Article: Law and Gospel

In Martin Luther’s Introduction to Romans, Luther stated that saving faith is, “a living, creative, active and powerful thing, this faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn’t stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without ceasing. Anyone who does not do good works in this manner is an unbeliever…Thus, it is just as impossible to separate faith and works as it is to separate heat and light from fire!”

Luther clearly explains the nature of faith… it spurs us to do good for others (often). To take that a step further the faith God gives us also helps us to be good without even thinking about it. 

The power of the Holy Spirit spurs us into Godly action. The Spirit sways us towards the good. 

Without God… without faith we spin our wheels. (John 15:5)

We as Lutheran’s understand that God relates to humanity in two distinct ways: Law and Gospel. 

Bruce Wandry puts it this way, “In 1525, Martin Luther preached a sermon about two different and distinct sermons.  At the beginning of his sermon, Luther explained how, in the Bible, God preaches only two public sermons—two sermons that all of the people can hear.  According to Luther, God’s first public sermon was on Mt. Sinai, when the people heard God give Moses the Law, the Ten Commandments (Exodus 19:9).  God’s second public sermon was on the Day of Pentecost, when the people heard the disciples proclaim the Good News of Christ in their native languages.  Although the two sermons have the same divine source, Luther discerned a stark difference in content.”

The Law seems harsh and prickly while the gospel speaks of hope and grace. 

The Law of God tells us what God expects of us. Often the Law is associated with this phrase, “Do this and live.” The opposite is true too, “don’t do this and you will die” as if to imply the verse “the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)

The rules that God gives us including the 10 Commandments serve various purposes. This also applies to civil law.

  • Through fear of punishment, the Law (religious and civil) keeps the sinful nature of both Christians and non-Christians under check because there are consequences for breaking the Law. Think: fear.
  • Additionally, The Law serves as a reflection of what perfection looks like. If we followed all the Laws (both civil and religious) this world would be like heaven! The downside of this is that we see how bad we truly are because we can’t possibly be that good without help from above. 
  • However, as a Christian there is one more purpose for the Law. As one who believes in Jesus and has been given the Holy Spirit, the Law serves as a guide. It is no longer threatening because we are forgiven. We are not under the threat of punishment because of Christ. The law is no longer compulsory. In faith, our hearts are drawn to the good because of the Holy Spirit. The Law becomes something we want to do versus something we have to do.

On the other hand, the gospel of Christ tells us that Jesus has taken care of everything including the punishment for sin. We need not fear God or the Law because of Jesus. 

Up to this point you might be thinking, “Yeah ok, I’ve been through confirmation, so what?”

The Law cannot save you!!! Only Christ can do that… but the world forgets that and believes that we can legislate our way to perfection and conformity. It is a big, fat, lie. Even churches try to be “God’s moral policemen” in their church and the world and it doesn’t work. It also makes Christianity look like hypocrites. “Being good” is not the end game. Faith in Christ is. 

By watching the news, I see how our state and federal government attempt to legislate their version of good behavior through various laws. Remember what a smashing success prohibition was? 

Both God and government could continue to add laws until Christ returns and it will not cause people to lead better lives or force people to make choices they don’t want to make.  

Only the transformational power of Jesus’ love can do that. Only the gift of the Holy Spirit given to all believers has the power to change our hearts, our attitudes, our mindsets and our behaviors. 

As you have heard me say, “Being good is overrated.” That isn’t what God wants you to focus on because Jesus knows you can’t do it and God forbid you try to impose that type of conformity on others. It is unhealthy to control the behaviors of others. It is even more unhealthy to think you can actually do it. 

Instead focus on the love Jesus has for you and the world. Live into that love. Share that love in every interaction. Love changes everything. The gospel is about the love Jesus shows humanity. Spend your time there. If you need a law, follow the law of Christ to “Love one another as Christ has loved you.”

God bless,
Pr. Ben


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