In response to a few comments on an earlier post, I've been seeking to clarify my own thinking on the subject of the relationship between the law and the gospel - a subject which has seen much ink spilt over the years, and which sits on one of the major faultlines of historic Protestantism (the divide between Lutherans and the Reformed). As I've thought about it, I've found that I have surprisingly strong opinions on the subject, which I think can be summarised under four headings:
1. Gospel always comes logically before Law.
2. The essence of Law is God's claim of a human being for his service.
3. The NT uses 'Law' equivocally, that is, to describe different though related things.
4. Law understood properly is Gospel.
I intend to write a little about each of those things over the next few days (or weeks, depending on how busy I am). Let me just say something here about why it matters.
Our view of the relation between Gospel and Law affects our view of Christian obedience. What does it mean to live the Christian life? This is true not only in the small points (how does the detail of the Law of Moses apply to us today?) but in the big points (what does obedience look like? To what extent are God's demands codified and objective - and to what extent individual and subjective? What is to be my motivation?).
Our view of the relation between Gospel and Law affects our view of evangelism. Does the Law, by laying out God's standard and highlighting our imperfection, prepare the way for the Gospel? Should we therefore preach Law in our evangelism? When we offer the Gospel, how freely can we offer it? Does it entail the Law following on, and must we tell people so in advance?
Our view of the relation between Gospel and Law affects our reading of the OT. What is the OT about? Is it primarily a record of a legal covenant, pointing forward to the Gospel? Or is there more to it? How should we expound and apply it, in detail and in the big picture? To what extent does the OT/NT distinction mirror the Law/Gospel distinction?
Finally, and to my mind most importantly, our view of the relation between Gospel and Law affects the way in which we understand the heart of theology. There is a central question: has God revealed himself in one way, or two ways? If the latter, which is the real God? If the former, how are we to understand the distinctions within that one revelation? What, ultimately, is the relation of the concepts 'Gospel' and 'Law' to the person Jesus Christ?
Meandering thoughts on all the above to follow shortly...