Session One: Preaching Two Words [Law & Gospel] (Justin Holcomb)

Justin Holcombbook

[These are Session 1 Notes from the Preach The Word 2013 Acts 29 West Regional Conference in Reno, NV]



Law – bad news

Gospel – good news

They necessarily interrelate

“In this room are thousands of people represented.. We MUST be able to properly communicate this relationship between law and Gospel”

Big idea: if you are talking about law (God’s condemnation/curse/’no’) and you get that muddied up with His divine acceptance, you rip out the bullseye of the Gospel (what people need most)

–Gal 3:1-3,10-14

Christ died to set us free

Christ fulfilled the law and obeyed it perfectly so that we are declared righteous

We are set free from the bondage of the law, sin; we are called what Jesus was (pure, perfect)

Justification: your sins are forgiven and you are declared righteous

(This is all Gospel)

We will be looking at 3 Hooks (theses):

Drawn from: CH Walther (theologian) “The Law in Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible”

Thesis 1: The doctrinal content of the entire scripture (OT and NT) are made up of two doctrines that differ fundamentally (with different functions) — law and gospel

–Characteristics of the Law –

what to do


Is good

The revealed character of God

Everything in scripture that commands

–Characteristics of the Gospel –

what was done


Everything in scripture that declares the glory of God’s deliverance

The problem is not the law, but us

Michael Horton: “the triune God directs us by His law but delivers us by His Gospel”

–10 commandments–

First 4 are how we relate to God

Second 6 are how we relate to each other

Exodus 20: these exist and should be followed “so that your days will be long in the land” (with law yields promise)

Law: perfect, true (Psa 119; 1 Tim 1:8)

Holy, just, and right (Rom 3; Romans 7)

Romans 7 – the law can do nothing to save us (shows what obedience is but can’t cause it)

It is a diagnostic, not a cure

Law does not enable fulfillment or affect what it commands

The function of the law is not to enervate obedience (that’s what Grace does)

The law accuses, but the Gospel gives

“The more we hear these things the better it comes out of our mouths to others”

Calvin: “this Gospel does not impose any commands but rather reveals God’s goodness, mercy, and benefits”

_Story of flooding the neighbor’s house (dad: ‘I have absorbed all the payment. Go and play’)

Deserved condemnation, discipline, punishment.. But instead got an exchange (took the anxiety/despair/payment, and gave joy)

That is the Gospel. That’s offensive.

His kindness didn’t make me think “what more can I get away with”

   It captured my heart

–What about Jesus? [3 points]

He says, “I didn’t come to abolish the law but fulfill it” (Matthew 5:17)

-1) Jesus summarizes the law when asked “What is the greatest commandment?” (Matthew 22 quoting Deut 6:5 and Lev 19:18) – He’s commanding love

Not ‘do things that look like love’

-2) Jesus intensified the law:

He sharpens the spear of the law to further pierce our hearts (Sermon on the mount = Jesus as the intensified Moses)

Repeats the 10 commandments but intensifies them (except the Sabbath.. Think about that…)

Sets the standard even higher (beyond our outward obedience to our inward thoughts)

–“What the heart loves the will choses and the mind justifies”–

At the end of the sermon on the mount, just to be sure we get it he adds the ultimate intensifier: “be perfect” (Matthew 5:48)

J Gresham Machen: “the new law in itself can only produce despair, it really leads us straight to the cross.”

-3) Jesus applies the law

(Cf Rich Young Ruler in Mark 10:17-22 and Luke 18:18-23)

Jesus gives the guy the second tablet of the law (commandments 4-10)

Jesus says “sell your stuff” because he knew the guy was worshipping the other idols (draws to the first tablet)

Jesus let him walk away sorrowful because the guy didn’t get on his knees and repent (that’s what the law does; you can seek to perform the law and live a life completely void of repentance)

Repentance is not just for access to the family but the family vernacular

Thesis 2: “only he is an orthodox teacher who not only presents all articles of faith in accordance with Scripture, but also rightly distinguishes from each other the law and Gospel” (not only knowing the truths of the Gospel, but rightly distinguishes law and Gospel) (its Law Gospel)

They go together and in that order

-Law without Gospel is despair, condemnation

-it’s not likely 50% law/50% Gospel; use discernment.

All Law (not even just God’s law) makes us think “how can I get around it?”

We’ll use the law to make ourselves look good but not for obedience’s sake

–It’s also not Gospel without law (“God thinks you’re awesome”)

It’s like a bullet being shot at you but hitting Jesus (“I should’ve died but he took the bullet for me”)

There’s a weightiness to it.

Bobby Cox (manager of the professional baseball team the Atlanta Braves) has the MLB record for ejections in a game.

And the players and umpires loved him (he would get ejected so the players wouldn’t)

He would substitute himself on behalf of the players; that elicited their adoration and commitment to him.

-The order matters: “the needle of the law precedes the thread if the Gospel”

Nowhere in scripture do you see gospel then law.

“Don’t replace the ministry (or the fruit) of the Holy Spirit with exhortation of the human spirit”

“The law cannot do any more in sanctification than it did in justification” – John Murray

J Gresham Machen: (begging for good news) “what good does it do to me to tell me that the type of religion presented in the Bible is a very fine type of religion and that the thing for me to do is just to start practicing that type of religion now?… I will tell you, my friend. It does me not one tiniest little but of good…what I need first of all is not exhortation, but a gospel, not directions for saving myself but knowledge of how God has saved me. Have you any good news? That is the question I ask of you. I know your exhortations will not help me. But if anything has been done to save me, will you not tell me the facts?”

If your people leave bent over and more burdened, you’ve missed it.

Thesis 3: Rightly distinguishing the law and the Gospel is the most difficult and the highest art of Christians in general and theologians in particular. It is taught only by the Holy Spirit in the school of experience.

“The cross is where God’s ‘no’ and ‘yes’ converge”

You need the ministry of the Holy Spirit and discernment, because we are going to mess this up

But rest assured, God cares about this more than we do.

“Your job is to proclaim. Not entertain or be a life coach”

“The only appropriate response to law and gospel’s (right) proclamation is repentance”

It even catches you before you sin! … “I want to go.. Oh… I’m sorry, God”

If this is true, what the people we lead need to see is that we (leaders) need this information deeply.

They need to see you need it. (You’ve got to be a Grace junkie; an addict; show them that anything less than this will crush you)

-They need to know that you place your heart and life at the mercy of God because of the grace of God in Jesus.-

People must see both severe, divine law and also scandalous, divine love.

Be desperate for the Gospel.

“Love God with everything you have all the time, and then love the neighbor as yourself… How are you doing with that?”

“Read the sermon on the mount. That’ll flatten out your self-righteousness”

Group Confession: “Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent, for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.” (From the Common Book of Prayer)

“One day as I was passing into the field, this sentence fell upon my soul: “Thy righteousness is in heaven.” And with the eyes of my soul I saw Jesus at the Father’s right hand. “There,” I said, “is my righteousness!” So that wherever I was or whatever I was doing, God could not say to me, “Where is your righteousness?” For it is always right before him.

I saw that it is not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness IS Christ. Now my chains fell off indeed. My temptations fled away, and I lived sweetly at peace with God.

Now I could look from myself to him and could reckon that all my character was like the coins a rich man carries in his pocket when all his gold is safe in a trunk at home. Oh I saw that my gold was indeed in a trunk at home, in Christ my Lord. Now Christ was all: my righteousness, sanctification, redemption.”

~ John Bunyan, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners

The law condemns but the Gospel provokes worship.

Read 1 Timothy 1:6-17 (drives you to humility, rejoicing) — understanding the debt paid

Steve brown: Key Life ministry’s slogan = Radical Freedom, Infectious Joy, Surprising Faithfulness

Phil 2:13 (God works in you so you want to do and actually do the law)

The very thing that condemns you apart from the Gospel, Jesus compels you to long after.

God’s kindness leads you to repentance.

Augustine: love applied is the work of the Holy Spirit.

So what is the secret to ministry? We have received this Good News and it changes us, and because of that people say “God is with you and I want to follow you”

“The one word of grace depends on two words: Law and Gospel”


2 thoughts on “Session One: Preaching Two Words [Law & Gospel] (Justin Holcomb)

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