You The Jury: law or gospel?

A quick question: Is “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31) law (a “moral religious command”, as it has been described) or gospel (albeit expressed in imperative form)?

I’d knock up one of those poll widgets if I had the time or inclination, but your comments will probably be more illuminating anyway. šŸ™‚

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5 Responses to You The Jury: law or gospel?

  1. Jeremy says:

    It’s the answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?”. It would only have confused the jailer if Paul and Silas gave some objective gospel declaration like, “Jesus has forgiven your sins.” He needed a subjective answer (which is the same answer we’d give to the same question today). The jailer was in an anxious state, to use one of those 19th century revivalist terms, and could get a fuller answer in later catechism.

    If we really must assign one of the two tags then I suppose it would have to be gospel, only because we have ample evidence elsewhere that faith is not a condition of salvation, in the sense of “we do our part.” The legalistic mind is always looking for what it has to do next, so until that frame of mind is broken it is going to hear this as a condition.

  2. Phil Walker says:


    This is why I think that the indicative/imperative scheme is helpful, but that also you’ve got to avoid absolutising it. While imperatives are generally Law and indicatives are generally Gospel, it’s not always true. Your example is of a gospel imperative, and a statement like “Our God is angry with the wicked every day” is a legal indicative.

    A lot of mischief has been caused in the church by the over-playing of distinctions and tensions.

  3. Dave K says:

    Depends on the individual who hears it. To one it could be law, to the other Gospel.

  4. Chris says:

    I see this as a declaration of Good News. What must I do to be saved? Believe. No hoops. No works. Just the gift of faith. In contrast to the options available in the pagan world, this simple declaration of belief as requisite for salvation is amazing.

    And where does that belief come from? Word and Sacrament. Look at vs. 32 – “they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.” Faith comes from what is heard. And then vs 33 – “then he and his entire family were baptized without delay” (well, except for the delay of washing their wounds – caring for the sick).

  5. John H says:

    Thanks for these comments, in particular those who have pointed out the context. The jailer was on the point of suicide – he had his sword drawn! – and then “fell down trembling” before Paul and Silas. I think it’s safe to say that the law had done its work with him, and “moral religious commands” were the last thing he needed. He needed a good, quick dose of gospel.

    Dave K: the gospel can function as law in a negative sense, I suppose, in that people’s rejection of the gospel only compounds the condemnation they are under by the law. But I still think Paul’s declaration here is unequivocally gospel.

    What prompted this post was reading some comments by John Piper quoted on TeamPyro today, when he said:

    The Bible clearly commands, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” Should we turn that moral religious command into a moral law? No, because a law-constrained faith in Jesus is unbiblical and has no validity. Therefore, in a sense, the Bible shows that we should not turn all of its commands into law.

    I was a little taken aback by Piper’s description of those words as a “moral religious command”, but wanted to see what other people thought first (which is why I avoided saying what had prompted the query). Though reading it again I think Piper probably simply meant that the statement was an “imperative”, not that it was “law” in the law/gospel sense.

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