What Does It Mean to Distinguish Law and Gospel?

What Does It Mean to Distinguish Law and Gospel? Answered by Jimmy Buehler



Hey everybody, it’s Jimmy, and today I’m going to seek to answer the question: what does it mean to distinguish the law from the gospel? It’s something we reference in our podcast all the time, and you may be a little confused by what we mean by that.

When we say law, what we mean is the imperatives of scripture, the commands of scripture, or the things that we are to do. No matter where we see it, whenever we see something that we are to do, this is what we call law.

The gospel, on the other hand, is the indicatives of scripture. By that, we mean the things that God has done, or the things that God has declared, or accomplished, for us in Christ.

Let me just give you an illustration or example: Jesus summarizes the law to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. This is law. So, realistically assess yourself. Do you love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your mind, and with all of your strength, and not only that, but do you love your neighbor as yourself? Well, the answer to that is a resounding no.

Martin Luther writes this: that the law says do this, and it is never done. As you come to the end of your day, there is always more that you could do. You could always love God better. You could always love your neighbor more; but, the law says do this, and it is never done. So, the law then drives us to Christ. It drives us to the gospel, in that Christ himself lived a perfect life. He did all of the things that we could not do. He accomplished all of the things that we could not, on our behalf, so that by grace alone, through faith alone on account of Christ alone, our sins – the ways that we’ve not lived up to God’s law – are forgiven. Not only that, but Christ’s perfection to the law is credited to our account, and so, what God has demanded of us in his law, he has provided for us in his gospel.

Does this mean that we shirt the commands or the law of scripture? By no means! Rather, we live in what we like to call “status forward”, in that we are struggling sinner-saints who are walking, pilgriming through this life, and we understand that we are forgiven, not because of anything that we have done, but because of what Christ has done on our behalf. We understand that we are counted righteous in God’s eyes, through Jesus Christ, through the gospel.

As we come to the commands of scripture, and as we come to the imperatives, we always look back to the indicatives: that what God has demanded of us in his law, he’s provided in his gospel – that we do not have to fear the commands of God, but rather we rest in Christ and we live status forward.

This is just a short, little introduction to this topic. I invite you to check out our website, where we go more in depth with not only law and gospel, but other topics as well, that we hope to help you rest in Christ.

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