By Voddie Baucham (from Family Shepherds: Calling and Equipping Men to Lead Their Homes)
Family shepherds must know the difference between law and gospel. We must know the difference between committing ourselves to leadership in our families because it’s “right,” and looking to Christ as the Good Shepherd who, by his grace, will conform us to the will of his Father as we trust and obey him.
We must also know the difference between condemning our family with the law and shepherding them with the gospel. We must know the difference between what the gospel requires and what the gospel produces.
WHAT THE GOSPEL REQUIRES
All the gospel requires from us is repentance and faith.
- This is the message Jesus conveyed: “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matt. 4:17; see also Mark 1:15).
- This was Peter’s message on the day of Pentecost when, filled with the Spirit, he turned to the crowd and said, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
- And again: “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19).
- This is also the message Paul proclaimed at Mars Hill: “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).
It’s absurd to expect obedience from men who are “dead in the trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1)—men who “are in the flesh” and who consequently “cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8). This is the heart of Paul’s argument in Galatians. There he makes it clear that we are “justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Gal. 2:16). It is not our good works, our righteousness, our obedience that triggers the gospel’s effect in our lives; rather, the gospel calls simply for our repentance and our trust in Christ. This distinction must mark our understanding and proclamation of the gospel.
WHAT THE GOSPEL PRODUCES
While repentance and faith are what the gospel requires, what the gospel produces is obedience to all the Lord’s commands.
- This is clear when John writes: Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. (1 John 2:4–6)
- This is in keeping with Paul’s comment in 2 Corinthians 5:17 on the nature of true conversion: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has Family come.”
- This, of course, is to God’s glory, not ours; for it’s God who has made us “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9).
- Make no mistake: “It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). Our obedience is produced by God, not by us. This obedience is the fruit or evidence of the work of the gospel in our lives.
- Those who love the Lord keep his commandments (John 14:15, 21).
- Moreover, Jesus associates the keeping of his commandments with abiding in his love (John 15:10), not trying to earn it.
WHY THESE DISTINCTIONS MATTER
All this may seem like splitting theological hairs, but I assure you these distinctions are crucial. Confusing what the gospel produces with what the gospel requires will lead either to a sterile works-righteousness on the one hand or to lawlessness on the other.
For example, if we work toward getting our unbelieving children to do that which only the gospel can produce in the life of a believer, and fail to point them to the undeniable truth that there’s nothing in and of themselves whereby they may obey in a manner that will satisfy God’s righteousness, then we’re essentially telling them they can please God on their own—something the Bible says is impossible (Rom. 8:8).
On the other hand, if we merely throw up our hands in surrender, never calling our children to repentance and never holding up to them the mirror of God’s unattainable standard of righteousness, then our children will think themselves safe and secure when in fact they stand condemned before a holy and righteous judge. They must know that in the Lord’s sight, “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isa. 64:6).
Thus, we must teach our children to view the law as “our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith (Gal. 3:24). Only then does the gospel have its full impact.