Christ Lutheran Church - Marshfield, WI

4th Principle of Interpretation

God speaks in two different ways.  The Scriptures themselves call it Curses and Blessings.  The Early Church called it the Law and the Promises.  Lutherans have called it Law and Gospel.

When reading the Bible, it is your job as the reader to always ask yourself: Is this Law or Gospel that God is speaking?

This is no simple task, and it is easy to confuse them.

One such example, the boys have a CD that plays Christian Songs.  One of them drives me nuts because it confuses the Gospel with Law.  It goes: “The Gospel in one Word is Love…”  Sounds good, but then the CD continues, “Love your neighbor as your brother. Love. Love. Love.”  That is Law not Gospel.  To love your neighbor as your brother is good, right and salutary stuff, but being good, little moral people is not the Gospel.  If anything, that will either make you despair of yourself and hate God that he has given you impossible standards or it will make you prideful and hate God because you do not need him to be good.

The Gospel doesn’t tell you to do anything, it is the Law that deals out commands, threats, instruction, etc.

This is why we need to hear the Gospel every day and in every sermon: we forget it every day.  This is the Gospel: For the sake of Jesus Christ and him crucified and risen, your sins are forgiven you.   That’s it.  The Gospel is that Jesus lives, rules, and forgives you.  There is no, “now go and love your neighbor” in the Gospel.  The go and love your neighbor is law, good and holy law, but law nonetheless.  And God’s law always has a knack of revealing sin, and condemning you for not being loving.

In the Bible, you will be reading about God’s wrath over sin, imminent doom, and pending judgment, when all of a sudden God will then start talking about peace, restoration, and healing.  What is going on?  Why did God switch gears? Answer: Law and Gospel.  

A good way to think through law and gospel when you are reading the Bible is to ask yourself SOS.  The law Shows Our Sin.  The Gospel Shows Our Savior.

Here are some differences that this young pastor has learned about law and gospel.  Hopefully, these poles help you capture what I mean about Law and Gospel:

The law demands you to have faith, but the gospel gives you faith. The law uncovers your sins, the gospel remedies sin.  The law centers on our doing, the gospel centers on God’s doings for you.  The law convicts people concerning sin, the gospel forgives people their sin.  The law terrifies, the gospel comforts.  The law instructs, the gospel gives.  The law tells you to be pleasing to God, the Gospel makes you pleasing to God through Christ.  The law demands and takes from us, the Gospel is receiving the actual gifts from God.

I could go on and on.   Both law and gospel are needed.  Just because the law leaves us with a sour taste, doesn’t mean we forsake it.  After all, the blessing of paradise is that we will naturally do the law without having to be told to do it.  Without the harsh law, we wouldn’t see Christ as Savior.  As a pastor, I preach the law to convict secure sinners and terrify them.  I preach the Gospel to comfort the terrified and leave them to cleave to Christ.

So don’t turn Moses into Savior and don’t turn Christ into a Lawgiver.  “The law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John 1:17.

Learn this art of Law and Gospel well (Law!) and know that God fills us with his Holy Spirit so that we see it (Gospel!).

Pastor Andrew

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