When you think of Jesus' teachings, themes like grace, love, and forgiveness probably pop into your mind. But then you come across passages where Jesus says you cannot be His disciple unless you hate your children and carry a cross (Lk 14:26-27).

Uh . . . what?

Read the red letters of your Bible and you will see many examples of unprecedented grace. But you'll also see many harsh moral demands. So, how do we make sense of this? Is Jesus double-minded? Nope. He simply has two different messages: one is Law and the other is Gospel.

What is the Law?

The Law is any and every moral command from God, which of course includes the Ten Commandments and Jesus' Two Great Commandments

The Purpose of the Law

Most Christians think the purpose of the Law is to be our guide for righteous living. But that's not what Scripture teaches. Paul says the primary function of the Law is to reveal our sin.

Paul writes in Romans 3:20, "No one will be declared righteous in God's sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin." (see also Rm 7:13)

The Law is not a roadmap for righteousness, it's a spotlight on wickedness.

So, by the time Jesus arrived, Jews had 14 centuries to learn what the Law should have taught them – that they were dreadfully sinful and in desperate need of a Savior. However, the religious teachers essentially replaced God's Law with their own watered-down version (Mk 7:6-8). In doing this, they robbed the Law of its power to expose sin.

As a result, most Jews didn't see their true sinful condition and need of a Savior. Self-righteousness reigned! Therefore, Jesus had to do the Law teachers' job for them: He had to preach the rigorous unfiltered Law of God.

The Big Mistake

Many preachers today don't understand the purpose of the Law and therefore have no idea what to do with Jesus' harsh demands. So, they water them down to make them more "doable" for us.

Some common examples:

"When Jesus says you should love your neighbor equally as much as you love yourself (Mk 12:31), He really just wants you to be nice." 

"When Jesus says you should give up everything to follow Him (Lk 14:33), He really just wants you to love your stuff less." 

"When Jesus says you should gouge your eyes out (Mt 5:29), He really just wants you to stop watching porn." 

"When Jesus says you should be morally perfect (Mt 5:48), He really just wants you to try your best."

Do you see what's happening? Modern preachers are making the exact same mistake as ancient Pharisees – they're replacing God's Law with their own watered-down version! The biggest problem in the church today is not "cheap grace," but cheap Law: watering down God's Law to make it doable for us.

And once again, self-righteousness reigns.

What is the Gospel?

The Gospel is the infinite grace given to us by God through the death and resurrection of Jesus (1 Co 15:1-5).

Two Words; Two Audiences

What we see in the New Testament is that Jesus has two different messages: Law (commands) and Gospel (grace). Which one He preaches depends on who He's talking to.

If He's talking to self-righteous people who think they're good obedient law-keepers, He delivers the full unfiltered force of the Law against them in order to reveal their wickedness (e.g., The Rich Young Ruler, The Law Expert, etc.). On the other hand, if He's talking to people who already know that they're sinful, He comforts and frees them with the Gospel (e.g., The Woman Caught in Adultery, The Prostitute, etc.).

Christ uses the Law to show the depths of our sin and uses the Gospel to show the heights of His love and forgiveness. Reformer Philip Melancthon wrote, “The Law shows the disease, the Gospel provides the cure.”

Toxic Mix

Law and Gospel are like oil and water –– they don't mix! Mixing the two dilutes them both. So, we must keep these words distinct, just as Christ did. But sadly, it is extremely common for preachers to make Law/Gospel cocktails for their congregations. A dash of Gospel is blended with a pound of Law to make one confusing mess. One pastor cheekily calls this concoction "the glawspel." 

Why is it that so many preachers serve up the glawspel? Either (a) they don't know how to distinguish between Law and Gospel, or (b) they think we need to "balance out" Jesus' message of unlimited grace. But that's the worst thing we can do! The more biblical answer is to educate ourselves on the impossible demands of the Law so that we can see that the gospel of grace is our only solution. 


The Law is clear: only the perfectly righteous are admitted into Heaven (Mt 5:48Lv 18:5). The Law is the greatest of all burdens; the heaviest of all yokes (Ac 15:10Ga 5:1). 

And that's the whole point!

The surprising message of the Bible is that what God requires, God provides. God demands perfect righteousness from us (Gal. 3:10), so God Himself provides us with the perfect righteousness of His Son in the place of our own filthy-rag righteousness (Is 64:62 Co 5:21). We are now considered perfectly righteous before God through faith in Christ (Phil 3:9).

Believers are no longer under the condemnation of the Law (Rm 6:14), for Jesus has completely fulfilled the Law (Mt 5:17) and brought it to an end: "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to all who believe" (Rm 10:4). But our misplaced focus on watered-down law-keeping prevents us from walking in the freedom Jesus purchased for us.

So, because He loves us so much, Jesus gives us the real Law, with all its impossible and crushing demands, so that He can then give us the word of the Gospel that will raise us to a new life of freedom, forgiveness, and rest in Him. 

For Further Reading

-Luther on Law and Gospel

-Law and Gospel: A Theology for Sinners and Saints