What Is the Difference Between the Law and the Gospel?
In order to better understand their faith—and share the hope they have with others—Christians should have a clear understanding regarding the difference between the law and the gospel. Here is a brief explanation:
According to theologian R. C. Sproul, the law is like a mirror: it shows us our sin, but it can do nothing to save us. In fact, the law condemns everyone who is not in Christ. Jesus was born in the flesh in order to be the perfect Son whom God had promised since the fall of Adam in the garden (Gen. 3:15).
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Rom. 8:3-4)
Jesus kept the law perfectly on behalf of all who trust in him for salvation, and they are counted righteous in God’s sight through faith alone by God’s grace alone.
The law also serves the purposes of restraining evil and showing us what is pleasing to God. Christians should also strive to keep God's law joyfully in thanksgiving for all God has done for them in Christ, although they will do so imperfectly in this life. For more on the "three-fold use" of the law, click here.
The Gospel is the good news of what Jesus did to redeem his people (his birth, life, death, and resurrection) and inaugurate the kingdom of God and the new creation (1 Cor. 15). It is good news because we are unable to save ourselves, as all our works are tainted by sin and we are all guilty in Adam (Rom. 5:12-21).
Without Christ being born in the flesh, keeping the law perfectly, and being the perfect once-for-all sacrifice for sin, we would be without hope:
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. (Rom. 5:6-9)
And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. (Heb. 10:11-12)
Because of God’s love for the world in sending his Son, there is a way to peace with God: it is the narrow gate that is through faith in Christ alone:
Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matt. 7:13-14)
There is salvation in no other name, because only the God-man could save us from ourselves (Acts 4:12).
God’s moral law is a guide for Christians in living to the glory of God in this world, but it can never save us. The gospel is the good news that salvation is found by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
For more words every Christian should know, check out: 10 Words Every Christian Should Know (and Be Able to Explain)
Core Christianity: Finding Yourself in God's Story by Michael Horton
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