Why Evangelicals Cannot Be Trusted with the Bible

Carolyn Arends wants to give an argument for the benefits of God’s moral law but she lacks the categories by which to do it. Her argument has only two categories good/bad and relationships. The title and subtitle of her essay should alarm any red-blooded Protestant: “The Relationship that Leads to Life: Why God’s Law is Good News.” The answer is: It isn’t, not for sinners.

This is not a small point. Embedded in her argument are several flawed assumptions. She wants to take the sting out of her appeal to the law by appealing to the category of “relationship.” As long as the law comes to us in the context of a relationship, then, she seems to reason, it’s okay. The first and unstated assumption, however, seems to be that sin doesn’t really matter. What matters is relationship. You can see what I mean just by adding the prepositional phrase “for sinners” at the end of the title and sub-title. “The relationship that leads to life, for sinners.” If she’s talking about a relationship with God, then, apart from the righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed by grace alone, through faith alone, a relationship between God and sinners is a very dangerous one for sinners! Scripture repeatedly testifies that God is “angry with the wicked every day” (Ps 7). We’re all wicked. We all transgress God’s law. We’re all under judgment by nature (Rom 1-3). In such a state, absent perfect righteousness, a “relationship with God is not good news but bad news; it’s the worst news.

The only thing that takes the sting out of the law is righteousness. Jesus didn’t come to bring us into a relationship with God. We were all created in relationship with God. We all know God (Rom 1-2). Our natural relationship with God, after the fall, is one of jeopardy. Jesus came to take the sting out of the law by being righteous for us, as our substitute, in our place. He willed that his actual, intrinsic, perfect righteousness would be imputed (reckoned, credited) to sinners and received through faith alone (John 3; Rom 4). Jesus came to transform our relationship with God from one of jeopardy to one of blessing and friendship (Eph 2).

Arrends is correct. God’s Word repeatedly teaches that God’s law is holy, good, and righteous, that it is a great blessing and benefit. She errs, however, first by not distinguishing the senses in which Scripture uses the word “Torah. She appeals to Ps 119. There Scripture uses the word in a general way to refer to divine revelation and not specifically to “law as a command as distinct from promise.” Nevertheless, even if we set aside that criticism, problems remain. God’s law does contain promises: “do this and live.” That promise was inherent to the original command: “the day you eat thereof you shall surely die” (Gen 2; It was made explicit later in history (e.g., Mark 10:17ff). For more on this see this essay. See also several essays in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry. The great difficulty ignored by Arrends’ essay is that, after the fall, we’re not able to “do and live.” We’re “dead in sins and trespasses” (Eph 2). Our mouths are like an open grave (Rom 3). We’re not good people. We don’t naturally love God and neighbor. We do the opposite. Our hearts are corrupt (Jer 17:9). Our wills are bent and our affections corrupted. In us, by nature, after the fall, there is no good thing (Rom 7).

It’s easy to see what I mean. Add the prepositional phrase, “for sinners” to the sub-title and you’ll see why the law cannot be “good news” for sinners. How is the law “good news” for sinners? The law promises divine blessing to those who obey, who keep the law perfectly (Deut 27:26; Gal 3:10; Rom 2:13). We are not those law keepers. Jesus didn’t treat the law like good news for sinners. He treated it like bad news for sinners. “If you’ve looked at a woman with the intent of lusting after her, you’ve already committed adultery” (Matt 5:27-28). “If you say to someone, ‘You fool’ you’re in danger of hell” (Matt 5:21-22).

Now the gospel (which means “good news”) is truly Good News. It announces that what God rightly requires of us has already been done. Jesus has done it all. Indeed, he himself said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Narrowly construed, good news is that Jesus is the righteous one. We become righteous not through our doing or obeying but only by trusting, resting in, and receiving Jesus and his righteousness for us (Titus 2:14). “Abraham believed God and it was imputed to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6). “The righteous shall live by faith” (Rom 1). The good news is an announcement of what God has done in Christ, that salvation has come, that death has been conquered, that Jesus kept the law, that he paid the penalty, that he has been raised from the dead, and that he is ascended at the right hand of the Father where he reigns. That’s good news. “Do this and live” is not good news.

I understand that that the title of this post will disturb some people but this is a very important point: If we bring to Scripture contemporary evangelical or modern social categories and use those to interpret Scripture we are bound to misunderstand it quite badly and this essay by Arrends is a very good example of a well-intentioned but quite damaging and misleading interpretation of Scripture. Relationship, law, and gospel are important biblical categories but they must be defined biblically.

The evangelicals could also help themselves and all of us a great deal by spending some time with the Protestant Reformation. Because they tend to read the bible as if no one has ever read it before and because they tend to de-contextualize Scripture from it’s original context and it’s historic Protestant understanding and then re-contextualize it in contemporary terms (this is what they call “relevance”) they, like the liberals, end up giving us effectively another Bible and another faith. Having a “relationship with God” isn’t enough, not for sinners it isn’t. Thus, to get things right, we first have to get the bad news right. We must, in Luther’s terms, let sinners be sinners. A physician cannot help someone if she cannot figure out what’s wrong with the patient and help is no good unless it’s really help. Thus, the good news has to be really good news. Giving poison to a dying patient and calling it good news isn’t really helpful after all but recognizing his grave condition and telling him the truth, now there’s a recipe for genuine help for needy sinners.

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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65 comments

  1. Scott, you should read the column again.

    Is it perfect? Certainly not (since she quotes _The Message_ ). And the headline is atrocious (but, in my experience, probably was not written by the writer of the column.) However, given her background (Baptist; not Reformed, from what I can tell), Mrs. Arends offers a surprisingly nuanced and helpful evaluation of the blessings of the Law for Christians.

    Of course, as you say, the Law is not good news for the sinner. But Mrs. Arends isn’t speaking of the Law in relation to sinner-on-his-own. She’s writing to and about sinners who are in a relationship with Christ — i.e., sinners saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. And for them (us), the Law is excellent news! It’s what helps us to do that which is good in God’s sight, for His glory (HC QA 91). It’s the standard by which the lives of all of God’s people invariably are invariably shaped (HC QA 114). And even as it reminds us of our sinfulness, it renews and shapes us more and more after God’s own image (HC QA 115), as the Holy Spirit moves us to live for Him (QA 1).

    She wasn’t writing a systematic theology, of course; so the carefully nuanced categorical terms are missing. But we certainly should rejoice when those outside of the Reformed tradition begin to gain — and spread — an appreciation for ALL of the Bible as God’s good instruction for His covenant people, just as the Catechism — with the Law in its third section — has long reminded us.

    • 1. Neither she nor you are clear about the sense in which you (both) are using the word “law.” As I noted (and have pointed out many times), Torah has both narrow and broad senses in the Hebrew Scriptures. In the broad sense it = God’s special revelation. Narrowly, however, it must be contrasted with the good news.

      Yes, God’s law (in the broad and narrow senses) is a great blessing to the believer, to one who is righteous in Christ but the law (in the narrow sense now) is not good news. The Heidelberg Catechism makes this distinction for us:

      114. Can those who are converted to God keep these commandments perfectly?

      No, but even the holiest men, while in this life, have only a small beginning of this obedience;1 yet so, that with earnest purpose they begin to live not only according to some, but according to all the Commandments of God.2

      1 I John 1:8-10. Rom 7:14,15. Ecclesiastes 7:20. 2 Rom 7:22. James 2:10,11. * Job 9:2, 3. * Ps 19:13.

      115. Why then does God so strictly enjoin the ten Commandments upon us, since in this life no one can keep them?

      First, that as long as we live we may learn more and more to know our sinful nature,1 and so the more earnestly seek forgiveness of sins and righteousness in Christ;2 secondly, that without ceasing we diligently ask God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, that we be renewed more and more after the image of God, until we attain the goal of perfection after this life.3

      1 I John 1:9. Ps 32:5. 2 Rom 7:24, 25. 3 1 Cor 9:24, 25. Phil 3:12-14. * Matt 5:6. * Ps 51:12.

      You’ll notice that the catechism distinguishes between pedagogical function of the law, which it continues to have even for the believer, and the the gospel and grace of God. The law continues to teach believers their sin. Yes, we endeavor by the grace of God to obey all of God’s law all of the time. We die to self and live to Christ daily, moment by moment, but the law never becomes “the good news.” The law only demands. It never gives what it demands. Only the gospel gives what the law commands. Only the gospel carries with it the grace we need to obey the law out of gratitude.

      So, no Arrends didn’t do would-be disciples any favors by not observing basic Reformation distinctions. The medieval church was not renowned for its sanctity. Why Christians seem bent to going back to it is beyond me. There’s no evidence that confusing law and gospel had ever got the sanctity people say they want.

      • Dr Clark,

        You said that “God’s law [in the narrow sense] is a great blessing to the believer [but] is not good news”. Your distinctions seem to be getting rather fine, no? The believer is blessed by the [narrow] law, but it’s not good news to him to hear it? You’ll have to explain this one to me. Generally, if X is a blessing to me, I should be glad to hear about it. Or would you disagree? And if I should be glad to hear about it, wouldn’t you say it’s good news?

      • Scott, you said:
        “Neither she nor you are clear about the sense in which you (both) are using the word “law.” As I noted (and have pointed out many times), Torah has both narrow and broad senses in the Hebrew Scriptures. In the broad sense it = God’s special revelation. Narrowly, however, it must be contrasted with the good news.”

        First, I can’t speak for Mrs. Arends (never even heard of her before today), but I know that *I* am quite clear regarding the sense in which I’m using the word “Law,” thanks. Just because you disagree with me doesn’t mean I’m intellectually challenged.

        I disagree that the Law must be contrasted with the good news. As shocking as it may be, MANY Reformed people disagree with you on that point — even in the URC. (In all of the candidacy and ordination exams I’ve sat thru in two different classes, I don’t recall even once hearing a question about the rigid Law/Gospel distinction you draw above. Ain’t that somethin’?)

        God gave His Law (narrow-sense) to Israel _in-the-context_ of the Gospel: I have graciously delivered you, THEREFORE keep my commandments. I have redeemed you, THEREFORE do as I say. The result was to be twofold:
        1. They would learn how absolutely they needed their Redeemer, due to their continued sin, manifested in the impossibility of perfectly keeping His Law; and
        2. They would learn how God wants His people to show His gratitude, as they strove to reflect His perfectly righteous and holy image — which the Law would teach them.

        Thus, Jesus told His disciples (who had faith in Him, and therefore already were forgiven by the sacrifice He was about to make): “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (John 15:9-10). Law-narrow? Or Gospel? YES.
        You are mine and I love you == Gospel
        Therefore obey my love == evidence of true faith == Law-Narrow

        No confusion of terminology there. But by your categories, Jesus seems to have been confused — often! (I mean, read Matt. 7:13-27 some time. Enter by the narrow gate? Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down & burned? Only the one who DOES the will of my Father in heaven … everyone who hears these words of mine and DOES them? Where does Law end and Gospel start?)

        Would Jesus’ teaching measure up to your rigid Law/Gospel distinction, Scott? (Don’t answer that.)

        • Doug, you wrote:
          “I disagree that the Law must be contrasted with the good news. As shocking as it may be, MANY Reformed people disagree with you on that point — even in the URC. (In all of the candidacy and ordination exams I’ve sat thru in two different classes, I don’t recall even once hearing a question about the rigid Law/Gospel distinction you draw above. Ain’t that somethin’?) ”

          That’s disappointing to hear. The proper distinction between Law & Gospel was THE hermeneutical issue of the Reformation – something with which officers in Christ’s Church should be conversant. Medieval Roman Catholicism confused Law & Gospel by making the Gospel into a “new law.” The counter-Reformation of Trent perpetuated the confusion of Law & Gospel in their view of justification which includes works. Both of these errors are perpetuated in Rome to this day as seen in the modern Catholic Catechism. Luther’s biblical insights in this regard were followed by Calvin and the continental Reformed.

          Of special note, the distinction between Law & Gospel undergirds the very structure of the Heidelberg Catechism. In Ursinus’ general prolegomena to his commentary on the catechism, he wrote: “The doctrine of the church consists of two parts: the Law, and the Gospel; in which we have comprehended the sum and substance of the sacred Scriptures.” He goes on to make some pretty rigid distinctions between Law & Gospel.

          It seems like this would be a worthy topic of examination for candidates for ministry in the URC, or any Reformed denomination. Perhaps the failure to examine thoroughly in this regard is one reason why Reformed Churches have had to deal with FV errors in recent years?

          • Tony,

            I don’t know on what basis Rev Barnes makes his claims. I can say that, in this classis at least, candidates are ALWAYS asked how they distinguish law and gospel. I doubt that any candidate could sustain an exam without clearly distinguishing law and gospel.

            It’s also a fact that there were voices that spoke up loudly before synod 2010 and gave the impression that statements such as the Nine Points and the Justification Study Committee report were in jeopardy. When it came time to discsuss them on the floor and to vote, well, the Nine Points were re-affirmed AND the Justification Study Report recommendations were approved without audible dissent. The distinction between law and gospel was clearly articulated in both the Nine Points and in the recommendations. Further. we’ve twice, at two synods adopted three points on sola fide, one of which is a clear distinction between law and gospel.

            There probably are ministers for whom the law/gospel distinction, despite the overwhelming evidence from the Scriptures and the Reformed confessions and the Reformed tradition, is regarded as a novelty or as Lutheran. Maybe they are stuck in the hermeneutical confusion that manifested itself, on this question, during the first phase of the Shepherd controversy (1974-81)? At least one recent (CanRC) writer has confessed that his hermeneutical and theological paradigm was set by the Shepherdite approach from this period. There’s no empirical evidence, however, that they are actually a significant voice in the URCs nor did they speak up on the floor of Synod 2010 to point out the great hermeneutical errors of the law/gospel distinction.

            See http://www.wscal.edu/fvnpp.php

            and

            http://wscal.edu/clark/NinePointsResources.php

            • I sincerely appreciate the reassurance, Dr. Clark, and am glad that Doug’s experiences are not representative. I suspected they weren’t for all of the reasons you cite above. One of the things I deeply appreciate about Westminster CA is how the seminary has kept the Law & Gospel distinction front and center. I am glad this is also characteristic of URCNA and what you’ve witnessed. My impression, in fact, has been that the URCNA is the one Reformed denomination where this light shines the brightest.

            • Scott wrote:
              “The distinction between law and gospel was clearly articulated in both the Nine Points and in the recommendations. Further. we’ve twice, at two synods adopted three points on sola fide, one of which is a clear distinction between law and gospel.”

              Scott, this is the statement from Synod Calgary 2004 and Synod Schererville 2007 to which you refer:
              “That Synod 2007 affirm that the Scriptures and confessions teach that faith is the sole instrument of our justification apart from all works (Heidelberg Catechism, Answer 61, “Not that I am acceptable to God on account of the worthiness of my faith, but because only the satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ is my righteousness before God, and I can receive the same and make it my own in no other way than by faith only.” Cf. Belgic Confession Articles 22,24).”

              If that’s what you mean by “the distinction between Law and Gospel,” then I’m 100% in agreement with you.

              But that’s a far cry from saying that the Law “must be contrasted with the good news,” as you said earlier. As Thomas Boston write in his “Preface to the Ten Commandments,”
              “The ten commandments were not given to the Israelites as a covenant of works, but in the way of the covenant of grace, and under that covert.”

        • Hi Doug,

          Can you clarify what you mean here?: “I disagree that the Law must be contrasted with the good news.”

          If you simply mean that we should be careful not to give the impression that the Law is bad in and of itself then I would agree (and I think Scott would too). Christians aren’t antinomians. For the Christian we are thankful that the Law exposed our sin and misery, drove us to Christ and has become our rule of love and gratitude (which can no longer condemn us). As Paul teaches, “Rom. 7:7 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” As John teaches, the commandments of God are not burdensome for the Christian because of the new birth and faith (1Jn. 5:1-5). Because Christ kept the law in our place and gave us his Spirit, our orientation and attitude towards the law has changed as Christians.

          On the other hand if you have trouble with saying that the Law tells us the bad news and the Gospel tells us the good news, then how do you square that with our own catechism when it says “From where do you know your misery? From the Law of God” (H.C. 3), and “From where do you know this [i.e. your Mediator, cf. H.C. 18]? From the Holy Gospel. . .(H.C. 19)” It seems to me that there is in some sense a Law-Gospel distinction built into our Heidelberg Catechism (i.e. guilt-grace-gratitude), which Ursinus reinforces on pp. 104-5 of his commentary when he explains the difference between the Law and the Gospel. By affirming that distinction (i.e. the law tells us the bad news of our misery while the gospel tells us the good news of our mediator) isn’t to say that the Law is bad or to criticize the Law (rather, the Law criticizes us and tells us that we are bad). Furthermore, when we begin to talk about the third use of the law we can’t forget this distinction that our catechism already made in the first section. To say, “I disagree that the Law must be contrasted with the good news” seems to give that impression. But I trust that you can at least say that the Law tells us the bad news (of our sin and misery) and the Gospel tells us the good news (of our Mediator).

          As a minister in the URC I would be greatly troubled by any candidate who couldn’t affirm and articulate the distinction that our catechism (and Ursinus) makes between the Law and the Gospel. In our zeal to defend the first use of the law we can’t lose the third use AND in our zeal to defend the third use of the law we can’t lose the first use.

          • Brian,

            Scott had written:
            “Neither she nor you are clear about the sense in which you (both) are using the word “law.” As I noted (and have pointed out many times), Torah has both narrow and broad senses in the Hebrew Scriptures. In the broad sense it = God’s special revelation. Narrowly, however, it must be contrasted with the good news.”

            I disagreed, because I don’t believe that the Law _in all of its uses_ (or, for that matter, in the usage Mrs. Arends seemed to have in mind) is something that “must be contrasted with the good news.”

            That’s not at all to deny that the Law comes to us first of all to teach us how desperately we need a Savior. The Law is a mirror in which the depth of our depravity is revealed — no question about that. And that’s bad news for those outside of Christ. (Thus, Lord’s Days 2-4 of the Catechism.)

            But for those who are in Christ, the Law is _not_ bad news. It’s a continual reminder that Christ has accomplished all that I could not (which is good news). Its a rule God has given His children to teach us how to show our thanks (which is good news). It’s even a standard which the magistrate can use to restrain evil and to judge between good and evil (which is good news).

            To be clear, I too would be quite disturbed to find a prospective candidate in the URC who could not articulate his understanding of the Law in these various senses. What I said I’ve never seen in a candidacy exam is the rigid Law-always-opposed-to-Gospel hermeneutic for which Scott has been advocating. I know those kinds of questions are asked in some of our classes — but I’m quite pleased that such is not the case in Central US. Here, we make sure they understand the three uses of hte Law — but we’re OK with them confessing that God’s Law is a good thing in the eyes and life of the believer.

            Does that clarify, brother? (And thank you for asking. We should never be afraid to do just that.)

            • Doug,

              You said: “I disagreed, because I don’t believe that the Law _in all of its uses_ . . . is something that “must be contrasted with the good news.”

              But isn’t this quote from Scott just saying that it must be shown how the Law differs from the good news (READ: Gospel). This is what Ursinus does in the passage I quoted. The word contrast simply means “to show difference.” The word Gospel and good news both come from the same Greek word, euangelion. The content of the Law is bad news for sinners. The content of the Gospel is good news for sinners.

              You said: “The Law is a mirror in which the depth of our depravity is revealed — no question about that. And that’s bad news for those outside of Christ.”

              How is this not contrasting the Law (in the bad news that it brings for sinners outside of Christ) with the good news (that the Gospel brings for sinners who have faith in Christ)?

              You said: “But for those who are in Christ, the Law is _not_ bad news. It’s a continual reminder that Christ has accomplished all that I could not (which is good news).”

              I have problems with saying it like this. Indeed, the Law is not bad news for those who are in Christ because the bad news (the curse of the Law) has been replaced with the good news of the Gospel (Christ bore our curse). However, the Law never tells us that Christ has accomplished the Law. Paul says that “the Law is not of faith” (Gal. 3:12). Heidelberg Catechism 19 says that the Gospel reveals our Mediator. Thus, it is the Gospel that is “a continual reminder that Christ accomplished all that I could not.” If the Law tells us this, then why do we even need the Gospel?

              The content of the Law is the same even after we are saved. The difference is that the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Gospel (H.C. 65) has created faith in us so that the condemnation of the law has been silenced (Rom. 8:1). The standards of the law remain but the sting/curse of the law is removed (as we know from the Gospel).

              You said: “Its a rule God has given His children to teach us how to show our thanks (which is good news).”

              Yes, it is good news that the law no longer condemns us but instead teaches us how to show our thanks. But the good news comes from the Gospel not the Law itself.

              To be clear, I too would be quite disturbed to find a prospective candidate in the URC who could not articulate his understanding of the Law in these various senses.

              Thanks for clarifying this.

              What I said I’ve never seen in a candidacy exam is the rigid Law-always-opposed-to-Gospel hermeneutic for which Scott has been advocating.

              I spent most of my time in Southwest Classis and I’ve never seen this in a candidacy exam either, nor do I think this is what Scott is advocating. It’s one thing to say that the Law contrasts/differs with the Gospel. It’s another thing to say that the Law is opposed to the Gospel.

              I know those kinds of questions are asked in some of our classes — but I’m quite pleased that such is not the case in Central US. Here, we make sure they understand the three uses of the Law — but we’re OK with them confessing that God’s Law is a good thing in the eyes and life of the believer.

              So would I, and so would the churches I have been a part of in Southwest Classis. I was asked to articulate the three uses of the Law in my candidacy exam. They all have a high view of God’s law and preach that it is our rule of love and gratitude.

              Does that clarify, brother? (And thank you for asking. We should never be afraid to do just that.)

              Brother, thank you for your response. I found it helpful in some ways and irenic in spirit, which is what I am aiming for as well. I think we are in substantial agreement on how one is saved. It’s all of grace, Amen! I think we are in substantial agreement that we are called to a life of thankfulness by living according to God’s Law. Thanks be to God that we are not left to our own imagination! But I still think we (in the URC) could do better at understanding each other and speaking as clearly as possible on such an important issue as this one. Sometimes that’s near impossible on a blog, which is why I should get back to sermon prep for Sunday and face to face communication (2 Jn. 12). Have a good Lord’s Day brother!

        • “In What Does the Gospel Differ From the Law?” Here is what Ursinus has to say on pp. 104-5 of his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism:

          1. In the revelations which they contain; or, as it respects the manner in which the revelation peculiar to each is made known. The law was engraven upon the heart of man in his creation, and is therefore known to all naturally, although no other revelation were given. “The Gentiles have the work of the law written in their hearts (Rom. 2:15).” The gospel is not know naturally, but is divinely revealed to the Church alone through Christ, the Mediator. For no creature could have seen or hoped for that mitigation of the law concerning the satisfaction for our sins through another, if the Son of God had not revealed it.

          2. In the kind of doctrine, or subject peculiar to each. The law teaches us what we ought to be, and what God requires of us, but it does not give us the ability to perform it, nor does it point out the way by which we may avoid what is forbidden. But the gospel teaches us in what manner we may be made such as the law requires: for it offers unto us the promise of grace, by having the righteousness of Christ imputed to us through faith, and that in such a way as if it were properly ours, teaching us that we are just before God, through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. The law says, “Pay what thou owest.” “Do this, and live” (Matt. 18:28; Luke 10:28). The gospel says, “Only believe” (Mark 5:36).

          3. In the promises. The law promises life to those who are righteous in themselves, or on the condition of righteousness, and perfect obedience. “He that doeth them, shall live in them.” “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments” (Lev. 18:5; Matt. 19:17). The gospel, on the other hand, promises life to those who are justified by faith in Christ, or on the condition of the righteousness of Christ, applied unto us by faith. The law and the gospel are, however, not opposed to each other in these respects: for although the law requires us to keep the commandments if we would enter into life, yet it does not exclude us from life if another perform these things for us.

          4. They differ in their effects. The law, without the gospel, is the letter which killeth, and is the ministration of death: “For by the law is the knowledge of sin.” “The law worketh wrath; and the letter killeth” (Rom. 3:20; 4:15; 2Cor. 3:6). The outward preaching, and simple knowledge of what ought to be done, is known through the letter: for it declares our duty, and that righteousness which God requires; and, whilst it neither gives us the ability to perform it, nor points out the way through which it may be attained, it finds fault with, and condemns our righteousness. But the gospel is the ministration of life, and of the Spirit, that is, it has the operations of the Spirit united with it, and quickens those that are dead in sin, because it is through the gospel that the Holy Spirit works faith and life in the elect. “The gospel is the power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16).

    • However, given her background (Baptist; not Reformed, from what I can tell),

      Baptist confusing law/gospel categories? Unpossible.

  2. Thanks, Scott, for linking her article.

    And thanks, Doug, your points are very much appreciated. There is a disconnect between Mrs. Arends’ article and this review.

    Mrs. Arends’ article is helpful to doing our part in completing/perfecting faith and love (James 2:22; I John 2:5; I John 4:12). I would hope that we always complete/perfect faith and love consistently with God’s commands. After all, that is the great commission, is it not, to teach all nations to observe or obey all that Jesus commanded?

    • Randy,

      Confusing the law and the gospel will not help people become disciples! It will prepare them to become pharisees, however. Despite her disavowal, that’s what she’s setting people to do.

      The goal is not in question. What is in question is the means.

      Everyone really should read Horton’s Gospel Driven Life.

  3. “…teach all nations to observe or obey all that Jesus commanded?”

    John 6:28-29
    Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

    The Gospel is not about getting saved so that you can move on with your life, the Gospel is for sinners of whom I am chief of!

  4. Micah,

    Of course we must believe, and that is true throughout our “living by faith.” If you think, however, that Jesus intends for you to stay where you are when you first believe, I would suggest you might reconsider in light of scripture. As one example, what do you say to the Apostle Peter, who told us that, becuase God has graciously made us partakers of his divine nature (by grace through faith), we should “move on” (and by that I mean move on “in faith” not “away from it” of course)? Peter said “add to your faith the following: virtue, knowledge, self-control, perserverance, Godliness, brotherly kindness and selfless love. And he tells us to do this with great diligence. Practically speaking (as an illustration), if you are married and you find that, after several years of marriage, the love between you and your wife has dimmed or even gone out, the answer is not simply “believe in Jesus.” Jesus, who is the word spoken by Peter, would have you increase in knowledge and learn to cherish and nourish your wife; he would have you love her kindly and selflessly. Peter knew what he was talking about. Yes, we do need to “move on” and multiply the gift given to us. Or, as Mrs. Arends put it in plain speech at the end of her article, “pick up the broom and pitch in.”

    • Randy: “If you think, however, that Jesus intends for you to stay where you are when you first believe, I would suggest you might reconsider in light of scripture.”

      No, no, no. This is not about “staying where you are” this is about acknowledging that firstly the law provides no power in itself to accomplish what it prescribes, and that as the Catechism, the Confessions etc. explain, even the most sanctified Christian in dire need of the Gospel.

      Peter’s commendation does not point the believer back to the law as the means for sanctification, rather it express the fact that BECAUSE God has “granted to us his precious and very great promises” we are to press ahead in sanctification.

      >> “Practically speaking (as an illustration), if you are married and you find that, after several years of marriage, the love between you and your wife has dimmed or even gone out, the answer is not simply “believe in Jesus.”” <<

      Actually… it is: Eph 5:25 – Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.

      The impetus and example for our loving our wives is found ~in the Gospel~ not in the Law. As the author of Hebrews explains, time and again, the problem with apostates is that their disobedience is caused by a faithless heart, "the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened".

      Mrs. Arends misuses the law, just as Osteen recently has in condemning believers who eat pork and shellfish. Mixing the law and grace as means for sanctification is a sure fire way to produce either legalists or atheists.

  5. It seems to me that the author understands the law/gospel distinction. Here are some quotes that seem to indicate that:

    1) “Fortunately, there’s more to the story. God’s law is not only a safety fence; it’s also a mirror that shows us we can’t live up to his standards without his help. Jesus comes not to abolish the law but to finally fulfill it. Yet many of us keep hopping the fence. Why? Partly because we still don’t really know and trust the fence builder.”

    2) “When our preachers thunder warnings about living right to avoid God’s wrath or earn his favor, we run the risk of drowning out that still, small voice that beckons us to live out the holiness given us solely by our Father’s grace.”

    3) “In the end, it isn’t morality versus relationship. It’s morality because of relationship.”

    4) “If we know our Father loves us, and we love him, we’ll trust whatever he asks of us. We won’t need the threats and rewards that can skew real faith toward pharisaism.”

    5) The title is “The Relationship that Leads to Life…”After reading Arends’ article, I understood her to be saying that being in relationship with God because of Christ makes God’s law helpful and life-giving to us. We can’t ignore the entire title and just focus on “Why God’s Law Is Good News.”

    Overall, I think we should take more time to try and understand what an author is saying on their own terms instead of taking a few phrases out of context, placing them in our own system and imputing to the other person something they didn’t intend.

    • “Overall, I think we should take more time to try and understand what an author is saying on their own terms instead of taking a few phrases out of context, placing them in our own system and imputing to the other person something they didn’t intend.”

      Precisely so! Thank you, brother, for recognizing that. The critique that was leveled against this author was based on terminology and a goal which her article never intended. It makes little sense to criticize my neighbor’s new car for not being able to haul as much dirt as my pickup. I would be employing the wrong standard. Likewise, Mrs. Arends’ intent was not to give a full-orbed lecture on the function of the Law in the life of believers and unbelievers in all of the aspects of their spiritual walk — so it’s not very helpful to critique her failure to measure up to that standard.

      Glad there were a few others who saw that, as well.

    • Brad,

      This is helpful. This piece is a little better than I indicated. I got up this AM resolved to delete the original post post, in view of your comments, and to write an apology but on re-reading your comments but I don’t think I can.

      I concede that there is much truth in your points #’s 3-4 but points 1-2 are still highly problematic. Further, I concede (and I meant to say in the original post) that I understand that the author may not be responsible for the title. Even if, however, she didn’t write the particularly offensive sub-title my major point still stands, doesn’t it? CT is a “magazine of evangelical commitment.” It is THE flagship magazine. Even if CA isn’t responsible for the sub-title, some evangelical editor is. Isn’t this still prima facie evidence that evangelicals can’t be trusted the bible?

      The gospel is not clearly present in this piece and it isn’t distinguished clearly from the law.

      When she says “we can’t live up to his standards without his help” she implies that we can live up to his standards. We don’t confess that. We confess exactly the opposite! We never live up to his standards (see Rom 7). See HC 114-115 which quoted to Rev Barnes above. As written her language is classic semi-Pelagianism of the medieval/Arminian variety.

      The gospel is not a still, small voice. The gospel is a glorious clear announcement of historical facts that rings (or should ring) from the pulpit and from the Word.

      The gospel doesn’t beckon us to live according to God’s standards. The gospel announces the accomplishment of salvation. She doesn’t say that, at least not clearly. She doesn’t say it in a way that doesn’t need friendly, careful parsing. Why should we have to carefully parse a popular piece in a popular magazine that purports to tell Christians how to relate the law to the gospel.

      The piece may not be as bad as I thought yesterday but it’s still muddled and confused and confusing.

      • Scott,

        I do appreciate your concessions here.

        However, in your case, you DID write the title to your post, “Why Evangelicals Cannot Be Trusted with the Bible.” CT may be the flagship publication of evangelicalism, but Arends’ writing is clearly intended to be more pastoral than dogmatic. You would be absolutely in the right to critique similar errors an article in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society with this manner (though you wouldn’t use the same tone) and as Brad and Doug point out above, her underlying doctrine is much more solid than you initially gave her credit for.

        I share your distaste of Arends’ statement that “we can’t live up to his standards without his help” and that this suggests semi-Pelagianism… and that this theological fallacy underlies a lot of evangelicalism (and American folk religion in general). However, if we give her the benefit of the doubt, “we” could also refer to humanity (rather than an individual).. and that isn’t Pelagian at all — “we” live up to his standards in the person of Jesus Christ. (Perhaps “meet” would have been better than “live up to”). Overall, the *thrust* of Arends article actually points toward a Reformation definition of the Gospel and argues that Christians need indicatives in order to correctly hear the imperatives.

        Your sweeping dismissal of evangelical hermeneutics based on Arends’ writing is akin to nitpicking an underlying economic theory fallacy in a New York Times column by Maureen Dowd, then declaring this is “Why Liberals Know Nothing About Economics and Can’t Be Trusted With Money.”

        If you were critiquing John Stott or Christopher Wright (or, analogously, Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman), sure. Perhaps even an elder statesman of evangelicalism. Unfortunately, this post here is again an exercise in the worst tendencies of the Reformed… and CT editors could probably respond with post titled equally over-simplistically and dismissively, but arguably more accurately, than yours.

      • Hi Dr. Clark,

        Thank you for your reply. Here are my thoughts.

        “When she says “we can’t live up to his standards without his help” she implies that we can live up to his standards.”

        After reading HC 114-115 I feel like Arends isn’t far off and you actually misinterpret it. You said that HC 114-115 says that “we never live up to his standards.” It actually says that we begin to live up to all his standards and have the beginning of obedience. Giving Arends the benefit of the doubt, I think she would agree with HC 114-115. My conclusion here is based mostly on implications from the whole of the article. I would agree that it isn’t fully fleshed out and precisely parsed.

        “The gospel is not a still, small voice. The gospel is a glorious clear announcement of historical facts that rings (or should ring) from the pulpit and from the Word.”

        I think Arends is saying that the still small voice is the Spirit that reminds us that we can’t earn or live up to God’s righteousness, instead it is given to us. Here is the last part of the quote from Arends:

        “…we run the risk of drowning out that still, small voice that beckons us to live out the holiness given us solely by our Father’s grace.”

        In other words, the imperative flows out of the indicative.

        Finally I wonder if the big difference is how you wrote/interpreted the title of Arends’ article. I noticed that you wrote that the title of the article was “The Relationship that Leads to Life” when the title is really “Relationship that Leads to Life.” How you wrote it made me iterpret the article as if Arends was saying that the law is the relationship that leads to life. However there is no article in the original and I think Arends is saying that relationship leads to life and once that is established the law is a good thing for us. To me, that seems like the third use of the law.

      • Hi Dr. Clark,

        Thank you for your reply. Here are my thoughts.

        “When she says “we can’t live up to his standards without his help” she implies that we can live up to his standards.”

        After reading HC 114-115 I feel like Arends isn’t far off and you actually misinterpret it. You said that HC 114-115 says that “we never live up to his standards.” It actually says that we begin to live up to all his standards and have the beginning of obedience. Giving Arends the benefit of the doubt, I think she would agree with HC 114-115. My conclusion here is based mostly on implications from the whole of the article. I would agree that it isn’t fully fleshed out and precisely parsed.

        “The gospel is not a still, small voice. The gospel is a glorious clear announcement of historical facts that rings (or should ring) from the pulpit and from the Word.”

        I think Arends is saying that the still small voice is the Spirit that reminds us that we can’t earn or live up to God’s righteousness, instead it is given to us. Here is the last part of the quote from Arends:

        “…we run the risk of drowning out that still, small voice that beckons us to live out the holiness given us solely by our Father’s grace.”

        In other words, the imperative flows out of the indicative.

        Finally I wonder if the big difference is how you wrote/interpreted the title of Arends’ article. I noticed that you wrote that the title of the article was “The Relationship that Leads to Life” when the title is really “Relationship that Leads to Life.” How you wrote it made me iterpret the article as if Arends was saying that the law is the relationship that leads to life. However there is no article in the original and I think Arends is saying that relationship leads to life and once that is established the law is a good thing for us. To me, that seems like the third use of the law.

  6. Luther certainly didn’t consider the Law as good news:

    “Therefore, feeling thy terrors and threatenings, O law! I dip my conscience over head and ears, into the wounds, blood, death, resurrection, and victory of Christ; besides him I will see and hear nothing at all. This faith is our victory, whereby we overcome the terrors of the law, sin, death, and all evils, but not without a great conflict” (Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians 4:5, 597, cited in E. Fisher’s The Marrow of Modern Divinity (Scotland, UK: Christian Focus, 2009), 128).

    “It is easy to speak of these things, but happy he that could know them aright in the conflict of conscience” (idem., Commentary on Galatians 2:19, 259, cited in E. Fisher’s The Marrow of Modern Divinity (Scotland, UK: Christian Focus, 2009), 128).

    http://underdogtheology.blogspot.com/2010/08/living-out-law-and-gospel-distinction.html

    • Warren,

      Right you are. But as Scott mentions in earlier posts, Reformed understandings of the law are not identical with Luther’s. Reformed theology has a higher appreciation for the positive use of the law for a Christian.

      For Luther. and I think I am simplifying him slightly here, the law only ever condemns even the Christian, and at best drives the Christian to flee to Christ. Reformed theology has also made room for the law to thrill the believer’s heart as an expression of the awesome purity and goodness of God. So you are right about Luther but that does not change the dynamics of the discussion here.

      Dan

      • Dan,

        That’s not quite right. This is a mild caricature of Luther. He did have a doctrine of the third use of the law. It was more or less fully developed by 1529. See his Large Catechism. See also his treatise against the antinomians. He may not have used the same vocabulary as the Reformed but they (the Reformed) did not see in Luther the same antithesis between their views and his that is commonly asserted today by some Reformed folk. Remember, Luther was pioneering ways of speaking about the law and justification and the Christian life and the Reformed has decades after Luther to refine Protestant theology.

        • Scott,

          Agreed; simply trying to explain to Warren that Luther’s views on the law are not definitive in ending this discussion.

          Dan

  7. “If we bring to Scripture contemporary evangelical or modern social categories and use those to interpret Scripture we are bound to misunderstand it quite badly and this essay by Arends is a very good example of a well-intentioned but quite damaging and misleading interpretation of Scripture. Relationship, law, and gospel are important biblical categories but they must be defined biblically.”

    I think this paragraph is a good summation of Scott’s critique. This is not about being overly critical or failing to understand the author on her own terms. Arend’s categories are at best confusing and at worst a distortion of biblical Christianity.

  8. To the one who keeps the Law comes reward (Psalm 19:11). It is not gracious.

    Thank God for the Lord, Jesus Christ, who perfectly kept the Law in my place. His reward is now mine by grace, through faith. — See Romans 5:20-21

  9. I don’t see the problem with RSC’s criticism. The gospel in this article is defined as a “relationship:”

    To me, it seemed they were suffering from too much relationship and too little morality.

    I remember my reaction now with chagrin. I’ve since seen individuals and church communities with a robust focus on morality fall countless times. I get David’s point: An emphasis on holy living without a genuine, life-changing relationship with a holy God can lead to rigid legalism on the one hand or secret sin on the other—and often it leads to both.

    This is not the gospel. If this is written with “pastoral” intent, how is an alternative gospel “pastoral?” In one of RC Sproul’s old video series on Genesis, he makes essentially the same critique of “having a relationship with God” as RSC does: we all have a relationship with God. Unbelievers have an estranged relationship with Him, and it’s not good news.

    Arends should not be given the benefit of the doubt on this piece because evangelicals have proven over the past 3 decades at least that they haven’t earned the benefit of the doubt. The fact that Arends mentions grace does not change this fact either. Grace based on what and relative to what? Where’s the mention of forensic justification – of Christ’s accomplishments on our behalf and our legal standing before the Father based on Christ’s advocacy, if we believe?

    The people criticizing RSC are revealing a lot more about themselves and the gospel they believe than they’re probably aware.

    And why shouldn’t we read Arends’ article through the lens of our confessions and catechisms rather than reading her into them?

  10. Dr. Clark and Rev. Barnes:

    Can we not at least agree that there is massive confusion in evangelical circles, which with rare exceptions are not only non-confessional but even anti-confessional, about the role of the law in the life of the Christian believer?

    There is an important difference between Calvinists and Lutherans on the third use of the law — or at least that’s what I was taught at Calvin College and Calvin Seminary, including by professors who were formerly at Westminster-East. But most broad evangelicals don’t even know what we’re talking about when we discuss this issue.

    This, unlike a lot of other stuff I read on the Heidelblog, **IS** a live issue for me here in the Ozarks. In a heavily military community, I don’t have much trouble saying such things as “the Army has standards and doctrine, why shouldn’t the church?” But for me to have any kind of serious conversation about the uses of the law and its role in a church that often talks nothing but grace apart from law, I have to use biblical categories mediated through modern Department of Defense terminology. A Reformed concept of church discipline and church doctrine sounds very strange to modern evangelical ears if I don’t use military analogies and terms that owe more to TRADOC than historic catechesis.

    • There is an important difference between Calvinists and Lutherans on the third use of the law — or at least that’s what I was taught at Calvin College and Calvin Seminary, including by professors who were formerly at Westminster-East.

      Darrell, what would that difference be? But Fesko has another take:

      In turning to the second half of our investigation, we must explore the question of whether the Lutheran commitment to sola fide is such that they make absolutely no place for the necessity of good works, in some sense, in the broader category of their soteriology. In other words, is Lutheran soteriology antinomian? There have been those in both the distant and recent past who have argued that Luther and Lutheranism only hold to two uses of the law: the political or civil, in retraining evil, and the elenctic or pedagogic, in leading people to knowledge of sin and the need of redemption. Yet, at the same time a perusal of primary sources, including Luther’s writings, Lutheran confessions, and other Lutheran theologians evidences that Luther and Lutheranism hold to the third use of the law in some form, the didactic or normative use, regulating the life of the regenerate. One may begin with Luther’s own writings, as his writings are incorporated in the confessional corpus of the Lutheran church.

      While Luther certainly divided the scriptures into the categories of law and gospel, commands and promise, just because a person became a Christian did not mean that he was now suddenly free from the demands of the law. Luther, for example, writes that

      “…as long as we live in a flesh that is not free of sin, so long as the Law keeps coming back and performing its function, more on one person and less in another, not to harm but to save. This discipline of the Law is the daily mortification of the flesh, the reason, an dour powers and the renewal of our mind (2 Cor 4:16)…There is still need for a custodian to discipline and torment the flesh, that powerful jackass, so that by this discipline sins may be diminished and the way prepared for Christ.”

      So long as the Christian is simil iustus et peccator, there is always a need for the law in the life of the believer. Luther’s use of the law in the life of the believer is further evidenced from his catechisms.

      Luther’s Small Catechism begins with an exposition of the Decalogue. At the close of the exposition of the Decalogue in Luther’s Large catechism, Luther explains the importance of the law in the life of the believer:

      “Thus, we have the Ten Commandments, a compend of divine doctrine, as to what we are to do in order that our whole life may be pleasing to God, and the true fountain and channel from and in which everything must arise and flow that is to be a good work, so that outside the Ten Commandments, no work or thing can be good or pleasing to God, however great or precious it be in the yes of the world.”

      Luther saw a need for good works, but was careful, like the Reformed tradition, to teach about the proper relationship between good works and justification. Luther addresses the proper place of the law as it relates to justification when he writes:

      “The matter of the Law must be considered carefully, both as to what and as how we ought to think about the Law; otherwise we shall either reject it altogether, after the fashion of the fanatical spirits who prompted the peasant’s revolt a decade ago by saying that the freedom of the Gospel absolves men from all laws, or we shall attribute to the law the power to justify. Both groups sin against the Law: those on the right, who want to be justified through the Law, and those on the left, who want to be altogether free of the Law. Therefore we must travel the royal road, so that we neither reject the law altogether not attribute more to it than we should.”

      Luther saw a place for the law in the life of the believer. When he was explaining the doctrine of justification he said that there was no place for works or the law. In relationship, though, to one’s sanctification and the knowledge of what is pleasing to God, the Decalogue served as guide as well as a tool in the hand of God to confront the remaining sin in the believer. This careful fencing of justification from works, yet at the same time connecting justification to sanctification, is especially evident in the Lutheran confessions.

      The Augsburg Confession is the first official Lutheran confession, and was largely written by Luther’s lieutenant, Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560). The Augsburg Confession carefully explains that justification is by faith alone: “Our works can not reconcile God, or deserve remission of sins, grace, and justification at his hands, but that these we obtain by faith only, when we believe that we are received into favor for Christ’s sake, who alone is appointed the Mediator and Propitiatory, by whom the Father is reconciled.” Yet, at the same time the confession gives an apology against antinomianism: “Ours are falsely accused of forbidding good works. For their writings extant upon the Ten Commandments, and others of the like argument, do bear witness that they have to good purpose taught concerning every kind of life, and its duties; what kinds of life, and what works in every calling, do please God.”

      The confession even goes so far as to say that Lutherans “teach that it is necessary to do good works,” but it specifies that “not that we may trust that we deserve grace by them, but because it is the will of God that we should do them. By faith alone is apprehended remission of sins and grace. And because the Holy Spirit is received by faith, our hearts are now renewed, and so put on new affections, so that they are able to bring forth good works” (Augsburg Conf., ¶ 20, in Schaff, Creeds, 3.24-25). So, here, in this Lutheran confession we see the emphasis upon justification by faith alone but also the need for good works, informed by the law. While this is not precisely the same nomenclature that one finds in the Westminster Standards [it] is nonetheless parallel to the Standards’ emphasis on the third use of the law (WLC qq. 95-97; WCF 19.6; cf. Belgic Conf., ¶ 25; Heidelberg Cat., q. 93). What we find in inchoate forms in the Augsburg Confessions, however, emerges quite clearly in the formula of Concord.

      …It is in the Formula of Concord that the Lutherans, legendary for their insistence upon justification by faith alone, also state that “good works must certainly and without all doubt follow a true faith (provided only it be not a dead faith but a living faith), as fruits of a good tree” (Formula of Concord, ¶ 4, in Schaff, Creeds, 3.122.). It is in article six, “Of the third use of the law,” where the document makes its most pronounced statement about the importance of the law and good works: “We believe, teach, and confess that although they who truly believe in Christ, and are sincerely converted to God, are through Christ set free from the curse and constraint of the Law, they are not, nevertheless, on that account without the Law (Formula of Concord, ¶6, in Schaff, Creeds, 3.131.). The document goes on to state that “the preaching of the Law should be urged not only upon those who have not faith in Christ, and do not yet repent, but also upon those who truly believe in Christ, are truly converted to God, and regenerated and are justified by faith” (Formula of Concord, ¶6, in Schaff, Creeds, 3.132.). So, then, it appears from primary sources such as Luther, the Augsburg Confession, and the Formula [of] Concord that Luther and Lutheranism places a heavy emphasis upon justification by faith alone but not to the exclusion of the importance and necessity of good works or the third use of the law. This is not a unique conclusion.

      J.V. Fesko in The Confessional Presbyterian, Volume 3, 2007, pgs. 22-24.

  11. What a wonderful discussion!

    I am reminded that Jesus described his spiritual relatives this way: “My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God, and do it.” Luke 8:21.

    John said the same thing: “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” 1 John 2:3-6.

    To know him is to love him is to obey him. That’s a very special relationship, I would say. Is this good news? Or, is this, as some might suggest, a rehashed, impossible burden for believers to carry?

    What did the early, reformed church Fathers say? From the WCF (Chapter 19):

    5. The moral law doth for ever 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.

    7. 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.

    That’s it – the good news about the law is that, if you have been graced with faith in Christ, Christ enables you to freely and cheerfully do what God requires to be done in his law.

    If you have faith in Christ, you naturally want to glorify God and enjoy him forever, and you can! Because of Christ’s work in you, you really can glorify God and enjoy him forever by obeying everything that God requires in his law. You really can obey all that Jesus commands in his word. And at the Judgment Day, he will say, “I know you, well done, good and faithful servant.”

    Is this good news. Oh yes, indeed.

    • If you would, please clarify on what basis Jesus will say, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

    • Randy, you wrote: “If you have faith in Christ, you naturally want to glorify God and enjoy him forever, and you can! Because of Christ’s work in you, you really can glorify God and enjoy him forever by obeying everything that God requires in his law. You really can obey all that Jesus commands in his word. And at the Judgment Day, he will say, ‘I know you, well done, good and faithful servant.'”

      Yes, as those regenerated by the grace of God, we delight in God’s Law though we once despised it (Rom 7:22 with 8:7). Yes, God’s good and righteous Law is the standard of our sanctification, our rule of gratitude for God’s grace towards us in Christ. Yes, by the Word and Spirit, we are growing in our obedience to this Law, as faith works through love. However, I think you have gone beyond Scripture (Rom 7:13-25, Gal 5:16-18, Isaiah 64:6, etc) and the Reformed confessions when you say, “You really can obey all that Jesus commands in his word.”

      WCF 16.5: We cannot by our best works merit pardon of sin, or eternal life at the hand of God, by reason of the great disproportion that is between them and the glory to come; and the infinite distance that is between us and God, whom, by them, we can neither profit, nor satisfy for the debt of our former sins, but when we have done all we can, we have done but our duty, and are unprofitable servants: and because, as they are good, they proceed from his Spirit; and as they are wrought by us, they are defiled, and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection, that they cannot endure the severity of God’s judgment.

      HC 114: Can those who are converted to God keep these Commandments perfectly? No, but even the holiest men, while in this life, have only a small beginning of such obedience, yet so that with earnest purpose they begin to live not only according to some, but according to all the Commandments of God.

      HC 115: Why then does God so strictly enjoin the Ten Commandments upon us, since in this life no one can keep them? First, that as long as we live we may learn more and more to know our sinful nature, and so the more earnestly seek forgiveness of sins and righteousness in Christ; second, that without ceasing we diligently ask God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, that we be renewed more and more after the image of God, until we attain the goal of perfection after this life.

      So, strictly speaking, we CANNOT obey all that Jesus commands. To say we can underestimates the perfection of God’s Law (loving God with the totality of our being, loving our neighbor as ourselves, 24/7/365), underestimates the wonder of the Gospel (Christ is our only redemption and righteousness before God!), and underestimates our remaining depravity – which is also often manifest in our self-righteousness.

      The Reformed confessions, true to the Scriptures, faithfully present the reality of our remaining inability, while enjoining us to pursue good works out of gratitude for God’s grace to us in Christ. In fact, our good works are the fruit of the Gospel, generated by faith. And those good works are not only produced by the Word and Spirit of Christ working in us, they are mediated by Christ, and made acceptable to the Father through Him (read WCF 16.6).

      I wouldn’t say, “That’s good news,” because the good news is the message of what Christ has done to save us from sin, misery, and death by His perfect life, atoning death, and resurrection from the dead. But I would say, “That’s a good thing!” I would even say, “That’s the glorious fruit of the good news!”

  12. I don’t know what the URC’s practice is, but given Dr. Clark’s love of all things Reformed, I am guesing he is supportive of psalm-singing.

    What am I supposed to do when singing about Gods statues and commandments being a delight and joy? Mentally understand this to be ‘all of revelation’? Dismiss it as OT darkness?

    This a genuine question: our congregation has been singing its way through Ps. 119.

    • Dr. Clark can answer for himself, but the simple answer from a psalm-singer is that most can tell from the context, but I would direct you to Nick Batzig’s excellent comment below, which shows by means of the WLC of what use the law is to the regenerate. Psalm 119 is not really hard to understand if you really understand and believe what scripture teaches with respect t o the use of the law for the regenerate, which WLC 97 explains so well.

      IF you keep in mind especially this phrase, from WLC97 that the law “… is of special use, to show them: How much they are bound to Christ for his fulfilling it, and enduring the curse thereof in their stead, and for their good; and thereby to provoke them to more thankfulness, and to express the same in their greater care to conform themselves thereunto as the rule of their obedience.” Psalm 119 is really all about Christ.

      But until one is in Christ by faith, the law is a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, after it is is a direction to us to show us the enormity of Christ has done for us, and how we can act to be like him to show our thankfulness for what he did for those that put their trust in him. The law itself is never good news, because the good news is that Jesus kept the law for sinners that trust in him and took the punishment sinners deserve for sin. It is the good news that makes this 3rd use of the law possible, but doesn’t change the law into the good news itself.

      • Great – I am glad I can keep singing.

        I suppose the point of difference is that I do not see the third use as some sort of appendage tacked on, but as a real and legitimate purpose.

        Your remarks that that for the regenerate the law can be good seems to me another way of phrasing what the orignal article says – that in the right context the law is good.

  13. Scott,

    I simply want to concur that the article you critiqued is a poorly argued and theologically imprecise way of explaining the third use of the Law. I did not find a clear expression of the Gospel in any of it. On the contrary the Puritans were the precisionists they were pejoritively termed when it came to the explanation of the various uses of the Law. In Larger Catechism 93-97 they noted:

    Question 93: What is the moral law?

    Answer: The moral law is the declaration of the will of God to mankind, directing and binding everyone to personal, perfect, and perpetual conformity and obedience thereunto, in the frame and disposition of the whole man, soul and body, and in performance of all those duties of holiness and righteousness which he owes to God and man: promising life upon the fulfilling, and threatening death upon the breach of it.

    Question 94: Is there any use of the moral law to man since the fall?

    Answer: Although no man, since the fall, can attain to righteousness and life by the moral law; yet there is great use thereof, as well common to all men, as peculiar either to the unregenerate, or the regenerate.

    Question 95: Of what use is the moral law to all men?

    Answer: The moral law is of use to all men, to inform them of the holy nature and will of God, and of their duty, binding them to walk accordingly;to convince them of their disability to keep it, and of the sinful pollution of their nature, hearts, and lives; to humble them in the sense of their sin and misery, and thereby help them to a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and of the perfection of his obedience.

    Question 96: What particular use is there of the moral law to unregenerate men?

    Answer: The moral law is of use to unregenerate men, to awaken their consciences to flee from wrath to come, and to drive them to Christ; or, upon their continuance in the estate and way of sin, to leave them inexcusable, and under the curse thereof.

    Question 97: What special use is there of the moral law to the regenerate?

    Answer: Although they that are regenerate, and believe in Christ, be delivered from the moral law as a covenant of works, so as thereby they are neither justified nor condemned; yet, besides the general uses thereof common to them with all men, it is of special use, to show them: How much they are bound to Christ for his fulfilling it, and enduring the curse thereof in their stead, and for their good; and thereby to provoke them to more thankfulness, and to express the same in their greater care to conform themselves thereunto as the rule of their obedience.

    I would especially draw people’s attention to the way they unfold the use of the Law for those that are regenerate. They do not simply say, “You are saved, now keep the Law because it is good news for you.” No, they begin by reminding believers that they have been “delivered from the law as a covenant of works,” that they are “neither justified nor condemned by it,” that they are now “bound to Christ for his fulfilling it, and enduring the curse thereof in their stead, and for their good,” that it is useful “to provoke them to more thankfulness,” and that they are to express that thankfulness “in their greater care to conform themselves thereunto as the rule of their obedience.”

    This seems like a much more nuanced approach than that taken by the Arends. It is truely “pastoral,” and it carries with it the Gospel foundation that the Scriptures everwhere lay for any discussion of a “rule of life” use of the Law. We cannot assume this foundation for one minute. We cannot take our eyes off of Jesus to put them on our own performance without falling (remember Peter walking on the water!). In fact, it seems to me that the Puritans make the third use utterly dependent on the work of Jesus outside of us for our justification.

  14. Tony,

    Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ[a] who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13 (New King James Version). Obeying the moral law certainly is part of “all things,” would you not agree?

    I said that we can obey all the moral law. Once faith comes by grace, exactly what part of the moral law can’t be obeyed?

    Back to my original post (prior to the one about which you commented), when you have faith and do what Jesus commands, faith is made complete in you (James 2). Likewise, when you have faith and love one another, God’s love is made complete (or perfect) in you. (I John 2 and 4).

    All of my comments, and I believe that Mrs. Arends’ article, address the life of the one who has faith in Christ by grace. You have faith in Christ; therefore, do all that Christ commanded.

    Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him.” (Mark 11:23) So, taking any one of God’s moral commands, ask yourself this, is it beyond this teaching of Jesus? Is honoring those in authority over you too big? Is casting out all forms of sexual immorality too big? Exactly which command is beyond the faith of Christ working in you?

    It seems to me that the reformed church has the best foundational theology about how we come to faith in Christ. The church would once again turn the world around, if it would only move out in faith and love, at home, in the church, and in the city, and do all that Jesus commanded his disciples to do and teach others to do the same.

    • Most of us on here are not New Lifer/Harbor PCA/Kellerites.

      We just want to turn the church around.

      • Here you go, Randy:

        http://www.harbordowntown.org/

        We believe that God’s power is alive in the city of San Diego! God is working to renew our city socially, economically, culturally, and spiritually. We participate in God’s renewal by experiencing it personally through the good news of Jesus Christ. As we see God’s power at work in us, we see what’s possible for our city. This moves us to action, loving our neighbors, communities, and work environments, and being agents of peace and reconciliation.

        No wonder you’re confused.

      • Walt,

        Having spent much time with the Kellerites and New Life folks, I would say you have them a little confused with Randy’s perspective. All of the New Life stuff I read is very Lutheran in its’ law/gospel distinction; all of the teaching I received in the Keller tradition contrasts the law in it’s demands with the gospel. I have squinted hard to find any third use of the law in their understanding of sanctification.

        My best assessment of this movement from having participated now for over a decade is that they combine a very Lutheran articulation of law/gospel in their description of sanctification, and combine it with a very Kuyperian view of how the gospel interacts with culture.

        Randy’s view is unfamiliar to me; I have never heard anyone in all the years I have embraced Reformed theology interpret it this way: that when Paul says ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’ he means, inter alia, that we Christians can obey the law of God. Jack Miller’s theology, which Keller has adopted with revisions, would never, ever say that.

        • Randy is articulating a version of the covenant moralism we’ve been fighting for the last 30 years. I’m glad it’s unfamiliar but sadly it’s pervasive enough to require more a decade of controversy.

          The Kellerite model merges social/culture transformationalism with a revised version of Jack Miller’s “Sonship” theology. They tend to be good on justification but for the sake of cultural transformation and influence they’ll have proponents of the NPP come and speak under their auspices (as Redeemer NYC recently had Tom Wright speak for them).

          It’s a little confusing. It suggests that the grasp of the law/gospel distinction may be a little shallow.

          • Or at least the law/gospel distinction does not define their approach to culture. There is a distinction, it seems to me, between the law/gospel paradigm and the 2K paradigm. You may believe that the first inexorably leads to the second, but others demur.

  15. Dear Randy,
    I have a sermon to write, so I cannot respond in full. In the mean time, I would refer you back to Romans 7:13-25, and the passages from Westminster and Heidelberg that I cited. I would also commend careful consideration of what Nicholas cited above from the Larger Catechism. If you are confessionally Reformed, you really need to deal with these statements because they are faithful to the Scriptures. If you underestimate what the Law truly demands, you will underestimate your sinful nature, and so you will underestimate your continuing need for Christ and His Gospel (again, HC 115 – which is a good summary of Romans 7:13ff leading up to the glorious conclusion of Romans 8:1-4).

  16. A brief question/observation:

    How are we defining “gospel”?

    If we are narrowly defining it as the equivilent of “justification by faith”, then we should all understand why we would want good moral works seperate from it.

    But…if the gospel is a broader term which includes all spiritual blessing, including sanctification, then there should be no doubt that we would want to keep the law close.

    Luther, as I understand, used the more narrow definition, but I personally think he was wrong.

  17. Thanks, Nicholas,

    You said, “I would especially draw people’s attention to the way they unfold the use of the Law for those that are regenerate. They do not simply say, “You are saved, now keep the Law because it is good news for you.” No, they begin by reminding believers that they have been “delivered from the law as a covenant of works,” that they are “neither justified nor condemned by it,” that they are now “bound to Christ for his fulfilling it, and enduring the curse thereof in their stead, and for their good,” that it is useful “to provoke them to more thankfulness,” and that they are to express that thankfulness “in their greater care to conform themselves thereunto as the rule of their obedience.”

    Or, as Jesus simply said after putting his reputation on the line for the adulterous woman, “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.”

    Or as Peter said (perhaps recalling that fall into the water), “For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

  18. Randy, that stuff you are saying is not good news. It is soul destroying and horrible. If only the church yada yada they’d turn the world upside down? Are you turning your world upside down with your obedience to Christ?

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