Justification Is STILL For Preaching

Constitutive for the preaching of justification is the distinction between law and gospel. It is not that the gospel can only be understood in the light of the experience of sinner with the law – hence ex negativo. The gospel has, positively, a surplus of that experience; otherwise it would be no more powerful than the law. Nevertheless, if the gospel is not understood as undeserved liberation from the accusing and condemning power of the law, if it is not understood as unconditional acquittal in spite of evident guilt, it loses its incredibly miraculous nature, and ends up being eviscerated and reduced to a self-evident truth that basically appeals to the free will of the listener to do good. The gospel, and therefore God’s love, is trivialized whenever his judgment is silenced. The church’s preaching is seriously flawed if it speaks of peace with God without making clear that this peace is preceded by enmity and strife (Romans 5:10). God’s love is not something self-evident. For in his compassionate love, God speaks against himself: against the God who speaks completely against me in the law and in his judgment. In the gospel, however, God speaks completely for me. The gospel is based on a revolution in God himself, where God’s own will is overturned in himself (Hosea 11:8); the New Testament expresses this with the difference between Father and Son, between God’s life and Jesus’s death. Only if we perceive the radical distinction between law and gospel will we grasp the saving significance of the death of Jesus Christ; he redeemed us on the stake of the cross “from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13; see 2 Corinthians 5:21). With his Son, God himself pleads our cause, he sacrifices himself for us. Our freedom, “acquired” for us on the cross, is “distributed” in the proclamation – paradigmatically in the Lord’s Supper: given for you. The basic gesture involved in preaching the gospel are the opened hands that give and bestow the gift of freedom on those who hear through the Holy Spirit in faith, so that they themselves are empowered to open up their own hands, otherwise tightly clenched in self-reference to thank God and give to the neighbor.

Oswald Bayer, Foreword to “Justification Is For Preaching

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