21 Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. 22 But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. 23 But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. 24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.
25 And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? 26 He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? 27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. 28 And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. 29 But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?
St. Paul teaches us that “if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. … The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:21-22,24).
So then, the Law, which is good and right serves to prepare us to hear the Gospel promises which offer God’s mercy and forgiveness for the sake of Christ Jesus and His atoning sacrifice on the cross. If we could be righteous in God’s eyes by our keeping of His Law, the Law would be used to justify us in God’s eyes. But the Scriptures teach us that not a single one of us has kept God’s Law as He requires. We have sinned against God, our Maker, in our thoughts, desires, words and deeds.
Ecclesiastes 7:20 says: “There is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.”
Romans 3:19-20 tells us: “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”
And, again, Galatians 3:22 says: “But the Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.”
And so, the Law is indeed our school teacher, showing us our shortcomings, sins and wickedness in God’s eyes and preparing us to hear and take hold of the Gospel promises of forgiveness and life eternal through faith in Christ Jesus and His perfect righteousness under the Law and His innocent sufferings and death on the cross for the remission of all our sins.
When do we speak God’s Law and when do we speak God’s Gospel? As the 1943 “A Short Explanation of Dr. Luther’s Small Catechism,” in question 17, points out, “the Law must be preached to all men, but especially to impenitent sinners; the Gospel must be preached to sinners who are troubled in their minds because of their sins.”
So, when the lawyer stood up and tested Jesus with the question: “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” should Jesus respond with the Law or the Gospel? What did Jesus say? “What is written in the law? how readest thou?” (Luke 10:26).
The lawyer answered Jesus: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself” (v. 27).
Jesus’ response may surprise you: “Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live” (v. 28).
In fact, on another occasion, Jesus answered in the same way. It says in Matthew 22:34-40: “But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together. Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
But could this expert in Jewish law who wanted to know what works were required of him to enter into eternal life actually do what the law requires? Could he love the LORD God with all his heart, soul and strength as Deuteronomy 6:5 commands? Did he love his neighbor as himself, as required in Leviticus 19:18?
And notice the words of verse 29: “But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?” He hoped to narrow the scope of the commandment a bit so that he could be justified by his obedience to the commandments.
But, how did Jesus answer his question? He told the parable of the Samaritan who loved his enemy, showed mercy on him and cared for his wounds when others who certainly should have exemplified love for God and neighbor passed by and did nothing to help. And, when this lawyer recognized who was a good neighbor to the man who fell among thieves, Jesus told this lawyer to “go, and do thou likewise” (v. 37).
Again, Jesus preached the Law. Why? Because, until this man recognized that he did not measure up to the demands of the Law but was condemned by the Law as a sinner, he wasn’t prepared to hear the Gospel. Until he recognized that he had failed to keep the Law and that the Law actually condemned him, he was not ready to hear God’s offer and promise of pardon and forgiveness through faith in Christ’s perfect obedience and His sacrifice on the cross for the sins of the world.
Does this still happen today? Certainly! There are plenty of people who count themselves righteous under the Law and think that God will receive them into heaven because of their good works and deeds. And, if they consider themselves to be righteous on the basis of their own works and life, we need to remind them of the full demands of God’s Law — not just some outward obedience but true and perfect obedience from the heart.
Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount: “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. … Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:20, 48).
But, when the Law has done its work and the Spirit of God convicts a sinner’s heart and reveals to him God’s wrath against sin, then it is time to preach the Gospel and point the condemned sinner to Christ Jesus, who kept God’s Law perfectly in thoughts, desires, words and deeds, and who took the burden and guilt of our sins upon Himself and bore our just punishment when He died on the cross and then rose again.
In Galatians 3, St. Paul wrote: “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (v. 10). But then he also wrote: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (v. 13).
“Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (v. 24).
We continue to make this distinction between Law and Gospel yet today in applying God’s Word to our own lives and to the lives of others.
We use the Law of God to reveal God’s perfect will and what He requires of all to be counted righteous in His sight on the basis of our life and works. We use the Law to expose the sin and evil in our lives — to see our shortcomings and our guilt before God. And, we use the Law to see the just punishment we deserve on account of our sins — eternal death and damnation. As it says in Ezekiel 18:20, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.”
But when we see our own sinfulness and guilt before God, when we come to know that we stand condemned under God’s Law, we look in faith to the promises of the Gospel, that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16); that “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1,2); that “He hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph. 1:6-7).
And, though we are not justified by the Law of God, all who believe God’s Gospel promises are justified through faith in Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice on the cross.
As Jesus said, “He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24).
God grant that we see our utter sinfulness under God’s Law and take hold of the Gospel promises by faith that we might be justified through faith in Christ Jesus, our Savior, and receive everlasting life! Amen.
[Scripture is quoted from the King James Version of the Bible.]