This article was originally written in Spanish. Haga click aqui para leer en Español.
I can’t tell you how many times I got turned around trying to navigate the streets of Peru’s monster metropolis, Lima. Whether it was because my travel guide was older than the hills and twice as dusty or because of the poor signage in some of the city’s not-so-developed districts, I don’t know how many times I was forced to roll down the windows and ask,
Disculpe, Señor. ¿Conoce este lugar? – Excuse me, Sir. Any idea where this place is?
In Peru they say that, “you get there by asking” (“uno llega preguntando”). But, what do you do when every person you ask tells you something different? And to make matters worse, in Peru 9 times out of 10 the friendly security guard you bother on the side of the road will tell you how to get to where you’re headed, even if he himself doesn’t have the slightest idea where it is!
So, what do you do when one person tells you to go one way, and a different person tells you to go another? How do you decide whom to trust when you’re unfamiliar with your surroundings and have no clue where you’re going?
Unfortunately, many people ask the same question when they read God’s Word. It doesn’t take much time reading the Scriptures before stumbling upon what seems like a contradiction. In one place we’re told that we’re saved, while in another it says we’re condemned. In one place forgiveness is freely offered, and in another it’s denied. In one place eternal life is offered freely to all people, yet in another we’re encouraged to earn it.
When the rich young man asks Jesus, “What should I do to inherit eternal life?” the Lord responds, “If you want to inherit eternal life, keep the commandments.” When the jailor at Philippi asks Paul and Silas the same question, he’s told, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, you and your house.” (Walther, C.F.W.; Law and Gospel)
The paradox is resolved when we consider the fact that in Scripture there are two distinct teachings, the doctrine of the Law and the doctrine of the Gospel. In order to correctly understand God’s Word it’s absolutely necessary to distinguish between these two chief doctrines.
What’s the difference between the Law and the Gospel?
The Law gives us perfect directions to get to heaven (which due to humanity’s fall into sin, we’re incapable of following).
The Gospel tell us that Jesus has followed those directions “to the t” on our behalf.
The Law shows us how totally lost we are and that’s there’s nothing we can do on our own to find our way again.
The Gospel shows us our Savior, who comes to our rescue and takes us to our final destination – our home in heaven with Him.
The Law threatens to throw us in jail for our incessant infractions of the law, while the Gospel declares us holy and innocent before the Judge on account of Christ and his innocent suffering and death.
The Law produces wrath and death; the Gospel brings us to Christ, it produces faith and gives us eternal life.
“As the distinction between the Law and the Gospel is a special brilliant light, which serves to the end that God’s Word may be rightly divided, and the Scriptures of the holy prophets and apostles may be properly explained and understood, we must guard it with especial care, in order that these two doctrines may not be mingled with one another, or a law be made out of the Gospel, whereby the merit of Christ is obscured and troubled consciences are robbed of their comfort, which they otherwise have in the holy Gospel when it is preached genuinely and in its purity, and by which they can support themselves in their most grievous trials against the terrors of the Law.” (The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord; Article 5)