Law and Grace

Sanctification, Faith and Works: An Index of Recent Web Debate

Updated 6/13/14

Debates about various aspects of the doctrine of sanctification have been around for a long time. In the summer of 2011, a fresh round of debate on sanctification, works, faith, depravity, justification and union with Christ broke out on the Web and has continued, in one form or another up to the present.

Because the exchange has featured skilled and articulate participants, it has also been insightful. The following is offered as a tool for the benefit of anyone interested in studying the matter from the perspective of recent interactions among theologically conservative, mostly (but not entirely) Reformed leaders.

A few notes appear below, randomly. I hope to eventually annotate most of these entries more fully and fairly.

Despite the length of this list of links, it is not comprehensive. Feel free to post other links of importance in the comments.

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Musings on Commandments and Freedom: “Freedom is enjoying what we were designed to do.”

"We live within a society (and sometimes even attend churches) that views law as intrinsically negative. Commands equal negative restrictions. ... But, a proper distinction between the law and grace does not conclude that the law is negative – only that it is insufficient to save us." - Zach Dietrich

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Does Matthew 5:17-20 Teach That Christians Are Under the Law?

Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:17–20, NASB 1995)

In Matthew 5-7 Jesus presents to the people of Israel three great truths: (1) True righteousness does not—and never did—come from external obedience to laws, (2) true righteousness was needed in order to enter the kingdom of the heavens, (3) the people did not have it, the scribes and Pharisees weren’t representing it properly, and they had to look to Jesus in order to get it.

In Matthew 5:1-12 Jesus explains some of the blessing in store for those headed for His kingdom (the kingdom of the heavens was God’s heavenly kingdom that was promised to one day change address and come to earth literally and physically). Jesus then illustrates for His listeners the importance of being distinct—ultimately of maintaining true righteousness—the kind that is internal and not merely the external appearance, the kind that when people see it they glorify God.

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Law and Gospel: Seeing the Narrow Contrast

We’ve looked at the law and gospel in terms of “the big picture” and determined that they are interrelated and inseparable concepts (see Part 1). But is it ever appropriate to distinguish law from gospel? In other words, do the biblical writers ever contrast law with gospel? The answer is “Yes.” In fact, such a contrast is vital. In this second part of our study, we’ll consider the important distinction between law and gospel when these terms and concepts are used and defined in a more restrictive sense.

Law and Gospel: The Narrow Contrast

Let’s return to Dr. Horton’s definition I cited in the first part of our study: “Everything in the Bible that reveals God’s moral expectations is law and everything in the Bible that reveals God’s saving purposes and acts is gospel.”1 Horton’s distinction is not novel. Martin Luther made this distinction during the Protestant Reformation:

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Law and Gospel: Looking at the Big Picture

The biblical teaching on “the law” and “the gospel” is massive. And contrary to what some may think, these concepts are fairly complex. They can’t be reduced to a plaque on the wall with the Ten Commandments or a paper tract with Four Easy Steps on how to become a Christian. Instead, law and gospel each have a fairly expansive range of meaning. Broadly considered, they overlap and are interrelated. More narrowly viewed, they’re distinct. In Part 1 of our study, I’d like to examine these concepts more broadly and show how they’re related. Then we’ll narrow our focus in Part 2, noting the ways in which law and gospel are distinct.

Law and Gospel: The Big Picture

According to Michael Horton, “Everything in the Bible that reveals God’s moral expectations is law and everything in the Bible that reveals God’s saving purposes and acts is gospel.”1 So the “law” is what God expects us to do, and the gospel is what God plans and accomplishes on our behalf.

We’ll come back to this definition when we consider law and gospel in narrow focus. For now, I want to suggest that Horton’s definition of “law and gospel” is much narrower than the picture given us in Scripture. In reality, the concepts of law and gospel are much broader and more flexible concepts.

A Biblical Portrait of the Law

In Scripture the term “law” (Hebrew: תורה/Greek: νόμος) is used in several different ways. For example, it may refer to the Decalogue:

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“Every imperative of Scripture (what we are to do for God) rests on the indicative (who we are in our relationship with God), and the order is not reversible.”

"The human instinct with every non-Christian religion reverses the order, teaching that who we are before God is based on what we do for God. Thus, any preaching that is distinctively Christian must keep listeners from confusing, or inverting, our 'who and our'“do.'" - Bryan Chapell

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What Is the “Law of Christ”? A Bit of Research

Rightly understanding the relationship between today’s Christians and the law delivered to Moses depends on multiple factors. One of them is grasping the meaning of the NT phrase “law of Christ” (See this article and discussion from last week). The phrase, or a very similar one, occurs twice in most translations—in 1 Corinthians 9:21, and Galatians 6:2. How we understand the term influences whether we see Christ as placing believers under a different law, or if we take the view that parts of the Mosaic law simply continue across peoples and covenants, as well as the millennia.

The information here shouldn’t settle the question for anyone, but may provide a start for those who want to dig deeper.

1 Corinthians 9:21 variations:

To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. (ESV)

…though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ… (NASB)

… (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law)… (NIV)

… (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ)… (NKJV)

… (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,)… (KJV)

Galatians 6:2 reads virtually the same in every translation.

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (ESV)

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