I believe one of Martin Luther’s greatest contributions, second only to his recovery of salvation by grace alone, was his differentiation between the GOSPEL and the KINGDOM. Everything he taught was founded on two distinct messages for us in the Bible; what is above us (our relationship with God), and what is beneath us (our relationships in His kingdom on the earth).
These messages are like two fraternal twins, each honored and loved by their father. Both are making irreplaceable contributions to the family business, but in ways that could not be more diametrically opposite.
For example, the “law-twin” tells us what we must do—carefully keep the full, perfect, righteous, law of God in its minutest detail—in order to successfully function in God’s kingdom. The “gospel-twin,” on the other hand, tells us what God has done at the cross because we fail so miserably to do as his twin-brother instructed us!
We have mistaken the law-twin’s message. The Bible tells us, “By the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). We have not realized the full extent of our sin—we are unsalvageable! To open our eyes, God gave sinful man His law on Mt. Sinai. As He did so, He knew that because of our addiction to the forbidden fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, we would misuse His law and think we could be “good” by trying to keep it.
Right on cue, we think keeping God’s law is like using a SCRUB-BRUSH to clean ourselves up so we can be “good.” As the above verse clearly states, God’s law is nothing more than a MIRROR. It shows us that trying to keep it is impossible, and we are failures at cleaning ourselves with it. Hopefully, this insight, “the knowledge of sin” as Paul calls it, will eventually come to us as we continue to “look in the mirror” and see we never consistently keep God’s law,
It is at this point that the gospel-twin comes to the rescue. He steps up and says “But God…” His message is that, at the cross, the eternal, sovereign God poured out all the righteous wrath, condemnation and judgment we so justly deserve for all our sins, on His beloved, perfect, only begotten Son. He died for us on that cross so that, in the court of divine justice, we are completely free! We are the recipients of God’s “substitutionary atonement,” with Jesus’ perfect, human life credited to us, and we didn’t do anything for it but continue to sin!
At this point in our story of the fraternal twins, several important questions need to be answered:
1. How permanent is God’s forgiveness of me when He sees I still sin again and again? Do I bounce in and out of “fellowship” with Him as I sin and repent, rinse and repeat?
When Jesus cried, “It is finished!,” He was proclaiming that He had successfully fulfilled the mission He came to accomplish—sent by Father God to “save the world,” and save the world He did—fully and permanently! God does not even remember our sins anymore. (“For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” – Jeremiah 31:34; “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins” – Isaiah 43:25).
2. What does it mean that I am completely and permanently forgiven? God is not discouraged, disappointed or displeased with us in any way. He is not encouraging us to do better, because He knows we can’t! His unconditional love for us (agape) “doesn’t even take into account a wrong suffered” (1 Corinthians 13:5 AMP)! Being “good” does not cause Him to love us more; being “evil” does not cause Him to love us less. He suffered for us when we reviled, despised and completely rejected Him, because, make no mistake, we ALL were in the crowd that did that at the crucifixion!
3. How should I live every day as a Christian if I can do nothing to please God? This is the question the Jews asked Jesus after watching Him feed 5,000 people with five barley loaves and two small fish: “Then they said to Him, ‘What shall we do, that we may work the works of God? Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.’” (John 6:28, 29).
Notice Jesus did not say, “Believe in me and then get involved in church, read your Bibles, obey what I tell you, work to fulfill the Great Commission, and then you are doing the work of God.” No! He said “THE work of God, the only one, is to BELIEVE IN ME!”
What does that mean? It means that I believe what Jesus says is really true!. It’s not just that I believe the facts that Jesus is the Son of God and died for me on the cross 2000 years ago. It means I actually believe “It is God who works in you (me) both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
Does this not tell me that God is, literally, changing my “want to’s” to conform to His will for me, and then giving me the power to, actually, do that will? Should I not, then, know that God’s will for me is,…well,…whatever I want to do? Could that not be how I know God’s will for me—what do I want to do?
I can hear the gasps. “This is heresy! I will just go out and sin all the time.” We naturally think this due to our life-long addiction to the fruit of the Tree of Good and Evil. But is this not what these Scriptures teach? Could it be that we Pharisees have been trying to convince ourselves, and unconsciously others as well, that we are “good” for so long that now we don’t know what we really want!
As we learn to walk as Jesus tells us to walk, by simply trusting Him to change our desires if He wants to, and then not worrying if He doesn’t, His promise is that we will gradually jettison living by OBEDIENCE TO GOD’S LAW and begin to live more and more consistently BY FAITH. Then, shockingly, we begin to notice obedience to that law popping up in our lives—naturally, unconsciously and spontaneously—with no effort, whatsoever, on our part, as we joyously go about doing only what we want to do! The Holy Spirit is, indeed, living through me (Galatians 2:20).
This phenomena is the icing on the cake, the cherry on the top, the coup de grace, In Romans 8:4, Paul speaks the Word of God: “… That the righteous requirement of the law might (will) be fulfilled in us (not ‘by us’) who do not walk according to the flesh (by obedience to the law) but according to the Spirit (by faith).
Do you believe that in your heart? When you do, you are living by faith, the message of the gospel-twin. Next week we will look at the New Testament’s (God’s) obvious commands to do a lot of stuff I have already proven I can’t do, and frankly, I’m not interested in trying. What am I supposed to do with that, if Jesus, straight-up, full-on, told me to do them?