If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Recall in Colossians 2:11-12, Paul states that we have received a “circumcision without hands.” In the Old Testament, circumcision was a covenant sign ordained by God to set his people apart. This old covenant circumcision was performed “with hands,” and for this reason, it is obsolete. It was fleshly and worldly, it was from below and not above. This old covenant sign, like many rites and rituals, was a shadow pointing to a greater reality. In the new covenant, circumcision is not performed by hands or upon flesh, instead, it is performed in Christ by the Spirit of God.
Therefore, any Colossian who had sympathies for the old covenant rites and rituals would be pursuing a false assurance of salvation. Because to pursue any old covenant ritual, is to set one’s minds on earthly things. However, it is not just the old covenant rites, but anything within the old creation, anything that involves sinful human hands has no chance of bringing one closer to God. God alone must do it; he alone is able to work salvation for his people.
Paul again emphasizes that we have died with Christ in his burial. Now, certainly, we have not died physically. Yet, we have certainly died spiritually, freeing us from the bondage of sin. This is why we are able to be hidden with Christ in God. Consider Genesis 3:15, after eating of the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve hid from God. They hid out of fear because they had disobeyed God’s command. Yet thanks be to Christ that we are not hidden in figs, but in God. Furthermore, in Revelation 6:15-16, we’re told of the devastation and fear that will come for all those who are not hidden with Christ—how they will cry out for rocks to fall upon them in order to be hidden from the wrath of the Lamb. As Christians, we will not see the wrath of Christ, instead, we will see our life—our resurrected bodies. No longer will there be a struggle between our flesh and the Spirit, rather, we will be like Christ, loving God in perfection and perpetual obedience. Paul exhorts us to set our minds on heavenly things, however, when Christ returns with our new bodies, our minds will be filled with them.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” This statement from Deuteronomy 6:4 carries two theological implications: (1) the unity and (2) uniqueness of God. In this article, we will be looking at God’s unity, which is referred to in theology as the simplicity of God.
When we say that God is simple, we are not saying that God is easy to understand. Instead, we are referring to his essence as being simple (one part) versus compound (many parts). Humans are compound beings, in that we are made up of various parts, and these parts can be divided. For example, wisdom is a quality which humans can possess. However, not all humans have wisdom. God, however, is simple. Meaning he is not made up of various parts. He is neither composed nor divided.
Although we may speak of God’s many attributes, his attributes are not parts of him, instead, they are identical with his essence, along with everything that all his attributes reveal.1 For example, Jesus said to the rich young ruler, “No one is good–except God alone.” God in his essence is good, and when God created all things it was good. God is good, and this attribute reveals that all good things come from God. In his persons, in his decrees, in his covenant, in all that he does, he is good.2
In the incarnation, the Son did not give up his divinity, rather, he took to himself a true body and a reasonable soul. As he walked among the people of Israel, there the fullness of God was, in all his glory and all his attributes. Therefore, just as God is light (1 John 1:5), Christ is able to declare, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will have the light of life (John 8:12).”
However, by taking upon himself a true body, and a reasonable soul, he was made like us in every respect. Unlike his divinity, his humanity is composed of a human will, flesh, bones, and blood. He experienced hunger and thirst. In Gethsemane, he anguished in prayer. What a comfort for us that Christ is like us, our federal head who is without sin, mediating between us and God.
Furthermore, at the cross of Christ, the simplicity of God is revealed in the Son, who glorifies all the attributes of God. At the cross, God’s just wrath is poured out upon his Son, and yet forgiveness is poured out to all who look upon him. At the cross, Christ reveals a God who is both just and merciful. Justice and mercy are identical to God’s essence, and so are not opposed to one another, instead, they simultaneously work together to bring about God’s redemptive plan.3
How can we apply the doctrine of divine simplicity? For one, to affirm God’s simplicity is to glorify God. By doing so, we recognize that there is a creator creature distinction. Since God is not made of parts, he is the creator of all things. Additionally, we recognize our limited knowledge of God. We do not know God in his essence as Basil states but by his works.4
Lastly, when we call upon God, we do not receive an attribute of God, but rather the fullness of him—God in his essence, with all his attributes simultaneously present.4 Since God is not made of parts, he is not conflicted like us. He does not change his mind nor is he swayed by emotions or caught off guard. This is why we can run to God as a refuge and a stronghold when we are afflicted, and swayed by circumstances and emotions. When we lack wisdom, we turn to God who is infinite wisdom, love, good, powerful, and just. To think of God being present in his fullness is certainly a daunting thought. Should we not be more cautious in invoking his name? How can we ever expect God to sympathize with us? Take comfort, for at his right hand sits Christ, who is our advocate. He sympathizes with our weaknesses. He is veiled in a body of flesh so that we are not destroyed. Even more, Christ who is the fullness of God is eternally faithful, securing us by his eternal power (Romans 8:38-39).
1 Michael Scott. Horton, “God: The Incommunicable Attributes,” in The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), pp. 227.
2 Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley, “God’s Simplicity” in Reformed Systematic Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), p. 625.
3 Ibid, pp. 628.
4 Horton, “God: The Incommunicable Attributes,” in The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), pp. 227.
5 Beeke and Smalley, “God’s Simplicity” in Reformed Systematic Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), p. 634.
1Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, 2To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.
Before we begin our study of Colossians, it may be helpful to go over a brief overview of this Pauline epistle. Colossians is considered to be one of the most Christ-centered books as it highlights the supremacy and fullness of Christ.
It was written in 62 AD during the time of Paul’s imprisonment. It was written to a people he never met, and a church he didn’t plant. Colossae was once a thriving city, however, during Paul’s time it had lost its appeal in comparison to Laodecia and Ephesus. The Christians in Colossae were new believers most-likely converted by Epaphras. Unfortunately, this young church had been infiltrated by false teachers, who were promoting a syncretistic view of Christianity. And so the struggle that many of the Colossians faced was, Jesus is great, he is just one of the many gods. Epaphras, not knowing what to do, returned to Paul for guidance and instruction. Paul then purposes this letter to refute the heresy of syncretism by highlighting the fullness of Christ and his supremacy.
1:1 – Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother
Like many of Paul’s letters, he begins by declaring his apostleship–an emissary of Jesus Christ. And with Christ’s full authority, he has been commissioned to spread the gospel and to defend it. However, unlike many of his letters, he adds the phrase, “…by the will of God…” This highlights Paul’s conviction that God has set him apart for this purpose.
Now Paul also mentions Timothy, who served as his secretary (amanuensis) during this time of this letter.
On a side note, it’s interesting to see that Paul address Timothy as a brother, and not an “apostle.” There has been much discussion about the continuation of apostles, and it’s clear that if Paul wanted to establish Timothy’s office as an apostle, he certainly could have addressed this given he was imprisoned.
1:2 – To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae
Thomas Cartwright, English Puritan from the 16th-century states:
All who have the fear of God are saints, because they have the righteousness of Christ, which is in heaven… His sufferings are accounted theirs, his fulfilling of the law is theirs, which is a great righteousness of God.
By identifying the believers as saints, he is stating their eschatological positions as “holy ones” or those whom Christ has “set apart” for God. In Daniel 7, a vision of the last days is given to the Prophet Daniel, of saints sharing in Christ’s inheritance.
Dan 7:27 – And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.’
Not only are the members of the church Saints, but they’re also “brothers.” Through Christ’s redeeming work, we have now been reconciled to the Father. Christ in his new creation is rebuilding God’s family.
Some commentators see this as Paul buttering up the people before addressing the heresy and false teachers amongst the people. However, in Galatians, we see that Paul is very comfortable with addressing the sins of the church.
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Galatians 1:6-7
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. ~ Colossians 1:15
In the book of Colossians, Paul is addressing the heresy of syncretism within the church in Colossae. So the struggle for many new believers in Colossae was seeing Christ simply as one of their many gods. Paul’s address to combat this heresy was then to highlight the supremacy of Christ by providing a proper perspective on who Christ is. Undoubtedly they knew that Jesus is the Son of God, yet to what extent remained a mystery for them. Paul addresses this mystery by stating, “The Son is the image of the invisible God…”
In the Old Testament (from which Paul would have used as a foundation for his address) the term “image” is often used to refer to sonship. For example, Genesis 5:3 states that Seth was the image and likeness of his father, Adam. Looking back even further, we see this same language used in reference to Adam in Genesis 1:27.
Adam was the son of God, called to have dominion over all creation as the Father had dominion in heaven. As the image of God, he was to reflect God within creation, to be God’s representative on earth. Ruling and reigning justly and perfectly in creation so that all of creation would know and see the perfect righteousness and holiness of God.
However, Adam failed to rule and reign justly. He failed to judge the devil and instead gave into temptation and sinned against God. The imago Dei (or image of God) corrupted with all of creation. Now, it’s important to note that the imago Dei is not something that Adam bears, but it is him. And just as Adam is corrupted by sin, so too is the imago Dei corrupted.
In Adam’s disobedience, we see that he is not the true son of God. And this is the point that Paul is trying to make. That the image of God has been corrupted in the first Adam and his posterity. There is no faithful representation on earth, no one to display the perfect kingship of God. The world is walking in darkness, following the prince of this world, enslaved to their own desires and sin. That is, until the one true Son, Jesus Christ appeared.
The second Adam, who came to establish God’s rule and reign on earth binds Satan. He lived as the perfect image of God and was crucified by sinful men. Yet he did not remain in the grave, for God raised him from the dead, rightly giving him the title Son of God, firstborn over all creation. The Son comes to usher in a new creation–a restored imago Dei. He alone is the perfect representation of God, the perfect image of the invisible God.
What does this mean for us then? Because of Christ, the imago Dei is restored for all who are in him. God, through the work of the Spirit, has made us alive with his firstborn Son.
The true imago Dei (Christ) is who gives us sonship with God. In Christ, who is the perfect image of God, we call out Abba Father and receive grace and mercy. Apart from the true imago Dei, we are strangers to God. For example, if a stranger walks into your house. I’m sure you’d be on full alert and defensive. Likewise, we are strangers to God if we do not come clothed in the imago Dei who is Christ.
We’re told in John 17:1-3, that God the Father is glorified in the Son. That is our goal as well, that we become more like Christ. To glorify God and enjoy him forever. How do we do this? By delighting in God’s written word, and in the incarnate Word. Christ, being the true Son of God, has invited us into his family, whereby we can truly know what it means to be a son and daughter of God.
He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. ~ Colossians 1:18b-22
As we reflect on Christ’s resurrection during this uncertain time, let us be encouraged by Apostle Paul’s words of hope to believers in all times and in all places—He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead. The term firstborn is rooted in the Old Testament and is a statement of position and role. In Exodus, we see it as a reference to Israel.
Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’ ~ Exodus 4:22-23
The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. ~ Exodus 12:13
Unlike Israel, Christ is the true firstborn, perfect and blameless, serving his Father in faithful obedience. And yet he was raised up as a jester king upon a cursed cross by man. Out of love he cast out fear, resolving to reconcile us to God the Father, and was crushed. His body without blemish poured out as a peace offering, so the wrath of God against man will not touch us as we take shelter in his blood.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved… ~ Ephesians 2:4-5
As we sit at home, in the midst of a pandemic, we’re easily reminded of how unstable and short life is. But to look at the world from the perspective of the world will only bring about more fear, anxiety, hopelessness, and despair. But to look at the world from the perspective of where we are seated, that is, in the heavenly places in the resurrected Christ, we see that the world is already dead through the disobedience of man’s federal head, Adam. Man is corrupted by sin, living with hearts of stone, and slaves to sin and the desires of the flesh.
And Christ’s death reminds us that as believers, we too have died, but to a greater death. We have died with Christ in our baptism. We have died to sin. We have died to the fear, anxiety, hopelessness, and despair that sin brings. And we know that we have died to these things because we have been raised with Christ, who is sovereign over all things. He is our King, our hope is laid up in him for he holds our resurrected heavenly bodies.
Brothers and sisters, just as God raised Christ, so too has he raised us up with him, that we may be holy and pleasing to God. We are alive, not that we may continue in this world as if we were of it. Instead, let us live new heavenly focused lives; living as sojourners, submitting to God’s Word, being in fellowship, and delighting in the sacraments. Recognizing that we will one day go to sleep, and appear before our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. His resurrection marks the reality of the new creation, and it brings a restoration of all things. For Christ is made sovereign over all things, and reigns as king over all things. And if Christ is king to you, then sin no longer reigns.
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. ~ 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14
Although we are faced with circumstances that prevent us from seeing and enjoying fellowship with one another, we place our hope in Christ, who is king over all creation. He rules and reigns with love, and his kingdom is beyond time and space. In him, there is no uncertainty, no disunity, no scattered church. We are all united with him in the heavenly places by the miraculous work of the Spirit, though invisible, yet soon to be visible. Let us put our trust in his words and our hope in Him who is seated at the right hand of God, the Father. For he has certainly prepared a place for us there. Let the longing we have to be with one another in fellowship, reflect the longing we have for Christ.
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” ~ John 14:1-4
Day 2 – Heaven (expanse); separated waters above and below
Day 3 – Gathered waters together (seas), dry land, and vegetation and fruit trees
Day 4 – Two great lights (day and night)
Day 5 – Sea creatures and birds
Day 6 – Livestock, creeping things, beasts, and man
Popular Views on Creation
Those who hold to a “Literal Day” interpretation, believe that yōm (day) refers to a normal 24-hour day, despite there not being a sun until the 4th day.
Proponents of the Literal Day interpretation hold to a young earth view of cosmology.
Those who hold to a “Day-Age” interpretation believe that the word yōm (day) is used figuratively and has a greater semantic range. Its possible meanings go beyond just a 24-hour period. For example, you can have “the day of your grandfather,” which does not refer to a literal day. We see something similar in Genesis 2:4, “…in the day that the Lord God made the earth and heavens.”
The Day-Age argues that Genesis reveals seven periods, but yōm doesn’t limit it to 24hrs. It could be any relative period of time, and that evening and morning could just be a beginning or end of that period.
This fits better with an old earth view.
Those who hold to an “Analogical” interpretation, ask the question, is this to be taken as a straight forward historical narrative or more figuratively? For instance, the imagery of God working, is that to be taken figuratively? Furthermore, if it is God who is working, and these are his working days, then how can we assume that his days are the same as our days (2 Peter 3:8-9)? Therefore, the days referenced must be analogical.
In its more historical form, it argues that there is a consecutive nature to what we have. Broadly consecutive, not telling amounts of time, but general order in which things were created.
Now an analogical view, in theory, isn’t making any claim about time. So it wouldn’t have to be young or old, but in practice, it’s those who hold to a young earth.
A sub-category of the analogical. The framework interpretation has a similar take of the analogical, its God’s workweek. It’s not 24-hours, he’s setting a pattern, an analogy, but not an identity. However, the Framework view goes further by addressing a thematic arrangement seen in the text.
So the framework differs from the analogical in that the order is not something the text is trying to argue. There’s a thematic arrangement. It’s not claiming a broadly consecutive view.
There’s no claim on time, but the majority would be old earth.
Unproductive, now productive
Uninhabited, now inhabited
Day 1 – Light
Day 4 – Greater Light & Lesser Light
Day 2 – Sky & Sea
Day 5 – Birds & Fish
Day 3 – Land, Plants
Day 6 – Land Animals & Humans
Day 7 – Rest, the culmination of the week
v.1. In the beginning…
All of life finds its beginning in the power of God’s spoken word. It is living and active, and does not return void. From the beginning, God reveals that he is working, making that which is unproductive, productive; that which is uninhabitable, inhabitable. To focus on the chronological order of creation is to miss the point. Rather, the focus is on the one who creates all things. Who existed before the beginning, the one who has no beginning, but creates it–setting forth a timeline by which he will act to accomplish his own glory. God is the Creator who orchestrates all things and places all things in their proper place and time.
And this narrative continues throughout redemptive history. God speaking forth by the Word of his power, in the incarnate Word, restraining and conquering sin, this darkness and chaos rampant in the world, in order to usher forth a new creation. Christ does not return to God void, he does not and did not fail. Rather, he accomplishes all things with perfect and perpetual obedience. Proclaiming, “Father, I have not lost even one of those you gave me (John 18:9).” In the beginning, God created through his spoken word, and likewise, this Word–the begotten son of God–creates new spiritual life. By looking back at Genesis 1:1 and redemptive history, we not only see the power of God, but also the hope and assurance of our salvation. Isn’t that a reason to glorify God.
In the beginning, we see the very work of the Triune God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in perfect unity. Three persons, yet one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.
Since the Reformed tradition is primarily European, why should we as Hmong people care about the Westminster Confessions of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms? And why am I translating the Shorter Catechism?
The Westminster Standards are a systematic summary of what Scripture teaches. It was drafted by 151 theologians with the hopes of unifying Christians throughout Europe. Although it is secondary to Scripture, it reveals that even during a time of war and chaos, God had been building up his church for a long time. And how remarkable, that the Reformation was a time where God preserved His church through a dark time in history to recover the Gospel.
Yes, the visible Hmong church may only be about 40 years old, but the invisible church spans to the beginning of creation. Therefore, when we confess what we believe, we join with the many men and women who came before us as Christians to glorify God.
There is something deeply rich in worshiping, reading Scripture, and confessing Christian truths in Hmong. I am not a fluent Hmong speaker, but I am translating the Westminster Shorter Catechism into Hmong (with the help of others) for those who are eager to read the confessions in the Hmong language. For those eager to embrace Reformed theology, yet feel as though they do not fit into Presbyterian churches. Furthermore, I’m translating the Shorter Catechism to continue the discussion of Reformed Theology within the Hmong community.
Below are a few translations from the Shorter Catechism. They’re not perfect, and they can probably be phrased better. If so, please let me know how it can be improved in the comments below, or at firstname.lastname@example.org, I’d love to hear from you.
Note: Prooftexts coming soon.
Q. 1. What is the chief end of Man? A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
Q. 1. Lub hom phiaj kawg rau tib neeg yog dab tsi? A. Lub hom phiaj kawg rau tib neeg yog qhuas Vajtswv thiab txaus siab rau NWS mus ib txhis.
Q. 2. What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him? A. The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.
Q. 2. Vajtswv tau muab txojcai twg los qhia peb kom peb thiaj yuav txawj qhuas thiab txaus siab rau nws? A. Vajtswv Txojlus, uas muaj nyob hauv Phau Vajlugkub Qub thiab Phau tshiab,3 thiaj yog tib txojcai uas qhia kom peb txawj los qhua Vajtswv thiab txaus siab rau Nws xwb.4
Q. 3. What do the Scriptures principally teach? A. The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.
Q. 3. Lub ntsiablug uas Vajtswv Txojlus qhia yog dab tsi? A. Lub ntsiablug uas Vajtswv Txojlus qhia yog kom tibneeg ntseeg Nws, thiab yam dejnum uas Nws xav kom tibneeg ua.
Q. 4. What is God? A. God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.
God created all things and made man in his image and likeness. Sin entered through the one man named Adam, who was a federal head for all humanity. Creation needed a savior, and God curses the serpent, and blesses the woman Eve, from who the savior would come.
Scripture speaks of God as being incomprehensible, meaning that creation is not fully able to understand God. This is because God is ontologically different from creation. God is the Creator and we are the created. However, despite being incomprehensible, Scripture presupposes that God does exist, and gives us knowledge of God. Thus it can proclaim that the one who says “there is no God” is a fool. But how can this be if God is incomprehensible? Romans 1 proclaims that God has revealed his eternal power and deity in creation (Romans 1:19-20, Acts 14:17).1 God too speaks to us in a way that we can understand because it is impossible for us to perceive God apart from God revealing himself through nature and history. Therefore, God is ontologically different, but he can overcome the difference to speak to us in analogies. For example, when I speak to my four-year-old niece, I speak to her in a way that she would understand.
Theodore Beza wrote that the “ignorance of the distinction between the Law and the Gospel is one of the principal sources of the abuses which corrupt and still corrupt Christianity.”1 It has been roughly four hundred years and this statement clearly identifies some of my past failures as a preacher. And with great concern, this is also a consistent issue within many Hmong churches. Sadly many Hmong pastors (myself included), have blurred the distinction between the Law and the Gospel. By failing to see the relationship between the Law and Gospel, we neglect to preach the whole counsel of God as commanded in Acts 20:27. The Law and the Gospel make up the Holy Scriptures, and to miss how they interact with one another is to neglect the office of the preacher. More importantly, it does harm to God’s people.
The Law and the Gospel work together; they go hand in hand as they serve the purposes of God in administering the one covenant of grace. And so, in order to preach the whole counsel of God, that is, to preach Christ—the Law and Gospel must be on the lips of the minister.
Preaching needs to convey the distinction and harmony of the Law and Gospel.
I. The Law & Gospel Distinction
What is the Law?
Beza states that the Law is the moral law (i.e., Ten Commandments) written by nature in our hearts (Rom 2:14-15).2 In addition, the Westminster Larger Catechism, answer 93 states:
The moral law is the declaration of the will of God to mankind, directing and binding every one 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 oweth to God and man: promising life upon the fulfilling, and threatening death upon the breach of it.
The Law is God’s moral decree written in our hearts to lead us to obedience. The Law is a perfect reflection of God’s divine character. It directs all mankind to acknowledge God despite one’s suppression of that truth. It instructs all to walk in the ways of holiness and righteousness. It demands a personal, perfect, and perpetual conformity and obedience to it. However, this is a demand that we cannot meet. This isn’t an issue with the Law, but with us. In the Old Covenant, Moses enforced obedience to the law, but time and time again the people couldn’t meet its perfect demands. Only Jesus could fulfill the demands of the Law (Matt 5:17).
By nature, the Law is written within us, but the Gospel is not. It is revealed to us from heaven (John 1:13). The Gospel is supernatural knowledge, whereas the Law is general knowledge.3Only through the Gospel is God present with man, yet in the Law, God is far from man. In this way, the Law and the Gospel are opposed to each other.
Law vs. Gospel
The Law demands righteousness, a pure heart and complete obedience.4 Unfortunately, “no man, since the fall, can attain to righteousness and life by the moral law (WLC A.94).” As a result of sin, the law not only demands, it also justly condemns us to death. In this way, the Law is distinct from the Gospel.
The Gospel does not demand righteousness, but it gives righteousness. The Gospel doesn’t bring death, neither does it condemn. Instead, it graciously offers life to those who receive it.
Another distinction is that the Law can only show us our excessive evil. It builds up in our heart, and the guilt and shame make us aware of our condemnation.5 On the other hand, the Gospel removes our guilt and shame. Unlike the Gospel, the Law cannot sanctify and justify the believer.
If a preacher fails to see the distinction between the Law and Gospel, “neither of God’s intentions is carried out.”6 For instance, the Law demands that those who disobey God and continue in sin must be held accountable. However, upon repentance, the Gospel urges us to extend mercy. This is possible given the understanding of the distinctions between the Law and Gospel. Through the Law, we know we are accountable to God. He searches our hearts and convicts us of our disobedience through the Law.
Preachers ought to preach as if the Law was staring at us, observing our every thought, word, and deed. Leaving us helpless before Him. Our very desire should be to escape the judgment and wrath of God and cling to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He alone covers us and takes that judgment and wrath upon himself.
II. The Law & Gospel Distinction in Preaching
Dangers in Preaching Only Law
As I have stated above, there is a stark distinction between the Law and the Gospel. If we’re not careful, we could be preaching the Law as if it were the Gospel. The danger in preaching only the Law is that it is capable of bringing and announcing death. Yes, it does come from God, it does restrain sin, but it does not save. By preaching only the Law, the congregation stands condemned before a holy and righteous God. Without the Gospel, the Law cannot direct the hearer to Christ, and so they remain under their guilt and shame. Yet when the Law and Gospel are effectively preached, the Law sets for the people the standard of righteousness and the Gospel offers the righteousness needed to be reconciled to the Father. The Gospel is supernatural revelation and it must be proclaimed.
Intrinsically known, our natural tendency is to suppress the Law of God. For this reason, the Gospel must be preached and not assumed. Just as Christ taught the Law to people who had access to it for years, so we must also labor in that task. We must refrain from assuming our congregation knows the Law or are conscious of it. After preaching the Law, Jesus offered the Gospel. And although Christ fulfilled the Law he still labored in preaching the Law.8
Dangers in Preaching Only Gospel
Similarly, we must also be cautious not to only preach the Gospel. The Gospel is good news only because there is bad news. This bad news is that all have sinned against God. Romans 3:10 states that “None is righteous, no, no one.” These categories of sin and unrighteousness are embedded within the understanding of the Law. The congregation needs to know why they need to be reconciled to God, and why Jesus’ death was necessary.
Without the preaching of the Law, the congregation will not know the standard of righteousness set before them for their obedience. The Westminster Shorter Catechism question 40 asks, “What did God at first reveal to man for the rule of his obedience?” The answer is stated as such: “The rule which God at first revealed to man for his obedience was the moral law.” The law was first provided, and thus it is necessary to be preached distinctively from the Gospel in order that all who hear it may obey. The Law demands righteousness, and if this is not taught or understood, the righteousness that the Gospel provides will have no significance to them. Understanding the distinctions between the Law and Gospel, and preaching with these distinctions in light of the New Covenant prevents us from delivering a sermon that is non-redemptive and burdensome.
Ministers of God’s Word must seek to “present everyone mature in Christ.”9 True maturity in Christ flourishes when ministers and their congregations are able to understand why obedience to the Law brings condemnation instead of salvation. Transformation happens when the Gospel is taught in light of the Law. The congregation is far from perfect and so they need the Law and Gospel preached in a manner that will sanctify them till the return of Christ.
III. The Law & Gospel Harmony
Law Demands Righteousness
Working side by side, The Law and the Gospel cannot be characterized as only being in opposition to each other because they also work side by side. Through their opposition, they harmoniously work together to fulfill God’s will.10 Despite their many differences, both the Law and the Gospel come from the one true God. Although the Law is no longer a taskmaster over the believer, the Gospel does not abolish the Law, nor does it weaken the Law. Rather, through faith in Jesus Christ the Law is upheld (Rom. 3:31).
Beza argued that “the Law establishes the essence of the Gospel.” We see this in Romans 10:2-4 which reads, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Paul is alluding to the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to believers. Prior to Christ, righteousness was understood through the Law.
Because of our sin, the Law could never offer righteousness. But Christ, being sinless and perfectly obedient took upon our sin. As a result, our sins were imputed to Christ, and his righteousness imputed to us. In this way, the Gospel offers what the Law could not, but the Gospel doesn’t diminish the Law. The Law demands righteousness, and the Gospel has provided for us a righteousness through Jesus Christ. Calvin goes on to say, “The Law and the promise do not contradict each other except in the matter of justification, for the law justifies a man by the merit of works whereas the promise bestows righteousness freely.”11
Gospel Provides Righteousness
Romans 7:12 states, “The law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” The Law and the Gospel work harmoniously because they are both given by a holy and righteous God. AW Pink states, “the Gospel set before us is no less holy and perfect than that of the Law: no indulging of the flesh is permitted, no self-pleasing tolerated.”12 The Law does not lose its sting of death, it still convicts us of sin because sin is still a present reality for us. Therefore when sin takes root in our lives, the Spirit convicts us of our sins through the written Law upon our hearts. The Spirit then enables us to wage war against our sin because the Gospel has assured for us the new life in Christ.
The Gospel presupposes the Law because it brings the believer to repent of their sins and to walk in righteousness.13 The Law shows us the demands for righteousness, and it points us to Christ who is righteous. The Law, which is written in our hearts, is to drive us to Christ in the Gospel.14
Both the Law and the Gospel set before us the justice of God. Similarly, they both send us to live righteously. Although we are already made righteous in Christ, we are still called to live sanctified lives, where we are enabled more and more to die to sin and live unto righteousness.
Furthermore, Law and Gospel are both integrated into the New Covenant. The Covenant symbolizes the relationship that Christians have with God, and the Law serves as the stipulations that are required for this covenant relationship.15 Because Christ is the mediator of the Old and the New Covenant, the Law and Gospel are harmonized in him. The Westminster Shorter Catechism states that Christ was “made under the law.” Christ did not refuse to live under the law, instead, he embraced it. It was his Father’s good and perfect will to have him obey the Law. And he was obedient even unto death.
As God’s instruments of revelation, the Law and the Gospel are perfect. They serve as hermeneutical categories that reveal the righteousness of God. They are both distinct and yet work off one another to bring the whole counsel of God within the New Covenant. Through the Law, people come to see their sinful nature and their need for a savior which is freely offered in the Gospel.
It is good to remember that the Law and the Gospel are not defective, but people are. For this reason, the Law and the Gospel may be perfectly articulated, but it may still fall on deaf ears. Likewise, those whom God has called to minister his Word are not immune to this behavior as well. We may fail at correctly understanding the distinctions and harmony of the Law and Gospel, but this is where the glorious news of Jesus comes in. He is the balance between the Law and the Gospel. VanGemeren states, “He gives a true perspective on the Law by the good news that sin is atoned for and that guilt is removed.”
1 Theodore Beza, Law and the Gospel (The Fig Classic Series, 2013). Kindle Electronic Edition: Location 17.
2 Beza, Law and the Gospel, Kindle: Location 17.
3 Beza, Law and the Gospel, Kindle: Location 19-25.
4 Paul Althaus, “Law and Gospel,” in The Theology of Martin Luther (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1966), 256.
5 Beza, Law and the Gospel, Kindle: Location 56.
6 Rick Ritchie “What is the Law Gospel Thing?, in Modern Reformation: Preaching Christ 2, no. 2, (March/April, 1993): 7-11.
7 “Law and Gospel,” Ligonier, , accessed December 5, 2014, http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/law-and-gospel/
8 Ritchie “What is the Law Gospel Thing?, in Modern Reformation: Preaching Christ 2, no. 2, (March/April, 1993): 7-11.
9 Dennis Johnson, “Paul’s Theology of Preaching,” in Him We Proclaim (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2007) 64.
10 Paul Althaus, “Law and Gospel,” in The Theology of Martin Luther (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1966), 256.
11 VanGemeren, “The Non-Thenomic Reformed View,” 53.
12 Arthur Pink, An Exposition of First John: (Kindle): Location 2234
13 Althaus, “Law and Gospel,” in The Theology of Martin Luther (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1966), 257.
14 “The Law and Gospel,” Trinity at the Marketplace, accessed December 5, 2014, http://www.trinity-at-the-marketplace.org/printfiles/The%20Law%20and%20The%20Gospel.pdf
15 VanGemeren, “The Non-Thenomic Reformed View,” 46.
16 Beza, Law and the Gospel, Kindle: Location 87.
17 Beza, Law and the Gospel, Kindle: Location 178
18 Sean Norris, “An Introduction to the Law and the Gospel,” Modern Reformation: Rightly Dividing the Word 19, no. 5 (Sept/Oct 2010): 8-11
19 Norris, “An Introduction to the Law and the Gospel,” 8-11