What do you think is the most important thing about Christianity? … How would you answer that question?
This would be one way I think we could answer it. The very center of Christianity is an announcement of some historical facts about a man named Jesus Christ. What do you think about that answer? Do you believe that? The truth that holds the Bible all together is some historical facts?
Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 15:3. “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.”
What does Paul say is “of first importance?” The message that he delivered and that message is “that Christ died for our sins.”
Substitution Is The Heart of Christianity
Have you ever heard or thought about the fact that substitution is the heart and center of the Christian faith. Think about it this way.
What is sin?
It the fact that we have substituted ourselves for God.
What is salvation?
It is the fact that Jesus Christ has substituted himself for us.
What is sin?
It is when we take what God alone deserves.
What is salvation?
It is when Jesus Christ has put himself in our place and he took what we deserve. Continue reading
What good does it do me to tell me that the type of religion presented in the Bible is a very fine type of religion and that the thing for me to do is just to start practicing that type of religion now? … I will tell you, my friend. It does not one tiniest little bit of good…. What I need first of all is not exhortation but a gospel, not directions for saving myself but knowledge of how God has saved me. Have you any good news for me? That is the question that I ask of you. I know your exhortations will not help me. But if anything has been done to save me, will you not tell me the facts?
— J. Gresham Machen, Christian Faith in the Modern World
When Jesus preaches His most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, He does not present an easier law. Instead He hammers the crowds and His disciples with the truth that God demands perfect obedience.
Consider the six “you have heard it said…but I say to you” statements in Matthew 5:20-48. Then try and figure out how the following two statements, which function as bookends of that section, make the law any easier: “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven…You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:20, 48). How is this easier or gentler? Continue reading
Some people have said law and gospel “is just a Lutheran axiom.” Martin Luther was without a doubt one of the most influential spokesman God used to teach the world about the double use of the law in his commentary of Galatians.
However, “when discussing Law and Gospel in connection with systematic or dogmatic theology [John Calvin] is in perfect agreement with Luther’s approach.” Calvin is one of many in the Reformed tradition who is in agreement with Luther.
Zacharius Ursinus, the primary author of the Heidelberg Catechism, states: “The doctrine of the church consists of two parts: the Law and the Gospel; in which we have comprehended the sum and substance of the sacred Scriptures…The law and gospel are the chief and general divisions of Holy Scriptures.”
Additionally, in Louis Berkhof’s “Systematic Theology” he explains this was the norm ever since the Reformation began. “The churches of the Reformation from the very beginning distinguished between the law and the gospel as the two parts of the Word of God as a means of grace.”
This preaching continued from some of the great Puritan preachers like Richard Sibbes, Thomas Cartwright, Thomas Watson, John Owen, and Thomas Goodwin. [The law-gospel distinction] is replete in the sermons and theological treatises of Episcopal Puritans such as Perkins, Richard Sibbes, and Archbishop Ussher; Presbyterian Puritans such as Thomas Cartwright and Thomas Watson; and Independents such as John Owen and Thomas Goodwin.”
In 1884 to 1885, every Friday evening C.F.W. Walther gave lectures on preaching that have now been published and become a classic work for those in Lutheran and Reformed churches. Walther may have said it best, “The true knowledge of the distinction between the Law and the Gospel is not only a glorious light, affording the correct understanding of the entire Holy Scriptures, but without this knowledge Scripture is and remains a sealed book.”
“Deeds, Not Creeds” is a mantra of many of the churches that have confused the law and the gospel. Sometimes it is put this way: “we need to live the gospel.” The problem with this is the Bible. Nowhere does it command us to live the gospel. We can most certainly conduct our lives “in step with the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:14), but the gospel is a message of truth. We do not “live the gospel.” We believe the gospel and even the faith to believe God imparts to us. The gospel is all about what Christ has done for us. The law is about what we are to do and too many churches today are confusing the law and the gospel by exhorting people to “live the gospel.” A church is in danger of losing the gospel altogether if they begin to assume it.
In J. Gresham Machen’s book “Christianity and Liberalism” he describes the differences between Christianity and liberalism: Continue reading
LAW-BASED RELIGIONS: “I obey so that I will be accepted.” The basis for every religion is some morality I must ascribe to. There are these things that I have to do. If I do them, then God will be pleased with me. And if I do not do them, God will not be pleased with me. So as long as I can do what’s right and avoid what’s wrong, then God will be pleased with me.
GRACE-BASED RELIGIONS: “I’m accepted, therefore I obey.”
LBR: The motivation of religion is almost always fear and insecurity. For example, the fear of some kind of hell, bad karma, etc…
GBR: The motivation that lays behind the gospel is grateful joy. Heaven is not a place for those who are afraid of hell, it’s a place for those who love God.
If we can see the big picture of the forest and learn who to interpret the trees in light of the forest, then it would help explain why preaching the gospel is in fact preaching the whole counsel of God.
“Our concern is not to preach Christ to the exclusion of the ‘whole counsel of God’ but rather to view the whole counsel of God, with all its teachings, laws, prophecies, and visions, in the light of Jesus Christ.”
Preaching the gospel every week and making it the center of all the Scriptures does not mean you will only preach sermons on the events of Christ’s death and resurrection. This would be failing to understand what it means to preach Christ from all of Scripture. The church does need sermons that deal with Christian living, social justice, and hundreds of other important ethical issues and doctrines.
The point being made here is that in order for them to understand how those issues fit into the big picture they need to hear them preached in light of what who Christ is and what He has done. Many pastors and theologians have called this the confusion of “law and gospel.” The irony of confusing law and gospel is not only that it is unbiblical, but it also fails to produce the fruit that the preacher hopes his sermons will bear. As Graeme Goldsworthy so eloquently puts it, “to say we should be or do and not link it with a clear exposition of what God has done about our failure to be or do perfectly as he wills is to reject the grace of God and to lead people to lust after self-help and self-improvement in a way that, to call a spade a spade, is godless.”