”And He said to them, ’Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mk. 16:15)
A well-known Scandinavian pastor wrote in Sweden’s main Christian newspaper (Dagen, 2017-12-15) some time ago that we should preach both law and grace today. Although the pastor makes several good points in his text, I cannot agree with his conclusions.
The Great Commission given by Jesus to His disciples, after His death and resurrection, was not: “Go into the whole world and preach law and grace”. The command was: “preach the Gospel”, the good news. The Apostle Paul called these good news the “Gospel of grace”. Thus, the true Gospel is the message about God’s grace, and this is the message we have been assigned to proclaim to the world.
The pastor correctly compares the ministry of John the Baptist with the function of the Old Covenant law: The (legalistic) preaching of John the Baptist prepared the way for the Jewish people to receive God’s grace through Jesus Christ.
But we who live today, after the cross, do not have the same assignment as John the Baptist. “The least in the kingdom”, i.e. the least of all born-again Christians on earth today, is greater than John the Baptist and also has a greater and more important ministry, called the “ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18). One can, by the way, question how successful John the Baptist really was when it comes to preparing the Jewish people to receive Jesus, since the whole thing ended with a “crucify him”. (Thank God, this was part of God’s plan of reconciling the world to Himself, though!)
Yes, John the Baptist revealed the diagnosis, but Jesus came and healed the “disease”, through His death and resurrection. Our assignment today is therefore not to, once again, diagnose the problem, but to preach the solution about how Jesus, on the cross, once and for all dealt with the world’s sin and shame, and even carried our sicknesses so that we by His stripes could be healed. This message is God’s power to salvation for everyone who believes!
We should remember that the law of Moses was never given to any other group than the Jewish people, before the cross, in the Old Covenant. Although the law is part of the holy Scriptures of the Bible, and profitable to teach and build us up today (if we read it through the lens of the New Covenant and the finished work of Jesus), it was never God’s purpose that the law should be preached to the Gentiles. This fact was duly established by the early church already in the 15th chapter of the book of Acts.
If I understand the pastor correctly, he thinks that we should preach the law to convict the sinner of his sin, and thereafter preach grace to the one who has been convicted, but “without mixture”. However, it is impossible to both preach law and grace at the same time without mixing the two, and thereby we strip the Gospel of its power!
In the New Covenant, it is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict the world about sin, righteousness and judgment (Jn. 16:8). However, this does not happen through the preaching of the law. The Holy Spirit works together with the preaching of the Gospel of grace, combined with signs, miracles, and wonders. It is the goodness of God (revealed through the Gospel) – not the harshness of the law – that leads to true repentance (Rm. 2:4).
On rare occasions, there might still be moments when the law could be useful to convince a sinner – who stubbornly resists the conviction of the Holy Spirit – of his/her sinfulness, which is indicated in 1 Tim. 1:8-11. People in general, however, already know that they are sinners. Each person has eaten from the fruit of knowledge of good and evil (a picture of the law), and every country has laws that say, “you shall not kill”, and “you shall not steal” etc.
In 2 Corinthians chapter 3, Paul calls the law and the Old Covenant “the letter that kills”. It is not our assignment to preach a message the leads to death. The assignment of the church is crystal clear: We are to preach the Gospel of grace, the message of the Spirit that gives life.