There has been much confusion over the relationship of the Law of God (the Ten
Commandments) to the believer throughout church history and especially in our day. There are
antinomians who, in one way or another, deny the Law of God, whether it is by crossing out the
4 th Commandment, or by saying that the Law was only for the Jews and has no place in the
Christian’s life, or by declaring that God broke his Law in order to love (as one famous heretic
recently said). On the other side, there are legalists who put believers back under the Law as a
covenant of works. They use the threat of judgment in order to effect change. They suspend
believers’ justification and keep the threat of condemnation possible until believers strive to
produce an undetermined amount of holiness (which they are always left guessing and which
only the pastor or preacher can determine) in order to keep people incentivized to pursue
holiness. In all of this, there is great confusion over the relationship of the Law to the believer.
In my last post I covered the topic of legalism. I used a definition of legalism from
Geerhardus Vos that is not common, but is what, I believe, gets to the heart of legalism.
Essentially it’s this: knowing God’s law apart from knowing his love. God has a list of rules that
we must follow, but he does this only to restrict us and not because he cares for us. His
commands are divorced from his care. It stems from the dark face that Satan craftily placed on
God when he asked Eve, “Did God say you shall not eat from every tree.” While it is technically
true that they were not allowed to eat from every tree, this is not how God framed it. God said in
Genesis 2:16, “you may surely eat of every tree of the garden” and then goes on to tell them of
the one tree from which they were not allowed to eat. Whereas God said “you may surely eat of
every tree” Satan said “you may not eat of every tree.” Thus, Satan shaped the narrative to make
God look restrictive, withholding, and thus unloving and uncaring. This dark face made Eve look
at God as a “hard man” (Matt. 25:24).
If someone were to ask you to define legalism, how would you define it? Perhaps you
would define it as adding to God’s law or making people do things that God has not commanded.
The way I would put it is, “Saying thus says the Lord where he has not spoken.” It wasn’t too
long ago, however, that I came across an interesting definition of legalism - one that I had never
considered. In his book The Whole Christ (which I believe every pastor would greatly benefit
from) Sinclair Ferguson utilizes a definition of legalism from the nineteenth century Dutch
reformer Geerhardus Vos: “Legalism is a peculiar kind of submission to God’s law, something
that no longer feels the personal divine touch in the rule it submits to.” 1 This is a cumbersome
way of defining it, but what it refers to is separating God’s law from God’s person. The law is no
longer seen as coming from a loving Heavenly Father who has our best interests at heart, but a
mere set of rules for us to do “just because.” The way I like to sum up this definition is this way:
It’s knowing God’s law apart from knowing his love.
In my last post I argued that Christ’s kingly office is perhaps his most misunderstood office among reforming Calvinists. In my experience, Calvinistic Baptists distinguish Christ’s priestly office as exercised solely for us, from his kingly office which is all about our response. Their message is summarized like this: because Christ is king, he needs to be obeyed - and if you are not obeying him, then you are not saved! This seems to be a reaction to the Arminian and antinomian circles out of which many Baptists come, where it is posited that all that matters is that you have made a decision for Christ and how one lives is optional. Disturbed by this kind of teaching, Calvinistic Baptists are zealous to point out that because Christ is king he must be obeyed or you’re not his!
In my latest series of posts I have been talking about why our Lord Jesus Christ is an all-
sufficient Savior. In doing so, I wanted to explore his three-fold office as Mediator. What it
means for Christ to be a mediator is for him to be in the middle between us and God in order to
bring us to God. In executing his saving work as our Mediator and Redeemer, he fulfills a three-
fold office of prophet, priest, and king. I have been working through the Second London Baptist
Confession of Faith (1689), Chapter 8, paragraph 10, which nicely summarizes these three
offices of Christ. In my last two posts I covered Christ’s prophetical and priestly office. In this
post I cover Christ’s kingly office.
In my latest series of posts I have been talking about why our Lord Jesus Christ is an all-sufficient Savior. In doing so, I wanted to explore his three-fold office as Mediator. What it means for Christ to be a mediator is for him to be in the middle between us and God in order to bring us to God. In executing his saving work as our Mediator and Redeemer, he fulfills a three-fold office of prophet, priest, and king. The Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689), Chapter 8, paragraph 10 nicely summarizes what these three offices of Christ:
One of my favorite sections of the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689) is the section on Christ’s threefold offices. This is found in chapter 8 which speaks of Christ as the Mediator. What it means for Christ to be mediator is for him to be in the middle between us and God in order to bring us to God. Paragraph 10 of that chapter describes how Christ functions in his three-fold office as mediator:
We’ve been hearing the word “narrative” come up quite a bit as of late. We hear quite frequently, “It didn’t fit the narrative,” “The media has a narrative.” It is true that narratives are a driving force in the way we see things. A narrative is simply a story by which we present information. Stories are powerful, intriguing, and often draws people’s interest. We remember stories more readily than anything else (except perhaps songs).
It is often said that John Wycliffe was the morning star of the Reformation because of his work in translating the Bible into English. The story goes that once the printing press was invented a couple of centuries later, everyone had access to the Bible in English, and upon reading the Bible everyone discovered the truth. As important as John Wycliffe’s work was, it is simply not true that everyone had private access to the Bible the minute that the printing press was invented. Even though it was the Reformers’ great desire for everyone to have this access, this did not widely happen until the eighteenth century. Furthermore, one may have a Bible in his hands, but one must understand and accurately interpret the Bible.
This brings us to what I believe is the true morning star of the Reformation: Martin Luther’s rediscovery of the distinction between the Law and the Gospel. Luther came along after years of darkness because of Medieval corruption regarding the doctrine of salvation. The Medieval church had a high view of the Bible and a heavy focus on grace. They did not teach a pure salvation by works (really, nobody in history ever did). Rather, they taught that one is saved by God’s grace. This grace, however, is freely given by God so that the sinner may sufficiently cooperate with it in order to produce sanctification (intrinsic holiness). This sanctification, then, becomes the basis by which one may finally be justified and make it to heaven. Roman Catholicism officially adopted and codified this teaching.
Luther, however, broke away from Rome and sparked the Reformation when he discovered a key distinction in Scripture: the distinction between the Law and the Gospel. This distinction was a key component in sparking the Reformation and bringing liberty not only to himself but many others for generations to come. This occurred as he was wrestling with Paul’s statement in Romans 1:17: “for in [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed.” Luther writes about his struggle and the relief he found when he discovered the gospel in distinction from the law: