Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
We have learned that we must be very careful not to confuse the gospel with moralism. Often the temptation with the latter is that results can often be measured since they address external matters.
We have also learned that the gospel is not opposed to morals in that it is the foundation from which the morals are lived out. The gospel is the power of God for salvation and sanctification. The gospel transforms lives from the inside out it and thus is the power from which those morals can be and ought to be lived out.
An important aspect of this discussion is the law and the role of the law in the Scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments, and in the Christian life. Here is a brief biblical theology (overly simple, I confess) of this important matter.
Now the Christian gives thanks and praise to the Lord that He used the law in our lives to point us to Christ (the second use) , in whom we are justified by faith (Rom. 5:1-2; 8:1). He is our “righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). And by the Holy Spirit who lives within we love God by keeping His commandments (Jn. 14:21) (the third use). Joel Beeke and Mark Jones, writing in A Puritan Theology (p. 570), explain this third use of the law in the life of the Christian:
The third use of the law combats both Antinomianism and legalism.
Antinomians wrongly appeal to justification by faith alone, which, though granted apart from works of the law, does not preclude the need for sanctification. One of sanctification’s most important elements is the daily cultivation of grateful obedience to the law.
Moreover, neglect of the third use of the law can result in legalism, and often does, for we cannot live without law. When, as an alternative to God’s law, an elaborate man-made code is developed for believers to follow, covering every conceivable problem and tension in moral living, no freedom is left for believers to make personal decision based on the principles of Scripture. In such a context, man-made law smothers the divine gospel, and legalistic sanctification swallows up gracious justification. The Christian is brought back into bondage akin to that of medieval Roman Catholic monasticism.
Equally enslaving is the freedom that allows the Christian to follow his own emotions and impulses. Healthy Christian spirituality arises from careful meditation upon the principles of the law of God combined with heartfelt consecration to do the will of God (Rom. 12:1-2).
Thanks be to God that He graciously gave the law, that He gave the law to lead us to Christ, that Christ fulfilled the law, that through faith in Him the righteous requirements of the law can be fulfilled in those who live by and according to the Spirit!