Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Law & Gospel

Pastor’s Window for January 2011
Law and Gospel

Beloved in the Lord,

In the Word of God, the Holy Scriptures, God actually speaks two Words: He speaks Law and He speaks Gospel. Both testaments of Holy Scripture, the Old and the New, contain both Law and Gospel. And understanding the difference between the two, and how they apply to each one of us, is vital for “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15; KJV), namely, discerning Law and Gospel. Discerning Law and Gospel is an art. It may be easy to do theoretically, but it is difficult to practice in the school of experience. Martin Luther said that whoever is able rightly to divide Law and Gospel should be placed “at the head of the list” and called “a Doctor of Holy Scripture, for without the Holy Spirit the attainment of this differentiating is impossible” (What Luther Says [St. Louis: Concordia, 1959] p. 732). Nonetheless, every Christian should exercise him/herself in this art. So it is good for us to review the difference between the two, Law and Gospel.

In Catechism class, we learn the acronym S.O.S. as one way of remembering the basic difference between Law and Gospel. The Law Shows Our Sin, while the Gospel Shows Our Savior. The Law tells us what to do and what not to do. It keeps our sinful flesh in check by providing penalties and punishments for breaking it. The Law holds a mirror before us to show us our sin, our inability to keep the Commandments, the corruption of our sinful flesh right down to our very core. The Law renders us helpless, unable to live up to God’s righteous demands, unable to save ourselves or to in any way earn merit before God. The Law always accuses. The Law kills. The Law damns. Every death is a testimony to the truth of God’s Law, for the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). All are sinners, therefore all die. And all would rightly go to hell, were it not for Jesus Christ and the precious Gospel of the forgiveness of sins.

The Gospel, over against the Law, tells us not what we must or must not do, but what God has done for us in Christ. The Gospel takes us who are corrupt and dead and raises us to new life in Christ. The Gospel does not excuse our sin, but forgives it. The Gospel gives us Christ and His forgiveness, the full and free forgiveness of all our sins that He won for us on the cross. The Gospel applies Jesus’ perfect keeping of the Law to us, credits Jesus’ righteousness to our account. The Gospel gives us eternal life and salvation and every good gift of God without any merit or worthiness in us, but solely on account of Christ and His merit and worthiness. The Gospel makes alive. The Gospel gives new life now, creating in us to will and to do God’s good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). The Gospel lifts us to heaven. The Gospel is the sure and certain promise of our own bodily resurrection on the Last Day. The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord (Rom. 6:23).

Law and Gospel are different, and yet they are both God’s inspired Word. The Law is good. The Gospel is good. Through this means of His Word, God would bring us to the knowledge of our sin and helplessness and death (Law), and to faith in His Son Jesus Christ for forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life (Gospel). We must keep Law and Gospel distinct. Yet there is a place where they finally meet. The intersection of Law and Gospel is the cross of Christ, where our Lord Jesus takes the full wrath of God’s Law upon Himself, and pours out His life for our deliverance from sin and death. Jesus, who in His life fulfilled the whole Law for us, takes the punishment of the Law into Himself, and bestows upon us the blessed Gospel. “For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21; ESV).

And this is why it matters. We get all confused if we mix up Law and Gospel. We may be led to think we can earn our salvation by keeping God’s Law (self-righteousness), or that there is no way we can be saved because we have not kept God’s Law (despair). Or we may think that since we are saved by grace apart from works (which is true), we can do all the sinning we want to, with no regard for God’s Law (which is not true). These errors lead to death. You see, if we keep Law and Gospel straight, we keep our theology straight. And so we have ever before our eyes our crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ, who suffered for us and lives for us, and is our only salvation.

Blessed and Happy New Year!
Pastor Krenz

For a deeper reflection on Law and Gospel, I recommend two books: C. F. W. Walther’s Law & Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible, and Prof. John T. Pless’ Handling the Word of Truth: Law and Gospel in the Church Today. The first is a little longer, the second (based on the first) a little shorter, both thorough, and both very readable. You can order them from Concordia Publishing House.


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