Posted tagged ‘law-gospel antithesis’

Even if you do what you believe (because you believe), and “choose life”, there is no life in the law

January 23, 2017

There is no life in the law of Moses. There is no life in the law of Christ.
There is only life in the gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection.

Many who preach sermons in churches could preach the very same sermon in synagogues, because they preach the law and not the gospel. They confuse the law with the gospel, because they think that doing the law brings life. Make your choice, these preachers tell us. Believe the law and then do the law, and if you don’t do the law that means you don’t believe the law.

Deuteronomy 30:11 Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is NOT TOO HARD FOR YOU, nor is it too far away. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and DO IT ?” 13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and DO IT” 14 No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to DO 15 See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16 IF YOU OBEY the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and DOING his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live…. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.

But this choice is not as simple as it sounds, which is why legal preachers also cut themselves (and those who listen to them) some slack. They assure us that we need not live by the letter of the law. They say we can choose life and gain life by doing what the law says but at the same without our relying on our believing and on our doing what the law says. We should remain humble and thank God for helping us do the law. We should not sit in judgment those who don’t do the law well, so that others will not judge us when we don’t do the law better.

These preachers have no good news for sinners like me. These preachers have no good news for people like me who are still very unbelieving.

When Jesus preached in a synagogue, Jesus preached about Himself, not about our doing the law. Of those who are guilty before the law , all those for whom Jesus died (the elect) will be freed from that guilt and given life.

Matthew 11: 8 those who wear soft clothes are in kings’ palaces.

Luke 4: 16 Jesus entered the synagogue on the Sabbath day and stood up to read. 17 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to Him, and unrolling the scroll, He found the place where it was written:
18 The Spirit of the Lord is on Me,
because He has anointed Me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent Me
to proclaim freedom to the captives

Luke 4: 25 But I say to you, there were certainly many widows in Israel in Elijah’s days, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months while a great famine came over all the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them—but to one widow outside of Israel. 27 And in the prophet Elisha’s time, there were many in Israel who had serious skin diseases, yet not one of them was healed —only Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard this, everyone in the synagogue was enraged.29 They got up, drove Jesus out of town, and brought Him to the edge of the hill that their town was built on, intending to hurl Jesus over the cliff.

These who come in soft clothes to the synagogues are not offended at the idea of a new perspective in which they become more inclusive and welcome others to do the law with them. But those in soft clothes in the synagogues get angry when anybody “narrows the covenant” to only those sinners whose hope is not in doing the law but in election by grace. Those in soft clothes in synagogues reject any notion that their own children and other family members will not be given enough grace to do enough of the law to receive life.

Deuteronomy 27: 26 Cursed is everyone who does not DO ALL the things written in the book of the law'”

John 3:19– “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their DOING was evil. 20 They do not come to the light, lest their DOING be exposed.

“All who depend on DOING the law are under a curse” (Galatians 3:10).

Those who pursue life by doing and obeying the law also accept the consequences of disobeying law. We are all born condemned, even before we do anything good or bad.
Whether we think we are pursuing life by doing or not, we are all born condemned, with no hope except in the gospel.

Hebrews 6:1– “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God”

Hebrews 9:14–”How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”

Faith in the doctrine of Christ’s death and resurrection can be referred to as obedience in the sense that when we believe in Christ we are doing what God command everybody to do. Thus is why the Scriptures sometimes speak of “obeying the gospel.” But doing the law is not faith in the gospel (Romans 3:28). Since whatever is not faith is sin (Romans 14:23 ) , some have concluded that “works of the law” does not refer to failure before the law in general, but rather to a specific kind of sin–the sin of trying to earn life from God by doing the law. But we are all born condemned because of Adam’s sin and also because of all our sins, not only because of the sin of trying to gain life by law. Even though there was never grace for the non-elect, the non-elect also are born condemned before they did anything good or bad, and before they ever attempted to gain life by doing the law. Romans 9:11 For though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything GOOD OR BAD, in order that God’s purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works. Law doing is not simply acts one does without faith. “Works” are “anything we do, whether good or bad.”

Romans 3:19 “The law speaks to those who are under the law, in order that every mouth be silenced, and in order that the whole world be held accountable to God. 20 For ‘no human being will be justified in his sight’ by doing commanded by the law. Through the law comes the knowledge of sin.

Jesus has redeemed His elect people from the curse of the law “by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13)

Galatians 3: 12 The law is NOT of faith, rather “The one who DOES them shall LIVE by them.” (Leviticus 18:5)

The logic of “if” is the logic of “or”.

Galatians 2:21 if righteousness and life came through doing the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

Christ died for a purpose (all for whom Christ died will be saved) OR righteousness is through our doing the law. No synthesis possible. Christ did not come to help us to get around that antithesis

Galatians 3:18 For IF the inheritance comes by DOING the law, the inheritance does NOT come by promise

Galatians 3:21 For IF a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by doing the law.

Romans 3: 27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded.

If our doing the law brings life, then trusting only in Christ’s death is excluded. Faith in Christ’s death and resurrection means “not doing the law”

This is why we cannot say that doing the law because we believe gives us life. We do not receive or keep life by doing the law.

John 7:19 “Did not Moses give you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law.”

Acts 13: 36 For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, died, was laid beside his ancestors, and experienced corruption 37 but Jesus who God raised up experienced no corruption. 38 Let it be known to you therefore, my brothers, that through this man Jesus forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you; 39 by this Jesus each and every person who believes is set free from all those sins from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.

II Corinthians 3: 7 Now if the ministry of death, in letters on stone tablets, came in glory so that the people of Israel could not gaze at the face of Moses because of the glory, a glory now set aside, 8 how much more will the ministry of the Holy Spirit come in glory? 9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, much more does the ministry of justification abound in glory! 10 Indeed, what ONCE HAD glory has lost its glory because of the greater glory. 11 if what was SET ASIDE came through glory, much more has the PERMANENT come in glory!

If We Remove the Ceremonies, and We are United to Christ, Then the Law Is Our Friend?

February 5, 2014

Ephesians 2: 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, in order to create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 in order to reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

In Ephesians 2, Paul is not dividing the law from its curse, or saying only that the curse has been abolished. What has been abolished is “the law of commandments expressed in ordinances”. In some sense, the law itself has been abolished. Paul speaks in Ephesians 2 the opposite of the way he would have to speak if he thought that curse and law were two different things.

While the Reformed distinction between law and curse lays the exclusive emphasis on the law in Romans 3:31, Paul’s point in Romans 3:31 accentuates the curse.

While the Reformed distinction between law and curse lays the emphasis on the curse in Ephesians 2, the emphasis in context of Ephesians 2 is the law itself.

The law is not our friend but our enemy, because we are sinners. The one and only way that the law is now our friend is Christ’s death by law to the law for the sins of the elect.

“For I through the law died to the law” Galatians 2:19

Machen, Notes, p 159 “The law . . . led men, by its clear revelation of what God requires, to relinquish all claim to salvation by their own obedience. In that sense, surely, Paul could say that it was through the law that he died to the law. The law made the commands of God so terribly clear that Paul could see plainly that there was no hope for him if he appealed for his salvation to his own obedience to those commands.”

Machen: “This interpretation yields a truly Pauline thought. But the immediate context suggests another, and an even profounder, meaning for the words.”

Machen: “The key to the interpretation is probably to be found in the sentences, I have been crucified together with Christ, which almost immediately follows. The law, with its penalty of death upon sins (which penalty Christ bore in our stead) brought Christ to the cross; and when Christ died I died, since he died as my representative.”

Machen: “The death to the law… the law itself brought about when… Christ died that Since He died that death as our representative, we too have died that death. Thus our death to the law, suffered for us by Christ, far from being contrary to the law, was in fulfillment of the law’s own demands. “

Ephesians 2:15 teaches that the law is the instrument of condemnation and death. The emphasis is on the code, the “commandments expressed in ordinances”. Instead of separating out the curse from the code, Paul actually writes of the abolition of the commandments themselves. This can be seen from the statement itself, and also from the context which speaks of the joining of jew and gentile into the body.

It is impossible to maintain that only the curse itself is that which divides the two groups, since both are under the curse equally. No, the curse divides God from humans. What stands between jew and gentile is the law itself, the code, the covenant mediated by Moses.

Think of the parallel in Colossians 2:13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

The “record of death” against us is the same as the “legal demands” against us. It is difficult to see how the law and its curse can be separated, when the Apostle integrates them together in this way. It is the demands which are hostile to us. Colossians 2: 16 goes on to say: “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.”

It is more than the removal of the curse that the law-work of the cross achieves. The cross brings about in some sense the abolition of the law itself. Nobody has to do anymore what the Mosaic covenant commands to be done.

The familiar moral/ceremonial distinction was often used by Roman Catholics against the Reformers, when the topic was justification by imputation vs justification by our law-keeping. Calvin would not allow the Romanists this distinction in order for them to say that only some kind of our works were not a condition of salvation. Calvin ruled out all of our works (even “works of faith”) as having any part in our justification.

The curse does not attach to the ceremonies. Rather, the ceremonies picture the way out from the curse. If you say that “law” in these texts is only the ceremonies, then you have ceremonies that damn rather than ceremonies that prefigure Christ and the cross.

The Law Was Not the Gospel for Adam, but Christ’s Satisfaction of the Law is the Gospel for Us

October 9, 2013

The real point of the law-gospel antithesis is not “conflict”. It is non-identity. The law is not the gospel. The gospel is not the law. The gospel, however, is about Christ’s satisfaction of God’s law for God’s elect. Though law and gospel are not the same thing, they are not opposed because they never claim to have the same function.

Law says what God demands. Gospel says how Christ satisfied that demand for the elect. The law never offered life off probation: only one sin would put Adam and his seed under its curse, and no matter how many acts of obedience to the law, the law could never promise the life of the age to come.

The law-gospel antithesis does NOT understand Romans 10:4 in terms of abrogation. The “end of the law” is Christ completing all that the law demanded, so that there is no remainder left for the Spirit enabled Christian to do. The gospel says DONE. The gospel does not say “to be done by the life of Christ in the elect”.

Christians sin, and therefore their “fulfillment of the law” (see, for example, Romans 13) cannot ever satisfy the law. But the law will not go unsatisfied.

The law, once satisfied by Christ, now demands the salvation of all the elect. God the Father would not be just, and God the Son would not be glorified, if the distribution of the justly earned benefits were now conditioned on the imperfect faith or works of elect sinners. Yes, faith is necessary for the elect, but even this faith is a gift earned by the righteousness of God in Christ’s work.

This is how the law/gospel antithesis explains Romans 3:31. The law is not nullified but honored by Christ. The only way that its requirements will ever be fully satisfied in the elect (Romans 8:4) is by the imputation of what Christ earned. “

If the law were the gospel, even saying that there’s law (in the garden and now) would be “legalism”. But the law is not the gospel and it was never the gospel. Romans 11:5—“So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is not on the basis of works; otherwise grace would not be grace.”

The legalist identifies law and gospel, and then reduces the demand to including what the Spirit does in the elect. But what God does in us (by grace) must be excluded from the righteousness.

The “covenant of works” theory teaches a ”hypothetical gospel” in which Adam supposedly “could have” earned righteousness for others by keeping the law. One clear way to say that the law is not the gospel is to say that the it was not the gospel for Adam either. But the “covenant of works” is not needed for us to keep the law/gospel antithesis, which antithesis is biblical and important.

Romans 8:3-4 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin,[c] he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Smeaton, Apostles Doctrine of the Atonement, p 178–”Romans 8:4–That the righteousness of the law would be fulfilled in us. That is so like another expression of the same apostle, that the two passages might fitly be compared for mutual elucidation (II Cor 5:21). This expression cannot be referred to any inward work of renovation; for no work or attainment of ours can with any propriety of language be designated a “fulfillment of the righteousness of the law”.

The words, “the righteousness of the law,” are descriptive of Christ’s obedience as the work of one for many (Romans 5:18). This result is delineated as the end contemplated by Christ’s incarnation and atonement, and intimates that as He was made a sin-offering, so are we regarded as full-fillers of the law…”

Moo comments on 8:4 in NICNT, p482—”Some think that Christians, with the Spirit empowering within, fulfill the demand of the law by righteous living. However, while it is true that God’s act in Christ has as one of its intents that we produce fruit, we do not think that this is what Paul is saying here.

First, the passive verb “be fulfilled” points not to something that we are to do but to something that is done in and for us. Second, the always imperfect obedience of the law by Christians does not satisfy what is demanded by the logic of this text. The fulfilling of the “just decree of the law” must answer to that inability of the law with which Paul began this sentence. “What the law could not do” is to free people from “the law of sin and death”–to procure righteousness and life. And it could not do this because the “flesh” prevented people from obeying its precepts.

The removal of this barrier consists not in the actions of believers, for our obedience always falls short of that perfect obedience required by the law. As Calvin puts it, “the faithful, while they sojourn in this world, never make such a proficiency, as that the justification of the law becomes in them full or complete. This must be applied to forgiveness; for when the obedience of Christ is accepted for us, the law is satisfied, so that we are counted just.”

If then the inability of the law is to be overcome without an arbitrary cancellation of the law, it can only happen through a perfect obedience of the law’s demands. See Romans 2:13 and our comments there.

In the last part of Romans 8:4, the participial clause modifying “us” is not instrumental—”the just decree of the law is fulfilled in us BY our walking not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit”–but descriptive, characterizing those in whom the just decree of the law as ‘those WHO walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Paul does not separate the “fulfillment” of the law from the lifestyle of Christians. But this does not mean that Christian behavior is how the law is fulfilled….”

Steele and Thomas, Romans: an interpretative outline: “In order to free believers from the guilt or condemnation of sin, God sent His own Son into the world (in a nature like man’s sinful nature, but not itself sinful. See Heb. 2:14-18; 4:15). Christ gave Himself as a sacrifice for sin, and thereby legally put sin away and thus freed His people from its guilt. As a result of Christ’s sacrificial work, the just requirement (demand) of the law has been fulfilled (fully met) in those who are joined to Him. This of course is because of the fact that what Christ did, He did as their substitute or representative, and it is therefore counted (imputed) to them as if they themselves did it. (8:4)

Charles Hodge: one’s interpretation of Romans 8 verse 4 is determined by the view taken of Romans 8:3. If that verse means that God, by sending His Son, destroyed sin in us, then, of course, this verse must mean, “He destroyed sin in order that we should fulfill the law” — that is, so that we should be holy (sanctification). But if Romans 8:3 refers to the sacrificial death of Christ and to the condemnation of sin in Him as the sinners’ substitute, then this verse must refer to justification and not sanctification.”

John Gill: “internal holiness can never be reckoned the whole righteousness of the law: and though it is a fruit of Christ’s death, it is the work of the Spirit, and is neither the whole, nor any part of our justification: but this is to be understood of the righteousness of the law fulfilled by Christ, and imputed to us; Christ has fulfilled the whole righteousness of the law, all the requirements of it; this he has done in the room and stead of his people; and is imputed to them, by virtue of a federal union between him and them, he being the head, and they his members; and the law being fulfilled by him, it is reckoned all one as it was fulfilled in, or if by them; and hence they are personally, perfectly, and legally justified; and this is the end of Christ’s being sent, of sin being laid on him, and condemned in him. The descriptive character of the persons in Roman 8:4 is the same with that in Romans 8:1.”

The Law-Gospel Antithesis, Faith And/Or Works?

March 31, 2011

In The God of Promise and the Life of Faith: Understanding the Heart of the Bible (Paperback) footnote 6 on p244, Hafemann writes: ” The position I am advocating is based on a reassessment of the traditional Lutheran, Calvinistic and dispensational view of the relationship between the Law and the Gospel. The traditional view saw a conflict between the two, with the law viewed narrowly as God’s demand for sinless obedience as the ground of our salvation, while the gospel called for faith In God’s grace in Christ, who kept the Law perfectly in our place.”

Hafemann does not understand correctly the antithesis he is opposing. Yes, the law is the divine demand for perfection (and also for satisfaction for sins). But he is wrong to focus on a demand for perfection being replaced by a demand for faith. The proper difference would not be a new or different demand (for faith) but the righteousness obtained and imputed by God. .

Hafemann is inattentive to three facts about the divine alien righteousness. First, Christ died under the curse of God’s law only for the elect alone. Second, faith has as its object not just any ” Christ”or any “grace”, but the Christ who satisfied the law for all who will be justified (and not for the non-elect). Third, this faith is not only a sovereign gift but a righteous gift, given on behalf of Christ and His law-work (Philippians 1:29; John 17).

When Hafemann makes the difference to be between a demand for faith and a demand for obedience, the only thing left for him to discuss is the nature of faith. Does faith include works or not? If faith works and faith is an instrument, why can’t works of faith be an instrument? Since faith is a result of regeneration, won’t that faith include works?

Hafemann does discuss the object of faith. His complaint is that the law/gospel antithesis is wrong to put all the emphasis on the past. He denies that the past work of Christ is sufficient or the only object of faith. In insisting that we give priority to the person of Christ, Hafeman wants us to look also to the (present and future) life of Christ in us.

At least he is honest about his differences with Calvin and Luther. Hafemann openly acknowledges his rejection of the law/grace antithesis. He thinks his different gospel is more biblical.

My own position is that it would help us see the difference between the two gospels if we stopped explaining the antithesis by talking only about “faith alone”. The real point of the law-gospel antithesis is not “conflict”. It is non-identity. The law is not the gospel. The gospel is not the law. The gospel, however, is about the satisfaction of God’s law for God’s elect.

Though law and gospel are not the same thing, they are not opposed because they never claim to have the same function. Law says what God demands. Gospel says how Christ satisfied that demand for the elect. The law never offered life off probation; not only one sin would put you under its curse, no matter how many acts of obedience to the law, the law could never promise everlasting life.

Hafemann thinks that the antithesis understands “Christ to bring the law to an end in the sense of abolishment”. But the antithesis does NOT understand Romans 10:4 in terms of redemptive-historical abrogation. The “end of the law” is Christ completing all that the law demanded, so that there is no remainder left for the Spirit enabled Christian to do. Romans 10:4 is about redemptive-historical fulfillment.

The gospel says DONE. The gospel does not say “to be done by the life of Christ in the elect”.

Hafemann reduces the law/gospel antithesis to the abolishment of strict law, and says that what the Spirit does in us helps satisfy the law enough. This misses what the gospel says about Christ’s perfect and complete satisfaction of the law for the elect.

Christians sin, and therefore their “fulfillment of the law” (see for example, Romans 13) cannot ever satisfy the law. But the law will not go unsatisfied.

In a footnote 6 on page 244, Hafeman writes: “In this Lutheran view, the law itself taught a legalism that Adam and Israel failed to keep but that God continues to demand in order to drive us to the gospel”.

Is “legalism” a demand for perfection? If God demands perfection, is God therefore a “legalist”? It seems to me that the only alternative to a demand for perfection is either no law at all or a “new” demand which calls only for imperfect righteousness so that “grace” makes up the difference.

Hafemann is following in the wake of Barth, Torrance, and Daniel fuller who reject the “contract God” who demands perfection and operates by justice. They think that even talking about law’s demand for perfection is “legalism”. But God has told us that the law is not the gospel and that it never was the gospel. Romans 11:5–”So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is not on the basis of works; otherwise grace would not be grace.”

It is Hafemann who is both legalist ( because he identifies law and gospel) and antinomian (because he then reduces the demand to including what the Spirit does in the elect. What God does in us keeps us believing the gospel, but our believing the gospel is not what satisfies the law.

Read carefully what Hafemann writes about the “obedience of faith” (p188): “Still others consider obedience to God’s law to be the necessary evidence of faith. For them, if one believes, then obedience becomes the mandatory sign of something else, namely faith, which is the human response to God’s grace that actually saves us. Faith must lead to obedience as a sign that it is real.”

While that it is an accurate description of many Calvinists about assurance, it is not biblical assurance. We do not work to get assurance. We must have assurance before our works are acceptable to God.

Most Calvinists, along with the Arminians, teach “faithalone” as if faith were the response that saves us. Yes, they disagree about the cause and source of faith, but even most of the Calvinists leave election out of their “atonement” and out of their “gospel”.

The Law Was Not the Gospel for Adam Either: Against the Covenant of Works

December 8, 2010

The real point of the law-gospel antithesis is not “conflict”. It is non-identity. The law is not the gospel. The gospel is not the law. The gospel, however, is about the satisfaction of God’s law for God’s elect. Though law and gospel are not the same thing, they are not opposed because they never claim to have the same function.

Law says what God demands. Gospel says how Christ satisfied that demand for the elect. The law never offered life off probation: only one sin would put Adam and his seed under its curse, and no matter how many acts of obedience to the law, the law could never promise everlasting life.

The antithesis does NOT understand Romans 10:4 in terms of abrogation. The “end of the law” is Christ completing all that the law demanded, so that there is no remainder left for the Spirit enabled Christian to do. The gospel says DONE. The gospel does not say “to be done by the life of Christ in the elect”.

Christians sin, and therefore their “fulfillment of the law” (see for example, Romans 13) cannot ever satisfy the law. But the law will not go unsatisfied.

The law, once satisfied by Christ, now demands the salvation of all the elect, for whom the law was satisfied. God the Father would not be just, and God the Son would not be glorified, if the distribution of the justly earned benefits were now conditioned on the imperfect faith of sinners. Yes, faith is necessary for the elect, but even this faith is a gift earned by the righteousness of God in Christ’s work.

This is how the law/gospel antithesis explains Romans 3:31. The law is not nullified but honored by Christ. The only way that its requirements will ever be fully satisfied in the elect (Romans 8:4) is by the imputation of what Christ earned. “

If the law were the gospel, even saying that there’s law (in the garden and now) would be “legalism”. But God is a legalist against legalism. God has told us that the law is not the gospel and that it never was the gospel. Romans 11:5—“So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is not on the basis of works; otherwise grace would not be grace.”

The legalist identifies law and gospel, and then reduces the demand to including what the Spirit does in the elect. But what God does in us (by grace) must be excluded from the righteousness.

The “covenant of works” theory teaches a ”hypothetical gospel” in which Adam supposedly “could have” earned righteousness for others by keeping the law. One clear way to say that the law is not the gospel is to say that the it was not the gospel for Adam either. But the “covenant of works” is not inherent to the law/gospel antithesis.