24 February 2010

A Proper Gospel Way

Obey God and do the works of the law by gospel principles and means. This is the rare and excellent art of godliness, in which every Christian should be a skilled expert. Many people labor for years trying to live a godly life. However, they give it up in shame and confusion because they never understood this holy art. They never tried to attain true godliness in a proper gospel way.

Walter Marshall, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification: Growing in Holiness by Living in Union with Christ (Wipf & Stock 2005), 167-68; emphasis original

I'm grateful to Dan Orr for pointing me to this book.


Andrew Cowan said...

Is it really right to say, "do the works of the law?" Paul seems to distinguish between fulfilling the law and doing the works of the law. The phrase "works of the law" appears to be entirely negative in his view.

Dane Ortlund said...

Thanks Andrew.

Isn't there a difference between 'doing' the works of the law and 'being justified by' the works of the law?

The question, it seems to me, is not whether Christians do the law; the question is why (for acceptance or from acceptance).

Andrew Cowan said...

I totally agree that there is a distinction between doing the law and being justified by works of the law. I'm just not sure if "works of the law" should be used to describe what it is that believers do to fulfill the law. Although the mistake of some in the New Perspective is to limit the phrase "works of the law" to Sabbath, circumcision, and food laws, I think that they are right to insist that this phrase includes those things and is not reducible to "good works" in general. Thus, when I hear "do the works of the law from the gospel," my Pauline ears hear a call to obey all of the law, including Sabbath, circumcision, and food laws, from acceptance. That seems to be the opposite of what Paul argues in Romans and Galatians. I have no problem saying that Christians ought to do the law in some sense, and do it from acceptance rather than for acceptance. I just wonder if the phrase "works of the law" ought to be used in this context. That's probably a very nit-picky point, but precision on these matters is often essential to avoiding misunderstanding.

Dane Ortlund said...

Yeah, I know what you mean Andrew; I wouldn't use works of the law in the way Marshall does. So I see your point. Don't get hung up on it though. He's using 'obey God' and 'do the works of the law' interchangeably. He just means obey. Don't forget he lived 400 yrs before the NPP made us so sensitive to 'works' and 'works of the law' and the possible difference between them etc.

(incidentally, critics of the NPP, too, think the works of the law *includes* sabbath, etc--the question is, is it only or primarily those things...)

Andrew Cowan said...

Ah, I didn't know about the dating of Marshall's book. I just saw the publication date in your post; I take back my criticism.

And on the incidental note, yes, the good critics of the NPP make this point quite clear, and I agree that they are right that "works of the law" is not limited to these things.