If you’ve ever heard someone “boil down the Gospel” into “We just need to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves” then what you’ve witnessed is a slight-of-hand switch from Gospel to Law. This is perhaps one of the most subtle mistakes I’ve seen that can lead to major problems. It is a great case for “almost right is still wrong“.
It is impossible to preach the Gospel without properly teaching the Law. In modern-day Christendom, we see a lot of popular teachers claim to preach “only the Gospel” while accusing others of being Pharisaical. The Greatest Commandment and its second are indeed righteous and must be taught as an exhortation to Christians; however, they are not the Gospel, they are the Law. The Gospel is that Jesus fulfilled the Law and bore the full penalty for our sin, though He was perfect and spotless before the Law of God and completely without sin, so that in Him we are made righteous by His Blood.
The 2 Greatest Commandments are Law
Let’s begin by taking a look in Matthew where a Lawyer from among the Pharisees questioned Jesus regarding the Law.
Matthew 22:36-40 (ESV) 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Jesus answered the question perfectly and clearly. Notice that in His answer, we still see Jesus declaring this to be the foundation of all the Law and the Prophets. Jesus taught the Law and in most cases He raised the standard of understanding the Law by taking it from an outward measurement to an inward matter of the heart. Jesus is not teaching Gospel in these passages; rather, His teaching the perfection of the Law. Let’s turn back, if you will, to Matthew 5.
Matthew 5:17-22 (ESV) 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.
This is hard truth. This is the Law of God. The Law has to be fulfilled and accomplished, but it will not be abolished, invalidated, or circumvented. The commandments to love God with all of you and to love your neighbor as yourself are the Law. What did Paul teach regarding the Law?
Galatians 3:5-14 (ESV) 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? 7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. 10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
So you see, whenever a popular “teacher”, “preacher”, “theologian”, or “evangelist” claims to be preaching “only Gospel” but then boils it down to “Love God with all of your heart, soul, and mind and Love your neighbor as yourself”… well, he’s just repeating the Law. A law by which all of us, all of mankind fail to keep. No one born of man is capable of keeping the Law. Said preacher isn’t preaching any Gospel; rather, he is preaching only Law. The Gospel is the answer… THE ONLY ANSWER to the Law. God the Son, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of the Living God, fulfilled the Law and the Prophets on our behalf, so that in Him we might be found righteous, not according to any of our works, but according to His.
Jesus Christ is the Gospel
The “good news” of Jesus Christ is the Gospel by which we are saved, redeemed, justified, and put on the righteousness of Christ. There is no “boiling down” of the Gospel. If you skip teaching the Law, you strip the meaning of the Gospel. The Law convicts us of our sin and our unrighteousness. The Law demonstrates to us our inability to be righteous or to make ourselves righteous in God’s eyes. The Law convicts us of sin and in so doing sentences each and every one of us to death and the wrath of God. However, the Law is not the end of the story. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is that He took our place, walked the earth as a man, fulfilled and accomplished the Law and the Prophets to perfection, and then became a curse in our place to receive the full wrath, judgement, and punishment for our sin on the cross. In this great act of Love for us, He alone was worthy to uphold the Law of God and sacrifice Himself for our sin. Only in Him, can we find salvation. The Law convicts us of our sin, the Gospel of Jesus Christ allows us to put faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sin bought by His blood on the cross.
Philippians 3 (ESV) 3 Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. 2 Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. 3 For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— 4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained. 17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
Only through the Gospel of Jesus Christ are we made right with God, and by faith we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit who teaches us and grows us into the fullness of Him who Saved us. We must continue studying both the Law and the Gospel, because when we first came to the knowledge of Christ, by the Grace of God, and received faith by hearing the Word of God, we understood as mere infants the Greatness of God’s Love for us. As we grow in understanding of the Law, it should simultaneously deepen our understanding of how wonderful and how merciful the Gospel is, that while we were yet sinners and enemies of God He still chose to give His life as the atoning sacrifice for our sin. Until the day of Christ’s return to judge the living and the dead, you will NEVER out-grow the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You will spend the rest of your life here on earth learning, growing, and maturing into the Gospel of Jesus Christ, for even Paul pressed on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us be faithful stewards of the gift of Gospel of Jesus Christ and preach both Law and Gospel. We dare not presume to “boil down” the Gospel into a Law that man cannot fulfill, especially since the very point of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ already did what we could never do for ourselves.
May the Grace of God fill your heart, soul, and mind freeing you to Love Him and Love your neighbor by faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Amen.
In Christ Jesus,