MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
6421 W. Poinsettia Drive
Friday, December 31, 1999
KJV Galatians 3:23 But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. 24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. 26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.
This lesson teaches us about the difference between the Law of God and the Gospel. This matter is so important that this text has been pivotal in understanding and in misunderstanding the relationship between Law and Gospel.
I do not want to retell the whole story of Agricola, but he was the leader of the anti-Nomian cause during the Reformation. He was brilliant and also deceitful, apologizing to Luther time after time, yet always plotting to advance the same false position. Anyone with Bente’s Historical Introductions (in the Triglotta) should read about Agricola.
What we believe about the Law and the Gospel will profoundly affect our thoughts and actions. Or, we can truly say that our thoughts and actions directly reflect what we believe about the Law and Gospel.
For instance, one Lutheran pastor, using this text, said the Law was obsolete. The Ten Commandments were no longer in effect, because everything was all Gospel. This was not just a slip of the tongue. He said it in sermons and defended his position. How did this affect his actions? He was known as a liar, just as Agricola was. Once an older member said about the pastor, “He knows he has a problem with lying.” That is why we say hypocrisy is how vice pays homage to virtue, but hypocrisy is still a sin. Acknowledging a problem is not the same as godly contrition.
Of course, all men are liars, as the Bible says. We all lie and deceive. However, the force of the Law makes us sorry for our sins and restrains us from saying whatever we want to get the things we want. It also moves us to receive forgiveness in faith and to show our contrition by making amends with people.
The problem with getting rid of the Law is that it does nothing for our sinful nature. The Law is good and useful, a tutor who instructs the child and leads him to Christ. We are all children in this regard. The Law must forever tutor us because we are too weak to obey God out of love all the time. Helmut Thielicke was a liberal Lutheran, but he made a good comparison. The Gospel is the Good Shepherd leading us forward. We follow the Shepherd because He knows us and we love His voice. He calls us by name. We are just as eager to be with Him as He is to lead us. However, when we stray, the shepherd dog, the Law, nips at our heels. Some people never stop complaining about the Law nipping their heels, but they never stop straying, either.
People who cannot understand the Law will say, for instance, “Well, all men are liars, so I am no more a liar than anyone else.” This line of reasoning has been used many times over. All men are sinners, so I may sin in whatever way I choose to sin. I know I am a sinner, so I know I am forgiven, so I can sin and know I will be forgiven. That is a mental indulgence and it is bound to produce a dead faith, that is, no faith at all.
Does an uneasy conscience say that everything is Gospel now? There is no Law? Luther pointed out that getting rid of Moses also gets rid of Christ. The Law teaches us the meaning of sin and our inability to obey God’s teaching. When people hear no word of the Law or believe the Law is obsolete, they have no hunger for the Gospel.
Reading a lot of Luther will change anyone’s view of this issue. All of us tend to think of sin in terms of what we do. Thus a sermon about sin will tend to make people think about the Prodigal Son, spending all of his inheritance on fast women and slow horses. The solution for many people consists of not doing something. In other words, they think in terms of the Law and even more Law. More than one lawless child has grown up into a parent who will keep his genetic code from expressing itself by imposing a multitude of laws upon his child.
All self-help groups and books can be condensed into this. You used to do this. That was bad. Now do this. That is good.
Luther’s insight about sin focuses upon our lack of trust in God. That is the foundation of sin. Once we begin to doubt God’s goodness or His ability to care for us, many grave sins spring up when we rely on our own devices. In those times of suffering and anguish, God does not address our greatest fears directly but in general. He does not say, “I will get you a job or a home.” But He does say, “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.” He assures us in so many hundreds of places that no sermon could contain more than a fraction of His promises.
God does show us His care and concern later. Then we realize how foolish we were to worry and doubt. Older people who have listened to the Gospel and experienced many difficulties are invariably more patient during difficult times, not knowing what the future holds, but knowing Who holds the future in His hands.
The Law is a tutor as long as we want to be tutored, that is, as long as we want to be children. Every time we look as something as a “half to,” we are children under a tutor. Whenever we say “want to” or “glad to,” we are motivated by the Gospel.
In my opinion, Protestant nations have prospered and become more free because individuals saw that they were sons and heirs and not slaves under the Law. Every culture dominated by the Law has remained backward.
We know that thankful hearts are moved to do all they can and more. That is because faith receives all the blessings of the Gospel. The Law is limited to contrition, but the Gospel changes us.
"And here you see that Baptism, both in its power and signification, comprehends also the third Sacrament, which has been called repentance, as it is really nothing else than Baptism. For what else is repentance but an earnest attack upon the old man [that his lusts be restrained] and entering upon a new life? Therefore, if you live in repentance, you walk in Baptism, which not only signifies such a new life, but also produces, begins, and exercises it. For therein are given grace, the Spirit, and power to suppress the old man, so that the new man may come forth and become strong."
The Large Catechism, Part Fourth, Of Baptism. #74-76. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 751. Tappert, p. 445. Heiser, p. 209.
Some people try to caution Lutherans, saying faith is not a work. Of course it is not. But how strange it seems to have Lutherans downplaying faith when the Scriptures, the Book of Concord, Luther and the Concordists emphasize faith so much. Faith means trust in God’s promises and blessings. That is not such a small thing. Many people do not trust in the Scriptures, not all of the Scriptures. Those who teach against baptism and communion are saying, “Forgiveness does not come to us through such earthly means. They are only symbols. We must do them because God commands.” (Still under the tutor, they have the Gospel and see it as Law.)
"Therefore it is pure wickedness and blasphemy of the devil that now our new spirits, to mock at Baptism, omit from it God's Word and institution, and look upon it in no other way than as water which is taken from the well, and then blather and say: How is a handful of water to help the soul? Aye, my friend, who does not know that water is water if tearing things asunder is what we are after? But how dare you thus interfere with God's order, and tear away the most precious treasure with which God has connected and enclosed it, and which He will not have separated? For the kernel in the water is God's Word or command and the name of God, which is a treasure greater and nobler than heaven and earth."
The Large Catechism, Part Fourth, Of Baptism. #15-16. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 735. Tappert, p. 438. Heiser, p. 205f.
I know that teaching against the sacraments will make someone less thankful for them. I grew up in the Disciples of Christ sect. They did not teach that the sacraments offered forgiveness as the Visible Word. (My list of quotations on this topic is about 30 pages long.) So it took me a long time to appreciate how much communion meant to Lutherans.
"For in Confession as in the Lord's Supper you have the additional advantage, that the Word is applied to your person alone. For in preaching it flies out into the whole congregation, and although it strikes you also, yet you are not so sure of it; but here it does not apply to anyone except you. Ought it not to fill your heart with joy to know a place where God is ready to speak to you personally? Yea, if we had a chance to hear an angel speak we would surely run to the ends of the earth."
Martin Luther, Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed. John Nicholas Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983 II, p. 199.