This past week during a panel discussion at The Resurgence conference in Orlando, I was asked to articulate the distinctive roles of God's law and God's gospel in the life of the Christian. I've been thinking and writing a lot about this over the last year or so and have come to believe that this is one of the most important theological issues in the church today. Failure to understand the distinct roles of the law and the gospel inevitably leads to moralism. While both law and gospel are good (after all, both come from God), both play different roles.
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.