Liberals, conservatives, and the fit between the gospel and the law

This post might seem obvious to some people, but I think I’ve put the final piece of the gospel and law puzzle in place in my mind. I know that it’s really important that I work this though, as Spurgeon said those who get this wrong are teaching a false gospel.

So, where am I at?

  • The law of God is good (Romans 7:12)
  • Jesus keeps and fulfils the whole of God’s law (Matthew 5:17-18)
  • No-one can make themself acceptable to God by trying to keep the law (Romans 3:20, 2 Tim 1:9, Titus 3:5)
  • Justification (being declared by God to have kept the law and so being made acceptable to God) comes by faith alone in Christ alone. Faith is hating our own law breaking (sin) and loving Christ for keeping the law for us and for taking the punishment we deserve for breaking the law by dying in our place (Romans 3:21ff)
  • The law teaches Christians what it good (Romans 7:7)
  • The law convicts Christians of their law breaking (Romans 7:13-14)
  • The law drives Christians to Christ (Romans 7:24-25)
  • Christians are blessed when they mediate on the law (Psalm 1:1-2)

That’s as far as I had got until yesterday, when I preached Romans 13:8-14:

  • Keeping the law is how Christians express their love for each other and their neighbour (Romans 13:8ff)

In this section of Romans, Paul shows that there are broadly three types of Christians:

  1. Well rounded Christians who do two things. They love everyone who loves Jesus and they keep the law of God as a way of showing that love. These Christians are seen as accepting, loving and moral. For example, one of the least loving things I can do for my wife is to break the law on adultery, except perhaps murder her. Keeping those laws is an expression of my love for her and my kids.
  2. Legalistic Christians who put the law above the love of God in Christ. Laws and “Christian behaviour” are more important to this person than the love and acceptance of God on the basis of faith in his Son. Keeping God’s law is important but not at the expense of excluding others for their inability to keep the law or by making them feel unacceptable or unloved for what they do, when Christ accepts penitent sinners at their worst.
  3. Liberal Christians redefine love apart from the law or at least according to a different law. Love becomes sentimental, emotional and even romanticised or sexual. This is the Disney, Little Mermaid, kind of love, where the power of romantic love negates well meaning paternal laws. This is why homosexual sex is seen as acceptable to liberals, as an expression of their love (apart from God’s law).

It strikes me as I write that so much of our debate in the Anglican church on the issue of homosexuality has been conducted without reference to the cross. In effect, type 3 liberals hear type 2 conservatives arguing about the law and vice versa. It also strikes me that this debate has had the effect on the church of patterning the behaviour of Christians. As Don Carson recently observed, many evangelicals now think and behave as type 2 legalists or at least neonomians. Perhaps debates on sexuality are the root cause of this and the devil is delighted. I can’t be the only one who’s been affected this way, so conservatives need to repent of making the law more important than love and liberals need to repent of breaking God’s holy law, and they must love each other and accept each other as God in Christ accepted them (Romans 15:7).

About neilrobbie

I am a 6'6" formerly ginger Scot, in a cross cultural marriage to my lovely Londoner wife. We've lived in SE Asia and since 2005, I have served as an Anglican minister in Wolverhampton and West Bromwich.
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