Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Do We Need To Preach The Law To Preach The Gospel?
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.