MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
6421 W. Poinsettia Drive
Glendale, Arizona 85304-2419
MINISTRY OF GRACE AND FORGIVENESS
2 Corinthians 3:4-11
2 Corinthians 3:4 And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward: 5 Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; 6 Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. 7 But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: 8 How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? 9 For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. 10 For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth. 11 For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.
This epistle may seem difficult to understand at first, but Holy Spirit speaks through Paul in the passage to tell us about the Law and the Gospel. Knowledge of the Law is absolutely essential to the believer. By that I mean that we must know what the Law accomplishes and what it cannot do. Otherwise we cannot distinguish between the Law and the Gospel.
One way to remember the nature of the Law is to remember that only the Gospel can comfort, by offering forgiveness. Some people will say, “But I know that already.” We know it, but we tend act as if the Law produces righteousness. It cannot. Only the Gospel can give us grace, love, forgiveness, and comfort. Only the Gospel can produce the fruits of the Spirit:
Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
We usually speak of the three uses of the Law, to organize in our thinking what is revealed in the Scriptures. The three uses are:
1) Curb – To establish right and wrong as a guide to all the nations of the world. In fact, the entire world recognizes the law, even while some deny the Creator.
2) Mirror – To show us what we are really like. This terrifies the sinner who then desires forgiveness and realizes that he cannot save himself or atone for his own sins.
3) Guide – To show the Christian how to serve God according to His perfect will. The explanation of the Ten Commandments in the Small Catechism is the best explanation of this. We should fear God, so that we do not do certain things. That is the Law. We should love Him so that we do more than keep from sinning. Out of love we should respect all authorities, keep people from death and suffering, honor our spouse, help our neighbor keep his possessions.
The Holy Spirit works through the Law to bring about contrition, or true sorrow for sin. However, we must recognize that the Law demands perfection but cannot cause perfection. The Law says, “If you violate a single aspect of the Law, you will die.” In addition, the Law teaches us -
Romans 3:10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: 11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. 12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
When we hear the Law from God Himself, we feel the burning of judgment. It is like being out in the desert sun. One can ignore it for a time, but then one is forced to look for shade, for relief, and then for water. Then it is so very clear what the Scriptures mean when they speak of Christ as living water.
We have two major problems with the Law in our society. One is an attitude that the Law is no longer valid. The Ten Commandments are invalid according to the modernists or liberals. They look at the Mosaic law not as the revelation of God but as the remains of an ancient and obsolete society. Many of these people grew up on the Law alone and never heard much of the Gospel, even though the sign on the church said it was Christian. Ask a lot of people and you will find they identify the church with the law, condemnation, and guilt alone.
One can complain about this all day, but the truth remains. God’s Law is established and remains true even if no one believes it. One professor at a liberal school, Yale Divinity, hopelessly out of touch with the students, suggested having a football game where the system of first downs was condemned as too harsh. Then it was decided that anyone could throw the ball to anyone. Penalties were outlawed. Then each team decided to put more people on the field. Finally the people in the stands crowded onto the field to join the mass, chaotic game. Obviously the students who wanted to throw off the shackles of society were not pleased. They were enjoying living without the Law in the 1970s.
People often ask about Pietism, which I condemn at every possible opportunity. Pietism is a perversion of Christianity that starts with the Law and ends with the Law. It began with Jacob Spener, a Lutheran who was deeply influenced by non-Lutherans and eventually rejected baptismal regeneration (baptism as a sacrament) and the Real Presence (the Lord’s Supper as a sacrament). He wanted less emphasis on doctrine and more emphasis on life. He also wanted to increase Christian piety through cell groups, small groups of Christians that met outside of church.
All this sounds pretty mild, even appealing to many. The result can be summed up by what one cell group promoter said about his church. “Who showed up on clean up day? The cell groups! Who came to church each Sunday? The cell groups! Who built up the committees? The cell groups!” In other words, the cell group members were better and holier than anyone else and they defined that by what they did for the congregation.
Please remember this: must and should and ought belong to the Law. Doing belongs to the Law. Being a Christian is not a matter of doing but receiving, receiving forgiveness through the innocent blood of Christ.
One major pitfall of Pietism is that one is always stumbling from one kind of righteousness through the Law to another. Many old-fashioned Pietists continue to serve the Law when they turn liberal by becoming social activists. Gary Hartpence was a Nazarene theology student at Yale Divinity, then became a social activist attorney and Senator, then a presidential candidate, until he discovered how unhealthy a diet of Rice could be. What does a social activist believe in – changing society through the law.
Dr. John Drickamer has asked on email why there is so little forgiveness in the Christian Church. It is because of Pietism. If people remain in the Law and see salvation through the Law, through doing rather than receiving, there will be no fruit of the Spirit. Finger-pointing. Mutual recrimination. Guilt. Shame. Fear. Self-righteousness. But no love, comfort, forgiveness, or peace.
We were laughing about Ohio “dry” towns at a clergy luncheon. In these dry towns no one was ever seen in a liquor store, but the taxi drove up to homes and delivered paper bags that seemed to contain glass bottles. At the end of some laughter, one Lutheran pastor turned and said, "I will never touch a drop of liquor.” I suppose that was his witness, but it was clearly a witness to the Law. Salvation by doing or not doing.
I was reading the women’s magazine of the liberal Lutheran Church in America when I came across a poem starting “Chink, chink, Chinaman.” Some executive woman had used the poem from her childhood, apparently used for skipping rope, to illustrate an article. I knew right away that this was a derogatory term and absolutely forbidden in a liberal magazine. In the next issue were several letters condemning her for using such a horrible term. Her response to the Law was the Law. She apologized but pointed out that the condemnatory letter writers were “insensitive” to her lack of knowledge. If we have only the Law, even in the guise of pious hypocrisy, then we will have only mutual condemnation.
The Law always condemns. One organist stopped going to the concerts of the American Guild of Organists. After one she said, “Wasn’t that wonderful!” The other AGO members said, “He missed a note.” So the entire concert was written off because of that note.
One concert pianist had a missed note changed in the recording so that it was absolutely perfect. Listening to it, he said, "Isn’t that marvelous playing?” His competitor said, “Don’t you wish you could do that?” The Law always condemns.
This epistle condemns those hedonists and anti-nomians who want to dispense with the Law altogether. The ministry of Moses was glorious. The sons of Israel could not look at the face of Moses when he came down from the mountain holding the tablets. Yet Moses was a mortal man who passed on to his reward. The glory of the Law comes from the work of the Spirit in teaching us the perfect will of God.
The glory of the Law fades in comparison to the glory of the Gospel. We can see how true this must be, if we take a stab at perfectionism from time to time. Two of us were digging up puncture-weed, or goat’s head, in the front yard. We dug up plenty. Then I came back and discovered even more plants and worked on those. Then I came out a third time and said, “Where did those come from?”
The glory of the Gospel comes from this – it is God-centered and not man-centered. The Gospel is completely God’s work, both in accomplishing salvation through Christ and in giving us righteousness through the Means of Grace (the Word and Sacraments). There is nothing in the Gospel that man can claim as his own work. God determined to send His only-begotten Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for the sins of the world. He did ask our advice or counsel, and we could not have considered such an act on our behalf.
Yet God prepared us for the atonement from the very beginning of time,
1) in promising the Messiah to Adam and Eve,
Genesis 3:15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
2) in illustrating the sacrifice of the only son with the binding of Isaac;
Genesis 22:13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.
3) in describing the work of the Savior in the Psalms;
Psalm 22:15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.
Psalm 22:18 They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.
4) in predicting the nature of the cross in Isaiah.
Isaiah 53:1 Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed? 2 For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. 3 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
First we see that God alone has brought about the atoning death of Christ and His resurrection from the dead. Secondly, we see that God has distributed this great treasure of grace, love, and forgiveness through the Means of Grace.
God has bound Himself to the Word so that we never need to doubt where to find God. His Holy Spirit goes with and never goes beyond the Word, whether invisible in teaching and preaching or visible when welded to the earthly elements of the sacraments (baptism and holy communion).
The Law not only shows us our vast shortcomings but also causes contrition in our hearts, through the work of the Holy Spirit. The Gospel demands faith and also produces faith in our hearts through the work of the Holy Spirit. The Book of Concord uses “the promises” for the Gospel. God promises and His promises are never broken. So His promises not only create trust in Him but also deepen our trust in Him.
Since we enjoy the greater glory, the exceedingly greater glory of the Gospel, we see ourselves as sinners redeemed by Christ, enjoying the forgiveness He earned for us. Although the Law is not obsolete and invalid, our lives as Christians are dominated by the Gospel. That can be defined in various ways:
1) Rather than demanding rights, we give up rights to others.
2) We overlook a lot and do not let it bother us.
3) We motivate with love rather than with fear.
4) We look at blessings as coming from God rather than our hard work.
5) We view hardships as sources of learning rather than God’s unfairness.