What does It Mean to Preach Law and Gospel?

pulpitWhile cleaning out my desk today, I came across a paragraph I wrote ten years ago during my last year of seminary. It was from a pastoral theology class taught by Dr. Hywel Jones, my homiletics professor. He had asked me to write a 200-word definition of what it means to preach law and gospel and then read it to the class for subsequent discussion. I had forgotten about this little assignment until today when I stumbled upon this piece of paper containing the paragraph I wrote. I am encouraged that almost ten years later my convictions have not changed. Having since 2003 preached through many books of the Bible and ministered to a precious flock of sinners and saints, I can say that this definition of what it means to preach law & gospel is as accurate today as it was then. God be praised. May he enable pastors to proclaim faithfully his whole counsel. Quite simply, preaching law and gospel means to preach faithfully the whole counsel of God (Acts 20.27), rightly handling its two parts, namely, law and gospel. Law and gospel is not equivalent to the Old Testament and New Testament. Rather, it is the distinction between the two principal kinds of Scripture: law, which declares "do this and you shall live," and gospel, which declares, "Christ did it for you." The law is preached to the sinner to act as a tutor, revealing his guilt and misery, killing his self-righteousness, and driving him to his only comfort: the righteousness provided in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Yet, when the law is proclaimed to the justified saint, it no longer demands, "do this and you shall live," but, "do this BECAUSE you live." While still driving the believer to Christ, it also acts as a guide for the Christian life. It must never be confused, though, with the Good News, which the Christian must hear every week. For as the commands, exhortations, threats, and warnings of the law are proclaimed, the Christian often wavers in his assurance of salvation. It is the gospel that gives the saint assurance as well as the power to live the Christian life, for which the law now acts as a guide.

Pastor Brown