Do you have a visceral reaction when you see the Ten Commandments posted in public? Are you an advocate for having them posted in public places, with the thought that it somehow constitutes a sort of victory for christianity? Maybe I’m just a particularly sinful example of a christian, but my visceral reaction to seeing the commandments posted is guilt and shame. I look at the list and don’t get very far down until the ‘law’ accuses me. I have been a very poor keeper of God’s law and I don’t particularly like the visual reminder of my failure. What’s more, I often wonder how the average Joe walking into the courthouse feels about the public display of this law of God? Does it move him any closer to God’s love and redemption? And why have we chosen this particular ‘word’ of God to hold up for the world to see and ponder?
Only since I’ve become Lutheran have I been able to admit my ‘disdain’ for the public display of the commandments. Lutherans teach that the only way to properly interpret the holy scriptures is to properly distinguish between law and gospel. In brief, the law is God’s moral law that has been written onto our hearts and that is summarized by the commands that we are to love the Lord with all our heart and love our neighbor as ourselves. The gospel is the good news of Christ’s all availing sacrifice for us by His death on the cross. The law demands perfection and brings death. The gospel proclaims forgiveness and gives life. The law accuses us of our complete failure to please God while the gospel announces that Christ has pleased God perfectly for us. The law tells me what I must do; the gospel tells me what Christ has done. The law, when properly preached and taught, pins me to the ground….leaves me no way of escape and forces me to see the reality of my complete depravity and wickedness before a holy God. The law has done it’s job when it has crucified me and left me for dead. The gospel of Christ then breathes new life into me with the sweet taste of forgiveness and absolution. Another has paid the price for my sin and He alone, because of His own death and resurrection, has become my atonement.   But there can be no life until we have first been killed by the law. It’s a theme throughout scripture. Death brings life. The first shall be last. Scripture is nothing if not a paradox.
And lest I haven’t convinced you yet of the death that the law brings, read over the commandments. Have you broken them today? I, for one, have broken most of them. I have envied and lusted and coveted and according to Jesus’ definition, I’ve even committed murder. Most of us probably rarely make it through breakfast without butchering 8 out of 10 of the commandments, if we were honest with ourselves. So, why then, would God give us a list of rules to follow that He knew we couldn’t follow? Would He ask us to do something which He knew full well we could never do? Yes, in fact, He would. He would give us a list of laws to show us beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are incapable of keeping them. Any of them. Let alone keep them perfectly, as Jesus so eloquently insisted.
So when I see christians demanding that the 10 commandments be posted in public places, I wonder why. If we were going to post something about our faith, wouldn’t we want it to be the good news of Christ’s forgiveness? And do we want them posted because we wrongly believe that we are actually keeping them? The law of God alone, stripped of the gospel, does not produce faith. If we feel we are keeping the law, we become prideful like the pharisees. And those of us who know we’re not living up to God’s standards begin to despair. The law can never bring life even if it serves temporarily to control behavior. Only the gospel of Jesus can bring life. But we won’t know that we need Him so desperately without a harsh presentation of how miserably we’ve failed to measure up to God’s standards.
In a perfect sermon, these two go hand in hand; held in paradoxical tension. In most sermons I’ve heard over thirty years of being a Christian, the law was usually watered down to a more ‘keepable’ level and the gospel was presented as somewhat conditional upon my sincerity. Or even worse, after the gospel was presented, an altar call was given where I now need to come forward and pledge to do X,Y, and Z. The good news that was given to me was then partially taken away. God wants to gospel to have the last word. For ‘the gospel is the power of God unto salvation’.
So I say, memorize the commandments, teach them to your children, but take them down from the public square. And put up a cross or better yet, a crucifix. At least there’s hope in the cross.
Ironically enough, these very Lutherans who claim that God’s law properly interpreted cannot bring life, are also very serious about learning and memorizing God’s law. His laws are the perfect recipe for harmony and peace in this life….if we could only keep them. And despite the fact that we cannot, one can only get to that complete realization by trying. So the more I know and attempt to practice God’s law, the more it convicts me and shows me my sin. Also of note, is that Moses, who brought God’s law to the people of Isreal, was never allowed to enter the promised land, while Joshua, whose name means Jesus,  led God’s people into Canaan.   I say all that to say that we’re teaching our girls Luther’s small catechism. They’re still working on it, but I thought you’d enjoy hearing their recitation of the first five commandments and their meanings.  

I also have very good news for you……Taylor’s CD’s are in. If you left a comment on this post, email with your address and I’ll send you a CD. If you did not leave a comment on that post, well shame on you. But I’ll gladly you send you one for $7 including shipping. Just send me an email with your address.
Have a blessed Lord’s day on this first Sunday of Lent.
Love and hugs and showers of blessings!   Also go to my tumblr site and check out some fun craft room ideas.  I see painting in my future.

17 comments on “Thoughts on the Proper distinction between Law and Gospel”

  1. Edie…beautiful post and very thoughtful…I believe there are two basic types of Christians in our world today. Those who lean way too much on the law and those who lean way too much on grace. I think all of life is about the proper balance and especially in the matters of God’s Law and God’s grace there should be balance. If you lean to far towards God’s law you become rigid, intolerant, judgemental and unloving. If you lean too far toward God’s grace you allow yourself to never be held accountable to or for anything that you have done wrong. I think the only way to find that balance is to study the Word of God and find out what He has to say about Grace and about His Law and then apply it. Ah, there’s the rub…that darn application thing gets us every time.

  2. Well I lost the long comment I just wrote…I’ll try again.

    I feel very much like Ruthie. I’m currently trying to get out of the mindset of the first example (rigid, intolerant, judgemental and unloving). While doing that I’m being careful not to lean too far in the other direction, because I do believe while Christ atoned for our sins, we need to strive to be Christlike and do our best to live like he would have us. Not to get in the mindset that he ‘did the work’ so anything goes, because I feel we will be held accountable. That said, I am too hard on myself when I screw up and I could have never done it without His sacrifice which is exactly why I need His grace and mercy.

    Your girls are so stinkin’ cute and your voice is NOTHING like I imagined…not sure what I imagined, probably Loretta Lynn’s. Once again, thanks for opening up and sharing your views.

  3. Thank you girls for adding to the discussion. And I might nuance what you’ve said a teeny bit. I think there is one sense that the law and the gospel should be ‘balanced’ (and I think this is the point you’re making, Ruthie) and that is….there should be a full, harsh and clear presentation of God’s perfect law and our complete inability to keep it……followed by the saving presentation of the gospel in all its glory. But I don’t think they are ‘balanced’ in the sense of ‘weight’. It’s not that God has done 95% of the ‘work’ and I have to finish out the last 5%. He has gone all the way. He has paid completely for my sin. And He wouldn’t be God if He didn’t demand perfection. He can’t say to me, “Well as long as you try hard and do the best you can”. He says, “Be perfect as my father in heaven is perfect”. And I know I can’t do that. So I trust completely in His work. As Isaiah said, “My righteousnesses are as filthy rags”.

    Of course, a life lived freely in His grace will produce good works. The apple tree bears apples. But we don’t look at the apple and say ‘what a good job you’ve done becoming an apple’. We’ve been grafted into Him and bear fruit because that’s what we now ARE…..but our fruit (good works) is the result of His making me a ‘fruit bearing tree’ and not the cause.

    I would say it this way, that you must be fully drowned by God’s law….it must take you all the way to death. And then you similiarly go ‘all the way’ with grace. You allow it to have the last word. To trust Him alone, without holding on to any shreds of attempted obedience. And this cycle of properly understood law/gospel will have the effect of repeatedly and more profoundly showing us our sin and leading us to repentance and faith.

    Will some abuse this grace of God? We all do at times. It was a price He was willing to pay in order to restore us to loving rightful relationship with Him. I guess I would say you can’t lean too far in the direction of God’s grace. Jump off the cliff with Him. Where sin abounds, grace much more abounds. Abandon the desire that we all have to cling to something worthwhile in ourselves. He can be trusted with all of me….even the doubt I have sometimes that grace is enough.

    It could also be said this way: I’m doing good works but I’m not trusting in them….or counting them….or overanalyzing them. They are the natural result of life in Him, but they did not give me life in Him.

  4. This is a really great explanation of the difference between the law and the gospel. Thank God for grace, right? It is so true that those commandments get broken before breakfast.

    Hope everything else is good with you Edie! Have a great Sunday!

  5. Edie, So glad I checked back for more comments. I completely get it now. The apple analogy was a great way to explain it. Thanks so much!!

  6. I don’t have a problem with the Ten Commandments being posted publicly because it all starts with the realization that we are sinners. In this day and age, so many people don’t believe that. They have the “I’m okay, you’re okay” mentality. The Ten Commandments do just what you say–and before breakfast no doubt!

    Hopefully, the visual reminder that we can’t keep the law points us to God. Everyone knows that the Ten Commandments have something to do with God–even if they don’t personally know the God of our salvation.

    I believe that God’s Word is powerful and even when not displayed in its entirety, can accomplish more than we can fathom. I don’t think anything bad can come from the public display of God’s words.

  7. Such a good, good post – thanks for sharing it.

    I had two thoughts when you mentioned Christians fighting to have the 10 Commandments posted in public. First I thought that it is often that it is not a new display of the commandments that Christians want; often they are fighting to keep an old, often historic, display in place. In these cases it is a battle to keep any reminder of God in place; those commandments are not, in our society, going to be replaced with a cross or a crucifix, because the same people who want to take the commandments down would not allow that.

    Second, it seems a shame to erase that portion of history from our country’s landscape. Some would like to believe that our country was built on man’s good will; it was not, and the Commandments which are displayed prominently are a striking reminder that man’s good will is not sufficient.

    I know there have been cases where Christians were fighting to display new depictions of the Commandments; I just thought I would share my thoughts on the old.


  8. hi edie! i chose to give you an award on my blog. please head over to one day at a time ( to see what it’s all about! 🙂


  9. Love these posts, these discussions. Edie, you could do a bloggy book club of sorts.

    We were just discussing this morning about how God’s glory shone so strongly on Moses that he had to wear a veil over his face to address the people, and how much more should the light of Jesus shine in us now that we are living temples of the Holy Spirit. I have to spend more time in prayer, and more time in His Word. Those two things alone would solve a lot of issues going on today, and maybe if the lost saw Jesus in me, in more of us Christians, they would be less concerned about trying to rid the world of commandments and crosses and simply ask “why are you so different? so happy? so full of joy? were can I get what you’ve got?”

    You have got “it” Edie – God’s light is shining brightly through you~!

  10. Once again, you wrote a post that came just at the right time, for me. I have a hard time putting my thoughts in writing regarding this subject. All I can say is…. thank you for sharing this.

  11. I agree with jen … the battle is usually to keep old displays of the Ten Commandments in place. And it’s the Ten Commandments, rather than a cross or crucifix, because it reflects our nation’s Judeo-Christian roots.

    My former pastor once asked everyone in church who supported public displays of the Ten Commandments whether the Ten Commandments are posted in their homes. ; ) In most cases, I would say no.

    Edie, your comment reminded me of a quote from Martin Luther: “Love God and sin boldly.” Blessings.


  12. I have thought long about your post
    and was at first surprised at the removal of the ten commandments. I love the ten commandments and have taught our children to strive to live them daily. I tto believe Christ atoned for our sins but in the next breathe how better to repay him for his atoning love and mercy is with our obedience and trying to become more like him.
    I really aprreciated your thoughtful additional comment/post:) explaining your position clearer.

    Your daughters are so adorable and they are so lucky to have a wonderful mom teaching them about God and His ways so they to can become more Christlike…

    I enjoyed your post!

  13. What interesting food for thought. I’m one who hates to see the commandments taken down, for the same reasons that Jen gave. Honestly, at this point, I’ll take any display of the bible that anyone is willing to share.. it seems that too many are willing to forget that it even exists or the part it played in our history.

    But reading your post and also your comment, I can see your point that it does not bring understanding of salvation and truly may seem condemning more than anything.

    Legalism is a tough wall to tear down, especially when some have spent their entire life trying to follow the laws with the purpose of “winning” what Jesus already offered to us freely.

  14. I found your blog from Lyndsay’s- I loved your explanation on the differences between Law and Gospel. If someone had asked me yesterday if I kept the 10 commandments I would have said yes, but you are right, I do break most of them almost every day! So to be accurate, I am TRYING to keep the commandments. Good things to think about…

  15. New to your blog. I find it so encouraging. I can’t wait to spend sometimes and read your archives. I home school my 5 and 8 year olds. And a Mommy to six soon to be seven munchkins.

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