Law/Gospel Distinction

Heb 12:18-29:

For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken–that is, things that have been made–in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.

Gal 4:21-31:

Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written, “Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband.”

Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.


11 Responses

  1. Rube, what Bible version is this? I love the way it translates the verse from Hebrews as “See that you do not refuse him who is speaking.” It’s much better than the “Him who speaks” that you find in most translations. I also like “…angels in festal gathering.”

    Gal. 4 is one of my favorite passages, the Hagar-Sinai, Sarah-Zion comparison is simply brilliant.

  2. That’s all ESV, pasted from I meant to type in from my reading bible, the Revised English Bible, where the language is I think even a little more poetic, although (not knowing any better), I would guess the ESV is closer to literal.

    I pasted these in because the Heb was our sermon text (Gal 4 was a brief mention, and we also peeked back to Ex 19,21). Last week, Heb 12:12-17 was kind of tough to pull the gospel out of, but this week was quite refreshing. I couldn’t help laughing at those who accuse Luther of inventing an unbiblical Law/Gospel distinction. I think Paul beat Luther to it by a millenium and a half.

  3. Rube,

    You said:
    “Heb 12:12-17 was kind of tough to pull the gospel out of…”

    – Echo:
    Of course, I disagree.

    Heb 12:12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees,
    Heb 12:13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.
    Heb 12:14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
    Heb 12:15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;
    Heb 12:16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.
    Heb 12:17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.

    While it may be said that if you ONLY look at these verses, you might have a difficult time seeing what it has to do with the gospel. “It’s all commands” you might say. “It’s all law” perhaps you would comment. But this comes in a context, which is summarized by the previous two verses:

    Heb 12:10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.
    Heb 12:11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

    The writer is speaking about suffering as God’s discipline. And the passage you originally referred to may be summarized this way, “Quit feeling sorry for yourselves at your suffering. Don’t you know that this suffering is for your GOOD? Don’t you know that God uses suffering to teach you to depend on him?”

    In other words, what is the proper response to suffering? Most of us usually respond with resentment, anger, depression, and in general to feel sorry for ourselves. But the Bible says that that is a sinful response. In other words, like Esau who exchanged his birthright to satisfy his belly (one thinks of Phil 3 “their god is their stomach, their glory is in their shame”), many reject the gospel when they suffer, as also illustrated in the parable of the sower. They are seed that falls among weeds, who, being choked by the world and its cares, wither and die.

    We respond to suffering with unbelief often times. Sin = unbelief. When we wail and moan and groan, it is the fruit of unbelief in our hearts. How so? The reason why we moan and groan about our suffering is because we think it reflects God’s neglect of us, as if he has forgotten us. But he hasn’t forgotten us! He is purposefully allowing/causing us to go through this suffering for our GOOD!

    As Paul says:
    Rom 8:32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

    How could we think that God, who gave his only Son to suffer and die for us, would withhold that job promotion from us if that job promotion were actually good for us? If that job promotion that never seems to come (and causes us to feel sorry for ourselves) were really good for us in an ultimate sense, God would give it to us.

    But you see, God is not concerned with you getting a raise, for example, so that you can buy a coveted plasma TV or something like that. This is not the health, wealth and blessing gospel. God is not up in heaven desiring to make you rich. For he says that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

    Yet we feel sorry for ourselves ALL THE TIME because we aren’t rich, and we long for greener pastures. But this reflects unbelief in the age to come. The age to come has treasures far greater, FAR greater than a stupid plasma TV. God HIMSELF is our inheritance!

    And yet we feel sorry for ourselves that we don’t have a nicer car, a bigger house, more expensive gadgets, more disposable income, better clothes, an easier workday, a nicer boss, an easier commute to work, kids that are easier to train, a pastor whose sermons are more eloquent and poetic, friends who are always inviting us over for dinner and putting on a feast, or freedom from an illness or whatever else.

    We whine and feel sorry for ourselves about all those things we lack in THIS life, and count it to be unjust suffering, as if God doesn’t really care about us.

    But the very fact that we suffer actually PROVES that God cares about us. It PROVES it according to the verses previous to this passage. We have a certain hope in the age to come!

    So the writer to the Hebrews says, because of the certain hope of the gospel, quit feeling sorry for yourself, because in so doing, you are only acting as if your hope is in THIS world! Respond like you’re supposed to respond! Respond to suffering by reaffirming your hope in the resurrection and the life to come that has been purchased at so great a price. Reaffirm and confess that you believe that God really DOES care for you, and will withhold nothing from you that is actually good for you, meaning that it will actually HELP you enter the kingdom of God. Reaffirm that this is proven by the fact that he did not hold back the very life of his only Son! And confess that you have acted wrongly out of a heart of wicked unbelief, and confess further that this too has been forgiven by the shed blood of Christ, for you have NOT come to Mt Sinai but to Mt Zion!

    So, do not fail to obtain the grace of God by failing to believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Don’t reject the gospel because you want a new plasma TV. Don’t be like Esau who rejected HIS birthright for a meal!

    Repent, and believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Do not be ashamed of the gospel, for in it, the righteousness from God is revealed from faith to faith. That is, the source of this righteousness is faith, and the fruit of this righteousness is faith.

    Lift your drooping heads! Stand up straight and tall, because of your confidence in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Psa 24:9 Lift up your heads, O gates! And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.
    Psa 24:10 Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory!

    Jesus Christ has raised from the dead, having died that you might live, and is right now at the right hand of God the Father interceding for us!

    Therefore, lay aside your unbelief, rise up in confidence in the gospel of Jesus Christ, do not forsake what is rightfully yours by rebirth, namely your hope of the resurrection of the dead, and the age to come, in which we will be raised incorruptible unto new life.

    For there is no night there.


  4. Yes, there is a connection with the previous, and that previous was unfortunately separated by a week (because our pastor can only make a sermon so long). I’m not saying he didn’t make that connection back, more that I might not remember it. Also, he did draw out the connection to the source of the quote in in Is 35, which is very clearly redemptive, in the way you describe.

    But I’m talking mostly about “Strive for … the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God”. On its face, that sounds a lot like “if you don’t work hard enough at your sanctification, you’re screwed!”

    I’m sure there must be a key in the “For” that begins v18…

  5. No.

    You have to remember that this striving is something wrought by the Spirit, and is the fruit of faith. You are hereby commanded to bear fruit. One of the fruits of the Spirit is self control. So when you have control over yourself, it is because the Spirit was first at work within you.

    This is not semi-Pelagianism. Why?

  6. As early as the first page of what, after his death, became his Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, Zacharias Ursinus states, ‘The doctrine of the church is the entire and uncorrupted doctrine of the law and gospel concerning the true God, together with his will, works and worship’…Theodore Beza made precisely the same point in his Confession – in fact, employing nearly the same terms and order of discussion, only adding the warning that ‘ignorance of this distinction between Law and Gospel is one of the principal sources of the abuses which corrupted and still corrupt Christianity.’

    – Michael S. Horton, “Law, Gospel, and Covenant: Reassessing Some Emerging Antitheses,” Westminster Theological Journal 64, (2002): 280, quoting Zacharius Ursinus, Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, 1 and Theodore Beza, The Christian Faith, 41ff.

  7. Rube,

    Re: 5

    What I meant was it is not a semi-Pelagian view of sanctification.


  8. Rube,

    Re: 5

    I hereby formally protest that I have gotten no answer.




  9. I didn’t realize there was a question. I’ve never thought of (semi-)Pelagianism in terms of sanctification, only justification.

  10. Sanctification is supposed to be by grace through faith. Semi-pelagian sanctification would be a synergistic sanctification. But of course, that’s not what I was advocating, and I was asking you to tell me the difference between the two.


  11. I would guess that, simply speaking, S-P/synergistic sanctification would be you and God work together to improve yourself, and monergistic would be that God does everything.

    It seems to me, though, that even though sanctification is by grace through faith, it is works. Sanctification is the fruit of good works that flows from regeneration and justification. And it is precisely because sanctification is works that we need to keep it distinct from justification, which is not of works. We also need to keep sanctification distinct from the final justification, when we will not be judged based on Christ’s imputed righteousness PLUS how well we progressed in our sanctification, but ONLY on Christ’s imputed righteousness (otherwise, the thief on the cross is in trouble).

    And this is what I’m saying: “strive for holiness (sanctification), without which no one will see the Lord” seems to imply that our holiness will be a factor in our judgment. All of v14-17 carries that flavor, and it is necessary to apply other areas of scripture to balance this.

    And I’m saying the “for” in v18 helps this (but unfortunately it was not in scope for a single sermon). You would think “warning, warning, be holy, see to it…For you HAVE come to a scary burning mountain, and you better watch out, or you’re gonna get it!” But what the bible actually says is: the reason I am telling you to strive for holiness, see to it that none fails to obtain grace — the reason is FOR you have NOT come to scary burning Mt. Sinai, but you have come to lovely gracious Mt. Zion, through which you are enabled to do those things I was just telling you. And most important v28: “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29for our God is a consuming fire.” (I think that last phrase there is meant to motivate reverence and awe, not to be a threat — otherwise, that would contradict the whole point of scary, burning Mt. Sinai)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: