Devotional Thought of the Day:
18 And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:18-21 (NLT2)
24 We believe and confess that these two doctrines must be urged constantly and diligently in the church of God until the end of the world, but with the due distinction, so that in the ministry of the New Testament the proclamation of the law and its threats will terrify the hearts of the unrepentant and bring them to a knowledge of their sin and to repentance, but not in such a way that they become despondent and despair therein. Rather, since “the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24), and hence points and leads not away from but toward the Christ who is the end of the law (Rom. 10:4), 25 the proclamation of the Gospel of our Lord Christ will once more comfort and strengthen them with the assurance that if they believe the Gospel God forgives them all their sins through Christ, accepts them for his sake as God’s children, and out of pure grace, without any merit of their own, justifies and saves them.
The method of preaching, no matter which tradition, can be simplified as telling people why they need Jesus, and how Jesus meets that need, and our lives change as we walk with Him.
In the Lutheran tradition, the method of communicating that is called preaching “Law and Gospel. It has been a focus and method of our preaching since Martin Luther was still an Augustinian monk. And the first president of the Lutheran Church gave a series of lectures which were turned into a book titled, “The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel”. While this post will use the word “preaching” a lot, this rule is true for any conversation, whether from a pulpit or altar or over a pumpkin-laden coffee or a nice ale. Preaching is not just a formal sermon or homily, it is any time we take a moment to help people realize their need for God and His response to their need.
Preaching law and gospel is a method, and it is far more than just preaching the law, checking off a box, then preaching the gospel and checking off the second box. Unfortunately, we can often get in that mindset, settling for that simplistic understanding of the method.
Even worse, we often preach against sin with a bias. Some sins may be more repugnant to a pastor, or to an individual, and they may try to eradicate that particular sin with more force. We might even come across as trying to purify the church from sinners who have committed that particular sin, driving those who are guilty of it into despair, into hopelessness, further into the guilt and shame which already haunts them. ANd some would applaud this, saying we really crucified that sin, that we nailed it to the cross. They might see the role of the preacher, or the evangelist as the drill instructor, yelling at his recruits, trying to help them save their lives.
But that denies the purpose of preaching and in fact is contrary to the concept of preaching law and gospel. Reading the quote from the Formula of Concord above, preaching the law so that people fall become despondent and despair, is not appropriate. For doing so drives them away from where they could find hope, and the goal of preaching the law is such that realizing their brokenness, we can bring them to Jesus, we can help them see the cross and its blessed meaning in their lives.
What a challenge, to help them see their brokenness, to help them see their need for Jesus, rather than just making them feel guilty and ashamed! Helping them to seek a source for the transformation, a source that is provided by the Spirit, as He draws them to Jesus, and then in Christ to the Father.
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he describes the purpose of preaching, the purpose of evangelism, which is far more than the method of preaching law and gospel. The purpose is to reconcile people to God. To help them realize that Jesus was the offering for the sin they are haunted by, that causes them to feel so ashamed, so full of guilt.
Proper preaching acknowledges its mission, to reconcile people to Father, by drawing them back to Jesus. The method can be the preaching of Law and Gospel, holding them in tension, but that tension is for the purpose of becoming the people of God, the people who know His mercy and feel compelled to explore the dimensions of His love for them.
And again, preaching is not just the formal presentation of a sermon, it is as we comfort those who are anxious, as we cry with those who weep, as we listen ot those burdened, helping them see God take care of their burdens.
This is our mission, it is our apostolate, why we are sent where we walk in this world, as we walk with the God who pours out His love and mercy on us, and through us. So remember this purpose as you are with family and friends, and even those who antagonize you. Remember these words as you sit in your study, crafting your messages, listing to the Holy Spirit. And rejoice, for you know GOD is with you!
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (pp. 562–563). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press. (Formula of Concordia: Solid Declaration: V. Law and Gospel
Devotional Thought of the Day:
73 You created me, and you keep me safe; give me understanding, so that I may learn your laws. 74 Those who honour you will be glad when they see me, because I trust in your promise. 75 I know that your judgements are righteous, LORD, and that you punished me because you are faithful. 76 Let your constant love comfort me, as you have promised me, your servant. GNT Psalm 119:73-76
God “commanded” the world into existence (Ps 33:9; Isa 45:12). All creatures and elements therefore obey his command (cf. I Kgs 17:4; Job 37:12; Ps 78:23). God also directs the course of history by decreeing crucial events; indeed no determinative event happens without God’s ordaining it (Lam 3:37). Indeed he decrees that his people be victorious (Ps 44:4 [H 5]).
What God commands to be done, he provides the means to accomplish, e.g. he instructed Moses concerning the building of the cultic furniture and buildings; then he inspired Bezalel and Oholiab with the Spirit of wisdom to be able to accomplish the work (Ex 31:2–6; 35:30–36:1). Regarding the making of these objects the text first details the instructions and then describes Israel’s careful fulfillment of God’s commandment (Ex 25–30; 36–39; Lev 8; cf. Ex 39:5, 7, 32, 42f.).
Over the last year and a half, one of my Bible Studies has been slowly working through Psalm 119. Over and over it talks about the joy that is found in the law of God, in His commands, in His directives, in His ordinances!
The challenge is that we Lutherans tend see this only as Law – the commands that we cannot hope to keep, and therefore find ourselves. condemned. My old denomination as well had this problem, as it divided the covenants of God into Law and Promises.
We hear Law, we head commandment, we hear precept and our mind automatically goes into “theology mode”. This is God’s command, we have to fear when we hear it because we cannot hope to meet its demands, it will only point out our sin.
But that is not how the Psalmist continually refers to God’s law in Psalm 119, and in most of the Psalms. It is a delight, a joy, something that grabs our attention and holds it, breathes life into us! It inspires and empowers us.
It is not just what we refer to as the terms of the covenant, or the law which we properly distinguish from gospel. It is the entire Covenant, the law and gospel complete and in perfect tension. The entirety of theology, the word of God complete. Our need for salvation, His saving us at the cross of Christ.
As the apostle Paul put it so beautifully,
“3 Let us give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! For in our union with Christ he has blessed us by giving us every spiritual blessing in the heavenly world. 4 Even before the world was made, God had already chosen us to be his through our union with Christ, so that we would be holy and without fault before him. Because of his love 5 God had already decided that through Jesus Christ he would make us his children—this was his pleasure and purpose.” Ephesians 1:3-5 (TEV)
This is what God tells us He established by His very commands from the beginning. It is His reason, His word, it is Christ’s pleasure and purpose, as well as the Father’s and the Holy Spirits.
The quote in blue, for the word law in the psalm quote, coems from a Hebrew Lexicon. It states it well, what He commanded, He establishes the means to accomplish, indeed the entire Trinity is invested in making it come to pass.
For us, so that we could be His people, His children, so that we would know Him as our God, our benevolent, loving, caring, comforting Father. So He has commanded this to be, and so it is!
Let that bring you great peace, great joy! What God has established, ordained, commanded, made His law is now. You are His. AMEN!
Hartley, John E. “1887 צָוָה.” Ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament 1999 : 757. Print.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
11 Just as [under] shorts fit tightly around the waist, so I intended all the people of Israel and Judah to hold tightly to me. I did this so that they would be my people and would bring praise and honor to my name; but they would not obey me.” Jeremiah 13:11 (TEV)
To pray, as the Second Commandment teaches, is to call upon God in every need. This God requires of us; he has not left it to our choice. It is our duty and obligation to pray if we want to be Christians, just as it is our duty and obligation to obey our fathers and mothers and the civil authorities. By invocation and prayer the name of God is glorified and used to good purpose. This you should note above all so that you may silence and repel any thoughts that would prevent or deter us from praying. (1)
For those familiar with Luther, and the Lutheran understanding of Law and Gospel, the words in blue may sound strange and confusing. This sounds like a harsh use of the law, something that would lead to condemnation, something that is so demanding that all it can lead to is guilt and shame.
For many do not pray as they should! It is overlooked, dismissed as activities that are based in pietism. And if these words were not in Luther’s Large catechism they would be dismissed. Instead, I think they are simply ignored.
There is a part of us, the part that doubts God is listening, that doubt God cares, that finds prayer, whether prayers laying burdens down or hearing from God as we listening in prayer, as we meditate on His word, as burdensome and boring. We see them as something that saints might do, but by no means required beyond the prayers that are read at church.
Luther realized the necessity (so did Melanchthon – see his comments in Article XIII of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession! ) of prayer. But that necessity isn’t borne just of pleasing God. God didn’t commission us to use His name just so He would be glorified. The glory comes when we respond to His hearing, to His answering the prayer. Praise issues from our lips when we realize the comfort and peace the world cannot give, the comfort and peace that is possible only as we realize the merciful serenity that can be experienced in the presence of almighty God.
It is the answer to the cry of our heart that brings us to worship. This is why prayer is a requirement – because we need this means of grace, we desperately need what it delivers.
It is serendipitous (always wanted to use that word) that on the day I encounter Luther’s words, I encounter the words of the prophet Jeremiah. For indeed God wants us to know how close to us He is, how close to Him we are! This is the life of prayer – to cling to God like we are his underwear, as bizarre as that metaphor sounds! (and oh the comments that could be made…)
We need to be that close, we have to, in order to survive mentally, spiritually, even physically. For our life begins to spiral out of control as we separate ourselves from our Lord who is our life. We replace knowing God with knowing about Him, then we replace that knowledge with our own speculation and desires, as we make an idol in our image.
Cling to God, stalk Him, be persistent, wrestle with Him.
For He is our God, our Father.
And a great place to begin is with this little prayer of St Josemaria…..
383 Dear Jesus, I do want to correspond to your Love, but I am so feeble. With your grace, I will know how to! (2)
(1) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 421). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
(2) Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1501-1503). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
18 Write down for the coming generation what the LORD has done, so that people not yet born will praise him. Psalm 102:18 (TEV)
1 That is why we must hold on all the more firmly to the truths we have heard, so that we will not be carried away. 2 The message given to our ancestors by the angels was shown to be true, and those who did not follow it or obey it received the punishment they deserved. 3 How, then, shall we escape if we pay no attention to such a great salvation? The Lord himself first announced this salvation, and those who heard him proved to us that it is true. Hebrews 2:1-3 (TEV)
16 I ask God from the wealth of his glory to give you power through his Spirit to be strong in your inner selves, 17 and I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith. I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, 18 so that you, together with all God’s people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ’s love. 19 Yes, may you come to know his love—although it can never be fully known—and so be completely filled with the very nature of God. Ephesians 3:16-19 (TEV)
136 Therefore we also hold that the keeping of the law should begin in us and increase more and more. But we mean to include both elements, namely, the inward spiritual impulses and the outward good works. Our opponents slanderously claim that we do not require good works, whereas we not only require them but show how they can be done.
450 You need interior life and doctrinal formation. Be demanding on yourself! As a Christian man or woman, you have to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, for you are obliged to give good example with holy shamelessness. The charity of Christ should compel you. Feeling and knowing yourself to be another Christ from the moment you told him that you would follow him, you must not separate yourself from your equals—your relatives, friends and colleagues—any more than you would separate salt from the food it is seasoning. Your interior life and your formation include the piety and the principles a child of God must have, to give flavour to everything by his active presence there. Ask the Lord that you may always be that good seasoning in the lives of others. (1)
The Psalm that starts off this devotion has been ingraining itself into my brain for the last few days.
We’ve been given this great treasure, the gospel that we have been entrusted with, this promise of salvation, this revelation of the love of God.
Not heeding the warning in Hebrew, we neglect it. Sometimes we avoid it, we don’t spend time reading it, we think that the church service on Sunday is enough, even though that 10-45 minutes sermon barely scratches the surface. It is one of our greatest treasures, as it reveals that which should mean the absolute most in our lives, the love God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, has for us.
Maybe we neglect it because we are to busy with theology, too busy doing ministry, to busy being evangelists (or at least pretending we are on-line) We as pastors study it, but sometimes all it is, is studying it. We don’t become part of it, and therefore our people do not as well.
The keeping/treasuring of the law that Melancthon speaks of, results in spiritual growth. Growth in both the desire deep in our hearts and it becomes visible in our actions. St Josemaria describes the same things as interior life and doctrinal formation. Of knowing we are with Christ, that in our baptism, that relationship that unity is there. It may sound odd to be “another Christ”, but that is what we are, called into a relationship and sent into the world, appointed and yes anointed bearers of the Holy Spirit.
But missions, or our apostolates cannot happen without the relationship with God, without the time treasuring the height, depth, width and breadth of His love for us. Without growing deeply, not by academic study or memorization for its own sake., but by learning by exploration of His love, walking with Him, losing ourselves in the relationship so that our ministry is our lives.
This isn’t a Lutheran thing, or a Catholic thing. I could add quotes from Wesley, from Spurgeon, from Lewis, from pentecostals and charismatics and baptists. I included them because of recent conversations.
We need to grow, and the way we do it, is not by exercising the body or mind, but the heart. By learning of God’s promises and faithfulness, of experiencing His love. That very love causes a hunger, a desire, and an appreciation for the very means of grace.
this is what it means to be a disciple – and it is what we need to be doing as His body.
(1) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 126). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
(2) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 1722-1730). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.