Law and Gospel

In Luke 16:14-18, a very brief section of teaching, Jesus addressed a difficult subject: the relationship between the law and the gospel in the salvation and life of the Christian. The better we understand his instruction on this, the greater love we’ll have both for God’s grace and for God’s commandments.

In v. 16, Jesus contrasted two eras: the time of the “Law and the Prophets” and the present time in which “the good news of the kingdom of God is preached” (v. 16). The former is the old covenant, in which God administered his gracious covenant through the laws he gave to Israel through his servant Moses. The latter is the new covenant, in which God deals with his people through his Son Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of Christ.

Sinners were saved under both the old and new covenants, that is, both before and after the coming of Christ, in the same way – by grace alone, and through faith alone in the Christ. However, the law in the old covenant was, in a sense, front and center. It played a central role in the life and worship of God’s people. That changed with the coming of Christ. Now what’s front and center in God’s dealings with men is the gospel: the good news that the promised Christ has come; that he lived, suffered, died, and was raised for sinners; and that all who trust in him receive the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

The good news of the gospel is that Jesus saves us apart from the law. That is, we are made right with God by faith in Christ apart from any works or obedience to the law on our part (Galatians 2:16). So the message of Jesus was: come to me for salvation; don’t cling to the law as a means of attaining eternal life.

But lest anyone misunderstand him, Jesus also made it clear that the law of God was not tossed to the side with his coming and the coming of Kingdom. For he said in v. 17, “But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void” (v.17). While the ceremonial laws governing worship are no longer binding because they pointed to the reality that has come with Christ, nevertheless they are still valid as an enduring testimony to the person and work of Christ. As for the moral law, summarized by the 10 Commandments, it is still as binding for us as it was for the people of Israel (and indeed, for all people). And by affirming the continued validity of the law, Jesus was effectively commanding us to keep that law.

So Jesus both saves us apart the law, and he commands us to keep the law. Strangely, the Christian who best understands grace most appreciates the law. In a sense grace drives me to the law. When I think of the depth of my sin and the greatness of God’s love and mercy towards me in Christ, I want to praise and thank him with my worship and my life. How do I do this? By seeking to obey his commandments. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). At the same time, when I truly apprehend the perfection the law requires – that I love God with all my heart in thought, word, and deed, and my neighbor as myself – I am driven back to Christ for grace because I see how imperfectly I keep it and how much I break it.

So a Christian can love both grace and the law. Indeed, we should love both because each comes from the hand of a loving Father. Grace is the outworking of God’s mercy towards the children he loves – knowing we were helpless to save ourselves, God in Christ accomplished our redemption for us. We are saved by grace from start to finish. At the same time, the law is the will of our heavenly Father for us, how we are to walk in a way that pleases him and increases our joy in knowing him.

And Jesus is the embodiment of both God’s grace and law. Grace, because our salvation was his sovereign work and his free gift to us. Law, because he loved his Father perfectly, and he loved his neighbor perfectly. Only by keeping our hearts and eyes fixed upon our Savior can we grow both in the grace of God, and in conformity to his commandments.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Pastor Scott