Resting in God: The Difference Between Law & Gospel

Resting in God: The Difference Between Law & Gospel BY Ty Gregory for Core Christianity

We all want to belong. We vote for certain political parties, cheer on our favorite teams, rep the colors of our cherished universities, and interview at our dream jobs because we want to belong to them. Only their approval matters. Only their acceptance makes us important. Only their blessing will make us happy. Or so we think.

The sad truth about belonging is that it isn’t easy. It’s hard to get in, and it’s even harder to stay in. But there’s a beautiful exception to this in the community of Jesus’s followers. It plays by a different set of rules. Belonging isn’t created by a performance; it’s donated as a gift. Your value is freely given, not earned. Your worth is permanent because it comes from the performance of Jesus, a performance that God himself recognized as the ideal human achievement.

Put theologically, belonging to the family of God comes through the gospel, not through the law. If your identity is shaped by law, you will never be enough, either to yourself or to God. If your identity is shaped by the gospel, on the other hand, you’re already enough. Not because you’ve proven yourself, but because you embrace your true identity as a beloved child of God. Living by the gospel means you rest in God rather than trying to impress him. That’s why you must know the difference between the law and the gospel.

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Acceptance takes work. You must beat the competition to get in. And if you make any wrong moves, you’re pushed out by the person standing behind you who can’t wait to take your place. This is how belonging works under law, because laws create standards and expectations. If you live up to them, you’re in. If you don’t, you’re out.

Standards aren’t always bad, though. In fact, they’re necessary in many situations. Trading a player who isn’t at peak performance makes room for the next generation of athletes. Holding people accountable for crimes they commit keeps society healthy. Letting a doctor go who hasn’t maintained his skills can save lives. In these cases, rejection is a way to uphold good expectations.

God has standards for his people as well. His laws are like boundaries that keep you from the danger zone on the other side. If you step outside the lines, you’ll hurt yourself. If you stay within them, however, you’ll live like an ideal human. Your life will flourish as you experience the fullness of God’s presence and blessing. In this way, God’s law is good. His standards protect your dignity and worth.

The problem with the law, however, is that it’s a high-stakes game. The life and blessing and belonging that are promised in God’s laws come after your performance (Deut. 30:17–18). While a high performance leads to acceptance, a poor performance leads to rejection. Even if you have a good performance, the approval you receive in one moment is not guaranteed in the future. You must prove yourself repeatedly to keep the reward. One wrong move can send you to the back of the line. This is why the law is a double-edged sword. Though its purposes are good, it always put you back on trial. Living by the law can only lead to fatigue, anxiety, and burnout.

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