Catechism

4 Mankind in need of redemption

Mankind has fallen into sin and is thus in need of redemption from the evil one.

4.1 Evil–the powers opposed to God Back to top

The origin of evil within the order of creation cannot be rationally grasped or explained. Paul speaks of evil as a mystery (2 Thessalonians 2: 7). Evil cannot always be clearly recognised. Sometimes it disguises itself and takes on the appearance of something good or divine (2 Corinthians 11: 14). Only through faith in the gospel do the ultimate nature of evil, its power, strength, and effects, become clear.

Only God is absolutely good. In God's words, both the invisible and the visible creation was "very good" in the beginning (Genesis 1: 1-31), and thus evil had no place within it originally. God did not create evil as such. It is thus not among the things that were expressly created, but has rather been permitted.

When God created man, He made him according to His own likeness (Genesis 1: 26 et seq.). This means that man has been endowed with a free will. He has the ability to decide between obedience and disobedience to God (Genesis 2: 16-17; 3: 1-7). The ability to do evil is also rooted in this free will. Evil manifests itself when human beings knowingly and intentionally oppose that which is good by distancing themselves from God and His will. Thus the evil in man was not created by God, but was at first only an alternative which man chose by violating the divine commandment. God neither wanted nor created evil, but nevertheless permitted it in that He did not prevent human beings from exercising choice.

Since the fall into sin, evil has affected both mankind and the entire creation (Romans 8: 18-22).

Evil began to unfold when the created (man) began to oppose the Creator. As a consequence of disobedience, of the fall into sin, evil gained a foothold and led to a state of remoteness from God, estrangement from God, and ultimately godlessness.

4.1.1 Evil as a power opposed to God Back to top

Evil is a power that stems from the desire for independence from God and the desire to be "like God". This power completely changes those who fall prey to it: angels become demons, human beings become sinners.

Throughout the history of man, the power of evil has manifested itself again and again. For example, after Adam and Eve's fall into sin we see evil manifested in the Old Testament in Cain's murder of his brother, in the godlessness of Noah's time, and in the oppression of the people of Israel by the Egyptians.

Evil is a destructive power that opposes the creation of God. It takes on many forms: it is delusion and subversion, it is untruth, envy, and avarice. It seeks to destroy, and it brings death.

Since the fall into sin, it has not been possible for any human being–with the exception of the incarnate Son of God–to lead a sinless life. This is due to the human predisposition to sin (concupiscence). Nevertheless, no one is involuntarily subject to evil. Therefore, no individual human being is exempt from personal responsibility for his sins.

4.1.2 Evil as a person Back to top

Evil is not only manifested as a power, but also as a person. Holy Scripture refers to the personification of evil as "the Devil" (Matthew 4: 1), "Satan", or "unclean spirit", that is demon (Job 1: 6 et seq.; Mark 1: 13, 23).

The accounts in 2 Peter 2: 4 and Jude 6 speak of angels who have sinned. These spiritual beings fell prey to evil and became evil themselves. The Devil "has sinned from the beginning" (1 John 3: 8), he was "a murderer from the beginning", and a "liar and the father of it" (John 8: 44). The question of the serpent to Adam and Eve caused man to doubt God and rebel against Him: "You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3: 4-5).

The antichrist is a manifestation of evil. Jesus referred to the antichrist when He spoke of "false christs and false prophets" (Mark 13: 22). The terms "man of sin" or "son of perdition" also refer to the antichrist (2 Thessalonians 2: 3-4).

Satan is not capable of thwarting God's plan of salvation. On the contrary, "the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the Devil" (1 John 3: 8). The power of the Devil and his followers is limited, and has already been broken by Jesus Christ's sacrificial death. Jesus Christ has been given "all authority in heaven and on earth" (Matthew 28: 18). Thus He also has power over evil spirits.

According to Revelation 12, evil–which is personified as Satan, the Devil, the dragon, or the serpent–will be cast out of heaven. After the kingdom of peace, he will be given one last opportunity to unleash powers opposed to God (Revelation 20: 7-8). The ultimate banishment of evil into the "lake of fire and brimstone" is finally described in Revelation 20: 10. In the new creation, where God will be "all in all" (1 Corinthians 15: 28), evil will no longer have a place.

SUMMARY Back to top

The origin of evil cannot be rationally comprehended or explained. It is only through belief in the gospel that the true nature of evil ultimately becomes clear. (4.1)

The invisible and visible creation was very good at first. Evil as such was not created by God, but rather permitted. The capacity to do evil lies rooted in the human ability to decide between obedience and disobedience toward God. (4.1)

Evil began to unfold when the created rebelled against the Creator. This led to a state of remoteness from God, estrangement from God, and ultimately godlessness. (4.1)

Evil is a destructive power that arises from the will to be independent from God. It changes those who fall prey to it. Thereby human beings become sinners. (4.1.1)

On account of concupiscence, no human being–with the exception of the incarnate Son of God–is capable of leading a sinless life. Nevertheless, no one is exposed to evil without a choice. No human being is exempt from personal responsibility for his sins. (4.1.1)

Evil not only appears as a power, but also as a person, and is called, among other things: "the Devil", "Satan", or "unclean spirit" (demon). (4.1.2)

4.2 The fall into sin Back to top

The doctrine of sin and mankind's need for redemption is based on Holy Scripture's account of the fall into sin (see also 3.3.3): "And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, '... but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die'" (Genesis 2: 16-17).–"So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate" (Genesis 3: 6).

4.2.1 The consequences of the fall into sin for mankind Back to top

As a consequence of the fall into sin, man was driven out of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3: 23-24).

Now that human beings had turned away from God through their actions, they experienced a new dimension: separation from God (Genesis 2: 17; Romans 6: 23).

4.2.1.1 Mankind in sin Back to top

Mankind sought to rise above the Creator. Thereby the untroubled relationship between God and man was destroyed. This has had drastic effects on the human race to this day.

Adam represents the archetype of all sinners, as it were. This is true as regards his motivation to sin, his conduct while in the state of sinfulness, as well as his hopelessness after the fall into sin.

The thought behind the decision to transgress the boundary imposed by God was expressed in the temptation: "... you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3: 5). Some of the motivations for sinful conduct are: the desire not to have any God over oneself but rather wanting to be a god in one's own right, no longer respecting the commandments of God but rather doing what one's own will and lusts desire.

The sinfulness of all human beings is portrayed in Genesis by an appalling increase in the sins of the human race: Cain rose up against God's counsel and warning, and killed his brother (Genesis 4: 6-8). As time went on, the sins of mankind continued to increase, and cried so loudly to heaven that God responded with the great flood (Genesis 6: 5-7, 17). But even after this judgement, human beings persisted in their disobedience and presumptuousness towards their Creator. For example, the Bible describes the conduct of the builders of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11: 1-8), whom God caused to fail on account of their ambition.

Apostle Paul writes as follows about the phenomenon of the sinfulness of all mankind after the fall into sin, and of the spiritual death which resulted from it: "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned" (Romans 5: 12).

The fall into sin brought about changes in the lives of mankind which they could not reverse. Fear estranged them from their Creator, whose nearness they no longer sought. Instead, they tried to hide from Him (Genesis 3: 8-10). The relationship of human beings toward one another also suffered (Genesis 3: 12), as did their relationship with the creation. From that time on, human beings had to toil arduously for their survival and, at the end of their lives, return to the ground from which they had been taken (Genesis 3: 16-19).

Man cannot return to the state of sinlessness.

4.2.1.2 Sinful mankind is still loved by God Back to top

Mankind, who had now become sinful, would from that time on have to reap what they had sown: "For the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6: 23). Despite their disobedience and presumption, the Eternal One still loved those He had created. He continued to care for them and attend to them. Illustrations of this divine care include the fact that God made tunics of hide for Adam and Eve and clothed them (Genesis 3: 21), and that He set a mark upon Cain to protect him when he feared vengeance after killing his brother (Genesis 4: 15).

The love of God, which still covered mankind even after the fall into sin, was revealed in perfect fashion through the sending of His Son. Jesus Christ came and defeated sin (1 John 3: 8). In Him, mankind was saved from the harm brought about by sin (Acts 4: 12).

In impressive contrast to the rebelliousness and presumptuousness of mankind, who had become increasingly entangled in sin, the Son of God in His human form set an example of perfect obedience to His Father (Philippians 2: 8). Through His sacrificial death, Jesus Christ acquired the merit by which human beings could be liberated from their sins and ultimately redeemed from "the bondage of corruption" (Romans 8: 21), thereby making it possible for them to live in eternal fellowship with God.

Apostle Paul makes this contrast clear: "Therefore, as through one man's offence judgement came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man's righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man's obedience many will be made righteous" (Romans 5: 18-19).

However, sinful mankind does not automatically gain justification before God. Through the sacrifice of Jesus, God has shown His commitment to mankind: He does not condemn human beings, but rather seeks to grant them salvation. Human beings are called upon to make a serious effort to accept God's offer and attain salvation. For this purpose, God has endowed human beings with conscience, reason, and faith. If human beings align these gifts by Jesus Christ, then the justification attained by the Son of God (Romans 4: 25) becomes accessible to them by grace. That which human beings accomplish thus has no justifying effect. Rather, that which they accomplish–their works–are a necessary and self-evident expression of faith, a sign that they have accepted God's offer of salvation.

SUMMARY Back to top

The separation between man and God came into being through the fall into sin. The consequence of this was expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Adam is the archetype of all sinners. (4.2.1; 4.2.1.1)

God's love still covered mankind even after the fall into sin. It was revealed in perfect fashion in the sending of Jesus Christ, who conquered sin and death. (4.2.1.2)

4.2.1.3 Conscience Back to top

Holy Scripture uses various terms to describe conscience as a gift which mankind has received from God [1]. In reference to this the Old Testament often uses the term "heart", in which the voice of God can be heard. Thus we read in Deuteronomy 30: 14: "But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it." In contrast, Apostle Paul explains that the will of God was not only laid into the hearts of those living under the Mosaic Law, but also into the hearts of the Gentiles: "For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them" (Romans 2: 14-15). Therefore all human beings carry within themselves an awareness of the will of God–all of them possess such a conscience.

Sinful human beings are without orientation. They have lost the security and support that comes with obedience to God. Here the authority of conscience can help in making decisions that correspond to God's will. Nevertheless it is still quite possible to arrive at erroneous decisions, especially if the conscience is not guided by reason and faith.

Human beings–who have been left to their own devices–can perceive the will of God in their conscience. Thus the authority of the conscience is capable of leading an individual's will toward that which is good. For this reason, individuals should endeavour to continually expand and sharpen their conscience through the law that has been written into every human being's heart.

The conscience distinguishes between what is good and what is evil. If the conscience is governed by reason and faith, it assists mankind in acting wisely. It likewise allows human beings to recognise whether they have incurred guilt before God or their neighbour, and reveals where they have transgressed against God's will and violated His ordinances, whether in thought or deed.

First and foremost, human beings must recognise themselves and give account to their own conscience. If the conscience attests that they have sinned and incurred guilt, and–provided they allow themselves to be guided by remorse and repentance–God in His grace offers forgiveness through the merit of Christ. This is the path God has established for the justification of mankind who has fallen into sin.

Human beings can experience Holy Baptism with water as the healing care of God: "There is also an antitype which now saves us–baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 3: 21). God's word strengthens human beings so that they can continue along the path they have begun toward salvation. Thereby the conscience undergoes a constant sharpening process, which aids human beings in recognising God's will more and more clearly.

The experience of grace fills the heart with the peace of God, and the conscience, which had previously condemned the individual on account of his sins, is calmed. John sums this up with the words: "And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things" (1 John 3: 19-20).

SUMMARY Back to top

The authority of conscience can help make decisions in accordance with the will of God. It is the conscience that weighs the question of what is good and what is evil. (4.2.1.3)

If the conscience is defined by reason and faith, it helps human beings to act wisely, and allows them to recognise whether they have incurred guilt with God or their neighbour. (4.2.1.3)

[1] The term "conscience" is used in many other contexts–e.g. sociological, philosophical, and psychological–which are not treated here.

4.2.1.4 Reason Back to top

Reason is a gift of God that distinguishes human beings–as the image of God–from all other creatures. It is of particular help in structuring their existence and comprehending their environment.

Reason is revealed when human beings think and act while engaging their intellect and knowledge. In so doing, they are accountable before God and themselves, whether they know it or not (see 4.2.1.3). Human beings are capable of recognising circumstances and interpreting the connections between them. They recognise themselves as individuals and see themselves in relationship to the world. Ultimately, reason is a gift of God to human beings, which can guide them to proper conduct: "Counsel, and a tongue, and eyes, ears, and a heart, gave He them [mankind] to understand" (Ecclesiasticus 17: 5-6).

Mankind received from God the commission to "subdue the earth" (Genesis 1: 28). With their inquisitive minds, human beings seek to access and make use of that which is available to them in the creation. When they do this out of a sense of responsibility toward God and the creation, human beings act in a reasonable manner, in accordance with the gift of God.

In the Bible, reason is also described using the term "wisdom". Understood as the ability to know, it is attributed to the activity of God. "For He [God] hath given me certain knowledge of things that are, namely, to know how the world was made, and the operation of the elements ..." (Wisdom of Solomon 7: 17). Apostle Paul also used the term "human wisdom" to refer to reason. It equips human beings with the cognitive faculty by which they endeavour to penetrate divine mysteries (1 Corinthians 1: 20-21). If human beings were to elevate themselves over divine ordinances and thus over God Himself, they would thereby dismiss divine wisdom as foolishness. Ultimately this means that reason would reject faith (1 Corinthians 2: 1-16). In so doing, human beings would ultimately fail to understand the purpose of their lives. Since the Age of Enlightenment, such a tendency can be clearly identified in many areas, especially in the industrialised world. It always reveals itself wherever mankind's inquiring mind is not subordinate to his responsibility toward God and the creation.

In this respect human reason is always imperfect on account of sin. It is for this reason that, from the perspective of faith, an attitude that defines reason as the measure of all things is exposed as foolishness: "For it is written: 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.' Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?" (1 Corinthians 1: 19-20).

It is impossible for human reason in its finiteness to grasp the endlessness of God. His actions transcend all human reason. Therefore, human beings must always be aware that they can never succeed in completely penetrating divine matters with reason (Romans 11: 33).

Although reason cannot be the measure of all things, it is still needed, for example to recognise the interconnections of the gospel, and to perceive and understand words and images in Holy Scripture. We also need it to profess the doctrine of Jesus to others. Reason is a valuable divine gift, but not the highest good (Philippians 4: 7). Accordingly it must never become the only standard of measure.

Whenever reason is tempted to rise up against things divine, the individual must be aware that he is not properly engaging the gift of reason, but rather demonstrating a lack of responsibility toward God. Through faith, human beings know that it is their duty to fight against such presumption, "casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10: 5).

SUMMARY Back to top

Human beings exhibit reason when they think and act by engaging their understanding and knowledge. In so doing they are responsible toward God, themselves, and the creation, whether they are aware of it or not. (4.2.1.4)

Reason is a gift of God which can lead human beings to proper conduct. (4.2.1.4)

In its finiteness, reason is incapable of comprehending God in His endlessness. God's actions transcend all human reason. (4.2.1.4)

Even though reason cannot be the measure of all things, it is nevertheless needed in order to understand and profess the interconnections of the gospel. (4.2.1.4)

4.2.1.5 Faith Back to top

The word "faith" is not mentioned in the Hebrew texts of the Old Testament. Wherever we find this term in modern translations, the original words used were "trust", "loyalty", "obedience", "confidence", or "certainty". All of these meanings are implicit in the single word "faith". In Hebrews 11: 1 we read: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (see 1.4).

Faith always starts with God, who reveals Himself through His word and His works. As long as human beings trust God completely, they are able to obey God. Disobedience caused mankind to sin and therefore incur guilt before God. Ever since, mankind has had a broken relationship with his Creator. For any human being who desires to enter into fellowship with God again, it is indispensable to believe (Hebrews 11: 6).

For the models of faith in the time of the old covenant, salvation still lay in the future (Hebrews 11: 39). When God revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, the Old Testament promises were fulfilled. Thereby faith acquired a new dimension: it was now directed at the Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Through faith in Him, it is possible to be reconciled to God and enter into fellowship with Him.

The Son of God demanded this kind of faith: "... believe in God, believe also in Me" (John 14: 1). He emphasised the consequences of unbelief in all its implications: "For if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins" (John 8: 24).

Great things are promised to those who believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and accept Him: they will "not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3: 16).

True Christian faith is always based first and foremost on God's grace of election and revelation. This is evident from the profession of Apostle Peter: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God", and Jesus' response: "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 16: 16-17). Faith is a gift of God as well as an obligation for human beings. If they accept God's word, trust in it, and act accordingly, then their faith is alive and will lead to salvation.

SUMMARY Back to top

Faith is a gift of God which constitutes an obligation for human beings. When human beings accept God's word, trust in it, and act in accordance with it, their faith is alive and leads to salvation. (4.2.1.5)

The beginning of faith is always God, who reveals Himself through words and works. (4.2.1.5)

Through faith in Jesus Christ it is possible to be reconciled with God. (4.2.1.5)

4.2.2 The consequences of the fall into sin for the creation Back to top

Mankind's fall into sin also resulted in far-reaching consequences for the creation, which is blameless.

Originally, the creation was "very good", that is to say perfect (Genesis 1: 31). Man was made regent of the visible creation. Thus man bears responsibility to God for the creation, but also bears responsibility to the creation itself (Genesis 1: 28-30). Considering that man occupies such an important position within the visible creation, his disobedience toward God also has significant effects upon the earthly creation: after mankind sinned, both the ground–as an image of the visible creation–and the serpent were cursed (Genesis 3: 17-18). Thorns and thistles–and the effort mankind now had to summon up to eke out an existence–are symbolic of mankind's remoteness from God and God's concealment from mankind, which have prevailed in the creation since that time. Mankind could no longer find direct access to God in the creation. Man's life was now accompanied by insecurity and fear.

The behaviour of animals towards each other can be seen as a sign of hostility and discord. The longing to overcome and heal even this situation is expressed in Isaiah 11: 6-8: "The wolf shall also dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat ..."

Hence the creation is in need of liberation from the curse that weighs upon it. The epistle to the Romans makes clear reference to this: "For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labours with birth pangs together until now" (Romans 8: 19-22).

SUMMARY Back to top

Mankind's disobedience also had consequences for the blameless creation: it was originally perfect but has now been damaged. (4.2.2)

In this corrupted creation, human beings cannot find direct access to God. Their lives are accompanied by uncertainty and fear. (4.2.2)

The fallen creation is in need of redemption. (4.2.2)

4.3 Sin and guilt Back to top

The Bible uses the terms "sin" and "guilt" interchangeably in some cases, and with different meanings in others. The distinction between these two concepts is clearly shown in the words of the Son of God when He defended His disciples who, by the interpretation of the Pharisees, had broken the law and thus committed a sin: "Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath [that is they sin by breaking the Third Commandment], and are blameless?" (Matthew 12: 5).

4.3.1 Sin Back to top

Sin is everything that is opposed to God's will and contrary to God's being. Every sin separates from God. To restore a close relationship with Him, the sin must be forgiven (see 12.1.8).

Neither the Old nor the New Testament offers a self-contained "doctrine of sin" or a systematic and exhaustive "catalogue of sins".

God Himself always defines what is right by revealing His will. It is advisable for man to inquire into God's will and to act accordingly. All words, deeds, and deliberate thoughts that are contrary to God's will and being are sins, just as it is also a sin to intentionally neglect to do good (James 4: 17).

Holy Scripture describes the following as "sins": any violation of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20: 20), the breaking of vows made to God (Deuteronomy 23: 22), refusal to believe in Christ (John 16: 9), as well as avarice, envy, and the like.

The exclusive deciding factor in assessing whether a deed is sinful or not is the divine will–as manifested in Holy Scripture, as corresponds to the mind and spirit of the gospel of Christ, and as revealed by the Holy Spirit. By no means may humans take it upon themselves to define what constitutes a sin.

All human beings in their various circumstances of life are accountable to God and themselves, and thus bear personal responsibility for their conduct.

4.3.2 Guilt Back to top

Whenever human beings violate God's will, they sin and thereby incur guilt before God. Guilt is manifest when God in His righteousness and omniscience holds this misconduct against an individual who has committed a sin. The magnitude of guilt incurred can only be measured by God.

The extent of such guilt may vary: the knowledge and motivation of the sinner with regard to his actions are decisive factors here. Likewise, certain influences to which human beings are exposed may play a role, such as their general circumstances of life, social structures, statutory norms, emergency situations, and pathological dispositions. The guilt incurred by a particular sin may in one case be virtually non-existent, while in another case, it may be so severe as to "cry out to God" (Genesis 4: 10). From all of this it is clear that guilt, in contrast to sin, can be relativised.

God, in His love, wishes to redeem human beings from sin, and free them from guilt. The sacrifice of Christ, the epitome of divine salvific activity, serves to this end.

SUMMARY Back to top

Sin and guilt must be distinguished from one another. (4.3)

Sin is everything that opposes the will of God and runs counter to His nature. Every sin separates from God and must be forgiven. Whether or not something is a sin lies exclusively in the divine will. By no means can human beings define on their own what constitutes sin. (4.3.1)

Guilt is incurred when God in His righteousness and omniscience holds the misconduct of a human being against him when he has committed a sin. The seriousness of the guilt incurred can vary. God alone measures it. In contrast to sin, guilt can be relativised. (4.3.2)

4.4 God's plan of salvation Back to top

Holy Scripture uses the term "salvation" in the sense of "deliverance", "protection", and "redemption". God's activity is intended to bring about salvation. This process is known as the history of salvation. In it we can recognise a sequence of divine actions that follow a plan made by God.

The history of salvation begins immediately after the fall into sin. It continues with the deliverance of Noah from destruction in the flood, the divine election and blessing of the patriarchs, the covenant with Israel, and the history of the Old Testament people of God. The central event in salvation history is the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, His sacrifice on the cross, His resurrection, and His ascension into heaven. This is followed by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the spread of the gospel by the Apostles of the early time, and the further development of Christianity right up until the reoccupation of the Apostle ministry. This development is geared toward preparing the bridal congregation for the return of Jesus Christ. This will be followed by the activity of salvation during the thousand years of peace, until the Last Judgement. Finally, God will create the new heaven and new earth. This whole sequence is described as "God's plan of salvation".

The first expression of any divine thought of salvation is found in God's actions after the fall into sin (see 4.2). Accordingly, Christian tradition considers the cursing of the serpent to be the first reference to the coming Redeemer, the focal point of the plan of salvation.

The nature and extent of salvation to be imparted are variously structured by God during the different phases of the history of salvation. But above all stands God's will to save, which applies to all of mankind in every time period.

4.4.1 Hope for salvation in the Old Testament Back to top

In the old covenant, the hope of salvation revolved mainly around deliverance from earthly affliction and captivity. In this respect, the people of Israel experienced God's salvation through their deliverance from Egyptian slavery.

Then God gave His people the law through Moses. It contains instructions as to how human beings can be freed from situations of guilt with respect to other human beings (Exodus 21: 28-30; Leviticus 25: 39 et seq.).

In the course of time, Israel's hope for salvation focused more and more clearly on the expected Messiah, on deliverance from the enslaving power of sin: "O Israel, hope in the Lord; for with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him is abundant redemption. And He shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities" (Psalm 130: 7-8).

Through many promises given by the prophets, God prepared the way for the appearing of the Redeemer. In Him all these promises were fulfilled.

4.4.2 Jesus Christ–Saviour and Mediator of Salvation Back to top

In Galatians 4: 4-5 we read that the entire history of salvation in the old covenant was geared toward the birth of the Son of God, Jesus Christ: "But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons."

Jesus Christ is the Redeemer sent by God. He reveals Himself as the Redeemer in His words and deeds. Those who believe in Him will recognise that "this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world" (John 4: 42). Only in Him is there salvation (Acts 4: 12).

During His time on earth, the Son of God performed many miracles of healing. When He healed a lame man, as related in Matthew 9: 2-6, Jesus pointed to a kind of healing that is much more significant, namely the redemption of man from sin.

Salvation has come into the world through Jesus Christ. He is the author of eternal salvation (Hebrews 5: 9). He has brought salvation and is the only Mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2: 5-6). Through the sacrifice of Christ, mankind's relationship with God has been set upon a new foundation. The merit Christ thereby acquired makes liberation from sin–and the undoing of permanent separation from God–possible: "Old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5: 17-19).

No human being can achieve salvation on his own. All people are sinners and are thus dependent on God's activity of salvation (Luke 16: 26). Through Jesus Christ, all human beings, both living and dead, have access to salvation (Acts 13: 47; Romans 14: 9).

God's plan of salvation provides that, in the course of time, salvation will be offered to all who ever lived or ever will live. Thus the spread of the gospel by the early Apostles, the worldwide propagation of Christianity, and the preparation of the bride for the return of Christ are all phases in this plan of salvation.

SUMMARY Back to top

God's actions are aimed at bringing about salvation–in the sense of "deliverance", "protection", and "redemption". This transpires in the form of salvation history, in which a series of divine actions occurring in accordance with God's plan can be identified. This is described as "God's plan of salvation". (4.4)

The manner and measure of the salvation that is to be imparted varies throughout the different phases of salvation history, however, God's will to save–which is valid for all people of all time periods–stands above everything else. (4.4)

In Old Testament times, the hope of salvation was primarily focused on deliverance from earthly need and captivity. Over the course of time, Israel's hope for salvation became more and more clearly directed toward the expected Messiah. (4.4.1)

The history of salvation in the old covenant is geared toward Jesus Christ, the Redeemer sent by God. He is the author of eternal salvation and the only Mediator between God and human beings. The merit which Christ acquired on the cross makes liberation from sin–and the undoing of the separation from God–possible. (4.4.2)

Through Jesus Christ salvation has become accessible to all human beings, both living and dead. No human being can attain redemption on his own. (4.4.2)

4.4.3 The preparation of the bridal congregation Back to top

Through fellowship with Jesus Christ in word and sacrament, believers today experience salvation by being prepared for the return of Christ, which will enable them to share in the glory of God. The Apostle ministry (see 7.4) has been reoccupied in order to attain salvation in Christ in the current stage of the divine plan of salvation (see 11.3.3). The Apostles have the task of proclaiming the word of God and dispensing the sacraments (see 8).

The objective of imparting salvation in this form is to gather the bride of Christ and prepare her for the Lord's return. For the bride of Christ, who has believingly accepted the divine offer of grace, salvation consists of entering into eternal fellowship with God–already on the day of the Lord–through the marriage of the Lamb (see also 10.5).

In the stages of the plan of salvation which follow after the day of the Lord (see 10.3 to 10.6), salvation can be obtained by other means:

Those believers who lost their lives for the sake of their profession to Christ will share in the first resurrection and will reign as priests with Christ. During this time, the thousand-year kingdom of peace, salvation will be offered to all mankind. All those who find grace at the Last Judgement will enter into eternal fellowship with God in the new creation.

God's plan of salvation, as can be derived from Holy Scripture, will find its conclusion in the new creation (Revelation 21).

SUMMARY Back to top

In the present phase of the divine plan of salvation, the Apostle ministry has been reoccupied. It imparts salvation through word and sacrament. The objective is to gather the bridal congregation and prepare for the return of the Lord. (4.4.3)

The bridal congregation will only attain perfect salvation at the return of Christ, when it enters into eternal fellowship with God. (4.4.3)

God's plan of salvation will come to its completion in the new creation. (4.4.3)

4.5 Election Back to top

Election is rooted in God's will to call forth individual human beings or groups for a purpose determined by Him, thereby making them accountable to Him.

4.5.1 Election in the Old Testament Back to top

Already in the creation we see a reference to divine election, which is linked to a responsibility resulting from it. Out of all His creatures, God elected man and gave him the task of making the earth subject to him. The special position man has been granted is clear from the Wisdom of Solomon 2: 23: "For God created man to be immortal, and made him to be an image of his own eternity." In the course of the Old Testament plan of salvation, the significance of this election is especially apparent in the case of Noah, Abraham, and the people of Israel.

  • When God decided to eradicate mankind from the earth (Genesis 6: 1-8), He promised to deliver Noah. Noah made this election sure by doing all that God commanded him to do. As a result, Noah and his family–and thereby the human race–were saved from destruction.

  • Abraham was elected so that all the families of the earth would be blessed through him (Genesis 12: 3). God's promises to him were passed on to Isaac.

  • Of the latter's two sons, Esau, as the firstborn, should have been the rightful recipient of the blessing, however, God elected Jacob and blessed him (Genesis 28: 13-15). This shows that no one can lay claim to God's grace of election and that it cannot be comprehended by human understanding.

  • The people of Israel came forth out of the twelve sons of Jacob. God called them to become the people of His covenant: "For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth. The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all the peoples; but because the Lord loves you" (Deuteronomy 7: 6-8). The origin of election is thus God's love.

  • From among the people of Israel, God also elected certain individuals who proclaimed His will, and who had been predestined by Him to fulfil particular tasks. These included Moses and Joshua, as well as several judges, kings, and prophets.

4.5.2 Election in the New Testament Back to top

Jesus elected the Apostles from among His disciples and sent them to all the nations in order to teach and baptise (Matthew 28: 19-20; Luke 6: 13). The Lord elects the people of the new covenant from among both Jews and Gentiles. Those who make their election sure accept the gospel believingly and allow themselves to be baptised with water and the Holy Spirit. In 1 Peter 2: 9 we read as follows concerning the people of the new covenant: "But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light." From this it also follows that all those who belong to the people of the new covenant are obliged to bear witness–in both word and conduct–of the favours they have received from God (2 Peter 1: 10-11).

4.5.3 God's free election by grace Back to top

Election is a gift of God that is either accepted in faith or rejected in unbelief.

No one can earn election through deeds, much less lay claim to it. It cannot be explained by reason. Divine election is a mystery of God that can only be grasped in faith. God grants election to those whom He has foreordained (Romans 9: 10-20).

Human beings are not forced to accept or secure God's election. It is the individual's own decision whether or not to believe and heed the divine call and faithfully fulfil the tasks assigned to him.

In this respect, there exists an area of tension–which cannot be resolved–between God's act of election through grace (which is independent of human conduct) and man's free decision to accept or reject God's election.

God elects human beings for their own salvation as well as for the salvation of others. They are chosen to work along in His plan of salvation. Whenever God elects someone, this election is linked to a task or purpose.

Therefore those who have been baptised and who profess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour are called and elected to be Christian. They are to spread the gospel. Beyond that, those Christians who are reborn out of water and the Spirit have fulfilled the condition for becoming firstlings. It is from this group that the bride of Christ is prepared in order to comprise the royal priesthood in the kingdom of peace (see 10.6).

By no means can the doctrine of election be taken to mean that an individual's actions are predetermined from the start, or that a human being has no decision-making power at all [2]. Rather, this freedom of choice is an essential element of man's being. Likewise it cannot be concluded that the election of one person to the bridal congregation signifies the rejection of those who have not been chosen for this purpose. Rather, all human beings have access to future salvation–all the way up to and including eternal fellowship with God in the new creation.

Acceptance of one's election in faith means following Jesus Christ conscientiously. Election also has eschatological effects: when Jesus Christ establishes His kingdom of peace as the King of all kings, the royal priesthood will proclaim the glad tidings of salvation in Christ to all human beings. Those who participate in the first resurrection are elected to this purpose (Revelation 20: 6).

Human beings demonstrate that they have made this election sure by accepting this grace in belief and by remaining loyal to God and His work.

Election is an act of God's love. He remains faithful to His elect. No external influences are capable of separating them from the love of God (Romans 8: 29, 37-39).

SUMMARY Back to top

Election is founded upon the will of God. God calls individuals for a specific purpose decided by Him. Out of all His creatures, God has chosen human beings and given them a commission, namely to subdue the earth. (4.5; 4.5.1)

No one can lay claim to God's electing grace, nor can it be comprehended by human contemplation. This is demonstrated by many examples in the Old Testament. (4.5.1; 4.5.3)

Out of the circle of His disciples Jesus called the Apostles and sent them into the entire world with the commission to teach and baptise. God then elected the people of the new covenant from among both Jews and Gentiles. (4.5.2)

Election is a gift of God's love, which is either accepted in faith or rejected in unbelief. This freedom to choose is intrinsic to man's being. Acceptance of one's election in faith signifies following Jesus Christ diligently. (4.5.3)

God chooses human beings for their own salvation as well as for the salvation of others. Whenever God elects someone, there is a certain task or purpose associated with it. (4.5.3)

Election does not mean that the actions of human beings are predetermined. (4.5.3)

[2] Election is frequently associated with the doctrine of predestination. Predestination was at various times interpreted as divine providence of fate upon an individual human being. However, predestination does not relate in a definitive way to the course of human life on earth, but to the fact that God has predestined human beings for salvation.

4.6 God's blessing Back to top

By "blessing" we understand God's loving care. Blessing is synonymous with God's saving and healing activity upon both mankind and the creation. Its antithesis is curse, which occurs when God turns away from man.

The conviction that man's entire existence is dependent on God's blessing points to an image of mankind that derives from belief in God as the almighty Creator and Sustainer of all creation. On their own, human beings are not capable of shaping their lives in such a way as to benefit themselves, their fellow human beings, or the creation.

Curse, being the opposite of blessing, came upon human beings when they rebelled against God with the fall into sin. Curse incorporates everything that leads human beings away from God and everything they experience in this condition: they are filled with agitation and strife, and are abandoned to corruption and death. They cannot find any help in and of themselves, but rather only in God.

Grace redeems from the curse of having fallen prey to sin. By grasping the gifts of God in faith and allowing the Lord to lead them, human beings can partake in blessing.

God often imparts His blessing through human beings commissioned by Him for this purpose.

Blessing is comprehensive and has its effect on a human being as a whole. It contains divine power and brings mankind the promise of future salvation. Blessing is an expression of God's loving care, which no one can earn. To be blessed means to receive good things from God. No one can bless himself. Nevertheless, human beings are called upon to pray for God's blessing and to conduct themselves in such a manner as to show themselves worthy of this blessing.

Blessing unfolds when faith is present. Blessing is a gift of God that continually renews itself. Whether it is of lasting effect depends not least of all on the attitude and conduct of the person being blessed. If the latter acts in accordance with God's favour, he will in turn become a blessing to others.

Blessing can extend beyond the life of its direct recipient and carry over to future generations.

4.6.1 God's blessing in the creation Back to top

During the creation God blessed all creatures and laid the law of increase into the life He had created. He entrusted the creation to man and granted him a special blessing for this purpose (Genesis 1: 28-30), a blessing which He renewed after the flood (Genesis 9: 1, 11). All the things that this blessing entails come to expression in His words: "While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease" (Genesis 8: 22).

Although the blessing of God which originally covered the creation was hampered in its effect through the curse of sin, it was not completely removed: "For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God" (Hebrews 6: 7). All human beings profit from this blessing (Matthew 5: 45).

4.6.2 God's blessing in the old covenant Back to top

The promise of blessing given to Israel was part of the covenant God made with His chosen people. This blessing was contingent on Israel fulfilling its covenantal duties, namely to serve God alone and to obey His commandments. Whenever the people of Israel acted otherwise, curse would follow. This decision fell to the people: "Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you today; and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God ..." (Deuteronomy 11: 26-28). This clearly shows that deviating from God and His commandments results in curse.

In the old covenant, the blessing of God manifested itself primarily in the daily life directly experienced by the people, and encompassed all areas of life, for example victory in battles against enemies, longevity, wealth, numerous descendants, and fertile soil (Deuteronomy 28: 3-6). Even in the old covenant, however, blessing already had a dimension which surpassed earthly welfare, as becomes clear in God's promise to Abraham: "I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 12: 2-3). This blessing extended far beyond the promise of personal wellbeing. It enabled Abraham to become a blessing for others as well. The blessing of God was to encompass all future generations: this blessing became accessible to all nations in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3: 14).

4.6.3 God's blessing in the new covenant Back to top

Starting in the new covenant, divine blessing was imparted through Jesus Christ. The Lord blessed through His word, through His miracles, and through His conduct. He placed His hands of blessing upon children. He forgave sinners. His ultimate blessing was given when He offered up His sinless life on the cross as an expiatory sacrifice for the reconciliation of all mankind. He thereby took upon Himself the curse which had burdened sinners.

The blessing which is made accessible through Jesus Christ can be understood in a comprehensive way. Thus we read in Ephesians 1: 3: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ." This blessing began with the election before the foundation of the world (verse 4). It also incorporates redemption and forgiveness of sins (verse 7), leads to the knowledge of God's will (verse 9), and includes the predestination as an heir of future glory (verse 11). It also grants access to the gospel (verse 13), and enables human beings to be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit, the pledge of the inheritance until redemption (verses 13-14).

Believers know that being chosen in Jesus Christ incorporates the calling to inherit the blessing (1 Peter 3: 9). They demonstrate their thankfulness for God's blessing through a life defined by the fear of God, obedience of faith, and selflessness.

Another thing associated with blessing is offering (see 13.2.4). This is a fundamental experience of Christian life.

Many divine blessings are made available to the believers in the divine service (see 12.1 and 12.2).

The fullness of blessing consists of sharing in God's glory forever.

SUMMARY Back to top

Blessing is an act of God's loving care, which no one can earn. Blessing is synonymous with God's salvation-bringing activity upon mankind and upon the creation. (4.6)

God often imparts His blessing through human beings commissioned by Him for this purpose. No one is able to bless himself. Blessing develops when faith is present. (4.6)

During the creation God blessed the creatures He had made, and laid the law of multiplication into His creation. He entrusted the creation to the care of man and promised to bless him. Although the blessing of God was somewhat subdued in its effect due to the curse of sin, it was not completely undone. (4.6.1)

In the old covenant, the blessing of God was primarily shown in earthly wellbeing, but nevertheless also had a dimension which transcended this. (4.6.2)

Jesus Christ imparted blessing through word and deed. The surrender of His sinless life as an expiatory sacrifice for the reconciliation of all human beings is the greatest blessing of all. (4.6.3)

Divine blessings are made accessible to believers in the divine service. (4.6.3)

The fullness of blessing consists of partaking in God's glory forever. (4.6.3)

4.7 The functions of the law Back to top

In general, we understand "law" to mean the binding regulations and rules issued by a superior authority, which apply to all those living within the domain of this authority. It defines both rights and duties.

God, as the highest sovereign, stands above all lawgivers. The unwritten law that applies to every human being is called the "natural and moral law" (Romans 2: 14-15). It makes clear the ethical and moral requirements and standards by which human life should be conducted. In its basic features and obligations, the moral law is unchangeable, irrespective of all historical and social changes. Essential parts of statutory legislation can be derived from general moral law. Important elements of this law come to expression in the Ten Commandments, for example.

Not only is there a law that places obligations on individuals and instructs them on how to act, there is also a law that governs the reality of life. The latter's function is to provide structure and order to biological, social, and political life. It can be experienced in the elementary events of human life, in history, and nature. Birth and death, aging and dying, success and failure, as well as the experience of historical events or natural disasters: these are all facets of how this law can be experienced.

The Old Testament assumes that man is made righteous before God by living in accordance with the Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 6: 25). At that time the Mosaic Law was considered the highest order binding on the Israelites. The gospel, however, states that salvation and the righteousness which is valid before God comes from faith in Christ's sacrifice and resurrection. Divine grace stands above the law.

In his epistle to the Romans in particular, Apostle Paul explores these contradictory notions of righteousness, namely the law and grace. In the early Christian congregations, these two differing approaches led to disputes between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. This gave the Apostle cause to occupy himself with this topic in great detail.

4.7.1 The term "law" Back to top

The term "law" refers, first and foremost, to the written Mosaic Law, that is the five Books of Moses (the Torah). Essential elements of the Mosaic Law include the Ten Commandments and the double commandment of love (see 5.3).

In the old covenant, the law is understood as the path to salvation. It opened up the possibility for man to avoid sin, to thereby live righteously before God, and to thus avoid His judgement. The law obliged the Israelites to make a decision: if they kept it, they would have the blessing of God, but if they broke it, they would incur God's curse (Deuteronomy 11: 26-28). Cases where only the ritual side of the law was emphasised–the merely formal fulfilment of the Commandments–were harshly criticised by the prophets (Isaiah 1: 10-17).

The path to salvation, that is to complete reconciliation with God, was established in Jesus Christ. The New Testament exposes what the Mosaic Law is all about: it is not–as had been previously believed–a path to salvation, but rather illustrates the situation of mankind irredeemably entangled in sin before God, and points to the true path of salvation.

Furthermore, the New Testament allows for a considerable extension of the concept of law: it no longer refers only to the Torah which was enshrined in writing, but also to the basic state of all life and all things, of which man is also a part. This includes the laws of cause and effect, seed and harvest, and birth and death, from which nothing and no one is exempt. The term "law" also refers to an authority present within man which places moral and ethical demands on him (see 4.2.1.3).

Both Jews and Gentiles are subject to the law: the Jews are subject to the law revealed to Moses, while the Gentiles are subject to the law which God Himself wrote in their hearts (Romans 2: 15).

4.7.2 The law as a guide to righteous conduct Back to top

The function of the law given by God is to instruct mankind in the conduct that is pleasing to God. It constitutes God's kind help in life, which provides human beings with concrete rules of conduct. Thus the law leads man to do good works and seeks to help him avoid evil.

Of central importance within the Mosaic Law were the commandments concerning food and purity, as well as the instructions concerning the observance of the Sabbath and the exercise of the priestly service. This law provided mankind with a standard for the appropriate worship of God as well as the correct way of interacting with each other: "He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6: 8).

To act in accordance with "God's word"–that is the law–means above all to remain faithful to God and not worship idols. A person's humbleness is demonstrated by his obedience toward God. On an interpersonal level, to "practise love" means to respect and esteem others. Jesus Christ expresses this fundamental requirement of the law in the Sermon on the Mount: "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the prophets" (Matthew 7: 12).

The devout of the old covenant assumed that the law's requirements could be fulfilled and thereby serve to the attainment of salvation. However, there are also several passages in the Old Testament that attest to an awareness of the fact that man is incapable of completely fulfilling all prescriptions of the law (Psalm 19: 12). In general, however, the conviction stood: those who fulfilled the law were righteous and would receive salvation. Those who transgressed against the law were sinners who stood under threat of judgement.

4.7.3 The law as a guide for recognising sin Back to top

The correct understanding of the law given by God is revealed in the light of the gospel.

Apostle Paul wrote in his epistle to the Romans: "Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3: 19-20). In view of the law's demands, which they repeatedly fail to fulfil, human beings recognise that they are sinful and unrighteous, and therefore in need of divine grace (Romans 7: 7-10).

From the perspective of the New Testament, the most important function of the Mosaic Law consists of helping people recognise that it is impossible to attain salvation solely through their own efforts. The law cannot make an unrighteous person righteous or grant pardon to a sinner. Nevertheless, the basic requirements of the law–as illustrated in the Ten Commandments and the commandment to love God and one's neighbour–remain valid.

The law thus exposes human beings as sinners. It clearly demonstrates the necessity of receiving complete salvation through the forgiveness of sins. As such it has always pointed to Jesus Christ: "But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterwards be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith" (Galatians 3: 23-24). Here the term "tutor" refers to a teacher who creates an awareness of various interconnections and leads the way to Christ.

Paul summarises the obligations stemming from the law in his epistle to the Romans: by one man's (Adam's) disobedience, many were made sinners. By the obedience of the one Redeemer (Jesus Christ), many were made righteous. Between these two lies the law, or, as Apostle Paul wrote, "the law entered" (Romans 5: 19-20). Ultimately, the Mosaic Law is to lead to the recognition that it does not in itself effect redemption. This can only be achieved through Jesus Christ.

SUMMARY Back to top

The unwritten and unchangeable law that applies to all human beings is the natural and moral law. Important elements of this law come to expression in the Ten Commandments. (4.7)

The law that governs the reality of life brings order to biological and societal life. (4.7)

In the old covenant the Mosaic Law is understood as a path to salvation. It opens up the way for human beings to avoid sin, to thereby live righteously before God, and to escape His judgement. The way to salvation–that is to complete reconciliation with God–is laid down in Jesus Christ. The New Testament makes it clear that the Mosaic Law is not the path of salvation, but rather that it points the way to salvation. (4.7.1)

The function of the Mosaic Law is to provide instruction for God-pleasing conduct. The proper understanding of the law given by God is revealed in the light of the gospel. (4.7.2)

The law exposes human beings as sinners and clearly highlights the necessity of receiving complete salvation through the forgiveness of sins. Thus it has always pointed to Jesus Christ. (4.7.3)

4.8 The law and the gospel Back to top

Strict adherence to the Mosaic Law and the study of its content were of central importance in the old covenant (see 4.7.1).

The term "gospel" means "good tidings". However, this is not the only way the New Testament understands the term. The term is already referenced in the Old Testament, for example in Isaiah 61: 1: "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor" (Luke 4: 18).

In the New Testament, "gospel" is understood as the saving activity of God in Jesus Christ, from His birth to His death on the cross, to His resurrection, and ultimately His return. Significant elements of the gospel are described by Apostle Paul: "For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the Twelve" (1 Corinthians 15: 3-5).

Thus the gospel brings to expression Jesus Christ's deed of salvation, which nothing can ever relativise or diminish. The gospel proclaims that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation.

While there is a certain tension between the law and the gospel, they both reveal God's will to save. The Mosaic Law, however, was oriented to the elect of that time, namely the people of Israel, whereas the gospel is universally valid.

Nevertheless, one cannot exclusively equate the law with the Old Testament and the gospel with the New Testament. Both parts of Holy Scripture contain elements of the law and of the gospel. However, the essence of law and gospel in the Old Testament can only be unlocked with the key of the New Testament's understanding. The gospel, which permeates Holy Scripture, is the "message of the cross" (1 Corinthians 1: 18), the "word of reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5: 19).

4.8.1 The law of Christ–grace Back to top

In his elaborations concerning the righteousness that results from faith, Apostle Paul cites passages from the Old Testament prophets, namely Isaiah 28: 16 and Joel 2: 32. He writes: "For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, 'Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.' For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For 'whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved'" (Romans 10: 10-13). With regard to the gospel, the Apostle emphasises the unity of the old and new covenants.

The New Testament awareness that all human beings are sinners is already present in the Old Testament: "Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight ... Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me" (Psalm 51: 4-5). The situation of the sinner can hardly be expressed any more bluntly. Here we detect nothing of the supposed superiority of the law-abiding over the godless. Thus already in the Old Testament, there were some who recognised their need for redemption.

Isaiah 49 to 56 can also be understood as an anticipation of the gospel's message of grace. We read in Isaiah 53: 4-6: "Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows ... The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed ... And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all."

Even as the old covenant already contained references to the gospel, so also in the new covenant, reference to the law is part of the proclamation of the gospel. Serious analysis of the law and its new interpretation can be found in the gospels as well as in the letters of the Apostles.

This is not a matter of repealing the law, but rather of its proper understanding, which was only revealed by the gospel of Jesus Christ: "... since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law" (Romans 3: 30-31).

Christ is both the fulfilment and the goal of the law. Thus, the understanding of the law as the path to salvation has also come to an end (Romans 10: 4-5).

While in the old covenant it was assumed that the law would lead to life and to the overcoming of sin, Apostle Paul made it very clear that it merely led to the recognition of sin: "I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said: 'You shall not covet'" (Romans 7: 7).

While the Mosaic Law, on the one hand, is intended to make human beings aware of the fact that they are sinners, it also provides instructions for righteous conduct. Jesus Christ summarised the enduringly valid and necessary content of the Mosaic Law with His commandment to love God and one's neighbour (Matthew 22: 37-40).

Accordingly, the "law of Christ" draws upon important elements of the Mosaic Law–namely the requirement to love God and one's neighbour (Deuteronomy 6: 5; Leviticus 19: 18)–and emphasises their basic functions. This context again makes clear both the conflict between, and the interconnectedness of, the law and the gospel.

The devout of the old covenant expected that the endeavour to fulfil the Mosaic Law would lead to the overcoming of sin. This was impossible to achieve, however. It was only in the "law of Christ" that overcoming sin became a reality.

Pardoned human beings are justified before God. The sinner's justification is a result of the sacrifice of Christ: "Therefore, as through one man's offence judgement came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man's righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life" (Romans 5: 18).

4.8.2 The relationship between faith and works Back to top

Human beings are justified through faith in Jesus Christ. Thus the works they perform do nothing to contribute to their sanctification and justification: "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law" (Romans 3: 28).

Nevertheless, faith and works are closely related and cannot be separated from one another: good works are an expression of a living faith. Where they are lacking, faith is dead. Thus faith is not only an inner attitude, but also a force that prompts a person to perform certain deeds (James 2: 15-17).

Good works have their source in faith. They are, so to speak, the visible expression of faith by which the reality of one's faith can be recognised. Faith manifests itself first and foremost in love for God and in loving conduct toward one's neighbour.

Like faith and works, justification and sanctified conduct belong together and cannot be separated.

SUMMARY Back to top

The term "gospel" means "glad tidings". In the New Testament, "gospel" is always understood as God's salvific activity in Jesus Christ. (4.8)

Both the law and the gospel reveal God's will to save, however, the law is directed toward the people of Israel, while the gospel is universally valid. (4.8)

As there were already references to the gospel in the old covenant, so there is also mention of the law in the proclamation of the gospel in the new covenant. (4.8.1)

Jesus Christ summarised the always applicable and necessary elements of the Mosaic Law into the commandment of love for God and one's neighbour. So it is that the "law of Christ" adopts important elements of the Mosaic Law. (4.8.1)

Human beings are justified through faith in Jesus Christ. In this respect, the works they perform do nothing to contribute to their sanctification and justification. Nevertheless, faith and works–justification and sanctified conduct–belong together. Good works have their source in faith. They are, so to speak, its visible expression. (4.8.2)