LAW AND GOSPEL
For part one of this series, see the previous post below.
On Tuesday mornings, I study the Scripture readings assigned for the next Sunday with a group of pastors. All but one of us are Lutherans. The remaining member of our group is a pastor of the United Methodist Church. She finds it funny—both odd and amusing—that we Lutherans make such a big distinction between Law and Gospel. We can’t help it. We got it from Martin Luther.
Luther taught us that the word of God is both Law and Gospel and that these two categories should not be confused.
The Law is all of the musts and shalts and shalt-nots. It’s all of the demands and commands and precepts that God lays upon us. The Law serves two purposes. One: it gives order to our life together. Two: because we cannot live up to all of the Law’s demands, it convicts us of our sinfulness and drives us to seek God’s mercy.
The Gospel is the good news that, for Jesus’ sake, God forgives our sins and reconciles us to himself.
Law and Gospel are the bad cop and good cop of Scripture. The Law kills. The Gospel makes alive. The Law convicts. The Gospel justifies. The Law is bad news. The Gospel is good news.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the Law is the Old Testament and the Gospel is the New Testament. Both Law and Gospel are found throughout all of Scripture. There is Law in the New Testament, and Gospel in the Old.
Sometimes the same passage of Scripture may be Law or Gospel depending upon who hears it, or even when they hear it. For example, Mary’s words in Luke 1:53, God, “has filled the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty” is Gospel to the hungry and Law to the rich.
The reason that Lutherans are so adamant that the Law and Gospel must not be confused is because we, along with Luther and the Apostle Paul, believe that we are made right with God by grace, through faith, apart from works of the Law. Our salvation is God’s doing, and only God’s doing. When Law and Gospel are confused, we are given the mistaken idea that we can, in some way, save ourselves.
A friend of mine says, “If it doesn’t sound like good news, it’s not the Gospel.”
To review: Lutherans read the Bible through Jesus goggles. We expect to meet Jesus in the Scriptures. We understand the Scriptures to be both Law and Gospel, but we are careful not to confuse the two.