Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Law and the Gospel

by Bruce Mills

I have been studying Romans 7:7-13 in preparation for teaching in my adult Sunday School class. As I have dug into this passage and read what great Bible teachers such as John MacArthur, Leon Morris, James Montgomery Boice, and Douglas Moo have written in their commentaries, I have been struck by the gravity of what Paul has to say in this passage as it relates to the gospel that is typically presented in our contemporary culture.

Romans 7:7 states, "What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, 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.'" Paul clearly states that man becomes aware of the gravity of his sinfulness through an examination of the Law. So it would seem that using the Law as a means of evangelism is extremely important.

I think we would agree that the typical attitude that most people have about their spiritual condition is to sort of shrug off any question about it with an answer such as, “Oh, I do some bad things but God couldn’t send a good person like me to hell. I think my good things outweigh my bad things. I’m very religious, I try not to do things that hurt or harm others,” and so forth. You’ve heard it all.

But when a person comes face-to-face with the full reality of God’s moral Law, sin is seen for what it really is, and that is what is absolutely necessary to drive a person to salvation. For evangelism, preaching, teaching, or witnessing to be effective, you must bring people under the tyranny of the Law. What leads to true salvation is an understanding of the absolute righteousness and utter holiness of God. And the Law of God expresses His perfect righteousness and holiness and puts a demand on every soul that if you break this Law in one place, you’re damned. What leads to true salvation is an overpowering, frightening sense of the implications of breaking the Law. Truth about righteousness and holiness and sin and judgment is what awakens the slumbering sinner.

You can’t just go to people sitting out there thinking they’re pretty good and say, “By the way, Jesus would like to come into your life and make you happy.” That’s the wrong approach. Long before you talk about what Jesus is prepared to do for the sinner, you’ve got to talk about the sinner’s situation.

Salvation is not about making you happy, salvation is about delivering you from the consequence of violating the Law of God. And the language of evangelism is the language of Law and sin and guilt and curse and judgment and fear.

Let me say it this way: the most necessary and the most successful evangelism is that which aims at a radical conviction of sin. And sinners will not become concerned about their sins until they are face-to-face with God and His holy Law. The great Bible teacher, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones stated, “The sinner is a monstrosity in God’s universe and he needs to be aware of it.”

Why is anybody going to change his life if he has no fear of God? We have to alarm the sinner. We have to activate his conscience by informing him about the truth; not by letting him have a conscience that responds only to a watered down morality that he has been taught by the world.

We have to take the sinner, turn him face-to-face with the Law, hold it up like a mirror, and make him see the standard of perfect righteousness. Jesus said, “You are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). We have to preach righteousness and Law. That’s how people understand the awfulness of their sin, and they understand the consequence of their sin, and the helplessness in which they exist. When conviction of sin is absent, conversion is usually false.

We need to recognize that the initial objective for evangelism is not to get people to be attracted to Jesus. The initial effort in evangelism is not to get people to be attracted to the happy life of a Christian. Salvation doesn’t come that way. The objective is to bring upon the sinner a fear of the judgment of God upon him for his violations of God's holy Law that are going on all the time in his life. What we want to do is convict that person by the work of the Spirit and the Word through us so that he comes to a place of such conviction and fear and dread of divine wrath that he desires to flee to the rescue available in Christ.

And then, after a person comes to saving faith in Christ, the on-going, continuing exposure to the holy Law of God through the pages of Scripture is what drives the saved person toward sanctification. So I am convinced that we must preach the Law. We must preach the Law to bring sinners under conviction that they might be saved, and we must uphold the Law to bring Christians under conviction so that they might pursue the path of sanctification.

The whole effort of the Law comes down to this: it is to bring men to a sense of their sin so that they know they need to be saved and they know they need to be sanctified. As John MacArthur has stated, "It is to produce in them a permanent beatitude attitude in which they mourn over their sin and feel inadequate, unworthy, and weak."

Preach the Law to the lost. Preach the Law to the saved. It is the Law that drives the lost to justification. It is the Law that drives the saved to sanctification. Where there is absence of conviction, there is absence of repentance. Where there is absence of repentance, there is no salvation and there is no sanctification.

No comments: