By Morris W. R. Bailey
In the preceding article it was pointed out that a proper handling of the Bible requires that we recognize the distinction between the Law and the Gospel. They are distinct as to the medium through whom each was given. The Law came through Moses. The Gospel came through Christ. They are distinct as to whom each was given. The Law was given to Israel, only. The Gospel is for all men. In this article we continue our study of this phase of our subject as we notice . . .
In Romans 1:16, 17 Paul wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For therein is revealed the righteousness of God from faith unto faith: as it is written, But the righteous shall live by faith.” In these words Paul sounded the keynote of the book of Romans which was a powerful polemic against Judaism in both ancient and modern form. We shall notice a number of implied contrasts in these verses which serve to point up clearly the distinction between the Law and the Gospel.
Power vs. Weakness
Under the first contrast we have for consideration the power of the Gospel as contrasted with the weakness of the Law. Paul said that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Divine power is manifested in various ways. It brought the physical universe into existence (Romans 1:20). It controls the universe (Heb. 1:3). It is seen in the forces of nature — in the warm sunshine and in the refreshing showers that give us fruitful seasons (Acts 14:17). It is seen in the lightning flash, and heard in the roll of thunder. It is seen in the refreshing breeze that brings relief from scorching heat, and in the cyclone that leaves destruction in its path.
But in effecting salvation from sin, it is the Gospel that is God’s power. His creative power cannot save. Nor can his power, as manifested in nature, save. All who are saved must be saved by the power of the gospel. It is indeed “the gospel of our salvation” (Eph. 1:13).
When we speak of power, there is suggested its opposite which is weakness. This was the defect of the Law, insofar as effecting salvation was concerned. Paul said, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:1-3).
Thus, Paul taught that what the Gospel had the power to do, (make men free from the Law of sin and death) the Law was unable to do because of its weakness. This weakness was no reflection on God who gave the Law. Paul said that the Law was weak through the flesh. It will be observed that the Law required perfect obedience to all of its precepts. To the Galatians Paul wrote, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under a curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one who continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law, to do them” (Gal. 3:10). This was a quotation from Deut. 27:26. The Law was thus weak through the flesh in that it demanded perfect obedience which the weakness of the flesh made it impossible for man to render.
Divine vs. Human Power
A second contrast between the Law and the Gospel is implied in the expression, of God. The implied contrast is between divine power and human power. Under the Gospel the power that saves us is of God. Thus many passages speak of God as our Savior (Titus 2:10; 3:4; Jude 25).
Concerning the Gospel, Paul said in Rom. 1:17, “For therein is revealed a righteousness of God.” What Paul called salvation in verse sixteen, he called a righteousness of God in verse seventeen. He explains this righteousness of God in Rom. 4:6-8. “Even as David also pronounceth blessing upon the man, unto whom God reckoneth righteousness apart from works, saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not reckon sin.” Thus righteousness is reckoned, or imputed to those whose sins are forgiven. Since it is God who forgives sins, it is thus a righteousness of God.
Over in contrast to salvation as being of God, salvation, if such had been possible under the Law, would have been of man. It would have been the result of human power, because it would have been due to man’s perfect observance of the Law (Gal. 3:10, 21).
Salvation would thus have been a debt that God owed man (Rom. 4:4). It was the fatal mistake of Israel that they tried to attain to salvation by virtue of their own power. Paul said of them, “For being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit themselves to the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:3).
Salvation vs. Condemnation
A third point of contrast between the Law and the Gospel is seen in the difference in results. Paul tells us that the Gospel is God’s power unto salvation. So the Gospel saves from sin. It is thus called by Paul, “the gospel of our salvation” (Eph. 1:13). Other synonomous terms used by inspired writers are, “Forgiveness of our trespasses” (Eph. 1:7); “Remission of sins” (Acts 2:38); “Blotting out of sins” (Acts 3:19).
In contrast to the salvation offered by the Gospel, the Law condemned. To the Romans Paul said, “And I was alive apart from the Law, once; but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died: and the commandment which was unto life, this I found to be unto death: for sin, finding occasion through the commandment beguiled me, and through it slew me” (Rom. 7:9-11). In 2 Cor. 3:7 Paul spoke of the Law as, “the ministration of death.” In verse nine he called it, “the ministration of condemnation.”
Does this mean that the Law was an unsuccessful experiment on God’s part? God forbid! To the Galatians Paul wrote, “So that the law is become our tutor to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith (Gal. 3:24). It prepared the world for the coming of Christ by making man sin conscious. “And the law came in besides, that the trespass might abound; but where sin abounded, grace did abound more exceedingly” (Rom. 5:20).
Faith vs. Works
The fourth and final contrast between the Law and the Gospel is suggested by Paul’s words, to everyone that believeth. Thus the salvation offered by the Gospel is obtained by faith. “Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). Again, “But now apart from the Law, a righteousness of God hath been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ unto all them that believe, for there is no distinction” (Rom. 3:21,22).
Salvation by faith, however, does not rule out works of obedience. Faith without works is dead (James 2:17). Twice in the book of Romans (1:5; 16:26), Paul spoke of “obedience of faith.” This is obedience that is the result of, or the fruit of faith.
In contrast to salvation by faith under the Gospel, the Law was a system of works. The expression, “the works of the law” occurs six times in the books of Romans and Galatians. The word, “works,” without any qualifying term, occurs many more times when the context makes it clear that it means works of the Law. That the blessings conferred by the Law were conditional upon their perfect observance of these works has been pointed out in Gal. 3:10, where Paul, quoting from Deut. 27:26, said, “Cursed is every one who continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the Law to do them.”
Salvation by faith in Christ and justification by the works of the Law are not only distinct from one another, but they are the antithesis of one another. To the Galatians Paul wrote, “Now that no man is justified by the law before God is evident; for the righteous shall live by faith; and the law is not of faith; but he that doeth them shall live in them” (Gal. 3:11,12). To the Romans Paul said, “For if they that are of the law are heirs, then faith is made void” (Rom. 4:14). Thus in developing the contrast between the Gospel as a system of faith, and the Law as a system of works, Paul, on the one hand, showed that the fact that salvation is by faith, makes impossible salvation by the works of the Law, and, on the other hand, that if salvation was by the works of the Law, it would rule out faith.
The disposition of Israel to seek for salvation by the works of the Law, and not by faith was their ultimate downfall. To the Romans Paul said, “What shall we say then? that the Gentiles who followed not after righteousness, attained unto righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith; but Israel following after a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by works” (Rom. 9:30-32).
Truth Magazine XXI: 36, pp. 565-566
September 15, 1977