02 June 2015

Book Review: Law and Gospel--A Theology for Sinners and Saints

On February 20, 2010 a major shift occurred in my life. The pastor of my church read Romans 5:20-21 which says “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” I sat in the front of the church and wept. I think that was the day that I began to understand the difference between Law and Gospel. 

If you have no idea what I am talking about, a new book, Law and Gospel: A Theology for Sinners and Saints, by William McDavid, Ethan Richardson, and David Zahl will provide a great introduction to the distinction. Briefly, God gave us both the law and the gospel but they have different roles. The law was never given as a means of salvation, the law was given to show each of us our absolute inability to live up to God’s perfect standard. It is the gospel, the good news that Jesus Christ came to earth, lived a sinless life, was crucified on the cross, and was raised again to new life on my behalf that provides the power to save. It is Jesus who did the saving.

The first half of the book is dedicated to exploring the role of the law and how it has overtaken many churches. From pulpits all over America, we hear messages of do more/try harder/pull yourself up by your bootstraps. But we fail, again and again. The law tells us what to do, but it is impossible for us to do it and so we stand accused. When people recognize their utter inability, lots of people give up.

But, like good sermons should do, the book begins with the crushing power of the law, but finishes with the life giving power of the gospel. The authors show us that because of Christ’s love for us, he alone accomplished our salvation as a free gift. Then, in my favorite part of the book, they looked at the fruits of the gospel, of what Jesus did. The fruits they listed include: humility, receptivity, gratitude, spontaneity, humor, and freedom.

If you have struggled to understand what Paul was talking about when he said that we are free in Christ, or what I mean when I saw the law/gospel distinction, please get this book.  

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