Do you ever think or feel like, “How could God love somebody like me? Somebody who has failed so many times in my Christian life? Somebody who has sinned that sin for the 100th time? Somebody who failed to witness to so and so, and they died? And now they’re probably in hell? How could God really love somebody like me who has had so many blessings, and owns 15 bibles, and knows what to do, and just doesn’t do it enough?”
I want to start with a couple of verses of Scripture, and then deal with why sometimes we might feel that way.
Romans 8:33, “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns?”
We may firmly say, “No one!” And that’s true, ultimately. But make no mistake about it, there is one who tries. And that’s the devil and his fellow evil spirits.
And if we’re honest, we will have to admit that when he starts charging us Christians with our sin and failings, sometimes we allow him to get under our skin, so to speak, and make us feel like he is right, and that God maybe hasn’t justified us, or declared us righteous, or at least is angry with us.
Revelation 12:10, "Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, "Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the ACCUSER OF OUR BRETHREN has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night."
Let’s begin by asking a few questions about this Accuser.
1. Who is the accuser of the brethren?
Well, let’s make that very clear by reading Revelation 12:9:
"And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world."
So clearly this accuser of the brethren is Satan himself.
2. When does he accuse the brethren?
Well, look at verse 10 again: “...he who accuses them before our God day and night."
Can you imagine that? There is really no end to the accusation. Let’s face it, there’s no shortage of sins among us brethren, is there?
I once read of a guy trying to convince someone that they could become sinless. In fact, this guy considered himself to be sinless. Can you believe that? Be honest now, can you honestly imagine someone thinking himself to be sinless?
I’d like to talk to his wife for about 60 seconds, just to see if he’s on the up-and-up. What do you think?
Anyway this guy’s argument went like this: He says to his friend, “Do you think you could go one minute without sinning?”
And his friend said, “I guess so, yeah.”
So he said, “How about 5 minutes?”
“I guess so, yeah.”
“Well, how about half an hour?”
“Well, maybe for a half an hour, yeah.”
“An hour...mmm...I guess so...that’s just two half-hours.”
“Well, then, if you can go without sinning for an hour, then all you have to do is to do that 24 times and you’ve gone a day. Do that 30 times and you’ve gone a month, and so on. Simple. Then you’d be sinless, like me.”
Now that sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?
I hope you’re not foolish enough to buy into that kind of thinking, though.
We’ve gotta be honest here, friends. That just isn’t going to happen! We are going to sin. Now, I’m not advocating sinning. I’m against it, in case you have any doubts. But I’ve lived quite a few years, and if that man exists who doesn't sin any more, I haven’t met him.
In fact, even if I met him, I wouldn’t believe him, would you? You see, we’ve gotta be honest if we’re going to make any headway in this Accuser of the Brethren stuff.
So when does the Accuser accuse? Day and night. And there’s no shortage of sins he can accuse us of, is there?
3. What exactly does he accuse us of?
Well, certainly he accuses us of our actual individual sins. If we ever find ourselves unable to remember them, he will be happy to remind us. And he will take every opportunity to remind God.
But also, he accuses us of a lack of faith, casting doubt on our relationship to God, or even our very salvation. Creating doubt by his accusations.
We see that in the story of Job. Satan appears before God and doesn’t accuse Job of specific sins, but he says that Job honors God only because Job has it so good. Job is blessed by God. Satan says that if God would allow him to hurt Job, that Job would curse God.
So he accuses us of our specific sins, and he accuses us of our weak faith and standing before God.
But we sure don’t want to leave things there, do we?
It would be a horrible shame to gain insight into the Accuser of the Brethren without seeing what the Lord of the Brethren has done for us.
The Devil's Little Helpers In The Church
Sometimes the continual day and night accusation by Satan is not enough for some Christian brethren, so they join Satan and become brethren accusing the brethren.
Now I’m not talking about biblical correction or admonishing of an unrepentant brother, but that kind of condemnation which is carelessly heaped on other Christians, by laying down the rules, and making Christians think that God will only love them if they measure up to some standard.
They are quick to condemn, slow to encourage.
They are quick to build guilt, slow to build a bridge of grace.
They are quick to jump on a mistake, slow to put their arm around a brother, and gently restore.
In other words, quick to accuse and criticize, slow to understand and teach.
Let me say this. Satan doesn’t need these little helpers. He has enough helpers already. They abound, and they are teachers, believe it or not. And what they teach, the Bible calls doctrine...doctrines of demons.
O.K., so is there any good news here, in view of this accusation going on day and night?
In fact, there is so much good news, it’s literally hard to know where to begin. So let’s begin at the very beginning...Genesis. Way back then, God promised that Satan would bruise the heel of the Messiah to come, referring to the Cross...but that the Messiah would crush the head of Satan, ultimately destroying him.
As the great hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” puts it, “Lo, his doom is sure.”
But what about in the meantime?
1. Our sins are forgiven…past, present and future.
We don’t want to be so silly as to say that sin is “OK”, but we honor God by believing His word, and His word tells us that our sins ARE – past tense – forgiven.
Let’s not take this lightly.
Let’s resist the temptation to think, “Yeah, yeah, I know that already.”
But let’s meditate on the wonder of that truth. They are forgiven. All of them. All that will ever be. This is part of what Jesus meant when He said on the cross, “It is finished.” Paid in full. Forgiven.
Satan can accuse all he wants, and his accusation may even be true, but what of it? The sins are forgiven!
2. We’ve been declared righteous.
That’s the bible word "justified". And Jesus became sin for us, so that we might be made the righteousness of God in Christ.
Satan can say, “You are unrighteous. Who are you kidding? Look what you did. You call that righteous? You fool! You aren’t good enough to earn righteousness!”
And of course, he’s right on that last count. We’re not good enough to earn righteousness. And so it’s been given to us as a free gift, the gift of God’s own righteousness, through our precious Lord Jesus Christ.
3. We Have An Advocate
1 John 2:1 says, “My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
Satan approaches the bench and says, “Your honor…this Christian has sinned and here’s the list of his offenses. Now I demand justice. You call yourself a just God…bring justice on this one who has done these offenses.”
Ah, but our Defense Attorney (that’s the concept of this Advocate), our Defense Attorney is also our Propitiation, taking the wrath of God on Himself, in our place.
Our Defense Attorney is also our Sacrifice Lamb, slain before the foundation of the world.
Our Defense Attorney is the one who cried “Eli, Eli Lama Sabachtani! My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” And at the end of that terrible ordeal our Defense Attorney is the one who cried, “Tetelestai, it is finished.”
And although He gave up His spirit on that cross, He rose again from the dead, and is now at the right hand of the Father, the Judge, as our Defender, our Defense Attorney.
And when Satan accuses us at the bench of the great Judge, and demands justice, our Defense Attorney, the Alpha and Omega, the Son of God, our Advocate, speaks up, ”Your honor, Abba, Father...those sins have already been judged. They are paid for, your honor, Abba, Dad. I paid for them on that cruel, but awe-inspiring day."
And our Advocate asks the Judge, His Father, for a dismissal.
And the Judge...our Defense Attorney’s Father...our Father, slams down his gavel and says, “Case dismissed! The defendant may draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, to receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (That’s Hebrews 4:16)
And the Accuser of the Brethren loses another case. In fact, he never had a case to begin with.
And lo, his doom is sure.
So who will bring a charge against God’s elect? The answer really is “No one.” For it is God who justifies. It is God who has declared us righteous. Praise His name.
In my last post on Neo-Legalism, dated November 19, 2007, I indicated that R.C. Sproul, Jr. was a writer in favor of Federal Vision, one of the "branches" of anti-Justification Neo-Legalism.
This was NOT correct.
Dante Tremayne, of the Highlands Study Center, headed by R.C. Sproul, Jr., was at first a little righteously "miffed" :) at my error, and then graciously provided blog comments and email attachments from RC Jr.'s writings, showing clearly that RC Jr. is NOT a believer in Federal Vision, and IS a believer in biblical Justification by Faith alone.
I have edited my post accordingly, and apologize to RC Jr., and all my readers, for the error.
None of us wants to be misrepresented, especially in such an important docrinal issue.
How A New Kind of Legalist Is Attempting To Bring The Church To "Works" Salvation
The Roman Catholic Church held an almost monopolistic grip on the hearts of millions of people for hundreds of years.
Through the Dark Ages and Middle Ages, the awful legalistic system of "salvation by works" nearly choked out the light of the Gospel of the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Only small pockets of true believers in Christ escaped the dark heavy blanket of Roman Catholicism.
Then around 500 years ago came what we call the Reformation.
Men like Luther and Zwingli and Calvin and Knox, imperfect men, but intense students of the Scriptures, rose up and shined the light of the Gospel into the darkness of European Catholicism.
These brave men brought an end to the monopoly of the Popes. They boldly proclaimed that salvation was...
By grace alone, not by merit;
By faith alone, not by works;
By faith in Christ alone, not in sacraments;
under the final authority of the Word of God alone, not the unscriptural teachings of the Bishop of Rome.
The Central Point of the Reformation
The central point of the Reformation is what we call Justification by Faith. Don’t let the fancy phrase throw you. This is merely the sublime and simple truth that when we believe in Jesus Christ we are “justified” or “declared righteous” by God.
This means that we are fully in right standing with God, our sins forgiven and no longer held against us.
This is accomplished because God judged our sins in Christ on the Cross, and gave us the “gift of righteousness” (Romans 5:17) by imputing the righteousness of Christ to us, when we believe in Christ.
As 2 Corinthians 5:21 puts it, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
Romans Chapter 5:1,2 gives us the result of this wonderful act of the Lord:
“Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.”
The Permanence of Justification
When we are justified, declared righteous by God, it is forever. It is permanent. And it occurs at the moment when we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, when we believe the Gospel.
The “gift of righteousness” can never be taken away, because it is part of a "package deal", to put it crudely. This righteousness is given to us by grace through faith, and that is “not of yourselves” and “not of works” (Ephesians 2:8,9).
Even the very faith by which we believe in Jesus Christ is a gift given by God through the New Birth, regeneration.
This “imputed righteousness” contrasts starkly with the unbiblical Roman Catholic teaching that one is actually “made righteous” (“infused righteousness”) through the Sacraments like Baptism, and the Eucharistic Mass, and through meritorious good works.
And this false teaching goes on to say that this so-called righteousness sort of “leaks out” through sinning, or neglecting the Sacraments, and therefore can be lost, which damns the soul of the one who fails to maintain his “righteousness” by his works and attendance to the sacraments.
Let me put it another way. True biblical justification is when we are declared righteous by God when we believe in Jesus, and that puts us in right standing with God forever, all of our sins paid for and forgiven, past sins, and future sins.
The false teaching of Roman Catholicism says that through the Sacraments, like Baptism, and the sacrifice of the Mass, we are actually "made righteous" in our whole being, but not permanently. We must keep doing good works and going to the Mother Church for the Sacraments, or we will end up in Hell.
And the key word here is "works". This is legalism at it’s worst, and any thinking person who believes in this system will always live in fear, if they’re not doing their good works too well, or missing the sacraments.
Or they will be self-righteous and smug because they follow certain rules and rituals, at least better than the next guy.
In Come the Neo-Legalists
The Reformation did not, of course, abolish Roman Catholicism. This organization of works salvation has continued these many years, and still thrives today.
But until recently one could more or less count on Protestant, non-Catholic, Bible teachers to uphold Justification by Faith Alone. One could more or less count on Protestant Bible teachers to oppose the so-called Justification of Rome, where grace and works are mixed, making it “no longer grace” (Romans 11:6).
But back in the 1960’s and 1970’s there was a professor at Westminster Seminary named Norman Shepherd. In 1975 some of his former students were being questioned by committees for ordination, to be ordained to the Christian ministry, and when the question “How is a sinner justified?” was asked, these students of Shepherd answered, “By faith and works.” The questioners were shocked, and began digging in to why these students answered that way, and they traced their answers back to their professor, Norman Shepherd.
Shepherd was allowed to teach for six more years, which was a disgrace in itself. He should have been immediately thrown out. After all, this is the Gospel we’re tampering with here.
Shepherd was finally released in 1981, the dung having hit the fan hard enough. Even then, though, several professors who then agreed with Shepherd were allowed to remain, teaching hundreds of students who spread the cancer of this heresy yet today.
The big foot of undermining Justification by Faith had been stuck in the door, and the result has mushroomed into several full-blown ministries and movements, some directly from Westminster, and some relatively independent.
Allow me to name some names and then I will attempt to capsulize the kernel of the heresy.
Pioneering writers include E.P. Sanders, N.T. Wright, Steve Schlissel, Steve Wilkins, Douglas Wilson, and Peter Leithart.
They have been joined by a multitude of Pastors, bloggers and other writers, and teachers in Seminaries. Many in the Emerging/Emergent Church movement have gravitated toward these men, particularly toward N.T. Wright. And they have infiltrated otherwise orthodox places, including major denominations and seminaries, as well as theological magazines and websites.
Now some of you may say, “Oh you shouldn’t name names. That’s ungracious of you, Terry.”
Friends, this is too important. Those of you who know me know that I much prefer just teaching the wonderful grace of God, both for initial salvation, and for our ongoing lives. It’s all of grace, and that’s my passion. But when teachers and pastors and writers trample on that grace with a convoluted system of works salvation, we need to know about it.
They operate under names and ministries you may have heard:
Shepherdism, named after Norman Shepherd;
Auburn Avenue Theology, named after a church in Louisiana called Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church;
The New Perspective on Paul, or NPP.
This last term is often associated with N.T. Wright, who has become practically a rock star among his followers. An engaging man, a Bishop in the Anglican Church of England, he is a scholar and writes books faster than most people can read them. But he writes for the masses, the common man, so to speak, and so has become more popular than some of the more stuffy academics. And this has made him all the more dangerous in spreading this New Legalism.
What They Have In Common
I won’t pretend the issues and sub-doctrines are not varied and even complicated, but they have one important thing in common -- a rejection of the biblical Justification by Faith.
Like most false teachers, their terminology is often the same as orthodox terminology. But the expression of their error can mostly be bunched under an important term: Covenant Nomism (sometimes called Covenantal Nomism). “Nomism” refers to “Law”.
Although their implementation of the doctrine varies (for example, some teach that one enters the “covenant” through water baptism, others through so-called “faith alone”), the basics are as follows:
1. One enters into a “covenant” of the “people of God”, through “faith” and/or baptism. This is a real covenant which makes one a real Christian, they say, as one follows Jesus as Lord.
2. Once in the “covenant” of the family of God, it is now one’s responsibility to stay in the covenant, and follow Jesus as Lord all the days of one’s life...or else! (more on the “or else” in just a moment). This is blatant Legalism.
3. IF one remains in the “covenant”, by assembling together and obeying the Law sufficiently, THEN, at the end of one’s life, or the end of the age, one will be “Justified”, or “declared righteous” on the basis of their life and works! Did you get that? They’re not justified by faith at the time they believe. They are justified at the end of their life, or the end of time, based on their works.
4. Here’s the “or else”: If one departs from sufficient obedience to the Law, or (in some cases) stops fellowshiping in the local assembly, they are deemed “out of the covenant”, and will never be “justified”, even though they truly believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, and were in His “covenant” and were true Christians. Their works, or lack of them, have ultimately damned them.
What Can Be Done?
Admittedly, this is an extremely brief introduction to Neo-Legalism, or Covenant Nomism.
The men teaching these things are not ignorant, and they’re not stupid. They are biblically classic false teachers.
What would I recommend?
1. I don’t recommend studying these men, except by the most discerning and biblically knowledgeable. Too many have been swayed by their false doctrines.
2. I do recommend studying the biblical doctrine of Justification by Faith, just as the FBI reputedly studies real money, in order to quickly identify the counterfeit.
There are many good books on the subject. A thorough classic is by James Buchanan, The Doctrine of Justification. Another good one, perhaps easier to read, is James White’s The God Who Justifies.
An excellent sermon by Charles Spurgeon can be read at: http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/3392.htm
Scriptural support for Justification by Faith can be found at: http://www.carm.org/doctrine/justification_verses.htm
3. If you accept true biblical Justification by Faith, have the courage to say so. And don’t be afraid to mention names. Too many Protestant believers and teachers have been returning to Roman Catholicism. While for some there may be an inherent attraction to the ancient religious trappings of Romanism, in many cases it’s simply an abandonment of the great truth that God justifies us, declares us righteous, forever, when we believe in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Having given an inch to the Legalism of salvation by works, they go the whole yard back into the darkness of Roman Catholicism.
Remember, the biblical truth is, we are declared righteous by faith, as a free gift, when we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. To Him be all the glory.
Psalm 37:4 says this, “Delight yourself in the LORD, And He will give you the desires of your heart.”
What are the desires of your heart?
My experience has been that at this particular time you probably fit into one of three main categories.
1. You know the desires of your heart, and they’re wonderful.
They energize you, because you are living in them, you are receiving them, you are glorying in them, you are thanking God for them, and you are looking forward to expanding them and having new desires come into your heart and life. You’re excited about the desires of your heart.
2. You know the desires of your heart, but they are a burden to you.
They are unfulfilled, or they are merely worldly, and so they conflict with what you think your desires SHOULD be, and so you can’t glory in them.
You couldn’t glory in them even if they came to pass, because you sense they are ultimately empty, like the desires and plans of King Solomon, when he, the richest man in the world, had all of his desires met, but cried out, “Vanity! Emptiness! It’s all emptiness! All my riches and all my desires leave me empty." You couldn’t glory in them even if they did come to pass, but they’re not even coming to pass many times, and your heart is aching for real meaning.
3. You don’t even have any desires of your heart.
You’ve given up thinking you could ever have desires. You may not feel worthy of any desires of the heart. You’ve capitulated to what I call “worm” theology.
“I’m just an ol’ worm. I don’t deserve anything from God, because I’ve failed Him over and over. He knows what a rotten Christian I’ve been, and why should He give me anything? Desires of the heart? I’ve given up on those a long time ago. Why bother?”
Well, I’ve got Good News for you, no matter which category you’re in.
We usually speak of the Gospel as the Good News for the unsaved, and it is. If you’re not saved today, if you don’t know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, now would be a great time to come to Him. The Bible says that God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son (that’s Jesus), that whoever believes in Him would not perish, but have eternal life. The Bible tells us that Jesus died a horrible death, physically and spiritually, on the cross, to pay for sins, and to give the free gift of forgiveness and salvation, to whoever would come to Him. If that’s you, call out to Him now, thank Him now for His salvation. He said that whoever would come to Him He would in no way cast out. That means you, if you will come to Him and believe in Him as Lord and Savior.
But if you’re a Christian already, I’ve got Good News for you too. The Gospel is good news for getting saved, but it’s also good news for living the Christian life after we’re saved, all the way to the end of our life, all the way to heaven.
And here’s the Good News for you, as a believer. It comes from that verse we started out with, Psalm 37:4, which says, “Delight yourself in the LORD, And He will give you the desires of your heart.”
Now let’s take the second part of that verse first.
When it says “He will give you the desires of your heart”, it means it in two ways.
First, He will put the very desires in your heart that He wants you to have. Isn’t that something? God Himself will actually put into our hearts the desires, the wants, the longings that are best for us, and they are best for us because they are the desires that the all-wise all-knowing God wants for us because He loves us.
Second, after he puts those desires into our hearts, He will bring them to pass, in some way. He not only puts the desires into our hearts, he give us those desires, as part of His plan for us.
Well, that’s the second part of the verse, but the first part is just as important, “Delight yourself in the Lord.”
Let's look at what it means to "delight yourself in the Lord", and also how do we do it. But first I want to clarify something about the New Covenant.
Our tendency is to make this a conditional performance-based statement. Something like, “If, and only if, you delight yourself in the Lord, only then will He give you the desires of your heart.”
But thankfully that’s not true. Thankfully, sometimes even when I don’t delight in the Lord, He works out wonderful things, and turns my heart like the heart of a king (Proverbs 21:1).
Isn’t that what the New Covenant is all about? He has made us new creatures, and He has given us a new spirit, and has given us His Spirit, and has put into our hearts and minds His laws, and is causing us to walk in His ways. He is working in us both to will and to work His good pleasure. In other words, He gives us the desire to do His good pleasure and he works in us to actually do it.
But when we are walking by the flesh, and therefore not delighting in the Lord, outwardly at least, then we may very well cater to desires of the flesh, and not even notice the good work the Lord is doing in our hearts and spiritual desires.
And so it’s important to delight ourselves in the Lord. And so our two questions:
1. What does it mean to delight yourself in the Lord?
It’s a wonderful Hebrew word, aw-nag’, which means, “Be glad about, be happy about.”
So, to delight ourselves in the Lord is to be glad about the Lord, to be happy about the Lord.
2. How do we delight ourselves in the Lord?
We get a clue from an Old Testament passage:
Isaiah 58:13,14 "If because of the sabbath, you turn your foot from doing your own pleasure on My holy day, and call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD honorable, and honor it, desisting from your own ways, from seeking your own pleasure and speaking your own word, then you will take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; and I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father...”
Now you may be saying, “Terry, are you crazy? Following the Sabbath laws is the way to delight in the Lord?”
We are, of course, not under the Sabbath laws given to Israel under the Old Covenant.
In fact, Coloss 2:16,17 tell us, “Let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.
So following Sabbath laws, or delighting in Saturday or Sunday is not what we are called to do.
But what principles from the heart of God are shown in this passage?
Hebrews 4:9-11 makes it clear that the Sabbath was all along meant to be a shadow of Christ who came to be our Sabbath rest. In Him there is a rest for the people of God, wherein they rest from their works.
In the New Covenant, Christ Himself is our Sabbath. He is our rest. We are saved by grace through faith in Him. But not only is our salvation not based on works, the very love of God for us, His acceptance of us, and His favor on our lives is by grace.
It doesn’t mean we won’t have good works in our lives. God is working those in us through His Spirit. But we rest from our works as the way to earn God’s love and favor. He loves us, period.
And so we delight in the Lord as we understand His wonderful grace. As we understand that there is no wall between us. As we understand that we can run to Him, even after we sin, ESPECIALLY after we sin, and He will comfort us with His grace.
In fact, we don’t even have to really run to Him. That’s just a figure of speech, because He is already here. He is already in our hearts. Christ in you, the hope of glory.
And so fellowshiping with Him, acknowledging His grace, is how we delight ourselves in Him.
And then He not only gives us the desire of our hearts, but we can see it. And praise and thank Him for it.
Remember the double meaning: He not only places those desires in our hearts, but He brings them to pass.
There is a common teaching that the Law of God must be preached in order for the Gospel to be preached. In other words, that before you evangelize someone, that is, give them the Good News of Jesus Christ, and His death on the Cross for sins, and His resurrection, you must first preach the specific Laws of God to show them that they have sinned. Usually these specific Laws of God are given as the Ten Commandments.
But is this true? Do we need to preach specific Laws of God in order to preach the Gospel?
I believe the biblical answer is a definite “No”.
But first, I believe this "Law before Gospel" teaching idea has become an unbiblical tradition among many Christian teachers. Often, instead of going to the Scriptures and seeing if this Law Preaching is really commanded or required, they merely read of another teacher who has said it, and they believe it.
“Why, good old Charles Spurgeon taught that the preaching of the Law must come before the Gospel.” Or in more modern times, “Ray Comfort, the Way of the Master guy, teaches that you must give the Ten Commandments (or at least a couple of them) to somebody before you tell them the Good News.”
It’s often taught like this, “You have to give them the bad news, before you give them the good news.” Or, “If you don’t get them groveling in misery over their breaking of God’s Laws, they won’t be receptive to the Gospel. They will be flippant, thinking they don’t need salvation from anything.”
There are even several Scriptures that are sometimes used to prove the point of Law Preaching, and we’ll examine some of those. But I believe those Scriptures have been pulled out of the Bible to support this “tradition of men”, rather than the tradition coming from a good study of the New Testament.
Three biblical reasons why we are NOT called to preach the Law before we preach the Gospel.
1. All men already know in their hearts the moral law of God, and they know that they are sinners against God, and they suppress that truth in unrighteousness.
We already know from Romans 1:18 that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. In other words, every man already knows that he is ungodly and unrighteous, and that he deserves God’s wrath.
How does he know this? Well, Romans 1:19,20 goes on to say two things. That the knowledge is within them, and that the creation makes obvious the attributes, eternal power, and divine nature of God.
But Romans 1:18 says another interesting thing. It says that men “suppress the truth in unrighteousness”.
They not only know they are wrath-deserving sinners, but they add to their sin by suppressing it, denying it. That’s why in verse 20 it says they are “without excuse”.
But that’s not all. The Jews, of course, in Bible times, would be very aware of the Laws of God, and the Ten Commandments. But we read in Romans 2:14-16:
“For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Jesus Christ.”
What does it mean? Simply this: God has placed in everyone his moral law, and given men a conscience to identify when they are doing wrong, which of course they do constantly. So again, they are without excuse.
They don’t need to hear, “Thou shalt not steal.” They know in their consciences. They know the beauty and just and wonderful truth of God’s character and what He requires. But, as Romans 3 tells us, “There is none righteous, not even one...there is none who seeks for God...there is none who does good, there is not even one.”
So again, all men already know in their hearts the moral law of God, and they know that they are sinners against God, and they suppress the truth in unrighteousness.
So if you’re witnessing or preaching the Good News of Jesus and the forgiveness of sins through the Cross, and somebody acts innocent and says they don’t need forgiveness because they live a pretty good life, you don’t need to prove anything to them. You can look them in the eye and say, “You know better than that. You know, just like I do, that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” And proceed to give them the Good News.
2. The Law has NO power for salvation. But the Gospel does.
In Romans 1:16, Paul says something that I believe we often forget. He says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for IT is the power of God for salvation to every one who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” In other words, to those who know the Ten Commandments (the Jews), and to those who don’t know the Ten Commandments from a hole in the wall (but they know very well that they are in constant violation of the moral compass that God has placed in their consciences).
Why? Why is this Gospel the “power of God for salvation”?
Verse 17 tells us. Because in the Gospel is revealed the righteousness of God, the only righteousness that will save us. The righteousness that we must receive as a free gift because our own "righteousnesses are as filthy rags".
That’s why so many people have been led to Christ by the so-called Romans Road, without the preaching of the Law. Because men are reminded that all have sinned (Rom. 3:23), and that the wages of sin is death or the wrath of God, but that the free gift of God is eternal life through faith in Jesus who died on the cross (Rom. 5:6 and 6:23), and that he did it out of love, demonstrating His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8), and that whoever believes in Him (Jews who know the Ten Commandments, or Gentiles who don’t) will not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16), whoever confesses Jesus as Lord, and believes in their heart that God raised Him from the dead, shall be saved (Rom. 10:9).
That’s the Gospel, and that’s the power of God for salvation.
3. There are no New Testament commands, nor New Testament examples for preaching the Law before the Gospel.
Now let me take a little side road first and say this: I love the laws of God. Every law that God ever spoke or inspired is a reflection of His Holy, Just and loving heart. And I want to know His heart, because I love Him. He put that in my heart, to love Him. He is my Savior, and He is my Lord. I want to know what He wants. And when I’m walking in the Spirit, I want to follow and obey Him with every fiber of my being. I can say, "Not my will, but Thine be done."
And so I agree with the Apostle Paul that the Law is good.
But you will search in vain through the Book of Acts or the New Testament Epistles for any COMMAND to preach the Law before preaching the Gospel. And you will search in vain through the Book of Acts or the New Testament Epistles for any EXAMPLE of preaching the Law before preaching the Gospel.
What you will see is an assumption by the Apostles that everyone is a sinner, and that they know it. Without exegeting the whole Book of Acts, one example will serve, especially since it specifically deals with some Gentiles. When Peter is called to preach to Cornelius, the Bible records pretty much his whole message in Acts 10 beginning at verse 34. Not a word is mentioned of the Law. But Christ is preached and Him crucified, for the forgiveness of sins.
This pattern is followed throughout the Book of Acts.
Well, let me continue with some objections. I’m not interested in human reasoning objections, but biblical ones. Let me deal with a few verses that are often used to make the claim that the Law must first be preached, and then the Gospel.
It's usually quoted, “The Law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.” The word “converting” sounds like salvation, but you will see in the margin, or in most translations, that the best translation is “restoring the soul” or “reviving the soul”. It’s likely not even a reference to salvation at all, but in any case, the Old Testament Psalms is not the most reliable source for a New Covenant doctrine.
Also, when the Psalmist refers to the Law of the Lord, he is not referring to the Ten Commandments or any specific laws, but to the Word of God in general, as it was then known. You will see this over and over in the Psalms. That’s why the reading of the Psalms can be so rich for us New Covenant believers who are no longer under the Old Covenant Law.
“...for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” Although it’s true that through a specific law can come the knowledge of a specific sin, that is not Paul’s point. He is contrasting the inability of the law to “justify” anyone in God’s sight. In other words, no one can be saved through the law, he points out.
The best the law could do is show how someone has specifically sinned. But as we have already pointed out, man already knows he is a sinner, a breaker of God’s law, and suppresses that truth in unrighteousness.
1 John 3:4
“...sin is lawlessness”. The argument is made that lawlessness is the breaking of laws, and that this must be preached to show that someone has sinned. This is not only a little silly in view of what we’ve already seen about the heart and conscience of man, but it's not what John was trying to get across at all.
John was contrasting the true born-again believer with the false believer and saying that the one who practices sin has an attitude of lawlessness. Not just that they break God’s laws, but that the source of that law-breaking is a heart of lawlessness, and thus an unregenerate or unsaved heart. This has nothing to do with preaching specific laws to “prepare” for the Gospel.
Paul says, “I would not have come to know sin, except through the Law, for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’” But the context shows that Paul is talking about the power of the Law to pour gasoline on the fire of sin.
Certainly Paul knew sin, even before he heard the law. All men do. But he’s making the point that the command or the law itself caused the sin to rise up in him. When he heard “Do not covet”, it made him covet all the more. Such is the heart of a sinner. Nothing in this section has anything to do with evangelism, or the Gospel.
“And He [speaking of the Holy Spirit to come], when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment.”
This is supposed to show that the Law must be preached, because the Holy Spirit will convict of sin and judgment. But look at the next verse John 16:9:
“...concerning sin, because they do no believe in Me.” Do you see that? It’s not the Law itself that brings conviction. It’s the very Gospel itself. It’s the Good News about Jesus Christ.
And look at John 16:11, “...and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.” See that? The work of Christ on the Cross has crushed the head of the serpent, to hearken back to Genesis. Sin has been paid for on the Cross and God’s righteousness is given as a free gift to those who will believe the Gospel.
John isn’t talking about Law in this section, but about the Gospel.
And finally, let’s deal with the verse that is used most often to support preaching the Law before the Gospel:
“Therefore the Law has become our tutor [or schoolmaster] to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith.”
Here again, context is so important. Paul is not speaking here at all about individual laws which are broken and thus leading us to faith in Christ. He is speaking of a historical progression from the time of Abraham who is promised a Seed which will become the Messiah, through the time of the Old Covenant, which showed how man could not be justified by obedience to any laws, and led finally to the promised Christ, in Whom alone is salvation, through His death, to all who believe.
Speaking of Jews only, Paul says that the Old Covenant was a tutor, but not to show men they were sinful, but that they could not gain righteousness through the keeping of the Law! They already knew they were sinful, but they thought that their so-called good deeds could justify them. And since their good deeds could not justify them, they were led to the Messiah, whose righteousness was offered as a free gift, the only way any of us are saved.
Preach the Gospel, friends. Plant the Gospel, water with Gospel, and God will give the increase for His elect. That is our confidence, through Jesus Christ our Lord.