As believers we are always looking for practical "how to" help in living the Christian life. Nothing is more practical than seeking to rightly distinguish Law and Gospel and to apply this to our daily lives. Though we want God to accept us and to be pleased with us, we easily forget that God does not accept us nor is He pleased with us in any way except through Jesus Christ and for His sake. Furthermore, because we fail to grasp the extent to which God identifies us with Jesus, His beloved Son with whom He is well pleased, we do not know that, in Christ, it is impossible for us to displease or disappoint God. To know and to live this amazing truth is to become and remain a Christian; hearing both the Law and the Gospel daily, and rightly dividing between the two is "how to" know and live.
Rightly dividing Law and Gospel
In our quest to understand the Law and Gospel we begin by accepting that Law and the Gospel are as opposite as yes and no. The Law does not have to come from outside of us. We all have some innate sense of right and wrong, however relative individual expressions might seem. The Gospel, on the other hand, is entirely foreign to us. The Gospel goes against our nature, apart from the grace and power of God in Christ through the Holy Spirit we would never come to know it.
Whereas the Law demands that we perfectly reflect the will of God not only in our thoughts, words and deeds, but in our nature as well and threatens fiery eternal punishment to all who fall short, the Gospel makes no moral demands of us whatsoever nor does it rebuke any sin. The Law makes Sin manifest and causes an increase of sins. The Gospel forgives and washes sins away. The Law promises life to those who keep the Law. The Gospel promises life to those who have transgressed the Law. The Law demands yet gives nothing. The Gospel makes no demands, rather it freely gives everything the Law requires. The promise of the Law is a conditional promise. The promise of the Gospel is an unconditional promise of pure grace. Faith is necessary to appropriate the gifts of the Gospel, but this faith is the very opposite of any human achievement since "by faith" is equivalent to "not of works".
The Law and the Christian
One problem that we have in grasping and maintaining the right distinction of Law and Gospel lies in the fact that we still sin daily and at the same time because of our sinful nature are bent on being blind to Sin. Therefore the Law continues to expose and reprove the sinful nature, but the Christian "new creation" joyfully agrees with the Law and immediately silences it's condemning curse with the sweet song of the Gospel. Thus God uses the Law to destroy every notion of human self-sufficiency and to continually turn us to Himself in repentance and faith.
The Law is an expression of God's perfect wisdom and will for His creation and so it remains a guide for living in a manner that is a reflection of who He is, what He is like. Having said this, we must remember that in the Gospel we are given everything we need to look upon the standard of the Law without shame or fear. Looking only to the Gospel for that which the Law demands we agree with God that we cannot meet the standard no matter how great our effort or sincere our desire. By faith we daily accept Christ as our substitute; He is our life. By love for a world of lost sinners we seek to obey the law trusting, by faith, that God sees only perfectly obedient children for Christ's sake.
Therefore, if you would become a Christian, believe the Gospel over and against the Law. If you would remain a Christian, continue to believe the Gospel over and against the Law looking only to Christ for the holy life you long to live in praise to your Father's glory.
Written by Kevin Fenster