One of the things I enjoy most is fruitful theological dialogue with a few faithful friends. One of them is Tullian Tchividjian.

His new book, Surprised by Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels, is now available. It’s a stirring, insightful exploration through the book of Jonah, showing the beauty and power of grace. (It also includes some pretty cool artwork by various painters and sculptors who have sought to convey aspects of the book.) You can read a good review by James Grant at TGC Reviews.

Since the book is (essentially) on the outworking of the gospel, I wanted to ask Tullian a few questions about the gospel and the law, especially as it relates to Christian motivation.

Is the gospel a middle ground between legalism and lawlessness?

This seems to be a common misunderstanding in the church today. I hear people say that there are two equal dangers Christians must avoid: legalism and lawlessness. Legalism, they say, happens when you focus too much on law, or rules. Lawlessness, they say, happens when you focus too much on grace. Therefore, in order to maintain spiritual equilibrium, you have to balance law and grace. Legalism and lawlessness are typically presented as two ditches on either side of the Gospel that we must avoid. If you start getting too much law, you need to balance it with grace. Too much grace, you need to balance it with law. But I’ve come to believe that this “balanced” way of framing the issue can unwittingly keep us from really understanding the gospel of grace in all of its depth and beauty.

How would you frame it instead?

I think it’s more theologically accurate to say that there is one primary enemy of the gospel—legalism—but it comes in two forms.

Some people avoid the gospel and try to “save” themselves by keeping the rules, doing what they’re told, maintaining the standards, and so on (you could call this “front door legalism”).

Other people avoid the gospel and try to “save” themselves by breaking the rules, doing whatever they want, developing their own autonomous standards, and so on (you could call this “back door legalism”).

So the choice is between submitting to the rule of Christ or submitting to self-rule?

Right. There are two “laws” we can choose to live by other than Christ: the law which says “I can find freedom and fullness of life if I keep the rules” or the law which says “I can find freedom and fullness of life if I break the rules.”

Both are legalistic in this sense: one “life rule” has as its goal the keeping of rules; the other “life rule” has as its goal the breaking of rules. But both are a rule of life you’re submitting to—a rule of life that is governing you—which is defined by you and your ability to perform. Success is determined by your capacity to break the rules or keep the rules. Either way you’re still trying to “save” yourself—which means both are legalistic because both are self-salvation projects.

If most people outside the church are guilty of “break the rules” legalism, most people inside the church are guilty of “keep the rules” legalism.

What do you say to folks who think we need to “keep grace in check” by giving out some law?

Doing so proves that we don’t understand grace and we violate gospel advancement in our lives and in the church. A “yes, grace…but” disposition is the kind of posture that keeps moralism swirling around in the church. Some of us think the only way to keep licentious people in line is by giving them the law. But the fact is, the only way licentious people start to obey is when they get a taste of God’s radical acceptance of sinners. The more Jesus is held up as being sufficient for our justification and sanctification, the more we begin to die to ourselves and live to God. Those who end up obeying more are those who increasingly understand that their standing with God is not based on their obedience, but Christ’s.

But don’t Christians need to be shake out of their comfort zones?

Yes—but you don’t do it by giving them law; you do it by giving them gospel. The Apostle Paul never uses the law as a way to motivate obedience; he always uses the gospel. Paul always soaks gospel obligations in gospel declarations because God is not concerned with just any kind of obedience; he’s concerned with a certain kind of obedience (as Cain and Abel’s sacrifice illustrates). The obedience that pleases God is obedience that flows from faith—faith in what God has already done, and trust for what he will do in the future. And even though we need to obey even if we don’t feel like it, long-term, sustained, heart-felt, gospel motivated obedience can only come from faith and grace; not fear and guilt. Behavioral compliance without heart change, which only the gospel can do, will be shallow and short lived. Or, as I like to say, imperatives minus indicatives equal impossibilities.

So do you think the law no longer has—or should no longer have—a role in the Christian life?

No, I wouldn’t say that. While the law of God is good (Romans 7), it only has the power to reveal sin and to show the standard and image of righteous requirement—not remove sin. The law shows us what God commands (which of course is good) but the law does not possess the power to enable us to do what it says. The law guides us but it does not give us any power to do what it says. In other words, the law shows us what a sanctified life looks like, but it does not have sanctifying power—the law cannot change a human heart. It’s the gospel (what Jesus has done) that alone can give God-honoring animation to our obedience. The power to obey comes from being moved and motivated by the completed work of Jesus for us. The fuel to do good flows from what’s already been done. So, while the law directs us, only the gospel can drive us.

You’re the master of good word pictures. Got one for this?

Well, someone told me recently that the law is like a set of railroad tracks. The tracks provide no power for the train but the train must stay on the tracks in order to function. The law never gives any power to do what it commands. Only the gospel has power, as it were, to move the train.

But doesn’t Scripture motivate us by saying that if we love Jesus we’ll keep his commands?

When John (or Jesus) talks about keeping God’s commands as a way to know whether you love Jesus or not, he’s not using the law as a way to motivate. He’s simply stating a fact. Those who love God will keep on keeping his commands. The question is how do we keep God’s commands? What sustains a long obedience in the same direction? Where does the power come from to do what God commands? As every parent and teacher knows, behavioral compliance to rules without heart change will be shallow and short-lived. But shallow and short-lived is not what God wants (that’s not what it means to “keep God’s commands.”). God wants a sustained obedience from the heart. How is that possible? Long-term, sustained, gospel-motivated obedience can only come from faith in what Jesus has already done, not fear of what we must do. To paraphrase Ray Ortlund, any obedience not grounded in or motivated by the gospel is unsustainable.

Do you believe in the so-called “third use of the law”?

Yes. I’m a staunch believer in the three uses of the law (pedagogical, civil, and didactic). The law sends us to Christ for justification (the first use—which is correct), but some would also say that Christ sends us back to law for sanctification (a misunderstanding of the third use). In other words, there’s a common misunderstanding in the church that while the law cannot justify us, it can sanctify us—not true. In Romans 7 Paul is speaking as a justified, rescued, regenerated Christian and he’s saying, “The law doesn’t have the power to change me. The law guides but it does not give any power to do what it says.” So, I would caution people from concluding that the third use of the law implies that it has power to change you. To say the law has no power to change us in no way reduces its ongoing role in the life of the Christian. And it in no way minimizes the importance of the law’s third use. We just have to understand the precise role that it plays for us today: the law serves us by making us thankful for Jesus when we break it and serves us by showing how to love God and others.

How would you boil your concern down to one sentence?

We are justified by grace alone through faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone, and God sanctifies us by constantly bringing us back to the reality of our justification.

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64 thoughts on “An Interview with Tullian Tchividjian on Gospel and Law”

  1. Paul C says:

    Very good interview. I’m going through Romans slowly right now and it’s fascinating.

    I like the this line especially: “The law doesn’t have the power to change me. The law guides but it does not give any power to do what it says.”

    Once we have been justified (by grace), do we not have a responsibility to live for God? I have heard many people say that once you have been justified, there’s nothing you can do to “lose your salvation”.

    Yet there are several scriptures that give warning that this is a
    “package deal” so to speak, such as the parables in Matthew 25 (especially the Talents) or what Peter says of a pig – after being washed – returning to the mire.

    1. Jen A says:

      The struggle with the idea that we can lose our salvation is that it requires an insufficiency in the saving power of the cross and grace. When Christ saved me, he paid the debt for all of my sins, not just the ones before my conversion experience. If I can “lose my salvation,” my sin has the power to surpass the power of God’s saving grace.

  2. Chris says:

    “The Apostle Paul never uses the law as a way to motivate obedience; he always uses the gospel.”

    Hmmm…, Paul sure seems to be doing that here:

    “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.'” (Eph 6:1-3 ESV)

    I don’t mean to imply that Paul’s use of the Law is not Gospel based here, but if Paul is not using the Law as a means to motivate, I’m not sure what he’s doing.

    1. sean leroy says:

      Good point and one that we’ll eventually run headlong into if we start from the Law/Gospel divide, i/o seeing how the two work together and remind ourselves that ‘the law’ is also God’s word! The role of motivation, spiritual direction, etc the law plays is great – yes even in the NT – if one starts with faith…

  3. Paul C says:

    Chris, that’s what I’m getting at. Likewise, Paul also says to believers (not the ungodly) to “not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction…”

    You are in Christ? Good. But you are bound to live for Him. Not by the ceremonial law, but by the law of Christ. As Paul says in Romans 8: “Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation — but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live…”

    In no way does this diminish God’s power to save through Christ. He has set us free, but (as per Matthew 25) we have an obligation.

    Interestingly, to EACH church (Rev 2 & 3), Jesus leads off by saying, “I know your works” (in other words: “I am carefully observing what you are doing with the grace I’ve given you”).

  4. Bruce Russell says:

    Notice when speaking of the law, he always focuses on an individualized application. Not one word about the eschatological purpose of the law which in the New Covenant is its primary purpose: fulfilled in Christ! Also, notice not one word about the resurrection or the Holy Spirit. Notice that he completely ignores the Romans 2 imperative that we will be judged according to our works in order to be vindicated at the Last Day Judgement. Also Romans 7 is conceived strictly as an individualized struggle with sin, the “Beast in Me”. He conceives of Christians as simultaneously sinners and saints, which is completely wrong: being a saint is like pregnancy: either you are or you aren’t.

    As Peter said, some things Paul says are difficult to understand, I guess Tullian’s book is proof of that.

    1. scott polender says:

      Good critique Bruce.

  5. Richard says:

    Bruce–I’m trying to understand what you are saying: that Paul, or for that matter Tullian and Martin Luther were wrong in their depiction of a Christian as being simulataneously justified and a sinner?

    1. Bruce Russell says:

      Richard:

      The New Covenant is not between the believer and the Moral Law, it is between God the Father and God the Son and all who are in Him.

      A saint is one who enjoys New Covenant blessings and pursues the reward of the age to come. A saint partakes in the New Covenant remedy for sin. A sinner does not. If you are being led by the Holy Spirit, you will not fulfill the desires of the flesh, rather you will mortify them. No, there is not sinless perfection in this life, rather, there is covenant perfection. Saints have covenant perfection. Sinners are liable to all the curses of the Old Covenant and more.

      A justified believer is one whose sins are forgiven on the ground of Christ’s sacrificial work. He is dead to the Law (or Torah) because Jesus Christ fulfilled its curses and secured its blessings.

      Luther and the Reformers did not appreciate the “Already – Not Yet” structure of the New Testament. They pursued necessary reforms in difficult times. We have the benefit of reflection.

      — Bruce

      1. Richard says:

        Bruce,

        A saint is one who has been justified by the finished work of Christ. Period. God the Father looks on us as perfect because Christ fulfilled all the demands of the Law and led the perfect life FOR us. We still have indwelling sin. Paul even called himself “the chief of sinners.” I don’t think we are any smarter than the Reformers in dealing with this passage and Romans 7.

        1. Bruce Russell says:

          Richard:

          1 Timothy 1:12-17 is not a proof text for the reality of indwelling sin. Look at the sins that Paul is referring to in the text: “formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief.” Those sins were all in the past tense for Paul, since he had been forgiven through the blood of Christ.

          Sin may hold a believer captive for a time, but this does not make him a sinner against the covenant. He is still a saint who will break the shackles as he comes to his senses.

          –Bruce

          1. Caleb Barrett says:

            Bruce,
            What is the difference between someone who is ‘held captive by sin for a time’ and someone who is ‘a sinner against the covenant?’

            I’m just trying to understand what you are saying.

            1. Bruce Russell says:

              Caleb:

              Sinning is bad, failing to repent is much worse. Both the Old and New Covenant have provision for cleansing and forgiveness built in. The covenants assume people will sin and require them to repent. New Covenant power is based on the resurrection of Christ. When a believer falls captive to sin, he starts to feel really, really bad; this is called conviction by the Holy Spirit.

              But Paul asks the question, how can someone who has died to sin live any longer in it? If you are led by the Spirit of God you can’t.

              Actually a focus on the ‘moral law’ and an individualized application of Romans 7 leads to self absorption and increases the bondage.

              If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

              –Bruce

  6. Chris says:

    Westminster Confession, Chapter 19§ 5, 6 & 7. (This is the confessional standard of the PCA).

    V. The moral law doth forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof; and that not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator who gave it. Neither doth Christ in the gospel any way dissolve, but much strengthen, this obligation.

    VI. Although true believers be not under the law as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified or condemned; yet is it of great use to them, as well as to others; in that, as a rule of life, informing them of the will of God and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly; discovering also the sinful pollutions of their nature, hearts, and lives; so as, examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against sin; together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and the perfection of his obedience. It is likewise of use to the regenerate, to restrain their corruptions, in that it forbids sin, and the threatenings of it serve to show what even their sins deserve, and what afflictions in this life they may expect for them, although freed from the curse thereof threatened in the law. The promises of it, in like manner, show them God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof; although not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works: so as a man’s doing good, and refraining from evil, because the law encourageth to the one, and deterreth from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law, and not under grace.

    VII. Neither are the forementioned uses of the law contrary to the grace of the gospel, but do sweetly comply with it: the Spirit of Christ subduing and enabling the will of man to do that freely and cheerfully, which the will of God, revealed in the law, requireth to be done.

    A comparison and contrast of Mr. Tchividjian’s analysis with the Confession might be helpful.

    1. Tony Romano says:

      “A comparison and contrast of Mr. Tchividjian’s analysis with the Confession might be helpful.”

      Why?

      1. Richard says:

        Yes. Why? Tullian is a member of the PCA, which subscribes to the Westminster Confession. I don’t see anything contrary to the Confession in what he is saying.

        1. Chris says:

          Tony & Richard,
          If I set my Bible next to yours (assuming we are using the same translation), they will say the same things. But, then when I open my mouth and start to chatter on, I will probably say some things which would cause you to raise an eyebrow, and vice versa, no doubt. This is Protestantism in a nutshell — interpretations are everywhere. So, how do we know who is saying what should be said? The moment you say “If Tullian contradicts it in some way with inspired Scripture, then we go with Tullian and toss the man-made document” you assume that you know what the inspired Scripture says, and you put in place of the Confession the one man- Tullian, which gives us a new confession. See the problem? Confessions are impossible to avoid in our temporal experience; they are fruits of the church. The question is, “which one?”.

          Confessions and submission to them have a way of unifying the church, of getting men on the same page- like a contract or a covenant. “We agree to support the NASA mission…” or what have you. Moving away from the Confession disrupts unity.

          I am not taking issue with everything that Tullian says, but there is a lack of clarity and some ambiguity in what he says. Appealing to the Confession, which all PCA ministers are called to admit, is, for me, clarifying.

          Here is one example: “The power to obey comes from being moved and motivated by the completed work of Jesus for us. The fuel to do good flows from what’s already been done. So, while the law directs us, only the gospel can drive us”.

          But the Confession says much more. And it says this: “…the Spirit of Christ subduing and enabling the will of man to do that freely and cheerfully, which the will of God, revealed in the law, requireth to be done”. In other words, it is Trinitarian in its emphasis, making the “motivation” the actual Person of the Holy Spirit, and not as a motivator, but as Actor. See the difference? This is just one example.

          Of course you are free to take the one man’s perspective, but there is also the collegiate and collective perspective in which many men got together and worked through hundreds of issues for the sake of the whole church. I take the latter view, even in the face of so much celebrity stuff.

          1. Richard says:

            Chris,

            See Dr. Clark’s comment, below. I’m not seeing how Tullian’s position and comments in any way contradict this or any other part of the Confession.

            1. Chris says:

              Richard,
              Let me move away from the Standards for a minute, although I think it answers the question you are asking when looked at more closely.

              Here is the issue in my mind: the assumed antithesis between law and gospel, in toto. This is where the confusion and ambiguity arises. Here is Tullian on the issue: “Yes—but you don’t do it by giving them law; you do it by giving them gospel”. But, it can be argued, and the Confession says as much, that for the Christian the two things are not at odds. Law is an aspect of God’s gracious covenant, it is not just God yelling in anger at “licentious” sinners, but a Father directing His children.

              The deeper issue is one of perspective, based on the state of the heart. To the unsaved the Law is a curse and a burden, and they make it into a challenge to be either broken more or pursued unto righteousness. But, to the Christian, it is a blessing. Paul uses dialectical language throughout Romans that seemingly does what Tullian is suggesting, and as Perkins did as well, but the conclusions he reaches are muddled.

              The antithesis is not between Law and Gospel, but between the saved and the unsaved. Tullian confuses the antithesis, as does Mr. Clark, and although I deeply respect him I have to disagree with his take on this issue. Both men attribute a deep antithesis to Scripture, but the antithesis is between men, not within the covenant of grace. The Confession avoids the wrong antithesis.

              There is more that could be said, but I have to go.

              1. Chris says:

                OK, I lied. One more thing. The Cain and Abel thing- Abel brought blood, Can brought vegetables. It could be reduced to intent, as Tullian suggests, and that is one aspect of it. But there is a norm active here that Cain failed to meet – the sacrifice of blood. Norms and intent are intertwined.

              2. Richard says:

                But, Chris, I don’t see Tullian or anyone, including Dr. Clark, arguing against the three-fold use of the Law. And Dr. Clark has been very careful in arguing that the distinction between Law and Gospel is deeply rooted in both Scripture and the Reformation. I don’t see his and Tullian’s conclsuion as being “muddled” at all.

              3. Cheri says:

                Chris…you said “To the unsaved the Law is a curse and a burden, and they make it into a challenge to be either broken more or pursued unto righteousness. But, to the Christian, it is a blessing.”

                I just have to say…I don’t agree with that. Before I was saved the law wasn’t a curse or burden because I didn’t care if I broke it…in fact – I didn’t even really feel guilty. It was only after I was saved that I began to feel the burden of the Law. And in Romans 7 when you hear Paul talk about his struggle of not doing what he wants to do and doing what he doesn’t want to do…he is basically talking as a believer about the frustrations of the law.

                just saying…

        2. scott polender says:

          His view of the law is not in line with Westminster.

  7. Tony Romano says:

    I was thinking more along the lines of the fact that the Westminster Confession is not inspired Scripture. If Tullian contradicts it in some way with inspired Scripture, then we go with Tullian and toss the man-made document.

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  9. Moe Bergeron says:

    JT, Interesting interview though I am left with the simple impression that God’s saints remain “under” Law as a rule of life. It would be nice if someone would clearly define what the Bible teaches with regards to living “under” the authority of grace and that as our rule of life.

  10. What Tullian says here in this interview is plain vanilla Reformed theology. You can see some examples of the sort of thing he’s saying here.

    William Perkins said essentially the very same thing:

    “The basic principle in application is to know whether the passage is a statement of the law or of the gospel. For when the Word is preached, the law and the gospel operate differently. The law exposes the disease of sin, and as a side-effect, stimulates and stirs it up. But it provides no remedy for it. However the gospel not only teaches us what is to be done, it also has the power of the Holy Spirit joined to it….A statement of the law indicates the need for a perfect inherent righteousness, of eternal life given through the works of the law, of the sins which are contrary to the law and of the curse that is due them…. By contrast, a statement of the gospel speaks of Christ and his benefits, and of faith being fruitful in good works (The Art of Prophesying, 1592, repr. Banner of Truth Trust, 1996, 54-55).”

    J. Gresham Machen wrote, “A new and more powerful proclamation of law is perhaps the most pressing need of the hour; men would have little difficulty with the gospel if they had only learned the lesson of the law. As it is, they are turning aside from the Christian pathway; they are turning to the village of Morality, and to the house of Mr. Legality, who is reported to be very skillful in relieving men of their burdens… ‘Making Christ Master’ in the life, putting into practice ‘the principles of Christ’ by one’s own efforts-these are merely new ways of earning salvation by one’s obedience to God’s commands” (What Is Faith?, 1925).

    1. Bruce Russell says:

      R. Scott Clark

      Could it be that the issue is simpler than you propose? The Old Covenant is fulfilled in Christ, it no longer has jurisdiction over the worshippers of God. Instead of the Torah we are led by the Holy Spirit and fulfill the righteous requirements of the Torah as we walk by the Spirit.

      The Law (Torah) and we also have been crucified with Christ. Is there any better News than this?

      All this focus on the “moral law” does not liberate, it enslaves.

      We are purified by the bloody stains of Jesus Christ!

      Bruce

      1. Richard says:

        Bruce,

        What Christ did on the Cross was to take all our sins, past, present, and future on Himself. It is finished. Done. Christ fulfilled the righteous requirment of the law FOR us. This is the good news. Why is it you insist on us personally fulfilling the law again? How does Paul answer this in Galatians?

        1. Bruce Russell says:

          Richard:

          Excuse me? The Galation heresy is pursuing Torah righteousness like circumcision, Sabbath keeping, Jewish festivals, etc. That is by definition of rejection of the New Covenant mission of Jesus.

          The Good News is that the blessings of God are no longer restricted to the members of a failed Covenant.

          Jews and Gentiles alike are offered salvation through the cleansing blood of Christ. Sins forgiven, new life bestowed, power over sin, eternal glory guaranteed! Rejoice in the perfection of New Covenant righteousness.

          The righteous requirements of the Torah are fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit. The death and resurrection of Jesus are active in those who are led by the Spirit to practice the obedience of faith. Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. Now we may live to God in New Covenant righteousness.

          So to answer your question, my responsibility is walk after the Spirit who works in me to fulfill the righteous requirements of the Law. When I sin, I repent and am forgiven.

          Bruce

          1. sean leroy says:

            Bruce, I think I follow you and would agree. Could it be that some of the dialogue in this thread is hampered by a negative view of the Law that is legalism? Legalism is what the Apostles critiques so vociferously in the NT, not the Law per se. When they did “critique” the Law, it’s usually done against the back drop of Covenant (Old/New). Law as covenant is done away with; Law as teaching (which is the what the primary meaning of Torah is) has not, which is why the Apostles applied it so liberally in the NT. So when we say thing like “we’re not under the Law” we need a more refined definition of what “not under” means. Heck, we need a more refined definition of “Law” too!

            1. scott polender says:

              Sean… in the context not under law should be read as “not under the curse of the law”. This can be seen because it is ONLY those who put to death the deeds of the flesh that escape the curse of the law. I think part of the issue here is talking about justification and sanctification apart from union with Christ. We are justified because we are in Christ! And in Christ we obey the law and put to death the deeds of the flesh, avoiding the law’s curse.

          2. Richard says:

            Our sins, Bruce, past, present and future, were taken on Christ on the Cross. The righteous requirments of the Law were fulfilled by Christ. This is the Good News–what Christ has done, which we apprehend through faith. You are sending us back to the Law to do what Christ has already done for us. This was the Galatians heresy.

            1. Bruce J. Russell says:

              Richard:

              What does Romans 2:13 mean, “The doers of the law will be justified.”

              Isn’t this the righteous requirement of the Law? The same indicated in James 2?

              Isn’t the Holy Spirit pleased with our moral efforts? Doesn’t He work in and through us?

              The people in this blog don’t seem to understand that the Law Gospel antithesis is redemptive historical, not psychospiritual.

              When Paul speaks of flesh in Romans and Galations he is uniting the fleshly uncleanness of the pagan world and the fleshly hypocrisy of the circumcised who mistake old covenant membership for the righteous requirements of God.

              The church is a community of faith joined in worship of a faithful savior, empowered by the Holy Spirit. They exert moral effort to pursue eternal life because they have tasted and see that the Lord is good, and is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. The righteousness of God apart from the Torah has now been disclosed, and this righteousness is forever and always the ground of the believers pursuit of the eternal inheritance. This righteousness is certainly not what the foolish Galations were pursuing.

              Am I breaking through here Richard? Or am I still some kind of heretic to you?

              Bruce

          3. scott polender says:

            Bruce… what state are you in and what denomination?

            1. Bruce J. Russell says:

              Scott:

              I’m in Minnesota, and a Baptist, thought very few seem to know what that means!

              Bruce

        2. scott polender says:

          Richard, to jump into your conversation with Bruce- those who avoid the curse of the law in Galatians are those who by the Spirit put to death the deeds of the body. To call this sending us back to the law is to misunderstand what it is that Christ has already done for us- it is the power of sin as well as penalty that He has dealt with.

          1. Moe Bergeron says:

            Brothers, It is a sad fact that there are those who practice Sabbatarian sanctification. They go so far as to excommunicate those who do not hold to their teachings on Sabbath keeping. Is that practice consistent with Paul’s letter to the Galatians? Certainly Paul is clear on these matters.

      2. John Thomson says:

        Bruce

        I agree. Furthermore the NT ‘rule of life’ is not the law but Christ. Again and again we are sent back to Christ his example, and the implications of his work as the model for holy living.

        See my further comments on this on the same blog by Tullian.

    2. Bruce Russell says:

      R. Scott Clark:

      Where in the Old or New Testament is “perfect inherent righteousness” defined or required?

      If you can show me then I will have to go back to the theological drawing boards.

      A statement of the law indicates the need for a perfect inherent righteousness, of eternal life given through the works of the law, of the sins which are contrary to the law and of the curse that is due them…. By contrast, a statement of the gospel speaks of Christ and his benefits, and of faith being fruitful in good works (The Art of Prophesying, 1592, repr. Banner of Truth Trust, 1996, 54-55).”

      Bruce

      1. sean leroy says:

        I’m not even sure what that is! LOL

  11. For those who are interested in seeing a survey of the historic, confessional Reformed view see the chapter on the law/gospel distinction in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry.

    The background to this basic Protestant distinction taught by all the magisterial Protestants (e.g., Luther, Calvin, Bucer, Melanchthon) and by the writers of the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dort, and the Westminster Standards was the long medieval (and sometimes patristic) reaction to a series of heresies. That reaction led them to read Scripture as if it were ALL law, old law and new law. The only distinction they made was between the degree of grace available to help us keep the law.

    One of the basic Protestant doctrines in place by the 1520s was a clear distinction between those words in Scripture which demand, e.g., Gal 3:10 and those words which promise salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

    Yes, we are morally obligated to obey God’s moral law — not as a condition for acceptance with God but as a consequent obligation. Having been saved by grace alone (freely), through faith alone, in Christ alone we want to obey his law (to love God with all our faculties and our neighbors as ourselves) and we do so in union with grace, by God’s grace alone.

    Here is a lecture on this topic.

    Here are more resources on this distinction:

    http://heidelblog.wordpress.com/2010/04/02/lutheran-or-reformed-you-make-the-call-2/

    http://heidelblog.wordpress.com/2010/01/02/bavinck-and-the-sharp-contrast-between-law-and-gospel/

    http://heidelblog.wordpress.com/2009/09/05/calvin-on-law-and-gospel-2/

    http://heidelblog.wordpress.com/2009/06/19/turretin-on-law-and-gospel-and-otnt/

    http://heidelblog.wordpress.com/2009/05/20/new-in-the-bookstore-at-wsc-colquhoun-on-law-and-gospel/

    1. Bruce J. Russell says:

      R. Scott Clark:

      You could get 10 PhDs in this subject and still miss the point that Galations is dealing with the heresy of pursuing Old Covenant Torah as as system of righteousness even after it had been fulfilled by Christ.

      Jesus fully endured the curses proclaimed against Israel for violating the covenant of Moses. Israel, as a representative of humanity failed to keep that covenant, but now the new Israel has come. Jesus bore those curses, rose from the dead, and now is distributing New Covenant blessings in advance of the final judgment.

      It is a new age.

      But you are continuing to press Roman Catholic presuppositions about merit on the people of God.

      1. Bruce,

        I’m confused. Are you suggesting that, in the new covenant, we’re now permitted to commit idolatry, theft, murder, covetousness, lying, rebellion, and the like?

        If not, then are we not still bound to the moral law: “Love the Lord your God with your all your heart, etc and your neighbor as yourself”? Do not all the law and the prophets hang on the two tables of the law?

        Our obedience is absolutely no condition of our justification or acceptance with God. Jesus, the righteous law keeper, has met fully and wonderfully all the requirements of the law and has satisfied for all the penalties due to us law breakers.

        Now, having been accepted by God, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, we are free to keep the law of love, the law of the Spirit, by the Spirit, in union with Christ, out of joyful gratitude.

        Is this not what Paul teaches in each of his epistles?

        Is this not what all the magisterial Protestant confessions teach?

        1. Bruce J. Russell says:

          R. Scott Clark:

          >> I’m confused. Are you suggesting that, in the new covenant, we’re now permitted to commit idolatry, theft, murder, covetousness, lying, rebellion, and the like? <<>>>>> If not, then are we not still bound to the moral law: “Love the Lord your God with your all your heart, etc and your neighbor as yourself”? Do not all the law and the prophets hang on the two tables of the law? <<<<<>>>>> Our obedience is absolutely no condition of our justification or acceptance with God. <<<>>>>>> Jesus, the righteous law keeper, has met fully and wonderfully all the requirements of the law and has satisfied for all the penalties due to us law breakers. <<<<<<<<<

          This is true, but you must flesh out this formulation to make it capture the redemptive historical realities of Covenant Keeping, which includes what you call "Moral Law" as a subset.

          A righteousness of God apart from the Torah has been disclosed, having been testified to by the Torah and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ to both Jew and Greek, for there is no distinction.

          Your formulation is wrongly making a philosophical concept, what you call the Moral Law, to be the leading feature of our culpability before God and the Christ's atonement. No, the leading feature is the Covenant Breaking of Israel, to which both Jews and Gentiles are liable, which Jesus endured to the uttermost, making the New Covenant available to both Jews and Gentiles.

          God is calling both Jews and Gentiles to be New Covenant Keepers. Covenant perfection is not the same thing as "moral perfection". However, moral cleansing is applied to New Covenant members throughout their lives and is perfected on the Last Day.

          Anyway, that's what I believe the Apostle Paul is teaching in the Epistles to Galations, Romans and Ephesians, etc, and this is in full harmony with Peter, James, John, Luke, Mark, the letter to the Hebrews.

        2. Bruce J. Russell says:

          R. Scott Clark:

          **********************************************************
          I’m confused. Are you suggesting that, in the new covenant, we’re now permitted to commit idolatry, theft, murder, covetousness, lying, rebellion, and the like?
          **********************************************************

          If you practice these things you will surely die.

          **********************************************************
          If not, then are we not still bound to the moral law: “Love the Lord your God with your all your heart, etc and your neighbor as yourself”? Do not all the law and the prophets hang on the two tables of the law?
          **********************************************************

          You are covenantally bound to fulfill the righteous requirements of the Law if you want to inherit eternal life.

          ************************************************************
          Our obedience is absolutely no condition of our justification or acceptance with God.
          ************************************************************

          You must present a life of repentance and faith at the final judgment. Paul calls this the “obedience of faith” which are the bookends of his letter to the Romans. Note, the “obedience of faith” is not what you call perfect inherent righteousness, but it is sincere Holy Spirit empowered covenant keeping necessary for vindication on the Last Day (The doers of the Law will be justified – Romans 2:13).

          **************************************************************
          Jesus, the righteous law keeper, has met fully and wonderfully all the requirements of the law and has satisfied for all the penalties due to us law breakers.
          **************************************************************

          This is true, but you must flesh out this formulation to make it capture the redemptive historical realities of Covenant Keeping, which includes what you call “Moral Law” as a subset.

          A righteousness of God apart from the Torah has been disclosed, having been testified to by the Torah and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ to both Jew and Greek, for there is no distinction.

          Your formulation is wrongly making a philosophical concept, what you call the Moral Law, to be the leading feature of our culpability before God and the Christ’s atonement. No, the leading feature is the Covenant Breaking of Israel, to which both Jews and Gentiles are liable, which Jesus endured to the uttermost, making the New Covenant available to both Jews and Gentiles.

          God is calling both Jews and Gentiles to be New Covenant Keepers. Covenant perfection is not the same thing as “moral perfection”. However, moral cleansing is applied to New Covenant members throughout their lives and is perfected on the Last Day.

          Anyway, that’s what I believe the Apostle Paul is teaching in the Epistles to Galations, Romans and Ephesians, etc, and this is in full harmony with Peter, James, John, Luke, Mark, the letter to the Hebrews.

          Blessings,

          Bruce

    2. Moe Bergeron says:

      Ask the ordinary saint who is seated under those who teach sanctification by law (third use or whatever flavor) what is the New Covenant of which our Savior speaks and 99% have no explanation. Passages such as Isaiah 42:6; 49:8 and 2 Corinthians 3 are foreign to multitudes of our brothers and sisters. I challenge you. Prove my point. Ask your people a simple question. What is the substance of the covenant sealed with the blood of Christ? The one who is able to define the New as Paul did in 2 Corinthians 3 is a rare bird indeed. Many will take you to Moses. Others will only have knowledge of artificial covenants created by a theological system. Let’s get back to the Bible!

  12. Hi Justin,

    I posted a comment with a series of links. It might have gone to the spam folder — in which case your spam folder might be called discerning. :-)

  13. Steve Prost says:

    As I see it as a PCA TE myself, Tullian, M. Horton, R.Scott Clark lean in a more Lutheran than Reformed view of sanctification and its motivations that also defines much of the “in” crowd of the PCA (e.g., their denominational seminary, Bryan Chapell’s book ). Sometimes I think this is more an issue of balance and pastoral diagnosis/discernment of what our individuals/congregations/nations need rather than these men specifically lining up on behalf of the Lutheran view of sanctification, but it gets awful close. The result is a lack of balance provided by a redemptive historical view of Scripture that takes into account much more warnings of what COULD happen to God’s people in the future (the need to persevere & and not prove yourself a counterfeit/shipwreck of faith cut from the vine and choked out by the weeds, a practical result this emphasis ironically shares with the emphasis of federal visionists’ emphasis on the visible church and sacraments over the necessity of true regeneration and inner individual piety) all the way to Christ’s last words to the churches, silence on going forward for MORE of God and his fellowship in pursing him hotly for both this life and that to come (we get different rewards) rather than the ‘gratitude’ ethic that practically wants to motivate only in the past, rather than using that as a springboard for more from God now and in the future… fortunately I believe time is proving Piper’s popularized Edwardsian views of motivation in the Christian life are slowly winning the battle of where more the emphasis and balance need lie. (And if you think there is not a significant difference b/w them, do a true comparison of a book like this or Chapell’s “Holiness by Grace” with Piper’s “Future Grace”).

    Yes, only the cross and justification give us “the power” in our heart (a new heart) to obey as they love to say. But once you have a new heart and that power, it is God HIMSELF and MORE of Him that is the chief biblical motivation, not dwelling only on staring at what gave you the power historically to see HIM in the first place. And yes, a central part of the glory of God IS at the cross, but now that we’re in we know (as the federal visionists provide a corrective) there’s more to the gospel-goodnews than the foundation of my personal justification done at the cross. Or on another Piperian note in response to saying we must motivate with the gospel… yes, but “GOD is the Gospel”. The full-orbed biblical God, who even at the cross was demonstrating a beautiful glimpse of the glory of His justice and wrath and a love for upholding that part of his character at least as much as the more shallow translation often given of ‘grace’.

    1. Steve,

      I’ve addressed this claim that the law/gospel distinction is Lutheran and not Reformed, at great length. From a historical perspective that claim is just not tenable and I’ve proven it to be so.

      Before you make this claim again please take 45 minutes and listen to the lecture I linked above. In that lecture I show from Caspar Olevianus lectures/commentary on Romans that he used the very same language that you call Lutheran and yet he was one of the original editors and contributors to the Heidelberg Catechism. The language that he used can be found in Calvin and in the Reformed orthodox after Olevianus.

      Please take another few moments and look at the quotations I’ve compiled (and linked above) to a host of Reformed writers, beginning with Calvin. Was William Perkins a Lutheran? Was Theodore Beza a Lutheran? Johannes Wollebius? Amandus Polanus? Francis Turretin and virtually every other significant Reformed theologian in the 17th century? If so, then we ought to be Lutherans but of course it’s just silly to call them all “Lutherans.”

      If the classical Reformed theologians, as I showed in CJPM, used the language you call “Lutheran,” then perhaps we have, since Barth, developed a skewed definition of what “Reformed” is?

      1. Steve Prost says:

        http://www.frame-poythress.org/frame_articles/2002Law.htm

        Prof. Clark:

        First: My comment focuses on a perceived problem of EMPHASIS rather than a specific substantive hard difference that can be tied down. Historical Reformed expert that you are, you miss the forest for the leave-quotes ferreted out thru the ages if you deny a very distinct difference as I say there is between historic Reformed and Lutheran teaching on motivation for sanctification. I borrow these words from Paul Helm from another context: “(Some matters) are straightforwardly doctrinal, others of them, such as the preaching of the law and its uses… have to do with practice, with ministerial or pastoral emphasis. Making an emphasis is a matter of judgment, and does not necessarily indicate the denial, as a matter of principle, of the opposite emphasis. Someone may judge that a situation requires emphasis upon the law, or on warning and rebuffing an enquirer rather than warmth and encouragement. Christ’s teaching about the narrow gate, the fact that many shall strive to enter in and shall not be able, a text that, I imagine is rarely preached on at present…”

        Second: While I did not desire to go over the wearisome and often ill-defined (sometimes slanderous) discussion on the law-gospel distinction (did not refer to that specifically) and whether there is indeed a substantive difference, I would concur with this Frame-ing of the discussion (see esp. para 6) as my tentative retort and the entire article as also bolstering my first point, at
        http://www.frame-poythress.org/frame_articles/2002Law.htm

        1. Bruce Russell says:

          To really solve the problem of emphasis you need to become a Baptist. Paedobaptists can’t help but blur and confuse the discontinuities between the Old and New covenants and miss the redemptive historical progression.

          Baptism is a “work”. But it is a good work commended by God, not for infants, but for quite young children.

          Bruce

          1. Steve Prost says:

            Bruce, I disagree with you and (and many paedobaptist brethren) on making too much hinge on one’s view of baptism to discount & dismiss views on these types of issues.
            Solely because either you or we get the dis/continuity wrong on the specific point of baptism, it does not logically follow that this need be either an effect or cause of any significant blur-distortion of our overall view of biblical/covenant theology or the continuities or discontinuities of covenant, (however much that may be true in some cases). Its not that I think one’s position on baptism is unimportant, but rather that it need not cause prejudice on other broader issues. This blog typically and successfully exemplifies movement beyond such theological parochialism without abandoning discussion of distinctives for the good of the broader Church and Reformed community.

            1. Bruce Russell says:

              Steve:

              I believe a proper understanding of the sacraments is critical to a proper individual/corporate balance as well as eschatological emphasis in the presentation of salvation.

              The supposed Law/Gospel antithesis is the major reason the sacraments are not emphasized in evangelical churches. And the murkiness, not to mention mind numbing complexity of modern theological formulations also derive from this supposed antithesis.

              It is ironic that both John Piper and N. T. Wright deemphasize the importance of Baptism. For Piper, it is because any emphasis would make baptism a “work”, For N. T. Wright, it would mean a focus on the individual and perseverance, and a church life quite more separated from the world than he would be comfortable with.

              But I grant that these things are hard and taking a stand on these things is lonely these days.

              Bruce

              1. Richard says:

                Bruce,

                Well, there may actually be a valid reason why you are lonely.
                And I don’t consider you a “heretic” for all my opinion is worth, but as my brother in Christ. I know we come out on different positions on the Sacraments, but it is NOT because I value them less than you do.

              2. Bruce Russell says:

                Richard:

                Discovering the truths of scripture is an exciting foretaste of the age to come…

                Send me an email at bjr1958 -at- gmail -dot- com and we can arrange to talk about this over the phone.

                I like to talk to people who are zealous for truth.

                Bruce

      2. Chris says:

        Dr. Clark,
        I don’t think anyone would argue that there is no such thing as a law/gospel distinction, nor that the language of the early Reformers contains the same sorts of terminology and categories. But, I think the differences between what is being called a Lutheran view as opposed to a Calvinistic view (for lack of better terms) is where the antithesis lies. Luther never rose above his understanding of James, and so placed the antithesis within Scripture. But Calvin and others placed it in the heart of man, where it is a fruit of sin, not of the Spirit. The issue is belief vs. unbelief, and the perspective that resides in two kinds of men. This is why I am not Lutheran, but I am Reformed.

        Dr. Richard Gaffin explains:
        “The gospel is to the end of removing an absolute law-gospel antithesis in the life of the believer. How so? Briefly, apart from the gospel and outside of Christ the law is my enemy and condemns me. Why? Because God is my enemy and condemns me. But with the gospel and in Christ, united to him by faith, the law is no longer my enemy but my friend. Why? Because now God is no longer my enemy but my friend, and the law, his will, the law in its moral core, as reflective of his character and of concerns eternally inherent in his own person and so of what pleases him, is now my friendly guide for life in fellowship with God” (By Faith, Not by Sight, 103).

  14. David J Ruess says:

    AWESOME!!! Go people who understand the proper distinction between law and gospel!! Thank God for what He’s done for us in Christ!

  15. Annie says:

    A simple amen from me…

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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