The more I preach and teach in a historic Christian church, the more I see the value in properly distinguishing between the law and the gospel. Luther and the subsequent Reformers were not exaggerating when they strongly emphasized the need to distinguish between law and gospel. Here’s how C. F. W. Walther explained it in one of his 1884 evening lectures on the topic:
The difference, then, between the Law and the Gospel is this: The Law makes demands of things that we are to do; it insists on works that we are to perform in the service of God and our fellow-men. In the Gospel, however, we are summoned to a distribution of rich alms which we are to receive and take: the loving-kindness of God and eternal salvation.
Here is an easy way of illustrating the difference between the two: In offering us help and salvation as a gift and donation of God, the Gospel bids us hold the sack open and have something given [to] us. The Law, however, gives nothing, but only takes and demands things from us.
Now, these two, giving and taking, are surely far apart. For when something is given [to] me, I am not doing anything towards that: I only receive and take; I have something given [to me]. Again, when in my profession I carry out commands, likewise when I advice and assist my fellow-man, I receive nothing, but give to another whom I am serving. Thus the Law and the Gospel are distinguished as to their formal statements (in causa formali): the one promises, the other commands. The Gospel gives and bids us take; the Law demands and says, This you are to do.
Understanding this distinction helps us remember that justification is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Understanding this distinction helps us remember that receiving Christ’s work by faith is how we can stand before God and be accepted by him. Justification does not come by doing (law) but by receiving something that has been done for us (gospel). More can be said for sure – but suffice it to say in brief that a proper distinction between the law and the gospel helps us keep our eyes off ourselves and on our Savior.
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002