Browse Worthy: The Law in the Life of the Believer

Samuel Bolton, one of those present at the Westminster Assembly, wrote a pamphlet called The True Bounds of Christian Freedom.   In this work he gives this simple yet profound Biblical formulation regarding our relationship to the law.

We cry down the law with respect to justification, but we set it up as a rule of sanctification.  The law sends us to the gospel that we may be justified; the gospel sends us to the law again to inquire what is our duty as those who are justified.

Sadly, it appears that yet once again confusion is rising with respect to the place of the law of God in the life of the believer.  Tullian Tchividjian  (pronounced cha-vi-jin), the talented grandson of Billy Graham now serving as Senior Pastor at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and a contributor to The Gospel Coalition, is at the center of this controversy.  Here are some links that, if you follow them, will give you an overview of the problem, help alert you to its danger, and sharpen your understanding on this vital subject.

David Murray – Over two years ago, with his gracious reviews of Tchividjian’s book Jesus + Nothing = EverythingDr. Murray of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary pointed out the root problem of his theology.  Tchividjian’s commingling of justification and sanctification caused him to downplay the law of God in the believer’s life.  Read first his review of the book, then these second and third articles which develop more fully the theological concerns.

Michael Kruger – More recently, because of a controversial post by Tchividjian, a virtual firestorm broke out on the blogosphere. The President of the Reformed Theological Seminary of Charlotte, NC, expressed here his concern over Tchividjian’s failure to rightly acknowledge what is known as the third use of the law.

Mark Jones –   These matters caused Tchividjian’s fellow PCA minister Dr. Jones to make this public offer to fly from Canada to Florida to meet with him in order to debate this issue.  Then Jones’ blogging partner on Meet the Puritans, Danny Hyde, wrote this article to clarify why God’s law is not burdensome to the believer.

Kevin DeYoung – On the blog of The Gospel Coalition, this article then appeared by DeYoung to outline the issues at stake.

Rick Phillips – Here then is the latest expression of concern over at Reformation21 by another evangelical leader with a careful diagnosis of the matters at stake.

With all of these respected pastors and theologians expressing concern, one prays Tchividjian will heed the correction he is being offered.

I will conclude by expressing thankfulness that in worship yesterday one of my elders encouraged the proper use of the law of God in our lives by reading this answer from Question 97 of the Larger Catechism, which asks, “What special use is there of the moral law to the regenerate?”

Although they that are regenerate, and believe in Christ, be delivered from the moral law as a covenant of works, so as thereby they are neither justified nor condemned; yet besides the general uses thereof common to them with all men, it is of special use, to show them how much they are bound to Christ for his fulfilling it, and enduring the curse thereof in their stead, and for their good; and thereby to provoke them to more thankfulness, and to express the same in their greater care to conform themselves thereunto as the rule of their obedience.


  1. Steven Veldkamp May 20, 2014 at 3:13 am #

    Hi Barry,
    I don’t understand the Bolton quote (the gospel sends us–presumably away from the gospel–back to the law? What does that mean?), the emphasis on sanctification as our work that I hear in RP circles generally, and the need everyone suddenly feels to express how Tullian’s statements are an overreaction, and then respond with their own overreaction, and equally lacking in generosity, usually by listing other people who have reacted so, and on their blog, of course.
    I’d appreciate a personal response; you have my email.

  2. Phil Pockras May 20, 2014 at 4:06 am #

    Well, once again, we have some of the issues that came up almost three hundred years ago with the book, _The Marrow of Modern Divinity_. It would do many of us great good to read it, along with Thomas Boston’s notes on it, or read it again. It’s a wonderful corrective to both legalism, or neonomianism, and to antinomianism. I can’t remember if it’s from Edward Fisher, the author, or from Boston that we get the saying, “In the Gospel, the Law can no longer condemn us or commend us.” The Christian is brought to see, as well, the proper and Scriptural “Third Use of the Law”, the guide to life for believers. The _Marrow_ is available electronically online in many places, and a wonderful new edition of it is available from Reformed Heritage books.

  3. Hau Tzeng May 20, 2014 at 8:00 pm #

    One more by Carl Trueman on pastoral considerations:

  4. Paul Elisha May 25, 2014 at 4:59 am #

    What if you are so focused on the law in sanctification that you’re deaf to the words of the Apostle Paul regarding sanctification? We are not sanctified by the law, but rather through faith in Christ by the Spirit. We are not sent back to the law after justification. The Apostle Paul sends us to Christ in and His Spirit in Romans 6-8. The law is defended more in RP circles than the preaching of the Gospel. If only you gentlemen on this blog had the guts to stand for Christ and His Gospel with the same fervency as you do the law. (See: Romans 7:6, Romans 8:3-4, Galatians 3:1-9, 2 Cor. 3:12-18).

    • Barry York May 27, 2014 at 11:44 pm #


      What if you were so focused on justification in sanctification that you’re deaf to the words of the Apostle Paul regarding sanctification? Does that not also appear to be his concern in such places as Romans 6:1-2, 15-18; 7:1-25?

      That’s the point that each of the men responding to Tullian is making.

      Clearly, no one is saying the law in itself apart from Christ or the powerful work of His Spirit sanctifies. Yet He uses His word as a means to this end, for “the law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul” (Psalm 19:7).

      You make several careless statements, friend. Saying the law is more defended in RP circles than the gospel has certainly not been my experience. Clarifying the sanctifying work of the gospel IS defending it. And as to our gospel guts, I’ll let the testimony of our many other articles and sermons be my only reply.

  5. Walter May 25, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

    “Did he turn us away from the law for justification and then send us back to it for sanctification? Is the law the first and chief and decisive focus of our lives if we want to triumph over our rebellion and our craving for God’s creation over God? If we want to love our enemies and not return evil for evil, and have patience and kindness, and be bold and courageous in the cause of righteousness, and endure hardship joyfully in service of the gospel, and spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples, then where shall we turn for help? How do we become holy, loving, and Christ-like after we are justified by faith alone?”

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