What’s the relationship between law and gospel?

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I’ve been hearing a lot about the grace of God without works and being saved by faith alone. Some preachers seem to say that obeying God’s law and holy living are no longer important. Am I hearing them right? Is this what the Church teaches?

Your question and the answer below introduce us to biblical paradox–where two apparently contradictory ideas are both true.

On one hand, the Bible does teach that remission of sins and entrance into God’s kingdom are gifts of the Father through His Son Jesus Christ. Neither forgiveness nor eternal life can be earned by human effort or by obedience to God’s laws. They are gifts that can be received only by faith. This aspect of salva­tion (i.e., justification) is taught in John 3:16-18; 5:24; 6:29; Acts 16:31; Romans 3—5; 6:23; 8:1; 10:9, 10; Galatians 2:15, 16; Ephesians 2:8, 9; Philippians 3:3-9; 1 John 5:13; and other texts. We must not devalue God’s grace but allow it to fully shape our faith.

On the other hand, the Bible also teaches, with equal emphasis, that those who believe in Christ and receive God’s gift of salvation are thereby changed for the better. God’s people not only trust Him but also learn to obey Him. This aspect of salva­tion (i.e., sanctification) is taught in Matthew 7:20-­23; John 3:19-21; 8:31; Romans 6; 12—14; Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 3:10-14; James 2:14­26; 1 John 1:6; 2:4; 5:1-5; etc. These texts must also shape our faith and message if we are to preach the whole counsel of God.

The previous two paragraphs, as opposite as they may sound, have always been at the heart of our understanding of Scripture and remain so to this day. They are another way of saying that we hold to “the faith of Jesus” and “the command­ments of God” (Rev. 12:17; 14:12).

Law to the proud; grace to the humble: The Church teaches both! We are saved by grace through faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone. Any single lesson or sermon may sound closer to one of these ideas than to the other because you can’t say all the truth at one time. Please keep listen­ing with both ears until all the major truths of Scripture find their biblical balance.

— Elder Calvin Burrell


Calvin Burrell
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Calvin Burrell is former editor of the Bible Advocate and former director of G. C. Missions. He retired in 2015 and lives with his wife, Barb, in Stayton, OR. They attend church in Marion, OR.