Gospel Centeredness Requires a High View of the Law

Tim Brister —  February 11, 2013 — 12 Comments

MosesOver the past several weeks my fellow pastor, Tom Ascol, has been preaching on the law and gospel while working expositionally through the book of Exodus. Yesterday’s message was on the lawful use of the law, and it was excellent. Anyone who wants to understand the relationship of the law and gospel should download that sermon. Very clearly and simply stated (I will try to post a link when it is available online).

One of the things that struck me in Tom’s message was the necessity to have a high view of the law for there to be a true gospel-centered culture in the church. The law represents the character and desires of God, and the higher we appraise the law of God, the higher our awareness is of His holiness, righteousness, justice, and all other excellencies inherent to His divine nature. We have a glorious God who graciously have us self-revelation so we would know what He is like, what He wants from us, and how we can live in a way that pleases Him. A high view of the law will bring draw this out.

Additionally, a high view of the law will expose the sinfulness and seriousness of sin. The law was never meant to make us righteous in the sight of God (legalism) but to cause us to look for an alien righteousness found in Christ’s life. That is why repentance is necessary to salvation – it is essentially looking away from ourselves, our attempts of being right in the eyes, our performances according to man-made laws to offer self-atonement. Not only that, but the right preaching of the law causes every mouth to be stopped (Rom. 3:19) as sinners realize there is no defense for our lives of lawless rebellion to the God who has rights over us as Creator. That’s the seriousness of sin, in that we have sinned against God, the one with whom we stand in judgment. According to Romans 7:7-12, we would not know sin apart from the law. The sinfulness of sin is exposed and even aggravated when there is a high view of the law (“through the commandment [sin] became sinful beyond measure”).

Together then, a high view of the law gives us a truer and deeper understanding of the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man. God is always more holy than we can perceive him to be, and we are always more sinful that we perceive ourselves to be. On the contrary, a low view of the law obscures beauty and brilliance of God’s holiness and gives damning comfort and false security to the sinner.

A low view of the law produces legalism, because the bar is so low that sinner’s feel justified in attempting to be made righteous by keeping it. A low view of the law also encourages sinners to substitute their own laws for the law of God, making self-righteous standards to live by, and judging others when they fail to live up to their own laws. Therefore, a low view of the law is the breeding ground for moralism where God is an utility to our self-righteous ends of moral justification (i.e., God helped me, not God rescued me).

A high view of the law leads Christ-centered, grace abounding salvation. With a clear view of God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness, there is a deep recognition and awareness of our need of reconciliation and redemption that can only come through the law-fulfilling life and sin-substituting death of Jesus Christ. You diminish the holy character of God and sinful nature of man, then the cross of Christ is depreciated and the gospel is cheapened. When there is a high view of the law, there is a corresponding high need for God to do for you what you are incapable of doing yourself–being made right in the eyes of God through grace.

If your desire is to be a part of a church that is saturated with gospel-loving, Jesus-treasuring, cross-exulting Christians, then it is incumbent that there be a high view of the law. A low view of the law leads to gospel substitutes. A high view of the law leads to gospel enjoyment and celebration. Don’t miss the relationship of law and gospel!

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  • David Lovi

    Thanks for this post, I look forward to listening to the message. I was recently struck by this quote, “The Gospel is the Law immersed in the blood of Jesus Christ.” -John Colquhoun. It seems to sum it up for me!

  • Amen!

    The law is for the proud (those who think they are doing alright with it)…and the gospel is for the brokenhearted (those who despair of their performance), and actually need a Savior.

    Thanks so much for this VERY important post about an extremely important subject.

  • Thanks for posting, I look forward to the sermon link. Good reminders here. I especially like this line, “a low view of the law is the breeding ground for moralism”. I have seen this again and again. This is a strong motivation to love God’s law and meditate on it day and night. Thanks brother!

  • John Dunn

    I respectfully submit that such a high view of the Law is in fact Idolatry. This view divides the Law from Christ in a twisted dispensational kind of way. Gospel centeredness requires a high view of Christ and his Cross. . . not the Law. The Law was a spiritual type which pointed away from itself to the ultimate incarnational embodiment of Yahweh’s Righteousness – Jesus Christ – the true end and eschatological fulfillment of the Law’s righteousness (Matt 5:17, Rom 3:21, 10:4, 1Cor 1:30).

    And the cross of Christ is where the horror of the Law’s curse of condemnation and death finds it’s grand display. Sinners must be humbled by Christ, the Righteous One, and him crucified for sinners, alone. And not by the Law as though it was as moral standard, somehow separate and distinct from the very incarnate person of Christ and his redemptive work.

    The Law’s eschatological purpose was not simply to tell us we have transgressed such and such a moral precept. Rather it was to display to Adamic sinners in bold relief that they are Christ-rejecting unbelievers – treasonous rebels who reject the Son – and who twist and use the Law to reject Christ – to justify themselves in “fig leaf” coverings – and to falsely accuse and murder the Righteous One. The Gospels constantly cast the Pharisees in this light. They were not merely code breakers or immoral persons. Rather, they were Law-keeping zealots who rejected, hated, and murdered the Son through their use of the Law! (John 5:44-47, Acts 7:51-53)

    The Law’s purpose then is not merely to categorize behaviour into moral/non-moral categories. Rather, it was an OT shadow of Christ’s perfect righteousness. As such, it declares our unbelieving rejection of the Son, an unbelief which manifests itself in every imaginable sin and Satanic enslavement. The Law points toward the impossibly righteous standard of Jesus’ own holy character (Matt 5:17-48), the very image that we fell from in Adam.

    And to which heavenly image we can only return to by faith (2 Cor 3:18). But a high view of the Law won’t get us there. We must have a high view of Christ and his incarnation. He fulfilled the Law. And extinguished its legal demands on the cross for those who beleive (Eph 2:15, Col 2:14, Rom 7:6).

    • John,

      I don’t know how else to say this, but I believe you have completely miss the point of my post about having a high view of the law. It was never to argue that holding a high view = living by the law (contrary to faith). Rather, it is to say that the law drives to look away from our self-righteous Pharisaism to Christ. And the gospel drives us back to the law, in grace-fueled obedience to the commands of Christ. A high view of the law keeps us from the very thing you are detesting–idolatry and “fig leaf” coverings. A low view of the law enables in the inner Pharisee with a sense of self-accomplishment while a high view of the law (Matt 5:20) looks for a righteousness that surpasses than these of the Pharisees–a righteousness found on in the life of Christ, our Law-Keeping Substitute.

    • Ryan Boyer

      I struggle to see how we can have a high view of the cross and Christ’s work on it unless we have a high view of the law. Jesus came not to abolish, but to fulfill it. A low view of the Law leaves his fulfillment quite unimpressive.

  • This is awesome Tim. Good words.

  • David Murray

    Thanks for this, Tim. Looking forward to hearing the sermon. Especially liked your reply to John Dunn. Hope and pray your words get through.

  • Tim,

    “And the gospel drives us back to the law, in grace-fueled obedience to the commands of Christ.”

    And this is precisely where a high view of the Law fails. The Law is not and cannot be synonymous with the Law of Christ. If the Law has been taken out of the way, nailed to His cross, and put to death for us, then it is not the Law of Moses that the gospel sends us reeling backwards to obey. The Old Covenant Law (10 Commandments) had its specific place in redemptive history as a type of Somthing to come. The error is in failing to see this and exporting it into the New Covenant economy as something that has had no eschatological fulfillment/transformation.

    Have a long honest look at 2 Cor 3 in conjunction with Rom 7:1-6 + 8:1-4. The Law’s dim glory, written on tablets of stone, has been brought to a complete end in Christ’s death. It has been replaced by something – rather – Someone far greater. Our eschatological *new* law is Christ in us by the Spirit. The Law pointed to Him. He fulfilled it and embodied it. And He now fulfills it in us by giving us his Spirit, written upon the new covenant tablets of our hearts. The purpose of this new “law of the Spirit of Life” is not to make us more moral, obedient to statutes, faithful to rules, or code-compliant. He actively and powerfully works in us to transform us and renew us into the image of HIM who came as the full and final eschatological revelation of the Law’s dim shadow (2 Cor 3:18, Col 3:10).

    As a redemptive type, the Law was (and is) as powerless to make anyone righteous as it was for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins . . . as it was for the Temple to make anyone holy . . . as it was for perfection to be attainable through the Levitical priesthood . . . as it was for the conscience of the OT worshiper to be perfected . . . as it was for sins to be remembered no more . . . as it was for the first covenant to be faultless.

    All of these types were fulfilled, transcended, and transformed into something far more glorious in the New Covenant economy. A new Passover-Exodus event has occured to make this possible. Christ has become our slain Passover Lamb (1 Cor 5:7). As such, the New Covenant community no longer gathers under the shadow of Sinai (Heb 12:18-25).

    For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the Law as well (for under the Levitical priesthood the people receved the Law). Heb 7:11-12

    • John,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, though I would have to disagree with them. I did a little research and discovered your writings. It is clear you are convinced on this issue and have written a great deal on why you believe I’m wrong. Your comments do not appear to address the substance of what I’ve written, so I’m happy for you to have the last word. Grace and peace.

  • A high view of the law does not mean we give it a higher place than the gospel…which always trumps the law.

    But the law must be a standard of perfection. Jesus said it himself, “You must be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.”

    Hard law. Drives one to Christ. For an easy gospel.

    Easy for us. He had to come and die.

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