People like to talk about the “demands of the gospel.” But does the gospel make demands of us? Must we forsake sin in order to come to Christ? Do we need to make Jesus Lord of our lives?
Members’ Podcast: Jon and Justin talk about obedience and the uses of the law. What is the first use of the law? What is the third use? Are there ways these are often confused?
Justin Perdue: Hi, this is Justin. Today on Theocast, we are going to answer a few questions. Does the gospel make demands on us? Are there things that we need to do in order to be safe? Must we forsake sin in order to come to Christ? Do we need to make Jesus Lord of our lives?
And then in the members’ area, we talk about our obedience, and the first and third use of the law and how that factors into that conversation. If you don’t even know what those things are, perhaps you should give it a listen. Stay tuned. We hope it’s encouraging.
It’s pretty normal to hear people use language in the church—and by the church, I mean the evangelical church in the West, America, where we find ourselves. Normally, here people talk about the “demands of the gospel”, to talk about the things that the gospel requires of us.
When we can help it, we try not to bury the lead here at Theocast. We’ll just go and say, right out of the gate, that we have very strong disagreements with that kind of language in terms of the demands of the gospel. It is our understanding from Scripture that the gospel, the good news about Jesus Christ, who he is and what he did for us, it is just that: it is news to be received, a message to be trusted, and it is a gift freely given. It is not something that we do things in order to earn on the front end, but it’s not even something where on the back end, we do stuff that would have made us worthy to receive it in the first place.
We’ll go so far as to say, to just set this conversation up, that the law of God demands everything from us but it gives nothing. Whereas the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ demands nothing but gives everything. That sounds, off the charts, controversial to many people. I trust there may be people listening to this podcast right now because somebody encouraged them to give it a spin, and they’re thinking, “What in the world did he just say? That the gospel demands nothing but gives everything? Is that true?”
Jon Moffitt: My recommendation for the listener is, if you can, stay with us for a few minutes. We want you to hear us through because this is a subtle shift, and it can make it sound like we’re heretics, but this is such an important conversation. I can’t even explain to you how it can confuse so much.
What we’re having a conversation about really is the law and the gospel, and what happens when you mix the two. You get glawspel.
I put a tweet out the other day that if you put “do” back into what God has done, you’re taking the good part out of the gospel and it’s bad-spel. It’s just bad news. It’s not good news. It’s bad news. To take a little bit farther what Justin just said about the law and the gospel, the gospel, when we think about when it’s being used, for instance in Rome, they would go and they would conquer a city and that city was now underneath the rule of Rome, and it’s going to be receiving its taxes and warriors. They would send messengers back to Rome to declare the good news. “Hey, listen, we have just conquered a new city. It’s now part of who we are.” It’s a military term, really, of the declaration of victory.
When they’re going back and declaring victory, they would’ve put demands on top of that. Whoever is declaring that would probably get in trouble saying, “Hey, by the way, we have victory, but the city we conquered—they have some stipulation.” What? Then we didn’t conquer them. Because if there are stipulations by the city, then we didn’t win. It’s not ours, we don’t own it. When you hear the New Testament writers using it, we often forget context and we forget culture.
Justin and I, just as a little teaser, we’re about to do a podcast coming up soon on what it means to bear your cross, which is misunderstood, but there’s a context. There’s a local context of Roman and Jewish conflict between the two cultures’ contexts. The gospel is the declaration of good news. I want to say, just as they would go and declare the good news of what victory they have won, it’s speaking of history. This is done. It’s over. We’re declaring the news of the event.
The gospel is the declaration of the news of the event of what has been done. When someone comes in and then uses this phrase, the “demands of the gospel”, not only linguistically, but historically, that doesn’t make any sense. It’s almost like saying there are demands upon dead people. The dead must do this. No one would ever walk into a cemetery and say all these dead people have stuff they have to do. We don’t use that language because it logically and scientifically doesn’t make sense, but yet we do this to the gospel because we have confused the difference between the demands of God and the declaration of the good news of God.
Justin Perdue: I’m going to pick up on a couple of things, Jon. First, there are all kinds of things that God requires of us; His Word is full of them. Just to give a brief 30,000-foot flyover synopsis of what God requires, we could maybe sum it up this way: God demands sinlessness. He demands that we be without sin if we’re going to live in His presence, and be with Him, and know eternal rest and blessedness. He also requires that we have a righteousness that is perfect, where not only have we not sinned in terms of sinlessness, but we have positively obeyed Him in every way at the level of thought, at the level of deed, desire, and what have you.
We learn of these demands of God, that we keep His law perfectly, in a number of different places, including Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, where he talks about the righteousness that’s necessary. Not only must it exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, but he’ll even say in Matthew 5:48 that we must be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. We see the language of Paul in the letter to the Galatians, for example, where he cites the book of Moses, he cites Deuteronomy, he cites Leviticus, to make it plain that everyone who does not abide by everything that is written in the book of the law is cursed, and everybody who doesn’t do everything in the book of the law is cursed.
As the law says in Leviticus 18:5, those who do these things will live by them, meaning eternally. Those who keep the law will live. Think about Paul’s language in Romans 2, where he says it’s not the hearers of the law, but the doers of the law who will be justified in God’s sight.
Think about James 2, where we’re told that anybody who breaks the law in any way is guilty of breaking all of it. Because the one who said don’t murder also said don’t commit adultery. We could go on about this, but it is very clear that God makes all kinds of demands on us if we are going to live with Him. There are no exceptions allowed. There is no curve that God uses to grade us with it. Is perfection or failure in terms of the requirements of God.
Now, everything that I have just described would fall under the category of law, in terms of what God requires of us. “Do these things and you will live.” That is law. The question is, what is the gospel? What is gospel? Is it something where stuff is required of us or is the gospel the free gift of God, to use the language of Romans 6:23? Then what does he give us? My answer is that He gives us everything that He requires. He gives it freely. He gives it to us through the work of His son in our place that we receive by faith. Christ’s sinless sacrifice takes away our sin, and Christ’s perfect life of obeying the law in every way is counted to us as our record.
Jon Moffitt: What Justin used is a great example; there is no gospel if there is no law.
Justin Perdue: So true, brother. You’ve got to understand the law to understand the gospel,
Jon Moffitt: Paul even says this: the law is given to show us our sin. Justin and I absolutely believe that the demands of God remain. They are there. You have to understand there’s a difference between the demands of the law and then to say there are demands of the gospel.
Justin Perdue: More specifically, we understand that the demands of God’s moral law remain, and we could unpack that more at some point.
Jon Moffitt: In a minute, we’re going to get into the difference between the law as entrance into the family of God, and then the different uses of the law.
Sometimes there are preachers, and it’s very confusing to me and to those who are listening when they say the gospel demands this. I would say it’s a poor use of words. Maybe they believe that if they do, it’s heresy. I don’t think that’s what they believe. I think it’s a confusion of what they’re saying. Because to say that the gospel demands something is a heretical teaching that will lead you to damnation in hell. I’m just going to be frank on that. I’m not accusing people of heresy; I think they’re confused in their language.
The law demands obedience or you are condemned. The gospel does not condemn people. That’s the thing about it. You have to understand the gospel does not lead people to the judgment seat of God; it relieves them from it. It rescues them from the judgment. Justin and I absolutely believe that if you don’t preach the law, you cannot have gospel because the gospel is the relief of the law.
Justin Perdue: Picking up on what you’re articulating there. You even said the gospel sets us free from the law. In the gospel, we are given the fulfillment of the law by Christ in order that we might be delivered from the condemnation of the law.
Jon Moffitt: We were having a very long conversation about Luke 14 and Mark 8 where Jesus comes in and just pounds the law. Just boom, boom, boom, boom. People are confused. They think it’s gospel because Jesus is talking about following him, Jesus talking about being his disciple. They assume anytime Jesus mentions discipleship or following him, that’s gospel. Paul makes it very clear as what the gospel is. If we aren’t clear on what the gospel is, then you are going to live in the constant state of wondering, “How do I know that I’m justified before God?” This is the thing about it. If you go and read the book of Galatians, Paul wrote that entire book to just pry the law out of the gospel. He’s just ripping it out as hard as he can saying, “How are you so confused? How have you been bewitched to think the good news requires something of you?” It can’t; it is a declaration of what has been done.
Justin Perdue: I was just going to comment briefly on the fact that there is so much confusion out there in terms of reading and understanding the words of Jesus, because people do assume that if Jesus spoke it, it must be gospel. Even the name of the four books—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—the gospel of, it’s not that those are bad titles at all, but I think that can add to this confusion for some people where they assume that everything contained in it, thereby, is part of the gospel.
What we need to understand is that the four accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ are narrative. They’re describing what he accomplished for us there, obviously recording some of the things that he taught and said, for sure, but they are recording the works of Christ that have accomplished redemption. It is, in particular, the redemptive work of Christ that is offered freely to sinners that is the good news contained within those accounts. Then that gospel is further unpacked by the apostles as they write the rest of Scripture in the New Testament.
We need to understand that the majority of the words that came out of Jesus’s mouth were actually law and not gospel. He was the greatest preacher and teacher of the law who has ever lived. He helped people see what the requirements of God really are and thereby he crushed people with the law that they might be driven to him who is their only hope of salvation and righteousness.
For example, brother, when there’s a lawyer who comes up to him—this is in pretty much all the synoptic gospels—comes up to him and says, “Good teacher, what is required to enter the Kingdom of God?” Or, “What are the greatest commandments?” Or, “What is the greatest commandment in the law?” Jesus says, “Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” People will say, “See? That’s true religion there. Christ is telling us what we need to do.” Yeah, he is telling us what we need to do, and that he is summing up the Law and the Prophets; he says so himself. He’s summing up the first and second table of the 10 commandments; the first four commandments that tell us about how we’re to love God and the latter six commandments to tell us how we are to love our neighbor. He sums that up with loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, strength, and loving your neighbor as yourself. But that’s not the good news because nobody has ever done any of that for one second of their lives. And so we need him to do that in our place, to give us that righteousness, and then we need him the sinless one to die for our sins and to bear the wrath of God, which we deserve. That’s what he came to do. The distinctions that we’re making right now might seem, at points, like it’s minor, or a splitting of hairs, but these distinctions make all the difference in the world.
Jon Moffitt: I put out on Twitter—and I think it tripped a lot of people up, which was an interesting conversation I had with some people—that repentance of sin cannot save you. People said, “You need to be more clear about what you’re saying”, and to be fair, how nuanced we are, can Justin and I say things in more clear, succinct ways? To both of those criticisms, we will say always. We’re always trying to be clear on what we’re saying, and very simple and simplistic, so that we’re not misunderstood. Because you can hear things like, “repent to believe”, or, “you need to repent for the kingdom is at hand”. When you don’t have a law-gospel understanding of the distinction between the demands of the law, the demands of the law are for you to repent. That is the demand of the law. Because if you don’t repent of your sins, you are going to be held accountable for your sins. The problem is no one can repent of all their sins.
Let me just put it this way. Justin, has anybody ever repented of not loving God with all their heart? Has anybody ever repented of that?
Justin Perdue: Not adequately because that’s true of us every moment we’re breathing, and we’re not continually repenting of it, so no, we’ve never done so adequately.
Jon Moffitt: Right. What Jesus does is that he comes in and he takes repentance to a level that no one can do. When he says you think that you’re not sleeping with a woman, that means you have kept the law, but if you had thoughts about it, you are guilty of it.
What Jesus is always going after is the impossibility of righteousness. If you want to stand righteous before God and what Jesus is really calling us to, and I believe this with all of my heart, is a change of mind of where you rest your righteousness. Change where righteousness comes from and you will be saved.
Justin Perdue: This is not to contradict anything that you just said, because you just said what I’m going to say and I hope I can be clear about this. If there is a demand of the gospel, it is to believe. Believe in Jesus Christ. Alongside that belief, as a part of that belief, I would include that change of mind that you just mentioned. That is repentance; God gives those things to us. The thing that God demands—belief in Christ—which means necessarily that I have changed my mind about God and His ways with us, and what He requires of me, and the way I might be reconciled to Him—God grants faith and repentance. He does in those senses. Even the one thing that we’re told that we need to “do” with the gospel—trust Christ—is something that we can’t do on our own. It’s a gift of God that He gives us.
Jon Moffitt: When someone says the demand of the gospel is to believe, my response to that is I’m agreeing with you. It is news, and what you do with that news is up to you. In Luke 14, when Jesus says, “Those who have ears to hear, let them hear,” and it says the sinners drew near, it’s like when they heard that Jesus is they’re way out of their own righteous failings, they come. Those who hear the gospel, and the Spirit has opened their minds and they see their need for repentance, they believe. There’s not even the demand of belief.
Justin Perdue: I’m agreeing wholeheartedly. I put this up online recently, but I was having a conversation with the other guy on staff at our church. I said to him that the language that people will use like this about what we need to do in order to come to Christ is just so unhelpful and absurd. If you offer a cup of water to a man dying of thirst, what’s he going to do with that? If you offer food to a starving person, what is he going to do with that? Do you need to lambast him and persuade him and convince him to drink that water or eat that food? No, because he has an awareness of what he needs. It’s intuitive. He doesn’t need it explained to him. He has in front of him the thing that he absolutely has to have and doesn’t, and he takes it. That’s what happens, to what you just said, Jon, when the Holy Spirit of God does His regenerating work in the life of a fallen sinner and we thereby, having heard God’s Word, having been crushed by God’s law, and we have Jesus held out to us, it is like that starving man being offered food. Give me Christ. That is the best picture that I know of to present the listener with in terms of what this actually looks like. It’s not this whole yelling at people about what they need to do to repent and believe and the demands of the gospel. No, we’re offering water to people who are dying of thirst. We’re offering food to starving people. Sinners who are crushed by the law need Christ, and when the Spirit shows up, they receive and trust Him and cast themselves upon Him.
Jon Moffitt: To go back to the law-gospel distinction and what you were just saying, Justin, we were so confused with, Jesus says to the rich young ruler that all the man had to do was sell everything and come follow Jesus. You really believe that he would save himself? That is insane to think about because what you were saying is the law is now achievable. If you think the rich young ruler’s problem was he wasn’t willing to leave his money that’s why he wasn’t saved, you just thought the law is achievable. The law, taught properly, should crush a hundred percent of everyone. Everybody, said Jesus.
Here’s my problem: people who say, “Wow, you guys aren’t preaching the gospel.” No, you’re not preaching the law because the law says it is 100% without failure. When someone says, “Unless you make Jesus your Lord, you cannot be saved,” I agree. Yet, it needs to be a hundred percent Lord all the time without fail.
Justin Perdue: If you’re going to make Jesus Lord in that sense, it would mean that you love him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength all the time. Without fail. Every moment without exception.
Let me just riff for a second on the whole rich young ruler passage. We’ve talked about this before in terms of the passage itself. I agree with you completely that what Jesus is doing in that moment is crushing that man with the weight of the law. This man thinks that he has loved God and neighbor, that he has done enough to merit eternal life. He says, “I’ve kept the commandments.” But what does Jesus do? Jesus asks him to prove his love for God and neighbor and the man can’t do it. Right. I’m in complete agreement with you there. But what kills me is that when guys who, I say this humbly, but when guys who will scream from the rooftops about faithful, biblical exposition and exegesis, then will come to a passage like that and will introduce something into the text that is flat out not there. They say, “What we need to be at least willing to do is give away everything for Christ.”
Jon Moffitt: You just lowered the law.
Justin Perdue: First of all, where in the world did you get “willing” from the text? Because it’s not in there. You pound the drum all the time that we need to be faithful to the text, but the word “willing” is nowhere to be seen on that page. Christ said do this if you would be perfect, and the man can’t do it. That is the point. We can’t do what God requires.
The gospel is the free gift of God through faith, where we are counted righteous with the very righteousness of Jesus, and all of our sins are forgiven, and they are atoned for, and we are absolved of all guilt—and it is a free gift. Come and drink of the water without payment and without price. It’s Isaiah 55. It’s Revelation 21. I can’t get away from the argument of Paul in Romans 2 and 3, where he makes it very clear that none of us live up to our own standards, let alone God’s, because we judge each other for not meeting the standards that we hold out, and we can’t keep our own standards either so we condemn ourselves. Then he talks about how God is a righteous judge who is impartial, who rewards those who do good with eternal life, and He punishes those who do evil with wrath and condemnation. Then he says the whole thing about how it is not the hearers of the law, but the doers of the law who will be justified.
But then, what does he go on to say? There’s a huge problem because nobody’s good. Nobody has kept the law. Which is why, beginning in Romans 3:21. He tells us what the good news is. He says, “But now the righteousness of God has been revealed apart from the law, although the law and the Prophets bear witness to it—it is the righteousness of God by faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” That is what we’re discussing here; that God has all kinds of requirements, but none of us have ever kept His law. None of us have ever met the standard. So we are desperate for the work of Christ in our place.
Jon Moffitt: Have you ever been out in public, and you get home and you realize that your zipper was down, or you had like a booger hanging and you realize no one there told you this embarrassing thing about you? Are you kidding me? All of these people saw this and no one ever said anything. When David says, “I love Thy law”, I understand why he says that because when David looks into the law, he sees himself as God sees him, and it helps them keep a right perspective of who God is and who he is and how he needs to depend upon God. I never understood the phrase, ” I love Thy law”. I love the law of God. I love it because it keeps the gospel so fresh and clean and necessary for me. I can’t move on from the gospel because the more I look at the law, I can see all of what’s wrong with me. It keeps me on this dependent track of Christ where I am not going to depend upon my ability to do the law. The law exposes my frailty and says I have nothing. I have no righteousness. I love God’s law for that.
Justin Perdue: I love God’s law because of God’s gospel. We just said it earlier. You need to understand the law in order to understand the gospel. I would say that in order to really understand the law, you also need to be able to see and understand the gospel. You have to keep them distinct, but the understanding of the one aids your understanding of the other, and that’s huge. So David can say, “I love God’s law”. We do too. We love God’s law. His law is good and holy and perfect and wise, and we uphold it in every way. We preach it in all of its holiness to drive sinners to Christ. Then in the third use of the law since, we uphold God’s moral law as the perfect guide for our living. But part of the reason that David could say in the Psalms, “I love Your law”, part of the reason he can say that is because he also wrote Psalm 32: “Blessed it is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity.” Not that there isn’t any, but God doesn’t count it to him. “And in whose spirit, there is no deceit.”
That whole thing is really abused. “You need to have an upright spirit in which there is no deceit.” No, what does he mean? He goes on to say that, “When I kept silent, I didn’t confess my sins, I wasted away, but then I acknowledged my sin to you and I didn’t cover my iniquity. I said I will confess my transgressions to the Lord and You forgave the iniquity of my sin.” That’s gospel. It aided David in loving God’s law. It does the same thing for us because we are not blending law and gospel, like you said earlier, that turns into this hodgepodge of terrible news where there can be no assurance and no comfort. But no, we say, “God, how holy and marvelous is your law, and God, if possible, how much greater even is your gospel in terms of what Jesus has accomplished for us in fulfilling that law and atoning for sin.”
Jon Moffitt: The reason, I think, a lot of the craziness of the law-gospel mixture and the demands of the gospel is you have people who are going after the lazy Christian, the Christian who isn’t taking their fates there, or I would say the false converts who are sitting in churches and they don’t even know that they’re lost. They’re coming in hard with the Bible and saying, “I’m going to be hard with the Bible and really hard with God’s Word so people realize they got to take this seriously.” I don’t disagree with you. I have people in my church that I think that probably don’t understand the gospel appropriately, that probably are not converts, but what’s not going to save them is the harshness of the gospel. I don’t understand why you would ever want the good news to be bad. That doesn’t make sense. I’m not softening and saying someone can live however they want. No, I want the law to press in and suffocate them so much that they go, “Who will save me from this body of death? Thanks be to Christ.”
Justin Perdue: Amen, brother. It’s insane that we would think what we need to do for the person who’s Christian in name only, who may very well be unconverted, who’s sitting in the assembly, “I need to make the gospel sound hard.” What a terrible idea that is. “Let me make the gospel sound hard so that I can get people to take Jesus seriously.” What that “nominal” person—nominal meaning unbelieving person who’s in your assembly—he or she needs to be crushed by the holiness of God’s law. He or she needs to be crushed with right law preaching, and then, having been crushed, he or she needs to be given the Lord Jesus Christ. “That incredibly heavy, unbearable burden of the law that you’re feeling, let me tell you about the one who says he’ll take that from you.” Let me tell you about the One who says, “I have done everything necessary for you.” His name is Jesus Christ. Cast yourself upon him and trust him. That’s what we should say.
Jon Moffitt: His name is wonderful.
Justin Perdue: His name is wonderful. He is gentle and lowly of heart. He says he’ll give us rest for our souls because he has borne the burden that we could never bear. To make the gospel sound hard in order to reach the nominal or the unconverted is bad theologically—and it is insane and it doesn’t work. What we do is crush people with the law and then offer them Christ. The law drives them to him.
I think a lot of people get concerned when they hear us talk like this, because they assume that we think that the law is only for showing us our sin and driving us to Christ, and that we don’t care about how people live once they’ve trusted Jesus. That is not true. We care about how people live once they’ve trusted Christ because the Scripture is full of things about that. The law is helpful here in that the moral law of God that was written into humanity and creation—it’s the law of creation, basically the law of nature that was then given to Moses on two tablets of stone—that law still serves as a perfect guide for our living, and we trust that the Holy Spirit conforms us to that as we trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and live life in the community of the church.
This needs to be stated: once a person is in Christ Jesus, the law is no longer threatening. The teeth have been taken out of the law. It no longer is a weight and it’s no longer condemning. It is a joy, actually, and we can delight in it and we can say, “Yes, it’s good. I want to live that way, and God gives me grace that I may.”
Jon Moffitt: That’s what Paul means. There is no condemnation. You cannot be condemned.
Justin Perdue: What ends up happening in this whole confusion of law and gospel, people mean well, because they want folks to take Jesus seriously, and they want people to take seriously the exhortations and imperatives that are in the Scriptures. Okay, fine. There are things that flow out of the gospel, namely a transformed life, but those things that flow out of the gospel are never the gospel itself. We say that all the time, but it can’t be said enough. That makes all the difference in the world.
Jon Moffitt: Justin, I think that one of the things that we can talk about in our community members’ podcast is the difference between the demands of the law and how it crushes us so we enter into God’s rest, not using the law, and then how God reorients the law, or I would say the uses of the law, and use it for the sake of our loving our brother. There are uses of the law. People often confuse the demands of the law versus the use of the law. We’ll explain what we mean by that.
Justin Perdue: John Calvin uses language that’s very helpful about the law, for those of us who are in Christ Jesus. For the Christian, Calvin says that God’s law is our kind adviser. If that sounds foreign or crazy to you, like you’ve never thought about the law being your kind adviser, then this podcast that we’re about to do in our members’ area is something that you should give a listen to. You should check it out.
If you wanted to listen in on this conversation and you’re not yet a member here at Theocast, we would encourage you to go over to our website and learn more about our membership. Theocast.org is the URL where you can find that good information. This podcast that we’re about to do is an opportunity for us to have a kind of family conversation. We’re talking to one another in a way that’s safe and comfortable, and we’re trying to encourage one another as we continue in this pilgrimage of the Christian life where we’re seeking to rest more in Jesus. If that sounds like something you’re interested in, head over to the website, check it out and you can figure out how to be a part of this conversation and join the Reformation along with us.
Thank you for listening to this episode. We hope it was encouraging for you and that, in understanding this distinction between the law and the gospel, it leads to greater levels of freedom, rest, and peace for you in light of what Christ has done for you. Grace and peace.