Monday, March 17, 2014

Law, Gospel, Wisdom

Have you ever been sitting in a sermon, and the more you listened the worse you felt? Have you ever felt like you're a pretty good person and only need the gospel on your bad days? Have you ever rushed out of a church service with fresh applications in mind, only to feel even more discouraged when they didn't seem to work?

It's vitally important to discern the difference between what is law, gospel, and wisdom. When these three categories are confused or missing, we careen out of control to dangerous thinking and unhealthy strategies.

First let's define the terms:
  • Law: What God says is right and wrong, based on His character. It merely identifies sin and assigns guilt. It identifies the problem and condemns it. Example: Don't commit adultery. If you do, you'll die (Leviticus 20:10). 
  • Gospel: What God has done for us based on His grace. This is the good news! God has sent Christ to obey the Law FOR us, and to pay the penalty for our disobedience to the Law. Example: Christ dies the death of an adulterer, so that the adulterer can be forgiven and reconciled (2 Cor 5:21).
  • Wisdom: What God has instructed us so that we can live holy lives, based on His knowledge of how the world works. This encompasses ways to fight our sin: strategies, tactics, methods, equipping, making no provision. This is largely the world of accountability, sermons, books, articles, counseling, and memorizing Scripture. Example: Do not go near the door of the adulterer's house (Proverbs 5:8). 

Notice that there is a necessary progression to these three categories. First we have the Law which identifies what we should or should not be doing. This reveals our wrongdoing, which is a prerequisite for seeing our need for grace and forgiveness. Then the Gospel reconciles us to God and transforms our hearts to WANT to obey, which finally leads us to the need for Wisdom to know how to walk in this new way of life.

You need all three. There's a danger of minimizing OR exalting only one of them:
  • Without the Law: Nothing done wrong! Meh, NBD. There's no standard for wrongdoing, so there's no need for a gospel, no need for the cross, and no need for any wisdom to fight, because what would you fight? The Law is necessary. But if the Law existed by itself, it would be devastating. 
  • Without the Gospel: No power for change, no transformation, no new heart, no new creation, no new identity in Christ, no freedom from sin. You're a sitting duck for any sin that comes by, and you're standing condemned by God's holy Law. The Gospel is necessary. But if the Gospel existed by itself, it would be powerless. 
  • Without Wisdom: No practical fighting or growth. No strategies. Sure you may have been set free from sin, but how do you start WALKING in that freedom? You've been given the Sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17) but how do you use it? Wisdom is necessary. But if Wisdom existed by itself, it would be useless. 

When you hear a sermon, or a friend counseling you, or are reading a chapter in a book, take the time to figure out what you're hearing. Is it Law, Gospel, or Wisdom? Categorization is vitally necessary. If you hear wisdom and interpret it as law (and forget the gospel) this makes you beat yourself up over how you're NOT applying this wisdom. You'll just sit there condemning yourself as a failure. Don't do it! Hear the wisdom AS it is, as wisdom that comes AFTER the Gospel. You can't do it, but Jesus has done it. So now that you're transformed, hear the wisdom as a call: "HERE'S the way to live wisely".

Fighting sin with all three,
The Relentless Fight