The Gospel Coalition

For centuries, Reformational Theologians have rightly noted that in the Bible God speaks two fundamentally different words: law and gospel. The law is God's word of demand, the gospel is God's word of deliverance. The law tells us what to do, the gospel tells us what God has done. So, when we speak of the distinction between law and gospel we are referring to different speech acts--or what linguist John Austin calls "illocutionary stances"--that run throughout the whole Bible. Everything in both the Old Testament and the New Testament is either in the form of an obligatory imperative or a declaratory indicative"Hence," wrote Martin Luther, "whoever knows well this art of distinguishing between the law and the gospel, him place at the head and call him a doctor of Holy Scripture."

This may seem like a distinction that would fascinate only the theologian or linguist. But, believe it or not, every ounce of confusion regarding justification, sanctification, the human condition, God's grace, how God relates to us, the nature of the Christian life, and so on, is due to our failure to properly distinguish between the law and the gospel.
Ignorance of this distinction between Law and Gospel is one of the principal sources of the abuses which corrupted and still corrupt Christianity. (Theodore Beza)

Virtually the whole of the scriptures and the understanding of the whole of theology--the entire Christian life, even--depends upon the true understanding of the law and the gospel. (Martin Luther)

Obviously, both God's law and God's gospel come from God which means both are good. But, both do very different things. Serious life confusion happens when we fail to understand their distinct "job descriptions." We'll wrongly depend on the law to do what only the gospel can do, and vice versa. As Mike Horton says, "Where the law pronounces us all 'guilty before God' (Rom 3:19-20), the gospel announces 'God's gift of righteousness through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus' (vv 21-31). The law is unyielding. It commands, but doesn't give. The law says, "Do!", but the gospel says, "Done!"

So, I'm going to be doing a series of posts that will spell out this distinction and hopefully explain why it's so important. If we are ever going to experience the unconditional freedom that Jesus paid so dearly to secure for sinners like me, we must have a clear understanding of this crucial distinction.

To get things started I thought I would post this poetic and helpful hymn from Ralph Erskine where the job descriptions of both the law and the gospel are clearly spelled out and distinguished. Enjoy...

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.


stitches of bliss

March 30, 2012 at 01:02 AM

[...] 4. Law and the Gospel  [...]


March 28, 2012 at 12:49 AM

Steve, I am trying to follow you here. You said- No one CAN receive Him of their own accord. Yes, they received Him…as we received our birth.-
Did you receive your birth and others not receive their birth? The verse says that the right to become children of God is given to some and not others on the basis of them receiving or not receiving Christ. Then it says that God alone regenerates.



March 28, 2012 at 07:58 AM

Steve when you say- We receive Him because He gave Himself to us.- are you saying that Christ did not give Himself for His own, in verse 11? The text does not say that that, it says that His own did not receive Him.

This verse you cite is about God revealing not about people not choosing
“Flesh and blood have NOT revealed this to you, but my Father in Heaven.
Amen, the revelation that Jesus is the Christ is from the Father, that does not say that Peter did choose Christ. Jesus called Peter to follow him and he did. Jesus called others to follow Him and they didn't.

Steve Martin

March 28, 2012 at 06:13 AM

We receive Him because He gave Himself to us. We are not born of blood, nor of flesh, nor of the will of man...but of God.

There is NOTHING in us that in any way chooses God. Didn't Jesus say as much to Peter? "Flesh and blood have NOT revealed this to you, but my Father in Heaven.

3.26.12 | SiftingPoint

March 27, 2012 at 11:22 PM

[...] More TEST if You Can Believe it! 3.26.12 March 27, 2012 ·  Tullian Tchividjian on the Law And Gospel: Part 1 ’Serious life confusion happens when we fail to understand their (law and gospel’s) [...]

John Thomson

March 27, 2012 at 07:56 AM

John Dunn

Just to say I have enjoyed reading your posts in your blog. It is good to read someone who really interacts with Scripture in such an edifying way.


March 27, 2012 at 07:56 AM

Steve, your very response reinforces what I was saying. Another proof text. John 1:13 comes after John 1:12 and here is 11-13 for the setting.

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

The very verse before your proof text says that some people can receive or not receive Christ which is a part of salvation. vs- 13 goes on to say that it is God who regenerates.

Steve Martin

March 27, 2012 at 07:45 AM

They showed up. Thank you.


March 27, 2012 at 06:42 PM

Why don't you just preach on the Beatitudes?

mark mcculley

March 27, 2012 at 06:25 PM

But did the Mosaic law announce clearly that it was a “killing instrument” and not the gospel? If it didn’t, who could blame any Jew for using the law wrong , so that they tried to be saved by keeping it? The central text discussed in this connection is Romans 9:32–”They did not seek if by faith, as if it were by works of law.”

The perspective which focuses only on redemptive history (and excludes law/gospel contrast) says that there is no difference between law and gospel, but only a right way and a wrong way of pursuing the law, and that the gospel is the right way of pursuing the law. A most interesting rebuttal to this is an essay by David Gordon in WTJ (Spring 1992): “Why Israel did not obtain Torah Righteousness; A note on Romans 9:32.”

Gordon writes that the verse should be translated not “as if it were”, but “because the law is not of faith” in line with Gal 3:12. “The qualification works-and-not faith in Gal 3:10-13 is parallel to the qualification works and not faith in Romans 9:32.”

“If one group attained what the other did not, the difference between them might lie in the manner in which they pursued it…This is NOT what Paul says however. The two groups did not pursue the same thing (the gentiles pursued nothing)…Paul’s point therefore is NOT that the Gentiles pursued righteousness in a better manner (by faith) than the Jews. Rather, God’s mercy gives what is not even pursued.”

“When Paul asks why the Jews did not attain unto the Torah, his answer addressed the NATURE of the law covenant (Torah demands perfect obedience), not the nature of the PURSUIT of the law covenant."

mark mcculley

March 27, 2012 at 06:22 PM

Romans 9:32–”Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling-stone.”

In order to perform its killing function, the Mosaic covenant was law demanding perfection with the power to condemn… Law (Mosaic or new or whatever law) is not only a tutor that “reveals” sin or makes people aware of sin. Romans 5:20 says that the law entered redemptive history that sin would increase, not simply that knowledge about sin would increase

The law does not merely “kill” by making us thinking of things to do that we would not have thought of before. The main way that the law kills is that it is used by idolaters (all of us by nature) to try to justify ourselves before God (I did it, or I did enough of it…)

The law kills, leads to death, and if no gospel, only that. But the elect while still under the law are taught by the gospel to SEE that they are dead.

Romans 7 verse 9: “I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died.” We were dead by nature, and already sinners. This “I died” is something besides the death we were born with under the law.

It’s life to see that you are dead and to see that any and all righteousness found BY US in the law (Phil 3:9) is insufficient to stand before God. Only Christ has by His death for the elect satisfied the requirements of law for them, so that the law now demands that these elect be given every blessing of salvation.

John Dunn

March 27, 2012 at 06:18 AM


The saving element of baptism of which Peter speaks in 1Peter 3:21 has nothing to do with the water itself ("not as a removal of dirt from the body") but has everything to do with the faith that the believer is publically avowing in his/her identity in their participation in Christ's resurrection from the dead. Baptism is "an appeal to God for a good conscience". Baptism is for the new believer, the true covenant infant in Christ (1 Cor 3:1, 1 Peter 2:2).

I would also posit that NT water baptism is a picutre of corporate identity in to the (New Exodus) death and resurrection of Christ . . . in the same way that the Old Covenant people were corporately baptized in the cloud and sea unto Moses, in their Exodus deliverance (1 Cor 10:2).

And to those who would see infant baptism as a replacement of circumcision, I would suggest that OT fleshly circumcision was not replaced by another fleshly circumcision made with hands (wet circumcision). Rather, OT external circumcision in the flesh was a type/shadow of the promised NT heart circumcision by the Spirit, occuring at regeneration (Rom 2:28-29, Col 2:11, Phil 3:3).

Steve Martin

March 27, 2012 at 03:45 PM


No one CAN receive Him of their own accord. Yes, they received we received our birth. Faith is a gift of God. The Bible makes this abundantly clear in mant places.

But THIS is the issue. Luther said it very well in "The Bondage of the Will" (his best work according to himself). Do we have any free-will when it comes to choosing God? We believe (because Scripture makes it clear it is the case) that are wills are bound to sin.

We we start the Christian life differently and we end up with a different view of the Christian life.

Read some of Gerhard Forde's books. He says all of this much better than I ever could.


John Thomson

March 27, 2012 at 02:52 AM


A few comments on baptism.

1. In terms of the metaphor baptism is not death it is burial (Roms 6). That is it is the visible sign that death has taken place; dead people are taken by others and buried.

Rom 6:3-4 (ESV)
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

I may add that strictly speaking baptism simply says we have died, it does not say we are alive. It is 'unto death'. Burial. Life is not associated with baptism.

2. There is no record that the 11 apostles were baptised (they were called to baptise).

3. Many who are baptised and take the Lord's Supper are not saved. 1 Cor 10. This text sees the waters of the Red Sea as equivalent to baptism (cut Israel off from Egypt putting them in the wilderness the place of death). Yet many subsequently were destroyed because they did not believe. Involvement in an outward privilege is no guarantee of spiritual life.

Jude 1:5 (ESV)
Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.

Baptism is no proof of life. The great basis of assurance is Christ looked to by faith.

Steve Martin

March 26, 2012 at 12:45 PM

What people hate about Baptism is that it is so gracious and it takes my 'little bit' (that so many of us cannot let go because of a wrongheaded notion of "free-will")and nails it to the cross with Jesus. We just hate that. We cannot let go of the little tiny bit that we wish to offer. Our repentance...our decision...our seriousness...our whatevers.

God takes all of those and nails them to the cross. And Baptism is your cross where you and all of your seriousness get put to death.

98% of Christians do not have a clue as to which I speak. They start off on the wrong foot and continue that way, and when someone offers them true freedom (God, in Baptism and the Supper) leaves a bad taste in their mouth.

Steve Martin

March 26, 2012 at 12:39 PM

Kathy Morse.

You have changed Scripture. Nowhere does it say in Scripture that Baptism does not matter. In fact in says just the opposite a many, many places.

Circumcism was commanded by God to the Jews. It was a sign of the covenant. Baptism is much more that that. In Baptism God is actually carrying the frieght.

Steve Martin

March 26, 2012 at 11:23 PM

I think I have 3 comments stuck in moderation (now).

Steve Martin

March 26, 2012 at 11:21 PM


I do this much...when it comes to us having anything in us, at all, that is capable of choosing God, we have NONE.

"We are born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." RSV John 1:13

Also, Jesus told Peter as much when Peter answered Jesus' question, "Who do you say that I am?"

Peter answered (correctly) and then Jesus said, "blessed are you Simon Peter for flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but my Father in Heaven."

And, of course, Jesus also said to them in John, "No man CAN come to me, except he be drawn (compelled) by my Father in Heaven.

Our wills are not free, at all, when it comes to the things of God....but as the Bible tells us, our wills are bound (to the self).

Susanne Schuberth (Germany)

March 26, 2012 at 08:45 AM

That’s an odd thing, isn’t it…?
Quite frequently I had observed that John Thomson’s comments pop up on this blog site many hours later than he had posted them. That means I wrote my reply, posted it and BOOM...suddenly, here you are, another previously invisible JT comment arose. Maybe, this is due to the fact that the ‘law of the Spirit’ is written with invisible ink. ;) Or perhaps there are certain traffic blocks on the global information highway, esp. between Scotland and Florida… :)

Susanne Schuberth (Germany)

March 26, 2012 at 08:21 AM

John Dunn,

This is a perfect explanation of OC Law "in the flesh" vs. NC "Law of the Spirit"...'and found only in Christ Jesus'. Impressive!


March 26, 2012 at 07:02 PM

Steve, your point would be a lot stronger if the word 'depend' was in the original language.
ESV- So then it depends not on human will or exertion,* but on God, who has mercy.
ASV- So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy.

There is a huge difference between something not originating in a person and a person having no part involved in something. Look up the Greek before you share a proof text please. I am not a Greek scholar but I don't see the word for no/not being modified like that elsewhere, do you?

Steve Martin

March 26, 2012 at 05:44 PM

I read this this morning and thought immediately of some of the good folks here at The Gospel Coalition (as well as many others):

It only takes 1 minute.

Steve Martin

March 26, 2012 at 05:31 PM


Galatians 3:27

Romans 6

Acts 2:38

1st Peter 3:21

For starters (off the top of my head). There are more.

Don't forget about Naaman who was told to wash...and he was healed also. Not just bt the water...but God's Word of promise was attached to the water...the same as in Baptism.


March 26, 2012 at 05:14 PM

a href="">Great post. I will have to bookmark this site. I want to hear the rest of this. Beautiful poem also.

Kathy Morse

March 26, 2012 at 03:19 PM

With all do respect, could you please share with me the scriptures that say we are saved by any of the sacraments.
Thanks, Kathy

John Thomson

March 26, 2012 at 01:48 AM

John Dunn

Well said.

Mitchell Hammonds

March 26, 2012 at 01:28 PM

God is not a legalist for His demanding perfection according to His law. Where an individual becomes a legalist/pharisee is when they assume they are actually fulfilling what God commands... even with their cooperative efforts aided by grace. This finds it's way into the conversation in numerous ways [i.e. I'm not perfect but I try hard, God wants a hearty effort, be a "fully devoted follower of Christ"(no one is fully devoted)].
I love God... not fully. I follow... not nearly perfectly. I love my neighbor... though not as myself. Further, I will never present myself as one who actually does what these "real commands" of God actually expect of me.
All of the theological language spouted off (in resume form) does nothing for the average individual in understanding Law and Grace. What plays out before each of us is real-life. Real life and real death.
What is ultimately being wondered by many is this... "Will this Gospel of Christ work in the end?" To the individual who asks this question AND understands what God demands in His Law is brought to a point of helplessness. What then? A list of works He must do in order to prove he's truly changed? Hardly good news. What of the one who simply continues to live a quiet life he lived before he heard of the Good News. Were they to read most of the reformed responses at the GC they would leave absolutely in utter helplessness because of what has been written.
Few understand the "Good News."


March 25, 2012 at 09:41 AM

very sincitive topic. but in my opion you handled it the right way. good work.

get daily devotional at

John Thomson

March 25, 2012 at 08:48 AM


'God doesn't need any add-ons...' Of course he doesn't. But you are referring here to a new believer. You are not a new believer. You are presenting yourself as a teacher of the word who is guiding others in their understanding. You must take account of the fact that this 'Word' is a 'Word' that reveals history. The 'Word' says Jesus came as Jew born under Jewish law to Bethlehem. The 'Word' is profoundly historical and to treat it as ahistorical is to simply turn it into a philosophy.

Integral to the 'historical' is the place of law in the flow of redemptive history. To say law=imperative and gospel=indicative is ahistorical and does not present 'the Word' as it is, the story of God's salvation in history.

John Dunn

March 25, 2012 at 08:11 PM

Israel's recapitulation of the Adamic fall brought about the condemnation of the whole world which Israel federally represented under the Old Covenant/Law administration(Rom 3:5-20). As Yahweh's "firstborn son" (Ex 4:22) national Israel was acting as the archetypical fleshly Adam.

The substance of the Old Covenant was letters written on stone/in ink, and sealed to the people in blood. However the substance of the New Covenant is the WORD made flesh . . . Jesus Christ who seals himself to his people by his own blood (Matt 26:28, Mk 14:24). Jesus Christ IS the new Covenant revealed in the flesh, crucified and risen . . . just as the prophets foretold (Isa 42:6, 49:8)! He is also the new/last Adam . . . the righteous and faithful "firstborn" figure (by virtue of his resurrection) that Israel and every preceding firstborn son failed to be (Rom 8:29, Col 1:15-18, Heb 1:6, Rev 1:5).

Jesus, as Covenant embodiment and mediator, now gives his people a new eschatological law from Zion's Mount (Isa 2:1-5), written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts (2 Cor 3). The promised new eschatological law (Jer 31:31-34, Ezek 36:26) is the "law of the Spirit of Life" (Rom 8:4). New Covenant believers now worship at Mt. Zion and from there recieve the life-giving "law", the Spirit of God, no longer sitting under the terrors of Sinai's dark shadow of death, engraved on letters of stone (Heb 12:18-24).

Praise God that his covenantal righteousness is now completely revealed completely apart from the Law . . . and found only in Christ Jesus, incarnate, crucified, and risen for us (Rom 3:21-22)!

graham and nicola

March 25, 2012 at 08:03 AM

So far as we can tell "Law" and "Gospel" cannot be different illocutionary acts. Illocutionary acts are assertions, interrogations, warnings, commands etc.
As for the actual aim of a speech-act, we need to attend to the actual details of the passage in question. It will be more nuanced than "Law" or "Gospel".
However useful these concpets are in systematic theology and homiletics we must not read them back into the intentions of the biblical authors. Tullian's methodology seems to be heading in that direction.


March 25, 2012 at 07:23 PM

The LC-MS has put out a great collection of lectures on Law and Gospel by C F W Walther (Reader's edition). Super good. It's also available online to read for free, but it doesn't have any of the historical preface that is included in the hardbound version. Highly recommended.

J. Dean

March 25, 2012 at 01:31 PM

Pastor Tullian,

I am a recent discoverer of you, and just finished your book Jesus+ Nothing=Everything. Thank you for bringing a message that seems to have been lost in our evangelical world of "sanctified legalism!"

Good post, and I look forward to more!

mark mcculley

March 25, 2012 at 01:27 PM

I too profited by the Lee Irons' essay.

I was glad to see in the new issue of Westminster Theological Journal a follow-up essay by David VanDrunnen to “The law is Not Of Faith”. DVD notices that the book has been at once criticized as “antinomian” (Venema) and “semi-Pelagian”.

I found DVD very helpful on Romans 6:14 being about BOTH historical fulfillment AND law/gospel. “How could not being under the Mosaic law have anything to do with one’s justification?” (p322).

DVD: “Justification is indeed ultimately not about whether a person is under the Mosaic law as a member of corporate Israel, but about
whether a person is under the federal headship of the first Adam or
the last Adam. But insofar as one of the chief divine purposes for the Mosaic law was to cause OT Israel to recapitulate Adam’s probation and fall, being under the Mosaic law was a profound illustration of the plight of humanity under the first Adam.”

Title of the essay “Israel’s Recapitulation of Adam’s Probation”

mark mcculley

March 25, 2012 at 01:22 PM

Those who identify law and gospel reduces God's demand so they can put into the equation what the Spirit does in the elect. But what God does in us (by grace) is necessary for a different reason than the satisfaction of God`s law. But those who hate the antithesis hate gratitude as motive because it focuses on the past.

Read carefully what Hafemann writes about the “obedience of faith” (p188): “Still others consider obedience to God’s law to be the necessary evidence of faith. For them, if one believes, then obedience becomes the mandatory sign of something else, namely faith, which is the human response to God’s grace. Faith must lead to obedience as a sign that it is real.”

While that it is an accurate description of many Calvinists’ theory about assurance, it is not biblical assurance. We do not work to get assurance. We must have assurance before our works are acceptable to God.

Most evangelicals of course do think that faith is the response that saves us. Yes, they disagree about the cause and source of faith, but they both leave election out of their “atonement” and out of their “gospel”.

Hafemann: “In other views, obedience may be possible, desirable, or maybe even necessary as the byproduct of trusting Christ, but it is not an essential expression of what it means to trust Christ in and of itself.” (p188) He wants to identify faith toward Christ outside us with holiness inside us. He doesn't want to be a Sandemanian. But Hafemann's reaction to "evangelical" antinomianism is identifying law and gospel.

mark mcculley

March 25, 2012 at 01:13 PM

The real point of the law-gospel antithesis is non-identity. The law is not the gospel. The gospel is not the law. The gospel, however, is about the satisfaction of God’s law for God’s elect.

Though law and gospel are not the same thing, they are not opposed because they never claim to have the same function. Law says what God demands. Gospel says how Christ satisfied that demand for the elect. The law never offered life off probation; only one sin would put you under its curse, and no matter how many acts of obedience to the law, the law could never promise everlasting life.

Texts like Romans 6:14 and 10:4 can be about both redemptive-historical abrogation (the end of the mosaic economy) AND about Christ completing all that the law demanded, so that there is no remainder left for the Spirit enabled Christian to do to satisfy the law.

The gospel says DONE. The gospel does not say “to be done by the life of Christ in the elect”. Hafemann reduces the law/gospel antithesis to historical fulfillment. This misses what the gospel says about Christ’s satisfaction of the law for the elect.

Christians sin, and therefore their “fulfillment of the law” (see for example, Romans 13) cannot ever satisfy the law. But the law will not go unsatisfied.

Back to footnote 6 on page 244: “In this view, the law itself taught a legalism that Adam and Israel failed to keep but that God continues to demand in order to drive us to the gospel. Hafemann does not define this “legalism”

Is “legalism” a demand for perfection? If God demands perfection, is God therefore a “legalist”? It seems to me that the only alternative to a demand for perfection is either no law at all or a “new” demand which calls only for imperfect righteousness so that “grace” makes up the difference.

Hafemann is simply following in the wake of Barthians like the Torrances who reject the “contract God” who operates by strict justice. The Barthians put “grace” and not justice into the pre-fall situation of Adam.

If the law were the gospel, even saying that there’s law (in the garden) would be “legalism”. But God has told us that the law is not the gospel and that it never was the gospel. Romans 11:5–”So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is not on the basis of works; otherwise grace would not be grace.”

Kathy Morse

March 25, 2012 at 01:12 PM

Tullian just preached on Gal.5.As I understood it in Gal 5:6 God states "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision - the do of the law (baptism) nor uncircumcised - the do not of the law (not being baptized) has any value. The only thing that counts is faith (credited to us as righteousness) expressing itself through love."

"Outward external baptism (circumcision) does not save anyone from their sins; inward internal baptism of the heart by Holy Spirit is what saves us from our sins." Romans 2:28-29
"God who knows the heart, showed that he accepts us by giving us the Holy Spirit... he purifies our heart by faith." Acts 15:8
"..he saved us, not because of righteous things we have done (baptism), but because of his mercy. He save us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior." Titus 3:5-6
"God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." Romans. 5:5
Those who pursue righteousness by works - the do of the law; (outward baptism) rather than by faith -the done of the gospel; stumble over The Rock and fall over The Stone. Romans 9:30-33

mark mcculley

March 25, 2012 at 01:04 PM

In The God of Promise and the Life of Faith: Understanding the Heart of the Bible (Paperback) footnote 6 on p244, Hafemann writes: ”The position I am advocating is based on a reassessment of the traditional Lutheran, Calvinistic and dispensational view of the relationship between the Law and the Gospel. The traditional view saw a conflict between the two, with the law viewed narrowly as God’s demand for sinless obedience as the ground of our salvation, while the gospel called for faith In God’s grace in Christ, who kept the Law perfectly in our place.”

Hafemann does not understand correctly the law/gospel antithesis he is opposing. Yes, the law is the divine demand for perfection (and also for satisfaction for sins). But he is wrong to focus on a demand for perfection being replaced by a demand for faith. The proper difference would not be faith but the righteousness obtained and imputed by God. We can give full attention to the discontinuity of redemptive history without denying this antithesis between indicative and imperative. Of course folks like John T have an antithesis of their own--either attend to the history of salvation or attend to law and gospel, as if to say we can't do both!

Hafemann is inattentive to three facts about the divine alien righteousness. First, Christ died under the curse of God’s law only for the elect alone. Second, faith has as its object not just any Jesus or any “grace”, but the Jesus who satisfied the law for all who will be justified (and not for the non-elect). Third, this faith is not only a sovereign gift but a righteous gift, given on behalf of Christ and His law-work (Philippians 1:29; John 17).

When Hafemann makes the difference to be between a demand for faith and a demand for obedience, the only thing left to discuss Is the nature of faith. Does faith include works of faith or not? If faith works and faith is an instrument, why can’t works of faith be an instrument? Since faith is a result of regeneration, won’t that faith include works?

Of course Hafemann does discuss the object of faith. His theme is that the law/gospel antithesis is wrong to put all the emphasis on the past. He denies that the past work of Christ is sufficient or the only object of faith. He insists that we look also to the life of Christ in us, and to the future work of Christ in us.

To his credit, Hafemann openly acknowledges his differences with the law/gospel antithesis of both dispensationalism and covenant theology. He follows Daniel Fuller's system (which of course Fuller claims is inductive and not a system!)

[...] [...]

Steve Martin

March 24, 2012 at 10:45 PM

John T.,

You could talk to someone who is dying, or grieving or hurting, or guilt ridden and tell then of the love of Christ for them and that their sins are forgiven because of Jesus and that He will raise them to new life and everlasting life with Him...and they could very well hear that gospel message (by God's grace) and come to a living faith in Christ, without any knowledge of any historical timeline of events.

And that is pretty much the way it is. The way God works. Through the proclamation of His Word. You and I may like history, and that's fine. But God doesn't need any add on's to create all.


March 24, 2012 at 09:22 AM

oops forgot to include


March 24, 2012 at 08:56 AM

Oh Lord: Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.(Ps 119:105 et al)

John Thomson

March 24, 2012 at 08:03 AM


You won't get me disagreeing with you here. Where we disagree is in our definition of what is law. You do not IMO read the bible redemptive-historically.

Steve Martin

March 24, 2012 at 07:59 AM

St. Paul calls the 10 Commandments, "The ministry of death"

The law kills (theologically), and the gospel makes alive again.

Preachers should QUIT trying to use the law as a vehicle to make people better Christians. Tey are just throwing gasoline of the fire (of self). We need to die (to self)...before we can be raised.



March 24, 2012 at 07:04 AM

I too am looking forward to this series. Just in case anyone like me needs reminding what indicatives and imperatives are. Elyse Fitzpatrick has a post on the Resurgence blog:

John Thomson

March 24, 2012 at 04:23 AM

Hi Garrett

I've just skim read Lee Irons article (I've read a fair bit of Irons before but my memory is getting rusty) and really enjoyed it. Overall I find myself on the same page. My only disagreement is in his analysis of dispensationalism and his comments on the Adamic covenant of works.

I am not a dispensationalist but was reared in it and know it fairly intimately. It is true that Scofield speaks of dispensationalism as teaching that OT believers were actually saved through obeying the law but this was not the position of dispensationalism's original architects. They (J N Darby and W Kelly) were clear that the Law could not save. It was a covenant of works but simply exposed sin. Scofield and some early Dallas folks were weak here.

The second area I disagree with Irons is his conjecture (in my view) that Adam was promised eternal life. The Genesis narrative nowhere suggests this. He was threatened with death on disobedience but not promised life upon obedience. He had 'life' though not 'eternal life' as we understand it. Still, he would not have died and was never promised that his obedience would lead to eternal life.

On the other hand, while the Law did point to life in the land, yet when Paul speaks of 'life' in Galatians and contrasts 'life' through the law (do this and live) and life through the gospel he does not suggest that one is temporary this world life and the other is eternal life. Life in both cases seems to be the same.

These are issues worth exploring. However, they are minor disagreements with Irons overall argument which I would heartily amen. He refers to Moo on the law. Moo's article in 5 views of the law is excellent and available on line at his site.

It is to my great frustration that I have been unable to persuade Tullian of this position. Still, I keep trying. :)

John Thomson

March 24, 2012 at 04:14 PM


The historicity does matter. The historical sequence is all-important in properly understanding its story and theology. This is precisely Paul's point in Gals 3,4. He builds his whole argument about the end of the law on the historical order of the Abrahamic covenant and the Sinai Covenant (law). It is impossible to read accurately theologically unless we read historically.

The incarnation came at 'the fulness of the time'... 'at the end of the ages Christ appeared to put away sin...' and so on. The time sequence is very important. The Bible is the unfolding of God's purpose in an history not simply a theological treatise.

If we fail to grasp this we end up with a flat bible where law=imperative and gospel=indicative and miss the fact that law is an epoch, a covenant that belongs to a period in biblical history. The Law is not 'demand' it is the Mosaic covenant, a covenant of works.

Will you not consider that this may be the case?

Steve Martin

March 24, 2012 at 03:47 PM


You are right. I don't. I read it theologically and redemptively.

The hispricity of the Bible is neither here nor there. It's God's Word that matters and His gospel for the redemption of sinners who are insistant on being thier own gods.

Paul St

March 23, 2012 at 11:38 AM

there are times when I am confused, because I want to know the truth in deep way but don't quite have the art of distinguishing the Law and Gospel. But is the Word of God so difficult to understand?
Someone said the Word of God is deep enough for a elephant to swim in and shallow enough for a mouse to wade in.

More and More on Law and Grace |

March 23, 2012 at 10:56 AM

[...] Law and Gospel: Part 1 [...]

mark mcculley

March 23, 2012 at 10:04 AM

"Let all that love to wear the legal dress
Know that as sin, so, bastard righteousness
Has slain its thousands, who in tow’ring pride
The Righteousness of Jesus Christ deride
A robe divinely wrought, divinely won,
Yet cast aside by men for robes that are their own."

I quote Ralph Erskine without endorsing his "Marrow offer" approach to election.


March 23, 2012 at 09:48 AM


I'm looking forward to this series. Are you familiar with Lee Irons' short paper on the law/gospel contrast?

It's well worth reading, if you have the time. I think he does an excellent job of showing the weaknesses of the law/gospel contrast as it has been traditionally expressed in Lutheranism and Dispensationalism, as well as making a positive, Biblical case for the contrast, particularly in Paul. If you have a chance to read it, I'd love to know what you think.



March 23, 2012 at 08:00 PM

Galatians 5:19-20 "Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God."

If a man who claimed to be a Christian were to continue to persist in sleeping with his father's wife, would he go to hell or heaven? Is this law or is it gospel?

Keep Matthew 5:19 in mind:

Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Most commentators cite this idiom as meaning that such a person will "be called least by the kingdom of heaven" or such a person will be left out of the kingdom.

Steve Martin

March 23, 2012 at 07:11 PM

Here's a very short (only 8 minutes), but good, mp3 audio on the law/gospel distinction:



March 23, 2012 at 04:57 PM

@John Thomson,

Thanks for sharing those thoughts John. I think we are on the same page on these things. Have you read the Irons article I referenced above? I think it would be an encouragement to you.


Steve Martin

March 23, 2012 at 04:45 PM

John Thomson,

We all had better hope that there is a distinction between the law and the gospel. Otherwise, we are all toast.

What in the world would we, could we, possibly do with the Sermon on the Mount?


That was a nice thing to say. Thanks for those encouraging words.

What a blessing that there are those who still trumpet the pure gospel, and hold up Christ above all else (especially the world, the flesh, and the devil). Pastor Tullian is a tremendous voice for the pure gospel. May that voice continue strong and encourage others to also proclaim God's grace in Christ Jesus...alone.


March 23, 2012 at 04:06 PM

Pastor Tullian,

The blog posts on this site have revolutionized me theologically and personally. The Gospel is infinitely deeper and radically more liberating than I had ever thought possible. I had missed the glory of the Gospel for years, but now - thanks be to God - I am beginning to get it!

About a year ago it began to be very curious about the Law - Gospel distinction. Thanks to this blog as well as the ones at New Reformation Press and The Old Adam Lives (plus a few others) I see how absolutely foundational it is to distinguish Law from Gospel in the Word of God.

This radical Gospel of Jesus Christ is life to me, a forgiven sinner. Thank you (and the blogs mentioned above) for boldly and unashamedly proclaiming the Gospel!


John Thomson

March 23, 2012 at 03:35 PM

O dear, I know I am going to disagree with this.

Tullian, one of the most helpful articles I read on Martin Luther was by a guest writer you had on this blog - Jono Linebaugh. I recommend all read this post in preparation for your series.

To my mind the imperative/indicative divide simply does not stand up to Scripture and is the cause of many difficulties and confusion. The law does not equal demand. The law is demand without enabling grace that promises life upon obedience and curse upon disobedience. It is specifically the Mosaic Covenant but by extension any attempt to find life on the same principle. Law is 'do and live': gospel is 'live and do'. In the latter (live and do) the 'do' is not law, or law-works but evangelical-works or grace-works; it is faith working through love.

I can see already, reading the above comments, that all kinds of views will be on the table. Every blessing.

Steve Martin

March 23, 2012 at 03:26 PM

Pastor Ed,

In the previous post (on this site), I was trying to explain how we Lutherans view Baptism to a couple of the good folks here. Not having much luck. Maybe it's me.

Anyway, if you'd like to add a comment or two (on the previous post on Romans) on how Baptism is God's work, for us...I do believe it may help us.

Thank you, Pastor.

- Steve

Paul St

March 23, 2012 at 02:57 PM

@pastor Ed
thanks, you're right, its not a good analogy to use shallow when referring to the Word of God

Pastor Ed

March 23, 2012 at 02:22 PM

Paul St - Rather than deep/shallow maybe it's better to think in terms of simmple and profound. Simple enough for a child to believe and profound enough to keep the greatest mind busy for a thousand lifetimes. The Word is never shallow.

As for L&G; If the text condemns me, it's law. If the text frees me, it's gospel. If the text demands something from me, it's law. If the text gives something to me, it's gospel. If the text leaves me guilty, it's law. If the text sets me free, it's gospel.

We need both! Without the law the gospel is meaningless. The law reveals the issue that only the gospel can address.

Paul St

March 23, 2012 at 01:51 PM

The manifestation of God is both a mystery and a revelation. 1Tim3:16
Many things are known to the understanding of the natural man, but some things are impenetrable to him in his natural state. Rom 1:20
1 cor 2:14, james 3:15,Jude 19
man by natural birth is so far removed from God that regeneration is the communication of the the principle of life to man by the operation of the spirit. It is the work of God alone, and as far beyond the natural ability of man to perform as his first birth. Rom 8:9
The mysteries of God should not cause man to despair. The excellency of the Teacher Who is the Holy Spirit, not the natural ability of the scholar, unveils these things to the heart of man. John 16:15 1John 2:27 1peter 1:12

Steve Martin

April 1, 2012 at 08:04 PM


The Bible says that no one chooses God. (Jesus said it himself)

The Bible says that faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit.

If you want to believe that we have something in us that is capable of sizing up God and choosing Him BEFORE He chooses us...then go right ahead.

We do choose God, and reject Him, regularly...but after He chooses us. Until that happens, we only reject Him.