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Chapter 20—Our Law-ish Heart, His Lavish Heart

Key passage

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He did not even spare his own Son but offered him up for us all. How will he not also with him grant us everything? Who can bring an accusation against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies. Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is the one who died, but even more, has been raised; he also is at the right hand of God and intercedes for us. Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
Because of you
we are being put to death all day long;
we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered.
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:31–39

Quotes from Chapter 20

The Son of God, who loved me…

Galatians 2:20

The battle of the Christian life is to bring your own heart into alignment with Christ’s, to have a mind-set of full and free adoption into the family of God through the work of Christ, who loved you and gave himself for you out of the overflowing fullness of his gracious heart.

We are made right with God based on what Christ has done rather than on what we do. The freeness of God’s grace and love is not only the gateway but also the pathway of the Christian life.

A healthy Christian life is built on both the objective and subjective sides of the gospel—the justification that flows from the work of Christ, and the love that flows from the heart of Christ.

Are not you amazed sometimes that you should have so much as a hope, that, poor and needy as you are, the Lord thinks of you? But let not all you feel discourage you. For if our Physician is almighty, our disease cannot be desperate and if He casts none out that come to Him, why should you fear? Our sins are many, but His mercies are more: our sins are great, but His righteousness is greater: we are weak, but He is power. Most of our complaints are owing to unbelief, and the remainder of a legal spirit.1

John Newton

Everyone the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never cast out.

John 6:37

One reason we have a diminished awareness of the heart of Christ is that we are blindly operating out of a legal spirit. This kills our sense of Christ’s heart for us because this legal spirit filters our sense of his heart according to how we are spiritually performing.

As many as are of works of law are under a curse.

Galatians 3:10

Paul doesn’t say that those who do works are under a curse. He says those who are of works are under a curse. To be of works is not to fall short. It is to march in the wrong direction. It is a certain spirit, a legal spirit.

As the gospel sins in more deeply over time, and we wade ever deeper into the heart of Christ, one of the first outer shells of our old life that the gospel pierces is the doing of works unto approval. We can go through the whole day trumpeting the futility of doing works to please God, all the while saying the right thing from an “of works” heart. And our natural “of-works-ness” reflects not only a resistance to the doctrine of justification by faith, but also, even more deeply, a resistance to Christ’s very heart.

The felt love of Christ really is what brings rest, wholeness, flourishing, shalom. He has made you his own and will never cast you out.

Law-ish-ness, of-works-ness, is by its very nature undetectable because it’s natural, not unnatural, to us. It feels normal.

“The Son of God… loved me and gave himself for me.” His heart for me could not sit still in heaven. Our sins darken our feelings of his gracious heart, but his heart cannot be diminished for his own people due to their sins. Sin, no sin—the tender heart of the Son of God is shining on me. This is an unflappable affection.

It is the sun of Christ’s heart, not the clouds of my sin, that now defines me. When we are united to Christ, Christ’s punishment at the cross becomes my punishment. In other words, the end-time judgment that awaits all humans has, for those in Christ, already taken place. We who are in Christ no longer loot to the future for judgment, but to the past; at the cross, we see our punishment happening, all our sins being punished in Jesus. The loved and restored you therefore trumps, outstrips, swallows up, the unrestored you. Not the other way around.

We are sinners. We sin—not just in the past but in the present, and not only by our disobedience but by our “of-works” obedience.

In the gospel, we are free to receive the comforts that are due us. Don’t turn them off. Open the vent of your heart to the love of Christ, who loved you and gave himself for you.

  1. John Newton, Cardiphonia, in The Works of John Newton, 2 vols. (New York: Robert Carter, 1847), 1:343.


  1. What is a continual battle in the Christian life according to this chapter?
  2. Do you see in yourself the subtle, chronic tendency to strengthen your standing with God based on how you are performing spiritually?
  3. Why are we made right with God? Is it something we do?
  4. What is the assurance given us in John 6:37?
  5. Why do we have a diminished awareness of the heart of Christ?
  6. What does it mean to be of works (Galatians 3:10)?
  7. What does our “of works-ness” reflect?
  8. Why is it so hard for us to detect our “of works-ness”?
  9. Can our sins diminish Christ’s heart for us?
  10. Where do those who are truly saved look when they sin? To the end-time judgment or to the cross?
  11. Is it wrong to do good works?
  12. What brings true rest and peace?
  13. Why would our hearts need to be aligned to Christ? How?
  14. How do our works ‘minimize’ the gospel and Christ’s work?
  15. How does Christ’s work, and the heart from which that atoning work flowed, address your of-works-ness”?
  16. How does the gospel define who you are?
  17. Examine your life deeply. Who or what are you trusting? Works or Christ?

This article is adapted from: Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund and Gentle and Lowly Study Guide by Robert Zink.


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