Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | April 14, 2011

Some Difficult Doctrines — Law and Gospel

If Jesus has already paid the price for our sins, if by grace, through faith, we are forgiven, do we still need to hear the preaching of God’s law?  Doesn’t the Gospel – Jesus died for sins – provide guilt and rebuke enough?  These are questions that our blessed fathers in the faith, the 16th century reformers wrestled with, with which we still wrestle.

That the Scriptures teach both Law – God’s dos and don’ts – and Gospel – what God has done for us in Christ – can’t be denied.  Paul told Timothy to be a faithful workmen who was “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, KJV).  He also told Timothy to “Preach the Word…correct, rebuke and encourage” (2 Tim. 4:2).  Scripture contains both God’s yes and God’s no.

But how do we handle them?  This is the crux.  How do we preach the law without leading to works righteousness?  How do we preach the gospel without leading to universalism (everybody goes to heaven no matter what) or antinomianism (that is, that there are no rules, no laws)?

By distinguishing them.  On the face of it, Law and Gospel seem to be contradictions.  The Law says, “God hates all who do wrong” (Psalm 5:4-5).  The Gospel says, “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son” (John 3:16).  So that we don’t throw people into hopeless confusion we must handle these teachings of properly.  The law exists, as God tells us, to rebuke sin, to condemn sin in sinful man (Romans 3:19-20; Formula of Concord, Epitome, V:3-4).  The law afflicts the comfortable.  It shows us God’s standard and how we’ve fallen short.  “But the Gospel is properly the kind of teaching that shows what a person who has not kept the Law (and therefore is condemned by it) is to believe.  It teaches that Christ has paid for and made satisfaction for all sins” (FC Ep, V:5; Romans 5:9).  The Law rebukes and calls to repentance.  The Gospel encourages as it preaches consolation and joy, as it takes away the terrors of the law – Christ has died, Christ has risen, for you!  Without the Gospel, the Law only swells us up in pride or drives us to despair.  Without the Law, the Gospel only hardens us in our sinful behaviors.  But preached properly, we find this simple truth:  “We are to seek all our righteousness in Christ” (FC Ep, V:9; Philippians 3:7-11).

For further reading:  Formula of Concord, Article V Epitome and Solid Declaration, and The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel by C.F.W. Walther.

 

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