Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Contrast Between Law and Gospel in Scripture and the Heidelberg Catechism

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

19 Q. How do you come to know this?

A. The holy gospel tells me. God himself began to reveal the gospel already in Paradise;
later, he proclaimed it by the holy patriarchs and prophets, and portrayed it by the sacrifices and other ceremonies of the law; finally, he fulfilled it through his own dear Son.

2) Scripture

Romans 3:19-22a: Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

Comment:

Q&A 19 of the Heidelberg Catechism is very important. The first thing it teaches is the distinction between the law and the gospel.

The law and the gospel are opposites when it comes to making us right with God. The law cannot justify us, that is, God cannot declare us righteous in his sight on the basis of our keeping the law. None of us has ever kept the law perfectly, so none of us can be righteous in God’s sight through obeying the law. But unlike the law, the gospel can justify us! God can declare us righteous in his sight by the gospel, if we believe it.

So the contrast between the law and the gospel looks like this:


  • Through the law we cannot be justified or declared righteous in God’s sight.
  • Through the gospel we can be justified or declared righteous in God’s sight, if we believe that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God.

Q&A 19 parallels Q&A 3 of the catechism. This is often missed. The writers of the catechism were deliberately setting up this contrast between the law and the gospel. Notice the parallel between Q&A 3 and Q&A 19:

Q. 3: How do you come to know your misery?

A. The law of God tells me.

Q. 19: How do you come to know this? (this refers back to Q&A 18 and being set free and made right with God).

A. The holy gospel tells me.

So through the law we come to know our sin and misery. But through the gospel we come to know the blessing of being justified or right with God.

In the passage from Romans 3 above, we see how Scripture makes this contrast between the law and the gospel. In verses 19 and 20 Paul teaches us that the law makes us aware of our sin, and tells us that we cannot be justified or right with God through the law. But in verses 21-22a, Paul tells us that the gospel can make us right with God!

Discussion: What part of God’s Word tells us about our sin and misery? What part of God’s
Word tells us about the blessing of belonging to Christ?

Prayer Starter: Thank the Lord for both aspects of his Word: the law and the gospel. Ask him
for his help in understanding his Word and ways with us.

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