Faith and Works, Gospel and Law

I’m about half done with my copy of Luther’s Bondage of the Will. I agree with him that the case Erasmus makes, at least the parts he quotes, isn’t that great. But I also don’t think Luther is doing that great either.

The main issue is over free-will and whether we have it or not. But there are minor issues that come up that are off too.

In the midst of attacking Erasmus’ definition of free-will, Luther says:

As for those things that ‘lead to eternal salvation,’ I suppose they are the words and works of God, which are offered to the human will so that it may apply itself to them or turn away from them. I take the ‘words of God’ to include both the law and the Gospel; the law requires works, the gospel faith.

This one phrase stood out to me: “the law requires works, the gospel faith.”

I think this is a root misunderstanding that leads to lots of trouble.

It is true that some of Israel, like the scribes and Pharisees, felt they had to do works alone for salvation. They felt no need to love God, they just did some stuff God said and called it good. Jesus corrects this, as does everyone else in the New Testament. In fact, most of the prophets are trying to correct that.

But since the Pharisees did that, everyone assumes that’s how people were saved under the law. Paul says in Romans 10:5, “For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them.

See, there ya go; people under the law were saved by works!

Read the law. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Show me where, like in the entire book of Deuteronomy, it says anyone was saved by the law. It never says that. The law was a covenant between God and the nation of Israel to stay in their land. If they kept the law they would live and prosper there, if they did not keep the law they would be kicked out.

Never once does Moses say by keeping the law, doing all the works, you will go to heaven and be with the Lord.

When the Gospel comes along, people assume a BIG CHANGE occurred. Instead of doing works, we just have faith. Faith alone. Easy.

What this misses is that anyone who has ever been saved has been saved by grace through faith. There is no other way of salvation. Whether Abraham before the law, David under the law, or us today under the Gospel, everyone is saved by faith (Romans 4).

People under the law who were saved by faith did indeed desire to do the works of the law.

But get this, today people under the Gospel who are saved by faith desire to fulfill the works of the law too! It’s a little thing called “love.”

The idea that people under the law were the only ones who had to do what God said is crazy. What we do is different because the covenants are different. But faith always desires to do what God says.

“Faith without works is dead,” this is true under the law as well as under the Gospel. There is no difference in faith and it’s desire to do what God says. God says to do different things under each covenant, but faith wants to do what God says.

Luther wanted James ripped out of the Bible. Luther, when translating Romans 5, said we were justified by faith alone. Never mind that he added the word “alone” in there.

Anyone remember what the Bible says about people who add or subtract words from the Bible? Anyone? It says nothing good about them. Don’t do that.

2 thoughts on “Faith and Works, Gospel and Law”

  1. It is true that some of Israel, like the scribes and Pharisees, felt they had to do works alone for salvation. They felt no need to love God, they just did some stuff God said and called it good.

    I came across this interesting statement in Jeremiah that gave me a new insight into the problems Israel had with fulfilling the Law to satisfy God.

    “For when I brought your ancestors out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in obedience to all I command you, that it may go well with you” (Jer 7: 22-23)

    It seems like Israel were quite willing to obey God’s commandments about the sacrifices done to cover their sin, but not so keen to obey those commandments, that the fulfillment of which, would have made the sin offerings unnecessary.

    That seems so much like the attitude held by so many Christians, who think that through Jesus they are forgiven so sin doesn’t matter.

  2. Exactly. To obey is better than sacrifice–1 Samuel 15:22

    The same flippancy Israel had toward sin, since they thought they could make up for it with a dead animal, is the same flippancy we have today toward sin since Jesus died. We’re doing the exact same thing. We are not learning from the things that were written before for OUR learning.

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