The Distinction Between Law and Gospel and Morality

A good friend of mine posted something on the youth group page of his congregation. It was an article from titled 10 surprising Reasons Our Kids LEAVE Church . In this article the author states from multiple interviews with people in their 20’s that we are not giving our kids the “full weight of the law, and the full freedom of the Gospel.” All ten of the author’s points are based around this theme.

However, this is not the only person who has made this conclusion. In Kendra Creasy Dean’s book Almost Christian: What the Faith of our Teenagers is Telling the American Church she calls the faith of our kids as “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” Not surprisingly in Marc Yoder’s article he says that kids view Christianity as a way of developing morals. Both Yoder and Dean blame the Church and parents for not giving kids proper Law and Gospel.

I am a 21-year-old. I am the same age as those who were being interviewed. In the same way, I have seen many friends walk away from the church after confirmation and especially after high school for various reasons. With these recent conclusions, I can contend that morality is being taught in church’s instead of Law and Gospel (aka the Bible).

To start we need to know what is Law, Gospel and morality. I my personal search I started with Law. Since I am at home in California, my personal resources were limited. So I went straight to my fathers 1943 edition of Luther’s Small Catechism from Concordia Publishing House. I looked up the section of Law and Gospel. The second question under that heading is “What is the Law?” (Hey work smarter not harder right?) In the response to that question it states

The Law is the doctrine of the Bible in which God tells us how we are to be and what we are to do and not to do.

And naturally following the response is scriptural references (Lev 19:2, Ex. 34:11, and Deut. 6:6, 7). From the answer given it is very easy to hone in as teachers, preachers, and parents on the “what we are to do and not to do” part of this response. Often times we forget the first thing that is instructed here in the catechism based off of Lev. 19:2. It is about our being, not our doing.

You must be holy because I, the Lord your God, am Holy.

At beginning of creation, before the fall into sin, we were holy and were able to walk with God. To be holy means that you are “set apart,” “dedicated” or “belong” to God as defined by God himself. When we sinned that holiness was broken and it was our fault. We dedicated ourselves to idols. When we break any of God’s commands we must break the first commandment. We place other gods ahead of the Yahweh when we sin. After all as Kyle Idleman states in his book “Gods at War” all people are made to be worshipers. We must worship something or someone. Joshua challenges the Israelites on this matter. In fact Joshua doesn’t even give them a choice not to worship in what he says

But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.

Therefore this question applies to us as well. Whom do you serve?

But back to Law, Gospel and morality. As Christians we are called to be holy before God. The problem is we can’t because of our sin. Therefore every one of us is damned to eternal separation from God because by our own power and might we cannot be holy. (At this time I would normally kick right into Gospel, but for purpose of the topic I am going to switch to morality and how we are teaching, preaching, and parenting Law).

Morality is different from the Law of God. While morals can stem from the Law of God, it is not the focus of the Law because the focus of the Law is to show us our sin and how we are not holy (mirror). These morality teachings come from the last two statements in our catechism question for the day: “What we are to do and not to do.” If we teach our children morality in our churches then they will have a view that church is just about establishing morals in children. Then as children get older they will realize that they could get morals anywhere and leave the church. This is all because as a church we have not appropriately taught our kids Law.

Even more so we have failed to teach preach and parent true Gospel. There are many ways that this has occurred. One thing that pops into my head was WWJD (What would Jesus do?). From that one acronym alone, and other questions like it, we have taken everything that Jesus has taught and done for our salvation and turned it into a phrase that condemns.

Another example of how the church is not properly teaching Law and Gospel is in the catechism during confirmation. When I was looking in the 1986 copywrite of Luther’s Small Catechism from Concordia Publishing House I could not find the simple question of “What is Law?” and “What is Gospel?” (Excuse me, but I think those two questions are pretty foundational to Christians, particularly Lutherans). Instead this edition even phrases the questions and answers related to Law and Gospel in a way that makes Law statements.

What does God teach and do in the Law?

In the Law, God commands good works of thought, word and deed and condemns and punishes sin. (References: Mark 12:30-31, John 5:45, Rom. 3:20)

What does God teach and do in the Gospel?

In the Gospel, our good news of our salvation in Jesus Christ, God gives forgiveness, faith, life and the power to please him with good works. (References: John 3:16, John 6:63, Rom. 1:16, Col. 1:6)

The 1986 edition of the catechism makes two true statements here, but leave us condemned. In the Law question it does not even allow holiness to even be mentioned as an important command of the law as the centerpiece as to what the Law commands. Likewise, in the Gospel question it takes the Gospel message and tacks on “power to please him with good works” thus crippling a Christian response to the Gospel (ontology and teleology). It is a natural Christian response to live a life in appreciation (as a thank you) to the Gospel. This is what drives us to live holy lives (again which means living a life in accordance to the Law of God). However, while we are made holy by Christ’s death and resurrection we cannot possibly live holy lives by following God’s commands because we still live in a sinful world. However, what we do have is hope. A hope that through our faith (trust/confidence) in what Christ has done we will live eternally with God. It is all God’s doing so to Him all the glory will go.

Once we come to faith the Law no longer has any power over us. We are free because we are no longer damned to eternal separation from God. However, the Law still plays an important role in the Christian life because it shows us that we are still broken and that Christ is still for us. It still shows us that we are sinners and that we need the forgiveness that Christ offers. It still shows us that we need a savior. It keeps us relying on Christ.

Now to move into the parenting portion of all of this. While the church has failed to teach full Law and full Gospel to the youth, the church only has kids one day (maybe two days) out of the week. This means that parents need to take charge of teaching their children Law and Gospel as well. In Timothy Paul Jones’ book Family Ministry Field Guide he brings up the fact that churches do not have kids nearly as much as the parents do, therefore the majority of kids perception of Christianity is shaped from their parents.

Often times parents parent from the Law perspective. They parent from an authoritarian perspective with no room for grace. This is where there is a disconnect from the church and parenting. Often times parents do not show God’s grace to their children. Therefore, the children do not get the experiential learning of grace from their parents. Jones, suggests that parents be authoritative when they need to be authoritative, but also view their child as a brother or sister in Christ as well. Otherwise, virtually everything that the child receives from Christianity is Law. Let the Gospel be shared in your actions with all including those in your immediate family and those who you have direct authority over.

I apologize for the book/lecture on Law and Gospel and how it differs from morality. Please comment if there are errors in my reasoning or theology as well as comment to start a conversation about other ways that we are messing up Law and Gospel in our teaching, preaching and parenting.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise him all creatures here below;
Praise him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen!


2 thoughts on “The Distinction Between Law and Gospel and Morality

  1. Pingback: Before You Leave Seminary | De Profundis Clamavi ad Te, Domine

  2. Pingback: Before You Leave Seminary « Sago

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