BY RJ GRUNEWALD
The Law gets a bad rap.
There is certainly a negative component to the Law. The work of the Law is very different than the work of the Gospel. If the Gospel’s work is to revive, the Law’s work is to kill. If the Gospel’s work is to cover over sin, the Law’s work is to expose sin. If the Gospel is the Good News, the Law is the Bad News.
Despite the negative function of the Law, the Law is not bad. The Law is good even when it makes us feel bad. Even when the Law functions for the purpose of exposing our sin, it does not exist for the end goal of your exposure.
The end goal of the Law is always the Gospel
The Hammer in the Hand of an Artist
In 1501, a young man by the name of Michelangelo began to destroy a valuable slab of marble. He cut, he hammered, and he carved, leaving piece after piece of valuable marble on the ground to be swept away. For months upon months, Michelangelo used the destructive force of the hammer to get rid of the extra rock.
Cutting, carving, and hammering a valuable piece of marble is a bad idea. Unless that cutting, carving, and hammering is done at the hands of an artist. A hammer is a tool of destruction unless in the hands of a master artist chipping away at a masterpiece.
The Law is a hammer in the hands of the Master Artist.
In Ephesians, Paul writes, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.” One of the tools in the belt of the Master Artist is the Law, a tool that hammers, cuts, and carves in order that the Gospel might reveal a new creation.
At times the hammer swings swiftly and strongly. The hammer swings with force in order to clear away as much marble as possible. The hammer swings accusing our conscience smashing against our pride and arrogance. The hammer swings with the goal of convicting the sinner. The Law swings with force in order to reveal what we really look like. It shatters our self-made images when we realize we aren’t as good as we think we are. It cuts away the excess when we realize that we can’t measure up to God’s demands.
At other times the hammer is more like a mallet, gently exposing our sins and failures. The mallet smooths out the rough edges. It gently causes you to look at yourself and ask, “What kind of husband am I? What kind of neighbor or coworker am I? What kind of friend am I?”
These questions are the work of the Law. They reveal what we really look like and reveal where we are more a piece of work than a work of art.
Notice the demands the Law makes. These are all good things. The Law isn’t bad. In fact, it might even be difficult to consider the importance of being a better parent or husband Law. This is because we are so ingrained with thinking Law equals bad.
“Be a better husband” is Law. It’s good. It’s important. But it’s still Law.
And the Law always accuses.
For example, “Be a better husband.”
If you are a crummy husband, you’re going to feel guilty when I tell you to be a better husband. If you got in a fight with you’re wife this morning, you’re going to think of all the ways you should’ve handled that situation differently. If you had a marriage that ended poorly, you’re going to be filled with regret.
“Be a better husband” immediately exposes your failures. It might swing in harshly making you feel like you’ve been punched in the chest with guilt. Or it might gently tap away reminding you of conversations or attitudes.
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” The new creation comes with the passing of the old. The destruction of the old materials leaves a masterpiece rising from the ruins. The death that comes at the hands of the Law is followed by the resurrection that comes in the beauty of the Gospel.
This is why Herman Stuempfle in Preaching Law and Gospel said, “the Law is never terminal.”
When Michelangelo began cutting, carving, and hammering a slab of marble his goal was never to destroy the slab. His goal was what he completed in 1504, the masterpiece sculpture of David. The work of the Law is never the end goal. The Law always exists for the masterpiece that comes by the work of the Gospel.
RJ Grunewald is a Pastor at Faith in Troy, Michigan. He is a theology nerd who believes that theology isn’t just meant for the academics and dead guys but it is for everyday life. He is the author of The Art of Law & Gospel and Reading Romans with Luther. He’s also got a digital copy of The Art of Law and Gospel that you can download for free by subscribing to his emails. RJ has been married to his wife Jessica since 2007 and they have 3 kids, Elijah, Emaline, and Alice.