and gospel, when you put them together, you’re now loving God and loving neighbor out of fear. Because if you don’t do it, you’re afraid that God’s going to abandon you. If you are never afraid of God abandoning you because you’ve separated the Law and the gospel, you are now set free to obey horribly. You’re going to do a horrible job of obedience, but you’re not going to focus on your failure; you’re going to focus on your goal. This is 2 Corinthians 3:18 when it says, when we look at the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, we are transformed into His image. It becomes our ambition to look to Christ, find the glorious Christ as our safety net, and then it’s from that moment I love God, and I love neighbor knowing that I won’t do it sufficiently enough, and it is Christ’s sufficiency that covers me. So, keeping the Law and the gospel separately is the way in which you truly find your motivation, I think, for obedience.

Jimmy Buehler: Something I would just want to encourage the listener toward if the Law-gospel distinction is new to you; it is not something that’s going to come overnight. It is not something that is perhaps even going to come easily. I remember when we interviewed Rod Rosenbladt a few months ago in October, we talked to him about this very topic. One of the things we asked him was, “What are some of the common critiques of Law- gospel distinction?” He said, “The number one is people think it’s something that we impose on the text.” And it’s going to take some time to really work through that. So just be patient, continue to read and study, look into how the Reformers talked about this – there are some really helpful resources. I wholeheartedly recommend The Whole Christ to you by a Sinclair Ferguson – it’s a wonderful resource as you dive into this topic. But don’t become frustrated if it’s something that you don’t understand right away. I remember when I was a listener of Theocast, and you guys were talking about this. I’m thought, “What are these guys talking about? I’ve never even heard of this stuff.” It’s not that it’s new language, it’s just that it’s very old and we’ve forgotten it. Be patient, push through, read some things that you don’t understand, and then read them again. Trust us when we say that when it clicks, it’s like a drink of cold water, and it’s awesome. So just push through. I just want to encourage the listener towards that.

Justin Perdue: Jon, you said just a second ago that if we have an appropriate understanding of the distinction between Law and gospel, it leads to rest and peace and freedom. And that’s exactly right. A collapsing of Law and gospel leads to bondage and hyper introspection that really can rob us of our assurance. It’s important for us to remember that God’s design for us in Christ Jesus is that we would not be hyper introspective but that we would be outwardly oriented toward him loving God and then loving neighbor. Those are the first commandment and the second commandments: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, strength, and love your neighbors yourself. Both of those things are oriented outside of us; they’re not looking inward.

CS Lewis says this in The Screwtape Letters, and I think he’s right, that even when it comes to our sins, God’s design is not for us to dwell on them and to constantly contemplate our sins. Once our sins have been repented of, then we are to move onward in love of God and loving our neighbor and not be bogged down by this constant assessment of how we’re living and how we’re performing.

Keeping that distinction between the Law and the gospel, what Christ has done for us, is absolutely pivotal if we’re going to have peace before God; this is pivotal if we’re really going to be set free and turned loose in every good way to accomplish the mission that we’ve been given – that is to herald Christ, encourage others to rest in him, and love our neighbors well, honor the Lord, and all the rest.

This has been a good conversation. We hope that this has been encouraging for you, the listener, as we’ve thought about the Law and gospel distinction and the implications between those and what that means for our freedom and our peace and our assurance.

We would encourage all of you to continue to trust Christ. He is your righteousness; that is not just true on your better days, that is true all the time. He has obeyed perfectly for you and satisfied all of the penalties of the Law for you, and we rest in him. Continue to trust Christ and love one another.

Again, we thank you, members, for your partnership with us. Look for some of the resources that are coming your way by the time you’re hearing this podcast. Continue to reach out to us. Let us know how we can love and serve you well. Thank you again for your partnership. Keeps spreading the word about Theocast and keep resting in Christ. We’ll talk with you guys next week.

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