Essay / Theology

Augustine's Two Spiritual Laws

four laws Bill Bright put a simplified account of the gospel into an easily-communicated form called the Four Spiritual Laws. Those laws, as stated in the classic booklet that has been used for so much evangelism, are:

1. God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life.
2. Man is sinful and separated from God. Therefore, he cannot know and experience God’s love and plan for his life.
3. Jesus Christ is God’s only provision for man’s sin. Through him you can know and experience God’s love and plan for your life.
4. We must individually receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; then we can know and experience God’s love and plan for our lives

Brevity was obviously crucial for Bright, but not at the cost of accuracy. As he told the story, he had originally thought that he could keep it down to three laws: sin, redemption, and personal acceptance. But he decided that he had to start with an affirmation of God’s love for the sinner, or people would be crushed by the message of sin. So he added the first law, and made God’s love the surrounding context for sin and separation. The four laws establish God’s love and salvation, and put the hard news of sin right between them.

I recently found a strikingly similar decision made by Augustine, the great fifth-century theologian. Reflecting on how God has reached out to us and spoken a perfectly apt word in his self-revelation to us in Scripture, Augustine says:

First we had to be persuaded how much God loved us, in case out of sheer despair we lacked the courage to reach up to him. Also we had to be shown what sort of people we are that he loves, in case we should take pride in our own worth, and so bounce even further away from him and sink even more under our own strength. So he dealt with us in such a way that we could progress rather in his strength…

So we needed to be persuaded how much God loves us, and what sort of people he loves; how much in case we despaired, what sort in case we grew proud. (from his On The Trinity, book IV, chapter 1)

Augustine has a lot more to say on that count, but it is telling that he was able to boil it down to two things we need to know. It is also telling that his two points sound so much like the first two “laws” from Bill Bright’s helpful summary.

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