I'm currently preaching a series of sermons from the book of Colossians entitled Jesus+Nothing=Everything. It's really a series on how the gospel sanctifies Christians. Over and over again I'm making the point that I used to think Christian growth happened as we go out and get what we don't have-if we're going to grow we have to go out and get more patience, get more strength, get more joy, etc. But after reading the Bible more carefully I've learned that Christian growth does not happen by working hard to get something you don't have; Christian growth happens by working hard to live in the reality of what you do have.
You could say that Christian growth does not happen first by behaving better, but believing better-believing in bigger, deeper, brighter ways what Christ has already secured for sinners. In other words, the hard work of sanctification that Paul talks about in Philippians 2:12 is a continuous, daily going back to the reality of your justification.
Well, a couple weeks ago I reached the place where I had to clearly distinguish the role of the law and the role of the gospel in the life of the Christian. I've been reading a lot and talking a lot about this very issue and have received much help from many friends who are older, wiser, and smarter than me. I've come to believe that this is one of the most important theological issues in the church today because a failure to understand the distinct roles of the law and the gospel inevitably leads to toxic moralism. While both law and gospel are good (after all, both come from God), both play different roles.
Anyway, I'll be writing much more about this in the weeks to come, but I found this hymn on the law and the gospel from Ralph Erskine to be both poetic and helpful:
The law supposing I have all,
Does ever for perfection call;
The gospel suits my total want,
And all the law can seek does grant.
The law could promise life to me,
If my obedience perfect be;
But grace does promise life upon
My Lord's obedience alone.
The law says, Do, and life you'll win;
But grace says, Live, for all is done;
The former cannot ease my grief,
The latter yields me full relief.
The law will not abate a mite,
The gospel all the sum will quit;
There God in thret'nings is array'd
But here in promises display'd.
The law excludes not boasting vain,
But rather feeds it to my bane;
But gospel grace allows no boasts,
Save in the King, the Lord of Hosts.
Lo! in the law Jehovah dwells,
But Jesus is conceal'd;
Whereas the gospel's nothing else
But Jesus Christ reveal'd.
More to come…