The Law and the Gospel

The Law and the Gospel

The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul;
The testimony of the
Lord is sure, making wise the simple.

Psalm 19:7

 

The word “law” may stir up different feelings in different people. It also would be defined differently by different people, and in different contexts. However, law is simply defined as rules of action or activity. In any organized society there are laws. Governments make laws to govern society. God also has made laws for His creation. The Psalmist tells us that the law of the LORD is perfect, converting the souls (some translations say “reviving the soul”) of men and women. What does this mean? The sinful souls of people need converting from their darkened state. They need a transformation to spiritual life and holiness. We are told elsewhere in the Scriptures that the law does not have power, in itself, to produce spiritual life. The Apostle Paul said; “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh,” (Romans 8:3). This says that God’s law, good and right as it is, does not contain, within itself, the power to enable a person to be holy and spiritual. However, there is another sense in which the law does have a certain power, and that is that it shows, or reveals, to the unredeemed man or woman their sin, and their need of Jesus Christ. Man naturally has, within himself, some sense of conscience and duty. He has a sense of good and evil. However, this sense is distorted and is not fully clear, nor is the seriousness of good and evil fully realized, until God enlightens man by means of divine law to, both, his sin and need of Jesus. When this is realized, and acted upon, a person, repentant, runs to Jesus and there he or she finds the grace, power, life and love needed to  transform and convert them into the spiritual creature that they always were meant to be.

How, again, does the law work in the process of conversion and salvation? It is a tutor; “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.” (Galatians 3:24). It is a tutor which teaches a lost man or woman their sin and their need of a Savior. Where are the souls of men or women without this knowledge? These ones are wandering in the world of moral relativism which does not tell them that they are sinners, sinners who, with every heartbeat, are racing to the judgment seat of Christ, where they will be judged. They do not know that they can undergo a judgment here in this life, by which they realize their sin for what it is, and agree with God’s judgment, turn from their sin in repentance and faith and experience forgiveness and conversion. This turning around, and conversion, begins with the Holy Spirit bringing the knowledge of personal sin. The law is a useful means, or tutor, for God to use in bringing this knowledge to our consciousness.

Divine law is like the Bethlehem Star which shone above the manger where Christ lay. The wise men saw the star and followed it to Jesus. Likewise, wise men and women today come to God’s law and find it pointing them to Christ.

What use is divine law in saving a man or woman? A man who is drowning will fight off help from a lifeguard if that man does not know, himself, that he is drowning. Many times it is like that with the salvation of human souls. The unsaved are often offended when they hear a Christian say that they need Jesus and forgiveness for their sins. This is because they consider themselves to be good persons. They are not good persons; they are sinners and God’s law shows them their guilt and their great need. It gives them knowledge, or a realization, of their condition. I do not mean merely intellectual knowlege but knowlege of a transgressed conscience, which is the knowlege of sin. The word “conscience” means “with knowlege.” Paul testified that; “… I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’” (Romans 7:7). God’s law makes sin known to us. It also stops the mouths of those who would defend their self-innocence and self-righteousness. Scripture teaches; “ Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:19-20).

It is because by the law is the nature of sin known, that the revivalist, Charles Finney, said; “Evermore the Law must prepare the way for the Gospel. To overlook this, instructing souls is almost certain to result in false hope, the introduction of a false standard of Christian experience and fill the church with false converts. Time will make this clear.”1 Finney felt so strongly about this that he instructed soul-winners dealing with conscience-awakened souls in these words:

If you find a person awakened, no matter by which means, lose no time in pouring light upn his mind. Do not be afraid, but show him the breadth (HED #7621; STRONG #7341) of Divine law, and the exceeding strictness of its precepts. Make him see how it condemns his thoughts and life.2

 

Catherine Booth, the co-founder of the Salvation Army said; “The eyes of the soul must be opened to such a realization of sin, and such an apprehension of the consequences of sin, as shall lead him to an earnest desire to be saved from sin. God’s great means for doing this is the law, as the schoolmaster, to drive sinner to receive Christ as their salvation.”3 The law prepares the way for the Gospel. It reveals sin. What is sin? The Bible says thatEveryone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.” (1 John 3:4). Lawlessness is simply living without respect for law. Sin is living without repect for, or obedience to, God’s laws. Again divine law spells this out. Sin is primarily against God. David, the king of Israel, said; “As for me, I said, ‘O Lord, be gracious to me; Heal my soul, for I have sinned against You.’” (Psalm 41:4). That is why James talks of people being “…convicted by the law as transgressors.” (James 2:9). It is also why the minister, Charles Spurgeon, said; “Lower the Law and you dim the light by which man perceives his guilt. This is a serious loss to the sinner rather than a gain, for it lessens the likeliness of his conviction and conversion.”4 If lowering the law dims the light, then raising, that is, emphasizing, or proclaiming the law is like shining the light brighter and brighter so that sin, and the need for the Savior, is revealed.

Raising the law makes sin more visible, or obvious, and I believe that that is why Jesus used it on occasion. We read the following account of Jesus conversing with a lawyer:

And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ And He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?’ And he answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ And He said to him, ‘You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.’

Luke 10:25-28

This lawyer wanted to know how he could obtain eternal life. Jesus immediately raised the law. The lawyer then quoted from God’s law. I believe that the desired response that Jesus wanted to hear from the lawyer would have been; “Lord, I have broken these laws, and others. How can I be forgiven?” The lawyer did not respond this way, but Jesus did use the law in this instance.

Imagine a sheep standing in a green field. The sheep looks so clean and white. However, when that same field is full of freshly fallen snow, that same sheep now looks dirty because of the contrast with the brightly clean snow. Souls are like that sheep and the law is like that snow. Men and women like to think of themselves as good and clean. They may be good and clean in comparison to each other. However, when God’s law becomes the standard, all of a sudden, the illusion of goodness is taken away. The words to one old hymn, At Calvary by William R. Newell, read: “By God’s word at last my sin I learned, then I trembled at the law I spurned. Till my guilty soul imploring turned, to Calvary.”

A man gains an accurate and vivid sense of his guilty soul when God shines His divine law upon his conscience. God’s law pierces through all of the reasonings and justifications that men have erected, and the sinner realizes what he has done and discovers who he really is. The sharp two-edged sword of God’s Word puts a finger on it. The sinner’s fig leaves are torn away and he is naked and empty and guilty before God. However, there is good news for him! That is the point; the law does not just leave us guilty but it points us to Jesus, that we would find, through repentance and faith in Jesus, forgiveness and eternal life. Without the law, grace has no meaning or necessity. However, with the law revealing our need, the grace of the Gospel is huge. The law enligthens men to their sin and their need of salvation. Then they are given the Gospel, which shows them the grace of pardon and a much higher life than what they have been living. Then they are shown the beauty of this higher life, lived out in the life of Jesus. Then they see that Jesus has opened the door to them, calling them in, into a holy life of love and grace. They see that this doorway has been opened to them at great price, the death of Jesus, in payment for our sins. They also feel their obligation to obey the voice of the Lord and to take the pardon which is being extended to them.

The word “law” may stir up fear in the hearts of people but God s law is perfect, converting, or reviving, the soul. It does so by showing us our sin and our need for the Savior, Jesus Christ, the only Author of Salvation. Then we come to Jesus and find salvation through Him.

 

Shawn Stevens

 

ENDNOTES

 

1. Charles Finney, quoted in Ray Comfort, Hell’s Best Kept Secret, Audiocassette.

2. Charles Finney, Lectures On Revival (Springfield: World Library Press Inc., 1998), 88.

3. Catherine Booth, Papers on Godliness (Atlanta: The Salvation Army Supples and Purchasing Department, 1986), 5.

4. Charles Spurgeon, quoted in Ray Comfort, Hell‘s Best Kept Secret. Audiocassette.

 

REFERENCES

Booth, Catherine. Papers on Godliness. Atlanta: The Salvation Army Supples and Purchasing Department, 1986.

Finney, Charles. Lectures On Revival. Springfield: World Library Press Inc., 1998.

Finney, Charles. Quoted in Ray Comfort, Hell‘s Best Kept Secret. Audio cassette.

Spurgeon, Charles. Quoted in Ray Comfort, Hell‘s Best Kept Secret. Audio cassette.

“Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible®,
Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973,
1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation
Used by permission.” (www.Lockman.org)

 

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