The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. – 2 Corinthians 3:6.
In Holy Scriptures we have two chief doctrines. Both are of God, and yet they differ as widely as death and life. And unless you clearly perceive the difference between these two doctrines, you will not know what to make of it all or what to believe.
These two doctrines are the Law and the Gospel. In His Law God tells us how we ought to be, and what we should do and not do. In His Gospel God tells us that He “so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16-17). Every word of the Bible that tells us how we ought to be, and what we should do and not do, is Law. Every word of the Bible that tells us that “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing [not charging] their trespasses unto them” (II Corinthians 5:19) is Gospel. Take your Bible and try to become adept in discerning what therein is Law and what is Gospel.
The Law (“the letter”) kills, damns us. How so? Why? Because we poor sinners have not kept it and cannot keep it; because we have transgressed it and still transgress it. The Gospel (“the spirit”), however, gives life, salvation, forgiveness, mercy, comfort, sure hope. How so? Why? Because it demands nothing of us, but merely gives “freely, by His [God’s] grace, through the redemption [the deliverance] that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24), so that we need but take, receive, “and believe the Gospel” (Mark 1:15 b). But what does the Law of God say to us and to the whole world: “Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this Law to do them” (Deuteronomy 27:26). However, what does the Gospel say to us and to the whole world (as we said above): “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The Law shows us and the whole world our sins and God’s wrath. The Gospel, however, shows us and the whole world God’s wonderful, marvelous grace and mercy in Christ Jesus, in His perfect active and passive obedience in behalf of all sinners, “the Just for the unjust” (I Peter 3:18).
Let us more and more learn to know our sins and our utter spiritual ruin from the Law, but, above all, more and more learn to know and continue to believe God’s forgiveness of our sins in and through Christ, God’s gift to us in the Gospel of His righteousness to us through and on account of “the Lord, our righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:6), our dear and only Savior. From the killing Law, let us again and again, night and day, hide in the life-giving Gospel. Then the Law cannot curse us; then we, by faith, have the certainty of eternal salvation given to us in the Gospel.
PRAYER – Enlighten me more and more, O God, that I may rightly understand Thy Word. From Thy holy Law, let me learn to know more and more my boundless spiritual ruin, but from Thy holy, changeless, marvelous Gospel, let me learn more and more to know Thy grace, which does much more abound, that grace which is in Christ Jesus, my Lord and Savior, and which saves me from my utter ruin and gives me the priceless gift of eternal salvation. And, O merciful God, keep me a true believer in Thy Gospel of grace in Christ, that Gospel which is my sure and secure place of refuge against every curse of the Law. Amen.
“The Law of God is good and wise, and sets His will before our eyes;
shows us the way of righteousness, and dooms to death when we transgress.
The Law is good, but since the fall, its holiness condemns us all;
it dooms us for our sin to die, and has no power to justify.
To Jesus we for refuge flee, who from the curse has set us free;
and humbly worship at His throne, saved by His grace through faith alone.”
(TLH) – Hymn 295. 1, 5, 6: