Gospel-driven believers are not compelled to obedience through threat of death and fear of punishment. Rather, Gospel-driven believers are constrained to obedience in a loving manner by grace (2 Cor. 5:14-15; Titus 2:11-14). It is not until the believer comes to a firm persuasion of his being dead to the law, that this death to the law will begin to have a moral influence upon his sanctification (Gal. 2:19-21).
Gospel-driven believers are not compelled to obedience through threat of death and fear of punishment.
Paul, in Romans 7:4-6 wrote, “4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. 5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.”
As long as a believer remains ignorant of his spiritual freedom in Christ and thinks that he is under the law as a covenant of works, the pursuit of sanctification will be hindered.
Ralph Erskine writes, “The natural way of man’s thinking is, we should serve God, that he may save us; but the Gospel-way is, He saves us, that we may serve Him. What made Paul say, ‘Being dead to the law, I live unto God?’ Why, in the next verse he enlarges on it; ‘I live to him who love me, and gave Himself for me.’ Be persuaded, man, woman, of this, or else, as the Lord lives, you shall die in a delusion; that; if you have not love to God, you have not a spark of holiness, though you should pray all your days, and work never so hard; ‘I will circumcise their hearts to love me,’ is the promise, and this love is the heart and life of religious duties. Now, you cannot have love unless you see somewhat more or less of his love to you; we are naturally enemies by nature, and born with a dagger of enmity in your heart and hand against God, so, till you get somewhat of the knowledge of God, as in Christ reconciling the world to himself, this enmity will never be killed. Now, I say it is the believer in Christ, who being dead to the law, and joined to the Lord, hath this love; and this love constrains him, so that he brings forth fruit unto God…I know not what experience you have, sirs, but some of us know that, when our souls are most comforted and enlarged with the faith of God’s favour through Christ, and with the hope of His goodness, then we have most heart to the duties; and when, through unbelief, we have harsh thoughts of God as an angry judge, then we have no heart to duties and religious exercises: and I persuade myself this is the experience of the saints in all ages” (Law-Death, Gospel-Life, pp. 52-53).
The law’s authority to command in the hand of Christ is not lessened rather it is sweetened.
The law is made pleasant and desirable to those who are in union with Christ. Like the Psalmist, the justified heart declares, “14 In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. 15 I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. 16 I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.”
It is this pleasantness and allurement of the law in the hand of Christ that constrains the believer to obedience. Those in union with Christ, Ralph Erskine notes, do not obey to satisfy their conscience, nor to satisfy justice or to gain heaven. Rather, believers obey to glorify God, edify their neighbor and testify their gratitude to God for His deliverance from the law as a covenant of works.
The threatenings and punishments of the law in the hand of Christ are not vindictive but rather fatherly and loving (e.g., Ps. 89:30-35; Heb. 12:3-11).
The penalty of the covenant of works is condemnation and eternal death. But, the believer no longer has any cause to fear such condemnation and threats because he is now under grace. The law no longer condemns it only directs believers. And in case of short-comings and failures, the law continues to serve as a mirror revealing to believers their remaining sin and need for Christ. It serves as a constant reminder for the believer not to become proud or to think that he has arrived (Ps. 143:2; Philip. 3:12-13). The law directs believers out of themselves to Christ, who is the end of the law, for both strength to sanctify and righteousness to justify. The Heidelberg Catechism is instructive on this point:
115 Q. No one in this life can obey the Ten Commandments perfectly: why then does God want them preached so pointedly?
A. First, so that the longer we live the more we may come to know our sinfulness and the more eagerly look to Christ for forgiveness of sins and righteousness.1
Second, so that, while praying to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, we may never stop striving to be renewed more and more after God’s image, until after this life we reach our goal: perfection.2
1 Ps. 32:5; Rom. 3:19-26; 7:7, 24-25; 1 John 1:9
2 1 Cor. 9:24; Phil. 3:12-14; 1 John 3:1-3.
At this point many teach that when believers sin they can lose fellowship with the Lord. However, it is important to note that believers are never out of fellowship with the Lord. To be out of fellowship is to lose one’s salvation.
The Lord’s Fatherly discipline is actually evidence of favor and fellowship (cf., Ps. 30:5; Heb. 12:8).
The Lord moderates His Fatherly anger towards His people and reminds them of His gracious favor. The Psalmist in Psalm 30:5 writes, “For His anger is but for a moment and His favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Even in discipline, the Lord desires for His people to perceive that His favor belongs to them.
When believers sin, they don’t lose fellowship with Christ they lose the sweetness of their fellowship. Erskine notes that the Lord gives them terror (i.e., filial fear based on Fatherly chastisement not slavish fear based on vindictive wrath) instead of comfort, and bitterness instead of the sweetness of God’s presence.
Of this filial fear and Fatherly correction Erskine writes, “Though I will not send them to hell, nor deprive them of heaven, no more than I will break my great oath to my eternal Son; yet, like a father, I will chastise them; I will correct them for their faults: I will squeeze them in the mortar of affliction, and press out the corrupt juice of Old Adam that is in them; yea, I will hide my face: I will deny them that communion and fellowship with me that sometimes they had, and give them terror instead of comfort, and bitterness instead of sweetness.
A filial fear of these Fatherly chastisements will do more to influence the believer to holiness and obedience, than all the unbelieving fears of hell and wrath can do:
fear, lest he want that sweetness of God’s presence, which sometimes he hath had, will make him say to his sins and lusts, as the fig-tree in Jotham’s parable, ‘Shall I leave my sweetness, and be king over you?’ O! Shall I leave all the sweetness that I have enjoyed with God, and take on with base lusts and idols! And hence, when the believer hath gone aside and backslidden, what is it that brings him back to God? He finds the Lord breaking him many ways, and he reflects, through grace, upon this sometimes. O! How am I deprived of these sweet interviews that once I enjoyed? Therefore I will go and return to my first husband, for then it was better with me than now. Yea, his freedom from law-threatenings, and being only under fatherly correction, when he sees this, it breaks his heart, and melts it more than all the fire of hell could do. The slavish fear of vindictive wrath discourages him, weakens his hands in duties, and makes him run away from God: but the filial fear of God’s fatherly wrath, which is kindly, is a motive of love that encourages him to his duty. Which of these motives think you will work up the believer to most obedience? Viz. This legal one, O! My wrathful Judge will send me to hell, if I do so and so; or this Gospel one; O! My God and Father in Christ Jesus will be angry at me, and deny me his love-tokens? I suppose the former works upon enmity, and raises it, but this works upon love, and inflames it,” (Law-Death, Gospel-Life, pp. 56-57).
The freedom of the Gospel is in understanding that as believers we are in union with Christ and thus will never be charged guilty because we are dead to the law as a covenant of works. Though our Heavenly Father may discipline us for our good (and He will!), He delights in us because of Jesus’ blood.
We are in favor with the Father because we are in union with the Son.
We are blessed because we are in the Beloved (i.e., Christ, Eph. 1:6). In Christ, we are blessed with every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3). Through union with Christ the whole form of the law as a covenant of works has changed into a covenant of grace. The law in the hand of Christ, Erskine writes, “is all love, all grace, and so influences the man to sanctification” (Law-Death, Gospel-Life, p. 57).
Erskine concludes, “The man that is under the covenant of grace, he hath a principle of grace within him, causing him to walk in God’s statutes; he hath the promise of grace to be sufficient for him; if sin prevail, and pollute him, he hath daily access to the fountain open for sin and for uncleaness, to which he runs; if his backslidings increase, he hath Christ engaged by promise to heal his backslidings: which, when he views by faith, it doth not encourage him to sin, if he be in right exercise of his senses, but draws him to his duty, like a cord of love, and brings him back to his kind Lord. In a word, being dead to the law, he is married to Christ, who is like a green fig-tree, from whom all his fruit is found” (Law-Death, Gospel-Life, pp. 57-58).
Soli Deo Gloria (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14)!