From Sodom to Jesus

22 So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the Lord. 23 Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” 26 And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”

27 Abraham answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. 28 Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking. Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” 29 Again he spoke to him and said, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” 30 Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” 31 He said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” 32 Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” 33 And the Lord went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.

(Genesis 18:22-33).

 

  • But there was that one time when God would spare the wicked for the sake of ONE righteous man…Jesus Christ.
  • This is good news to all of us who are wicked…(that’s all of us).

And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
    and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

(Romans 4:5-8).

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

(Romans 5:6-11).

 

In the name of Jesus Christ, may God keep you and bless you.  Grace and peace to you.

The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church | Part III

PART III

The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church

by Dr. Rod Rosenbladt

     Now even though I am not Reformed, and don’t speak “Reformed” very well, let me see if I can use a couple of categories from The Heidelberg Catechism to guess how you might have the same dynamic and its problems (at least when executed badly)?

     Think of the paradigm of “Guilt – Grace – Gratitude.” Don’t you have the same sort of problem that we Lutherans had with pietism (at least when the paradigm is executed badly)? If I am elect and regenerate, why is it that my gratitude is so small, so lacking on a daily basis? “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get!” Or, “If I really were elect, my life would certainly reflect that fact more than it does.” “Maybe I’m just fooling myself. Maybe I’m not really elect – because the peace, the joy, the confidence Paul says the Christian is to have (and that other Reformed believers seem to talk about) I don’t have. I’d be lying if I said I did. Maybe I never was part of the elect, and I’m still not?”

     And for those of you who are Wesleyans, you are in this mess “up to your eyeballs.” Wesley’s charge to his pastors was very clear. They were called to (1) evangelize pagans (something for which Wesley gets an “A” in my book!) and (2) to urge their parishioners on to Christian perfection (something for which Wesley deserved an “F” — at least in the way he executed it, preached it to Christian believers!) Sunday after Sunday of exhortation (that is, law). If it’s of any comfort to you Wesleyans, you can blame us Lutherans for a lot for this stuff! (We Lutherans try to blame the Strasbourg Reformed for Lutheran pietism, but I’m not so sure we didn’t do it “all on our own steam.”) Through Nicolas von Zinzendorf at Herrenhut and Peter Böhler, we Lutherans bequeathed a lot of this mess of ours to Wesley. I wish I could say that it all came from Wesley’s reading of the church fathers, from reading William Law  and others like Law, but I can’t. In fact, it was we Lutherans who managed to corrupt all sorts of denominations with this junk — not just our own Lutheran churches, but also the free churches, the brothers Wesley, Cotton Mather in the New World (about Jonathan Edwards I don’t know) — this stuff knew (and knows) almost no bounds! And almost all of it traces to Lutheran Germany in an earlier century. If this stuff was done to you in some “Protestantish” church, I apologize to you. We Lutherans might just have been the ones who bequeathed it to your denomination, to your pastor’s seminary profs. At any rate, if I’m right here, I’m sorry.

     For our purposes this evening, the upshot is always the same: broken, sad ex-Christians who finally despaired of ever being able to live the Christian life as the Bible describes it. So they did what is really a sane thing to do: they left! The way it looks to them is that “the message of Christianity has broken them on the rack.” To put it bluntly, it feels better to have some earthly happiness as a pagan and then be damned than it feels to be trying every day as a Christian to do something that is one continuous failure — and then be damned anyway. Trust me on this one. This is how things look.

It seems to me that the key question here is a very basic one: Can the cross and blood of Christ save a Christian (failing as he or she is in living the Christian life) or no?

     I hope that most of us would say that the shed blood of Christ is sufficient to save a sinner? All by itself, just Christ’s blood, “nude faith” in it, “sola fide”, “faith without works”, “a righteousness from God apart from law,” a cross by which “God justifies wicked people,” etc. So far, so good, right?

     But is the blood of Christ enough to save a still-sinful-Christian? Or isn’t it? Does the Gospel still apply, even if you are a Christian? Or doesn’t it? It seems to me (1) that the category “sinner” still applies to me, (2) that the category “sinner” still applies to you, (3) that the category “sinner” still applies to all Christians. (If you are a Wesleyan and have reached perfection, what I have to say here doesn’t, of course, apply to you.) But for the rest of us, it seems that what Luther said of the Christian being “simultaneously sinful and yet justified before the holy God” is critical. Is what Luther said Biblical? Or isn’t it? Is it Biblical to say that a Christian is “simul justus et peccator” or no? Are we Christians saved the same way we were when we were baptized into Christ, or when we came to acknowledge Christ’s shed blood and His righteousness as all we had in the face of God’s holy law? That all of our supposed “virtue” – Christian or pagan – is just like so many old menstrual garments (to use the Bible phrase)? But that God imputes to those who trust Christ’s cross the true righteousness of Christ Himself? We are pretty sure that unbelievers who come to believe this are instantly justified in God’s sight, declared as if innocent, adopted as sons or daughters, forgiven of all sin, given eternal life, etc. But are Christians still saved that freely? Or are we not? We are pretty clear that imputed righteousness saves sinners. But can the imputed righteousness of Christ save a Christian? And can it save him or her all by itself? Or no? I think the way we answer this question determines whether we have anything at all to say to the “sad alumni” of Christianity.

We Lutheran pastors haven’t done a great job of getting across the central nature of righteousness by imputation alone. I hope you’ve done a better job at it than we have!

     Decades ago, a gigantic survey of our clergy and laity showed that we Lutheran pastors hadn’t even convinced our own members of the sufficiency of Christ’s cross and blood and death for them! (And I mean Lutheran members who might never have sneaked out to attend some evangelical revival, might never have spent 5 minutes watching crazy Trinity Broadcasting Network). Proof: A Study of Generations [results: 75% gave perfect Roman Catholic answers!]

  • “When you die, are you sure you will enter heaven? [“I hope so.”]
  • “I was president, tithed, sang in the choir, taught Sunday School,” etc.
  • Perfect Roman Catholic answers! And this survey was done decades ago!

What the “sad alumni” need to hear (perhaps for the first time) is that Christian failures are going to walk into heaven, be welcomed into heaven, leap into heaven like a calf leaping out of its stall, laughing and laughing, as if it’s all too good to be true.

It isn’t just that we failures will get in. It’s that we will probably get in like that! We failures-in-living-the-Christian-life-as-described-in-the-Bible will probably say something like, “You mean it was that simple?!” “Just Christ’s cross & blood?! Just His righteousness imputed to my account as if mine? You gotta be kidding!” “And all of heaven is ours just because of what was done by Jesus outside of me, on the cross — not because of what Christ did in me” – in my heart, in my Christian living, in my behavior?!” “Well, I’ll be damned!” But, of course, that’s the point isn’t it? As a believer in Jesus as your Substitute, you won’t be damned! No believer in Jesus will be. Not a single one!


To be Continued in The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church | Part IV

Go Back to Part II of The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church

The Home of the Lecture and Permissions Can be Found at 1517 The Legacy Project

The Citation link to White Horse Inn, Inc. blog mentioned above where I first obtained the transcript and other media for Dr. Rosenbladt’s sermon “The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church”  – Dad Rod Thursdays – The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church


The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church | Part II

PART II

The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church

by Dr. Rod Rosenbladt

First, a few words about the “sad” alumni of Christianity.

     Many of these people were broken by the church. I know that sounds harsh. As Christians, it’s bothersome to hear words like that. But for many people, this is how they really see what has happened to them.

     Now almost certainly many of us have also had contact with people who have struggled for their whole lives with being deeply upset psychologically. The church, for whatever reasons, draws people who the professionals recognize as “bipolar” or wrestling against what they call “clinical depression.” Or whose guilt is so great that they are inwardly immobilized, people who are so frightened that just coping day by day is truly heroic. But it is not about any of these people that I will be speaking tonight. I am not competent to do so. It seems to me that such people deserve all of the care and empathy that we can muster. But, again, it is not about such people that I am speaking tonight.

     By the “sad alumni” of the Christian faith, I mean the hundreds and hundreds whose acquaintance with the Christian church was often one in which they were helped to move from unbelief (or from a suffocating moralism) into real saving faith in Jesus Christ. They heard the preaching of God’s law and then heard the announcement of Christ’s work on their behalf on the cross – Jesus as the God-man who met the law’s demands for them, and died for their sin, died to save them, died to give them eternal life. They heard the wonderful message of God’s grace in the cross and death of Jesus Christ. They heard the astonishing news that God in Jesus Christ died for them, died so that they can be — and are! – freely forgiven based solely on that atoning death. They heard that Christ’s blood redeems sinners, buys us out of our self-chosen enslavement. They came to believe that Christianity is not so much about what is in our hearts as much as it is about what is in God’s heart – and this proven by Christ’s vicarious and atoning death for them, for their sin. They came to believe that the cross of Christ was their salvation. For free. And forever.

     But something happened after that, something that broke them. And, in general, I think what happened is nameable. (At least in many cases.)

     In my Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, we would speak of it as the confusion of law and Gospel. Dr. Charles Manske, the founding president of Christ College Irvine, used to teach a course in Christianity for freshmen. In that course, he characterized the various churches of Christendom this way:

  • Rome: law
  • Lutheran: law–Gospel
  • Wesleyan evangelical: law–Gospel–law

I think Dr. Manske was definitely “on to something” here, and I think it is that third point that results in a lot of “sad alumni” of Christianity.

Now if you are Lutheran or Reformed, we too have a category that, if not done carefully and well, will turn out just as destructive as any Wesleyan, Pentecostal or Nazarene preaching. I am referring, of course, to “the 3rd use of the law.” (In Lutheran theology, the content of this “third use” of the law is spelled out in a section of our Book of Concord – specifically in what we call “the Formula of Concord.”) If you are Reformed, you will recognize this category immediately, recognize it as tracing back to John Calvin himself. Too, if I am correct, in what Calvinist Christians call the “Three Forms of Unity”: the Canons of the Synod of Dort, the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Confession? If I am wrong on this one (not being “Reformed”), I apologize for an inaccurate characterization of your position.

What do we Reformation folk mean by “the third use of the law?” It claims to be primarily informative, informative for the Christian. And something which fleshes out “What is the will of God for me as a Christian day-by-day?” (What about the law thundering to us that we are deeply fallen, unable to fix our problem? That we are guilty before a holy God and His holy law, that unless God does something one-sidedly to rescue us, we are without hope and certainly condemned? That we from the Reformation call “the second use” of the law, the “pedogical use.” Luther thought this was the major function of the law in the Bible, designed to drive us to despair of our character, our works, our anything! And to drive us to Jesus Christ as the atoning, dying Lamb/Substitute for our sin — mine and yours, too.)

At any rate, if we Reformation folk do the “third use of the law” badly, we get very close to the infamous “application section” of the sermon so common in Wesleyan & evangelical preaching. And if we do it badly, the sensitive Christian believer can be driven to a slavery as bad as any slavery done to them by a totalitarian dictator. If the Ten Commandments were not impossible enough, the preaching of Christian behavior, of Christian ethics, of Christian living, can drive a Christian into despairing unbelief. Not happy unbelief. Tragic, despairing, sad unbelief. (It is not unlike the [unhappy] Christian equivalent of “Jack Mormons” – those who finally admit to themselves and others that they can’t live up to the demands of this non-Christian cult’s laws, and excuse themselves from the whole sheebang.) A diet of this stuff from pulpit, from curriculum, from a Christian reading list, can do a work on a Christian that is (at least over the long haul) “faith destroying.” You might be in just this position this evening. Many of us have friends whose story is not a far cry from this. We all regularly rub shoulders with such “alumni of the Christian faith” – sad that the Gospel of Christ didn’t (for them, at least) “deliver the goods,” didn’t “work.”

     In a Christian context, the mechanism of this can be, I think, a very simple one:

1. You come to believe that you have been justified freely because of Christ’s shed blood.

2. Freely, for the sake of Jesus’ innocent sufferings and death, God has forgiven your sin, adopted you as a son or     daughter, reconciled you to Himself, given you the Holy Spirit, and so on. Scripture promises these things.

3. Verses like “Be ye perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect” seem now – at first read – to finally be possible, now that you are equipped for it.

o Or you hear St. Paul as he writes, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Same thing.

4. You realize that you might have had some excuse for failure when you were a pagan. But that’s over. Now you have been made a part of God’s family, have become the recipient of a thousand of His free gifts.

5. And then, the unexpected. Sin continues to be a part of my life, stubbornly won’t allow me to eliminate it the way I expected.

6. Continuing sin on my part seems to be just evidence that I’m not really a believer at all. If I were really a believer, this thing would “work!”

We start to imagine that we need to be “born again again.” (And often the counsel from non-Reformation churches is that this intuition of ours is true.) Try going again to some evangelistic meeting, accept Christ again, surrender your will to His will again, sign the card, when the pastor gives the “altar call,” walk the aisle again. Maybe it didn’t “take” the first time, but it will the second time? And so forth.

How do I know this one “from the inside?” (You might be able to tell that I don’t have to search for words? And you’re right.) I was brought up in a pietistic Norwegian Lutheran church. For those of you who haven’t heard the term, “pietism,” it began with certain Lutherans (Arndt, Spener, and others) who wanted a more “living Christianity” than seemed to be taught and encouraged in their Lutheran parishes in Germany. But it was as close as Lutherans in Germany, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and America ever came to being just like teutonic or Scandanavian outposts of Biola or Wheaton College! The Reformation emphasis on Christ outside of us, dying for us, and on the justification of sinners “gratis” was de-emphasized. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper were deemphasized. Instead, the emphasis shifted to the individual’s experience of conversion, and to the victorious life of the true Christian day-by-day.

[See the Christian History issue on “Pietism” [for a more positive presentation of it than I would give. See also The Pieper Lectures, Vol. 3: “Pietism and Lutheranism,” ed. John A. Maxfield. St. Louis, Mo.: Concordia Historical Institute [and] The Luther Academy, 1999. [Dr. Ronald Feuerhahn’s essay is, I think, much more realistic about the problems pietism inevitably causes the believer.]

My church’s pietism made me an agnostic by the time I was a senior in high school. The “evangelical” parish of your youth might have had the same result in your case. How so? Well, imagine a Sunday School curriculum filled with Bible stories designed to teach a moral point with every lesson. Beware Sunday School curricula! That stuff is dangerous to children! One of the happiest days of my life was the morning when, standing in the church narthex, my wonderful father delivered me out of Sunday School!

One Sunday morning, I came from Sunday School to meet my folks. My dad (I still remember where each of us was standing in the narthex, remember which sport coat he was wearing that day!), said to me, “How was Sunday school?” I answered, “O.K., I guess.” He saw written on my face how it was going, and he said, “How would you like to quit going?” I immediately answered, “Dad, I’d love to quit Sunday school!” He said, “Well, why don’t you? Come in and sit with me in the adult class.” (I didn’t understand a tenth of what they were talking about, but I was ecstatic to just sit next to him during that hour each Sunday.)

My father had – with a single stroke! – delivered me out of the hands of greyhaired women trying to make me more moral, and using Bible stories to do it! It was like escape from prison! He had again made my life happier (it was not the last time, by any measure, either!) But it really wasn’t the fault of those grey-haired Sunday School teachers, either. It was the theology they were assigned to teach. It was the curriculum, the content of the lessons they were assigned to teach us kids. Such Sunday School materials should have never been allowed to make it into our parish.


To be Continued in The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church | Part III

Go Back to Part I of The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church

The Home of the Lecture and Permissions Can be Found at 1517 The Legacy Project

The Citation link to White Horse Inn, Inc. blog mentioned above where I first obtained the transcript and other media for Dr. Rosenbladt’s sermon “The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church”  – Dad Rod Thursdays – The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church

The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church | Part I

A Sermon Given by Dr. Rod Rosenbladt

The next series featured on No Longer I will be a sermon given by Dr. Rod Rosenbladt titled “The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church.”  This sermon is one of the best sermons that I have ever heard and I believe it touches on something that has plagued many, especially in cultures that may have a dominant Christian influence or where a majority of the culture are self-professing Christians.  You probably know someone who has been broken by the church in some way or another.  Please be sure that they see this.  You may have been broken by the church.  I pray that this will be a salve on your wounds and that you will leave here in the arms of Christ.  One of the greatest gifts from God is fellowship with others who are a part of the Forever Family of the Church.  Posting this was not to push you away from going to a Church, but to raise the flag that your suffering is known, that you are not alone and that you are loved by God.  I encourage you to seek other bruised reeds and smoldering wicks out there and who knows?  Maybe a congregation close by or amongst yourselves will provide the sanctuary that you need.  Will it be perfect?  No.  But I pray that it will be a place where the cross of Jesus Christ is preached.  At the end of the series I will provide a link to a video and audio of the sermon as well.  I was able to access the transcript of Dr. Rosenbladt’s sermon from White Horse, Inc, which gave permission to share and I will provide links to the original source on their site in each post of this series.

PART I

The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church

by Dr. Rod Rosenbladt

     This evening I want to address a particular problem: What a Christian might be able to say in conversation with people who see themselves as “alumni” of the Christian faith.

     And, of course, I am not referring to those who have been translated by death from what Christians call the “church militant” into the “church triumphant!” I mean people we meet or know who say that they once believed that Christ and His shed blood, freely justified them before God, freely forgave their sin, freely gave them eternal life — but who add that they no longer believe these things.

     It seems to me that in the four Gospels [roughly, the biographies of Jesus authored by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John], virtually every person who rejected Jesus’ claims to be God and Messiah, the Savior of the world, went away either sad or mad.

     First, I’m going to try to deal with today’s “sad ones,” the longing, the “having-given-up-on-Christianity” ones. Second, I want to talk a little about the Gospel of Christ for today’s “mad” ones, the angry ones.

     I can’t tell you how much it bugs me that there exists such a group as the one called “Fundamentalists Anonymous!” But there is such a “self-help group.” If there is any kind of “Christian recovery group,” I want it to be “Liberal Protestants Anonymous” or “Recovering Neo-Orthodox Protestants” or “Liberation Theology Advocates Anonymous” or “Open Theism Recovery Group.” (You get the idea.) For all of its faults, American fundamentalism at least is Christianity of a sort. Still, to be perfectly honest, I really can understand why such a group as “Fundamentalists Anonymous” exists. Maybe you can, too. Many of these people about whom or to whom I am going to speak tonight are casualties of Bible-believing churches. Some 2 seem to be able to remain in this form of Christianity for years and years. But certainly not all. For some reasons (reasons which, I think, are very specifiable), more people than we would like to think leave fundamentalist Christianity. I think the same dynamic is often the case with people who belong to what are called “the holiness bodies” (Wesleyan Christianity). Some are sad about it. Some are angry about it.

     You might say, “Well, my church is certainly not ‘fundamentalist.’” I think mine is part of what Newsweek and Time call “mainline churches.” If that is the case, probably not much that I have to say tonight will be very helpful to you. I am not going to be talking much about “mainline Protestant” churches — liberal Lutheran, liberal Presbyterian, Episcopal — for the simple reason that for most of them there isn’t enough theology left to make people really “sad” or “mad,” make them convinced that they have to leave or their hearts will break. Or makes them leave because if they don’t, they fear they will “uncork” on some Shepherd or sheep and get arrested for it. The reason for this is, I think, a relatively simple one: there just isn’t enough substantial theology in most “mainline” Protestant churches to upset anybody. There isn’t much of anything left in mainline Protestant sermons or curricula – except maybe lessons in ethics, and perhaps new opportunities for social service. As one wag put it, “The trouble with theology today is that there isn’t any!”

     Many of us have met and talked with the sad alumni of Christianity. And many of us have also met and talked with some of the mad alumni of Christianity. The venue may vary, but most of us know or have met men and women who tell us that Christianity was a part of their life in years past, but that they no longer consciously identify with Jesus Christ in His claim to be God and Savior. They perhaps earlier identified themselves with some form of Christianity, but no longer. Every pastor runs into these people. So do lay people. It seems to “go with the territory” these days. You and I know them, meet them. You might be one of them. I have run into it in decades of working on the college campus — first with the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, later as a professor. In these roles, it has been (for whatever reasons) easier for students to tell me the truth. I think they have said things to me that they were afraid to tell their 3 pastors or priests. It is perhaps easier to tell a professor that you once believed that Jesus was your sin-bearing Savior, but that you no longer believe that. Or that you wish you could still believe in Jesus, but you just can’t. If you are a Christian pastor or layman, you have probably more than once heard the same thing from friends or acquaintances. In our day, there are so many of these people that it is hard not to come into contact with them. There are thousands of them.


To be Continued in The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church | Part II

The Home of the Lecture and Permissions Can be Found at 1517 The Legacy Project

The Citation link to White Horse Inn, Inc. blog mentioned above where I first obtained the transcript and other media for Dr. Rosenbladt’s sermon “The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church”  – Dad Rod Thursdays – The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church

Six Ways In Which the Law and the Gospel Are Different

keep-calm-preach-law-and-gospel

This post features the presentation of John Pless Summarizing C.F.W. Walther’s Six Ways In Which the Law and the Gospel Are Different in his book “Handling the Word of Truth: Law and Gospel in the Church Today”

First, the Law differs from the Gospel by the manner in which it is revealed. The Law is inscribed in the human heart, and though it is dulled by sin, the conscience bears witness to its truth (Romans 2:14-15). “The Ten Commandments were published only for the purpose of bringing out in bold outline the dulled script of the original Law written in men’s hearts” (Walther, 8). That is why the moral teachings of non-Christian religions are essentially the same as those found in the Bible. Yet it is different with the Gospel. The Gospel can never be known from the conscience. It is not a word from within the heart; it comes from outside. It comes from Christ alone. “All religions contain portions of the Law. Some of the heathen, by their knowledge of the Law, have advanced so far that they have even perceived the necessity of an inner cleansing of the soul, a purification of the thoughts and desires. But of the Gospel, not a particle is found anywhere except in the Christian religion” (Walther, 8). The fact that humanity is alienated from God, in need of cleansing and reconciliation, is a theme common to many belief systems. It is only Christianity that teaches that God himself justifies the ungodly.

Second, the Law is distinct from the Gospel in regard to content. The Law can only make demands. It tells us what we must do, but it is impotent to redeem us from its demands (Galatians 3:12-14). The Law speaks to our works, always showing that even the best of them are tainted with the fingerprints of our sin and insufficient for salvation. The Gospel contains no demand, only the gift of God’s grace and truth in Christ. It has nothing to say about works of human achievement and everything to say about the mercy of God for sinners.  “The Law tells us what we are to do. No such instruction is contained in the Gospel. On the contrary, the Gospel reveals to us only what God is doing. The Law is speaking concerning our works; the Gospel, concerning the great works of God” (Walther, 9).

Third, the Law and the Gospel differ in the promises that each make.  The Law offers great good to those who keep its demands.  Think what life would be like in a world where the Ten Commandments were perfectly kept. Imagine a universe where God was feared, loved, and trusted above all things and the neighbor was loved so selflessly that there would be no murder, adultery, theft, lying, or coveting. Indeed such a world would be paradise. This is what the Law promises. There is only one stipulation: that we obey its commands perfectly. “Do the Law and you will live”, says Holy Scripture (Leviticus 18:5; Luke 10:25-28). The Gospel, by contrast, makes a promise without demand or condition. It is a word from God that does not cajole or manipulate, but simply gives and bestows what it says, namely, the forgiveness of sins. Luther defined the Gospel as “a preaching of the incarnate Son of God, given to us without any merit on our part for salvation and peace. It is a word of salvation, a word of grace, a word of comfort, a word of joy, a voice of the bridegroom and the bride, a good word, a word of peace.” This is the word that the church is to proclaim throughout the world (Mark 16:15-16). It is the message that salvation is not achieved but received by grace through faith alone. (Ephesians 2:8-9).  The Gospel is a word that promises blessing to those who are cursed, righteousness to the unrighteous, and life to the dead.

Fourth, Law and Gospel are distinct when it comes to threats. Walther puts it simply: “The Gospel contains no threats at all, but only words of consolation. Wherever in Scripture you come across a threat, you may be assured that the passage belongs in the Law” (Walther, 11). The Law threatens sinners with punishment, pronouncing a curse on all who fail to live up to its requirements (Deuteronomy 27:26). The Gospel announces forgiveness for those crushed by the threat of the Law, for Christ Jesus came into the world to rescue the unrighteous (1 Timothy 1:15).

Fifth, the effects of Law and Gospel are different. Walther summarizes the threefold effect of the Law: (1) It demands but does not enable compliance. (2) It hurls people into despair, for it diagnoses the disease but provides no cure. (3) It produces contrition, that is, it terrifies the conscience but offers no comfort. Walther echoes the early Lutheran hymn writer Paul Speratus, who captured the biblical teaching of the Law’s lethal effectiveness: What God did in is Law demand And none to him could render Caused wrath and woe on ev’ry hand For man, the vile offender. Our flesh has not those pure desires The spirit of the Law requires, And lost is our condition. It was a false, misleading dream The God his Law had given That sinners could themselves redeem And by their works gain heaven. The Law is but a mirror bright To bring the inbred sin to light That lurks within our nature. Public debates have raged over whether or not the Ten Commandments should be displayed in courtrooms and classrooms. Sometimes well-meaning people have argued that placards containing the Ten Commandments would have a positive effect on public morality. Actually, Scriptures teach that the Law makes matters worse, not better. Knowledge of the Law does not entail the ability to keep it. The Law not only identifies the sin but also, like a swift kick to a sleeping dog that arouses the animal to bark and bite, the Law stirs up the power of sin (Romans 7:7-9). The Law brings death, not life, for it is a letter that kills (2 Corinthians 3:6). Without the Gospel, the Law can only be the cause for grief, as it was in the case of the rich young man who thought himself capable of keeping the Law (Matthew 19:22). At each point, the Gospel is completely different from the Law. While it is only through faith that we receive the benefits of the Gospel, the Gospel itself creates faith (Romans 1:16; Ephesians 2:8-10). Rather than provoking terror of conscience, anguish of heart, and fear of condemnation like the Law, the Gospel stills every voice of accusation with the strong words of Christ’s own peace and joy guaranteed by the blood of the cross. The Gospel does not set in place requirements of something that we must do or contribute. “[T]he Gospel does not require anything good that man must furnish: not a good heart, not a good disposition, no improvement of his condition, no godliness, no love of either God or men. It issues no orders, but changes man. It plants love into his heart and makes him capable of all good works. It demands nothing, but gives all. Should not this fact make us leap for joy?” (Walther, 16).

Sixth, Law and Gospel are to be distinguished in relation to the persons who are addressed, “The Law is to be preached to secure sinners and the Gospel to alarmed sinners” (Walther, 17). The secure sinner is the person who glories in his own self-righteous-ness. In the words of Lutheran theologian Gerhard Forde, the secure sinner is “addicted either to what is base or to what is high, either to lawlessness or to lawfulness. Theologically there is not any difference since both break the relationship to God, the giver.” Addicted to that which is base, secure sinners will excuse or rationalize their sinful behavior. They will live, to use the words of the confessional prayer, “as if God did not matter and as if I mattered most.” They will assert that their body and life and that of their neighbors are theirs to do with as they please. Or secure sinners might be addicted to that which is high. Like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable (Luke 18:9-14), secure sinners will trust in their own righteousness, their self-made spirituality., The sinners who are snug in their own righteousness rehearse the Ten Commandments and conclude that they, like the rich young man in the Gospel narrative, have kept all of these rules and are deserving of God’s approval. To those ensnared in either of these securities, blind to God’s demand for total righteousness, the Law is to be proclaimed full blast so all presumption might be destroyed. To those who have been crushed by the hammer blows of the Law, no longer secure in their lawlessness or self-righteousness, there is only one word that will do. That is the word of the Gospel. The Gospel is not a recipe for self-improvement. It is that word of God that declares sins to be forgiven for the sake of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. It is all about Christ and what He has done for us. “Law is to be called, and to be, anything that refers to what we are to do. On the other hand, the Gospel, or the Creed, is any doctrine or word of God which does not require works from us and does not command us to do something, but bids us simply accept as a gift the gracious forgiveness of our sins and everlasting bliss offered us” (Walther, 19). When Law and Gospel are muddled or mixed, the Holy Scriptures will be misread and misused. Without the right distinction of the Law from the Gospel, the Bible appears to be a book riddled with contradiction. At one place it condemns and at another it pardons. One text speaks of God’s wrath visited upon sinners, while another declares His undying love for His enemies. Throughout both the Old and the New Testaments, the Scriptures reveal both God’s wrath and His favor. The Scriptures show us a God who kills and who makes alive. This God does through two different words. With the word of His Law, sinners are put to death. It is only through the word of the Gospel that spiritual corpses are resurrected to live in Jesus Christ.

Excerpt from “The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel” by Dr. C.F.W. Walther, Fifth Evening Lecture

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“Woe to us if, when about to expound the Gospel, we mingle the Law with it!  That is what we are doing when, in expounding the Gospel, we say more than, “Accept this message!”  Every addition would be Law.  The Gospel demands nothing of us; it only says: “Come, eat and drink.”  What it offers to us is the Great Supper.  Here is where most preachers make their mistake.  They are afraid that by preaching the Gospel too clearly they will be the fault if people lapse into sin.  They imagine that the Gospel is food for the carnal-minded.  True, to many the Gospel becomes a savor of death unto death, but that is not the fault of the Gospel.  That happens only because men do not accept, do not believe, the Gospel.  Faith is not the mere thought “I believe.”  My whole heart must have become seized by the Gospel and have come to rest in it.  When that happens, I am transformed and cannot but love and serve God.  Most urgent admonitions must indeed be administered to men, even after they have become believers, but these admonitions must not be brought into the solemn meeting where God justifies the sinner.  The Law must first discharge its function in order that those who hear it may accept the Gospel with a hungering and thirsting soul and drink their fill of it.  As soon as a person has become a poor sinner, as soon as he is aware of the fact that he cannot be saved by his own effort, even before a spark of love has been kindled in him, Christ says: “There is My man!  Come to Me just as thou art.  I will help thee; I will take from thee the burden that oppresses thee, and what I shall lay on thee is a light burden and an easy yoke.”  The principal think that I have to tell a person when explaining to him how he can become righteous is that I announce to him the free grace of God, concealing nothing, saying none other things to him than what God says in the Gospel.  A hedge must be made around Mount Sinai, but not around Golgotha.  At the latter place all wrath of God has been appeased.”

–  Dr. C.F.W. Walther in “The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel

Fifth Evening Lecture, p. 38-39.