A Jagged Contention: Is Law Opposed to Gospel?

“The effect that the law creates is not surprising. One has no trouble understanding what it means to rely on oneself and on one’s own deeds; the action-consequences relationship has its own logic. But the gospel is absolutely, completely incomprehensible. That God rescues one from, and brings one safely through, the deserved judgment is a miracle. Law and gospel cannot be plausibly intertwined together; their existence is hard and fast in opposition to each other. The gospel is literally a paradox: it stands against that which the sinner can reasonably expect; it stands against damnation.”

– Oswald Bayer, Martin Luther’s Theology: A Contemporary Interpretation., 228


What do you make of Bayer’s assertion that Law and Gospel are “hard and fast in opposition to each other?” Is this to stark a contrast? Or, does Bayer’s assessment hold up? What are the dangers or benefits of such a distinction?

Share your thoughts in the comments below


8 thoughts on “A Jagged Contention: Is Law Opposed to Gospel?

  1. I would add the bracketed language: The Law [as a way to right standing with God] and Gospel are hard and fast in opposition to each other.


    1. Good caveat, Jean. I think you’re on the right track. As regards our justification, its an either or situation. Either you’re saved by grace through faith, or you’re saved by works as the reward for your obedience. It’s either a gift or a payment. It can’t be both.

      As regards the new obedience, yes, the Law is still a part of our lives. It guides us, instructs us, reveals our sins, continually puts to death the Old Adam, etc. The Law is holy and good, because God, the Lawgiver is holy and good. The life of the Christian is one of attempted obedience, failure, repentance, grace, and starting over daily.

      “When the Lord said to repent, he willed that the entire life of the Christian should be one of repentance.” Amen!


  2. Understanding the relationship between Law and the Gospel of grace is difficult, especially as I dwell on my own life as a believer. Times of inner peace and communing with my God are often disturbed by the acts of sin and disobedience which beset me in my relationships, in my attitude, in my own mind’s vain thoughts as well. After reading the OT numerous times, and the NT as well, it seems that the tension between obedience to God and our predictable deviation from adhering to His commands renders us continually in a state of anxiety. Yet, we rely on grace to cover our wayward sinful deeds, even as we are averse to test the patience of God to a degree to which He might say, ” It is enough. Depart.” It is the verses of Scripture which accuse us before God, expose our misdeeds of thoughts and action, and render us a feeling of helplessness and unworthiness that draws me to my knees. I know…I cannot keep the Law….well maybe I can conquer some major sins and attendant acts…,but in my mind? In my mind….the battle rages…always and without quarter. I think Luther understood my problem…your problem….our collective problem. After all, the “Bondage of the Will,” was Luther’s greatest work…in my humble view. That is why I have a problem relating to the theology of Law and Grace, but I believe it. In 2013 I wrote one of many Christian ballads which I play fingerstyle on my acoustic guitar as part of daily devotions. I wrote a song called, “Heaven Bound. “. The first line of the song reflects my approach to faith: It goes like this, ” The Lord knows me, I’m a sinful man. Without His grace I cannot stand.”


  3. If you want to stick in a spoon to stir the pot, try this.

    The Law, being from the same God, is the alien work that serves the purpose of driving us to the Gospel, his proper work. Ultimately, they serve the same will of God toward the same end – saving us. Opposites? Like a good Lutheran, I say, “Yes and No.”


    1. Yes, and you might further stir it by saying that grace is earned (purchased?) for us by obedience to the Law, by Christ’s obedience to it. The Gospel is the Law fulfilled by Christ for us. So, while we dare not rely on our own adherence to merit grace, we have God’s Word that His Law, His justice, has been satisfied.


  4. I think, if there is a pitfall, it is losing sight of the fact that grace came at God’s own expense. His Law not only curbs our behavior, shows us our sin, and teaches us a sanctified life, it is the focus of Christ’s atoning work. While his purpose is our salvation and the Law is, indeed, used to point us to the Gospel. We may come to believe that the Gospel is the futility of fulfilling the Law on our own and that grace is received by confessing that futility and end up overlooking to price paid. A true faith, the Gospel, points to the cross – the injustice of an innocent murdered and the justice of God: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

    In this, I believe that Law and Gospel stand apart with respect to our works in the world and the source of our righteousness before God. But I believe that they are intertwined in Christ, the cost, the life given, for our salvation.


    1. There’s a lot of pointing in your comment. The Law prepares one for the Gospel. The Gospel gives him/her Christ crucified for his/her sins and raised for his/her justification.


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