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No Contradiction

Although a proper distinction between law and gospel is necessary, we must be careful not to set them at odds to each other.


Obviously grace and law are vastly different principles. In some ways they contrast starkly. Though both are found throughout Scripture, law was the dominant theme in the Old Testament: grace is the central message of the New Testament. “The law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). The law judges sinners guilty, but grace grants believers forgiveness. The law pronounces a curse; grace declares a blessing. The law says, “The wages of sin is death.” Grace says, “The gift of God is eternal life” (Rom. 6:23).

Furthermore, as we have said from the beginning, the gospel is not a call for sinners to save themselves. It is not advice about something the sinner must do to gain salvation. It is not about the sinner’s own self-betterment. The gospel is a message about God’s work on behalf of the sinner. It is an account of what God does to save sinners. It is about how God justifies the ungodly.

That is precisely what makes the true gospel so starkly different from almost every counterfeit version of the Christian message. That’s why the gospel is good news. It is a glorious message about liberty from the law’s curse and condemnation (Rom. 8:1). It sets us “free from the law of sin and death” (v. 2).

Sound doctrine therefore demands that a clear distinction be made between law and grace. But if you imagine that grace establishes a new standard of righteousness that contradicts the law, or if you think of the law itself as an evil influence, then you have not listened carefully enough to what Paul and the other apostles taught. “Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law” (Rom. 7:7). After all, “sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4)—meaning the law shows us what sin is. The law also defines righteousness for us (Deut. 6:25).

Grace speaks more benignly than law, but the two do not disagree about what constitutes sin and righteousness.

And don’t imagine that the principle of justification by faith renders obedience unnecessary for Christians. The fact that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to believers does not give them license to live unrighteously, it motivates them and gives them a constant desire to pursue practical righteousness.

Although our own good works, obedience, and holy living are not in any way the ground of our justification, they are nevertheless inevitable fruits of genuine faith and one of the vital tests by which saving faith can be distinguished from mere pretense. “Every good tree bears good fruit. . . . Therefore by their fruits you will know them” (Matt. 7:17, 20). As we saw in the previous chapter, believers are saved “for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).

—John MacArthur, The Gospel according to Paul (Thomas Nelson, 2017), 118–119.

Posted 2018·07·17 by David Kjos
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