Category Archives: Law and Gospel

What Does It Mean to Preach Christ?

What does it mean to “preach Christ”? Some believe that Christ is preached when presented as a model in a holy manner of life and in good works; the sum of Christian doctrine is proclaimed when people are told, “Walk in the way that Christ has walked, then you come to heaven.” But to preach Christ is to say something entirely different. To preach Christ is to teach and to inculcate that salvation in Him alone and in such a way that human works are not considered. Paul preaches Christ in this way. He says: “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”[1] And he calls out a warning to the Galatians: “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.”[2] Thus one only preaches Christ who teaches that we are justified and saved by grace for Christ’s sake through faith, and that salvation is not placed in a thousandth part on the works of man, nor on the works through which we follow Christ. As soon as someone teaches that one attains salvation through his own works, Christ is no longer preached but denied and blasphemed. Luther comes to this point when he defends his translation of Romans 3:28 against the upset Papists. He says: “Are we to deny Paul’s word on account of such ‘offense,’ or stop speaking out freely about faith? Land, St. Paul and I want to give such offense; we preach so strongly against works and insist on faith alone, for no other reason than that the people may be offended, stumble, and fall, in order that they may learn to know that they are not saved by their good works but only by Christ’s death and resurrection… What a fine, constructive, and inoffensive doctrine that would be, if people were taught that they could be saved by works, as well as faith! That would be as much as to say that it is not Christ’s death alone that takes away our sins, but that our works too have something to do with it. That would be a fine honoring of Christ’s death, to say that it is helped by our works, and that whatever it does our works can do too—so that we are his equal in strength and goodness! This is the very devil; he can never quit abusing the blood of Christ.” (“On Translating: An Open Letter”, Luther’s Works 35:196-197)

Franz Pieper, “The Practical Importance of the Proper Distinction of Law and Gospel”, 1895 Kansas District Convention Address

[1] Romans 3:28.
[2] Galatians 5:4.

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Who Is A Christian?

Who is a Christian? Rationalists describe a Christian like this: A Christian is a man who strives to be virtuous, to live according to his reason, or to live honestly according to the rules of “the great virtuous teacher”. A papist, upon questioning, would define a Christian as follows: A Christian is a man who submits himself to the Pope’s rule and who conforms himself to ecclesiastical arrangement. And there might well be among Lutherans here and there those who describe a Christian this way: A Christian is a man who goes to Church, and from time to time to the sacrament, pays his contributions, and is concerned with an honest manner of life before the world. — These are, however, descriptions which are partly quite false, partly do not give a clearly visible essence of a Christian. We say on the basis of Scripture: A Christian is a man who is convinced through the working of the Holy Spirit of two things: 1. of the fact that he is a sinner worthy of condemnation before God, and 2. of the fact that God forgives all his sins for Christ’s sake; i.e., a Christian is a man who knows to distinguish Law and Gospel. He lets the Law come into play; he lets his sin be revealed by the Law. He does not say: There is no serious intent with the demands and threats of the Law. No, he leaves the demands of the Law as they are. He admits not only with words, but also in his heart: I am a sinner worthy of condemnation. Through the law comes to him knowledge of his sin and worthiness of condemnation. But he lets the Law remain in this area. The question of how he is saved can only be answered by the Gospel. He believes that God absolves him in the Gospel of the sins He has revealed to him by the Law. He recognizes the Law as the Word of God; but he also knows that God has yet another word, the Gospel, and that all poor sinners should hear this other Word and from it gain the confidence that their sins are forgiven them. Thus a Christian is a man who lets both Law and Gospel take effect in themselves, but also knows how to separate both of them. Where this does not happen, then there is also no Christianity.

Franz Pieper, “The Practical Importance of the Proper Distinction of Law and Gospel”, 1895 Kansas District Convention Address

The Gospel > Any Earthly Thing

For when I compare my life with the Law I see and experience always the contrary of what the Law enjoins. I shall entrust to God my body and soul, and love him with my whole heart; yet, I would rather have a dollar in my chest than ten gods in my heart, and I am happier when I know how to make ten dollars, than when I hear the whole Gospel. Let a prince give a person a castle or several thousand dollars, what a jumping and rejoicing it creates! On the other hand, let a person be baptized or receive the communion which is a heavenly, eternal treasure, there is not one-tenth as much rejoicing. Thus we are by nature; there is none who so heartily rejoices over God’s gifts and grace as over money and earthly possessions; what does that mean but that we do not love God as we ought? For if we trusted and loved him, we would rejoice more that he gave us the sense of sight than if we possessed the wold world. And the word of consolation he speaks to me through the Gospel ought to give me higher joy than the favor, money, wealth, and honor of the whole world. But that it is not so and ten thousand dollars can make people happier than all the grace and possessions of God, proves what kind of fruit we are, and what a distressing and horrible fall it is in which we lie. And yet we would not see nor realize it, if it were not revealed to us through the Law, and we would have to remain forever in it and be lost, if we were not again helped out of it through Christ. Therefore the Law and the Gospel are given to the end that we may learn to know both how guilty we are and to what we should again return.

Martin Luther, Second Church Postil for the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity (Matthew 22:34-46)

Kurt Marquart on Preaching Law and Gospel

Lest I be misunderstood, let me make some things very clear. I am not advocating that we as truly evangelical preachers should imitate Calvinism or so-called “Evangelicalism”. The main use of the law is that which shows us our sin. And the Gospel, not the Law in any of its uses, must predominate in our preaching. Like humane physicians we must stress the diagnosis not for its own sake, but for the sake of the cure, and then concentrate on the glorious treasures of the love of God, poured out upon us so superabundantly in His blessed Son! It is our task to preach the love and joy of God into people’s hearts. But then we must also guide them towards God-pleasing expressions of their responding love for God. And in our non-sacramental age, in which all sorts of sacrament-substitutes flourish, such as alleged tongues and miracles, millennialist fantasies about Middle Eastern places and politics, “purpose-driven” psycho-babble, and the like, we must hold high the glory of the Gospel, which is “the power [dynamis] of God for salvation'” (Romans 1:16). Our preaching needs to serve and communicate the three permanent witnesses on earth, the spirit (or the blessed Gospel words which are spirit and life, St. John 6:63), the water of Holy Baptism, and the Blood of the New Testament, 1 John 5:8. It is through these blessed Gospel-channels that the divine life of faith is transmitted to us sinners.

“The Third Use of the Law in the Formula of Concord”, from “You, My People, Shall Be Holy: A Festschrift in Honour of John W. Kleinig”, pages 122-123

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The Necessary Distinguishing Between Law and Gospel

We must know what the law is, and what the gospel is. The law commands and requires us to do certain things. The law is thus directed solely to our behavior and consists in making requirements. For God speaks through the law, saying, “Do this, avoid that, this is what I expect of you.” The gospel, however, does not preach what we are to do or to avoid. It sets up no requirements but reverses the approach of the law, does the very opposite, and says, “This is what God has done for you; he has let his Son be made flesh for you, has let him be put to death for your sake.” So, then, there are two kinds of doctrine and two kinds of works, those of God and those of men. Just as we and God are separated from one another, so also these two doctrines are widely separated from one another. For the gospel teaches exclusively what has been given us by God, and not—as in the case of the law—what we are to do and give to God.

Martin Luther, “How Christians Should Regard Moses”, LW 35:162.

 

…it is so important to distinguish the two words [Law and Gospel] properly and not mingle them together. Otherwise you will not be able to have or hold on to a correct understanding of either of them. Instead, just when you think you have them both, you will have neither.

Martin Luther, Sermon for the Circumcision of Our Lord, 1532, WA 36:9:28ff. Translated by Willard L. Bruce in Concordia Journal, April, 1992, p. 153.

 

A few times—when I did not bear this principal teaching in mind—the devil caught up with me and plagued me with Scripture passages until heaven and earth became too small for me. Then all the works and laws of man were right, and not an error was to be found in the whole papacy. In short, the only one who had ever erred was Luther. All my best works, teaching, sermons, and books had to be condemned. The abominable Mohammed almost became my prophet, and both Turks and Jews were on the way to pure sainthood…. If by choice or of necessity you must deal with matters concerning the law, works, sayings, and examples of the fathers, then remember first of all to keep this principal teaching before you, and do not be caught without it, so that the dear sun of Christ will shine in your heart. Then you can freely and safely discuss and discriminate in all laws, examples, sayings, and works.

Martin Luther, “Exposition of Psalm 117”, LW 14:37-38.

 

I admit, of course, that there are many texts in the Scriptures that are obscure and abstruse, not because of the majesty of their subject matter, but because of our ignorance of their vocabulary and grammar; but these texts in no way hinder a knowledge of all the subject matter of Scripture. For what still sublimer thing can remain hidden in the Scriptures, now that the seals have been broken, the stone rolled from the door of the sepulcher [Matthew 27:66; 28:2], and the supreme mystery brought to light, namely, that Christ the Son of God has been made man, that God is three and one, that Christ has suffered for us and is to reign eternally? Are not these things known and sung even in the highways and byways? Take Christ out of the Scriptures, and what will you find left in them?

Martin Luther, “The Bondage of the Will”, LW 33:25-26.

God’s Uses of His Law

It is God who accuses, condemns, and instructs in good works when, where, and as He chooses through the proclamation and teaching of the Law. It may be that one hearer is accused, but not condemned (living under grace through faith), another is condemned (and finally brought to despair of his own righteousness) and another, at any given moment, learns something new about the fruit of faithfulness that was not understood before. These things that God would accomplish through His Law are not to become a program for the preacher to organize his sermon. He is just to preach the Law at full strength and then the pure. sweet Gospel. Period! There is not to be a third part of the sermon after the Gospel for a programmatic and independent instruction in the Law to inform and press the Christian to do good works after he has heard his forgiveness in Christ. The accusatory and instructional uses of the Law are to be distinguished as we teach about how God uses His Law, but this distinction is not to be made into separate programmatic installments, as if the servant of the Word is supposed to orchestrate the accusation of the Law before the Gospel, but then instruct in good works afterward. Instructing and exhorting the believer about works after hearing the life-giving freedom of the Gospel can have the effect of erasing its impact. It is as we pointed out before: the Law always accuses. The Gospel predominates in the Church’s ministry when it is heard as God’s final Word and thus most appropriately followed by an A-men and then silence. Do we not all understand the final word has been heard, when silence follows?

Servants of the Word are simply to proclaim pure Law at full strength as preparation for the ministry of the Gospel. If on such an occasion God wants to condemn right to the depths of Hell Mr. Schmidt sitting in the second pew that is God’s business. If He wants to expose the fleshly living of Mrs. Miller in the back row and accuse her of using her family ties in an idolatrous manner, again that is God’s business. If God uses our preaching to curb and discipline teenager Billy’s gross rebellious behavior with the threats of Hell (notice, I have even brought in the civil use of the Law!), again that is God’s business. And, if God uses the pastor’s fine proclamation to teach Mr. Yamamoto that the fruits of faith include even the ordinary duties around the house as a husband and father that is God’s business. Even if Mrs. Smith sleeps through it all and Mr. Jones is simply provoked to greater levels of sinful rebellion – well again, that is God’s business. He works His curbing, accusing unto repentance, and/or instruction when, where, and as He chooses.

The servant of the Word is simply to rightly divide Law and Gospel in all its strength and purity, and then leave the uses (in Luther’s twofold sense, or Melanchthon’s threefold sense) up to God. The same point can be made about the ministry of the Gospel. The Gospel is not to be proclaimed for conversion at one point, then to strengthen faith at another, at another to energize works of love, etc. The Gospel is just to be proclaimed in all its comfort and consolation as the power of God unto all aspects of His salvationing sinners (Romans 1:16)! How God will use the ministry of Law and Gospel in the lives of the people is His business – when, where, and as He chooses.

Dr. Steven A. Hein, “The Christian Life: Cross or Glory?”, pages 142-144

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The Law as Appetite Builder for Gospel

What does effective ministry of the Law do for the new creation in Christ? Nothing in any direct way but it does create a powerful hunger and thirst for our Lord’s bread of life and living water of the Gospel. The Law itself imparts no spiritual nutrition or power for Christian living, even when its exhortations are softened and joined with words of inspirational encouragement. Rather it is intended to be God’s great appetite builder that sends us running for the Word of Life. Only through the ministry of the Gospel does our Lord nourish the new creation to sustain and mature our faith and life in Him. Full-strength Gospel can often by the simple Gospel – you are forgiven; God loves you and accepts you just as you are for the sake of Christ. It can even be as simple as, Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so. For our little ones in Christ, we must take care to continually feed them with the pure milk of the Gospel. And often the simple Gospel is what we need – just the plain but full-strength words that absolve: I forgive you all your sins. Yet it is also true that the Gospel is not simple. There is more to it in its implications and applications than we will ever grasp in a lifetime.

As we grow and mature in Christ, the Lord also intends for us to feed on the “meat and potatoes,” indeed the whole nine courses of the Gospel, not simply the milk and pabulum. The Spirit is working through Word and Sacrament to renew our minds and hearts to the full stature of the mind of Christ Himself. We need a mature understanding and trust of faith to handle the front lines of Christ’s warfare with the powers of darkness in our lives and in the world – maturity for battle and service at the tough outposts of life. The milk and pabulum of the Gospel alone will not provide that kind of growth and equipping. With a full-orbed Gospel the new creation becomes progressively built up for a fuller and deeper flow of the love and ministry of Christ through us to those He gives us opportunity to serve.

Dr. Steven A. Hein, “The Christian Life” pages 51-52

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Hermann Sasse on Distinguishing Law and Gospel

Some quotes from the essay “Law and Gospel” in Letters to Lutheran Pastors: Volume 3

For the modern Christian, as for the world outside of the church, preaching God’s Word and administering the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are distasteful to the point of being offensive. The modern Christian knows no more what the church’s real responsibilities are than what they really mean. The world makes fun of the church because its only task is preaching. To this we answer that the world does not know the power of the divine Word. It does not recognize that behind the feeble words of human beings is the almighty Word of the Almighty God, which “is like a fire,” the “living and active” Word, which “is sharper than any two– edged sword,” which “pierces through to the division of the soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and is the judge of thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4: 12). How could the world have known, how can it know, that God created and still maintains the world through this Word? Quite literally all mankind lives because of this Word!
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In the face of all the misunderstandings on the part of the world and all the errors which have arisen within Christendom, let us make this point absolutely clear: the task of the church in the world consists uniquely and alone in the preaching of the Word of God and in administering the Sacrament. All other functions which the church as a living organism develops and uses serve only to fulfill this task. All activities which the church can legitimately exercise in the world are by– products of preaching and the Sacraments. Christ had no other purpose in sending His church into the world than preaching and distributing the Sacraments. Only in accomplishing this task is the church recognizable as the church. In addressing this issue of identifying the basic church functions, the Reformation claimed that the marks of the church were the Word and the Sacraments. In these signs the church could be recognized. To be sure brotherly love, providing for the poor and the sick, moral discipline, prayer and worship will be present wherever the church is, but a fellowship (congregation) with only these marks is clearly unrecognizable as the church. Brotherly love can be found in the synagogue. The poor and the sick are provided for by modern secular governments. Moral discipline is a part of Buddhist monasteries. Prayer and worship are features of all religions in the world. The Gospel, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper can be found only in the church. They are the indelible marks of the church (notae ecclesiae).
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The moral sensitivities of the natural man are in no way satisfied by the Bible. It contains no system of ethics. No ethical ideal is held up as a standard. All the Bible’s moral injunctions can be found in other religions and philosophies [Weltanschauungen]. In fact, the moral sensitivity of the natural man finds the Bible offensive, because its central theme is that God accepts sinners and only sinners as righteous.
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For if Christendom itself is so under the influence of modern culture and its anthropology so lacking in understanding that it no longer comprehends the depth of human sin, then it is high time that it earnestly puts this question to the church of the past, especially the church of the Reformation: “Have you ever considered, have you ever pondered, the enormity of sin?”
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Only the person who has fearfully and earnestly taken up the question of sin and forgiveness can really understand what the church’s message is all about. Whoever has not come to this point– and this is especially true of the modern man since the Enlightenment with very few exceptions– must think the church’s message insane or must twist it around to make some kind of sense out of it.
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God is not gracious to us because we have improved our lives or because we have made moral progress. In fact, we keep only a small part of His Commandments. He is gracious only and solely because Christ died for us and because His righteousness has become our righteousness. On the Last Day, salvation will not be given to those who have fulfilled the Law, but to those who fed and gave drink and sheltered Christ in the least of their brothers (Matthew 25). They have no knowledge of what they have done (vv. 38– 39). Everywhere in the preaching of Jesus it is clear that “the reward in heaven” is a completely unearned reward. At this point the Law and the Gospel come to a parting of the ways. This distinction does not mean that one has nothing to do with the other. They are both God’s Word. Both belong to the Old as well as to the New Testament. The Gospel as the promise of the coming Redeemer is already present in the Old Testament. Similarly, the Law does not cease to exist in the New Testament, though Christ is the end of the Law, that is, He is the end of the Law as a way of salvation. To be sure, Jesus preached the Law alongside of the Gospel, for example, in the Sermon on the Mount, in the announcements of divine wrath and the Day of Judgment. So the Law and the Gospel together both belong to the Word of God. Without the preaching of the Law there is no preaching of the Gospel. There is no authentic preaching of the Law in the sermon unless there is something of the Gospel there. For example, Luther sees Gospel in the introduction to the First Commandment. He understands the words “I am the Lord Your God” as Gospel. On that account the reformer can correctly say: “Within Christendom two sermons must be preached: the first is the teaching of the Law or the Ten Commandments and the other is about the grace of Christ (Gospel). Because where either Law or Gospel is incorrectly preached, the other is ruined. Where one goes down, the other goes under with it. On the other hand, where one remains in place and is properly set forth, it brings the other along with it.”
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Since the eighteenth century Enlightenment, modern man has seen Jesus Christ only as a religious teacher with a moral agenda. The essence of the Gospel as the teaching of Jesus is its proclamation that the quintessence of religious truths is the truth that God is our Father and that we human beings are one another’s brothers. Similarly, the quintessence of ethical commandments is the double command of loving God and the neighbor and what is known as the Golden Rule (Matt. 7:12). Whether or not it was done deliberately, the uniqueness of the Gospel was taken out of it. Even the synagogue confesses God as our Father. Stoicism teaches that we men are brothers. The double command to love God and our neighbor is taken directly from the Old Testament, and the Golden Rule is a rational truth which every pagan recognizes or can recognize on his own. But in no way can these abstract religious truths produce the doctrine of the incarnation.
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Between the Scylla of legalism and the Charybdis of antinomianism defines a narrow and dangerous path which the church must follow in her ethical thought. Whether she finds the way depends on the purity of her proclamation, and on this depends her existence. It is my wish that the World Conference of Churches meeting at Oxford [1937] would be so endowed that churches of Christendom would serve in some way as a lighthouse on this way. Each of the churches must find its own way. They can only find their ways by turning away from the world’s tempting siren calls and in this benighted century to listen to the voice of Him who speaks to Christendom the same message which He spoke to the apostles and the reformers and which they believed: “I am the way” [John 14: 6].

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How Do We Begin to Fulfill the Law?

For where the great unfathomable love and favor of Christ are known and believed, thence flows forth also love both to God and to our neighbor. For by means of such knowledge and consolation the Holy Spirit moves the heart to love God, and gladly does what it should to his praise and thanks, guards against sin and disobedience and willingly offers itself to serve and help everybody, and where it still feels its weakness it battles against the flesh and Satan by calling upon God, etc. And thus while ever rising in faith it holds to Christ, where it does not do enough in keeping the law, its comfort is that Christ fulfills the law and bestows and imparts his fullness and strength, and thus he remains always our righteousness, salvation, sanctification, etc.

This is the right way to secure the observance of the law, of which our blind critics know nothing; but Christ beautifully shows by this, that one must hear the Gospel and believe in Christ before he can fulfill the law; otherwise there is nothing but hypocrisy and nothing but pure boasting and talking about the law without any heart and life in it all.

Martin Luther, Second House Postil for the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity (Luke 10:23-37)

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David P. Scaer on The Ticklish Question of The Third Use of the Law

Confusion on the what is meant by the third use [of the law] has lead to its rejection by certain Lutheran theologians (See the Braaten-Jenson “Christian Dogmatics”, 2:275). This is somewhat of an internal embarrassment, since the third use of the law is entitled to a separate article in the Formula of Concord, the definitive confessional document for Lutherans. For others the third use of the law has been interpreted simply to mean that the first and second uses of the law remain in force. Such a view is not the Lutheran one, even though some Lutherans have claimed this definition. The introduction of the law into the life of the Christian seems a legalistic intrusion denying the freedom of the gospel or turning the gospel into law because the gospel requires or demands certain types of behavior. In answering this ticklish question for Lutherans, I would like to make reference to Luther’s understanding of the Ten Commandments in his Small Catechism as a way out of this dilemma. The reformer’s explanations of the commandments, with the exception of the first and sixth, have two parts: negative prohibitions and positive requirements. Thus the one on killing prohibits bodily harm to our neighbor and requires providing for his physical needs. The one on stealing prohibits any attempt, even if it legal, to obtain the neighbor’s property. Rather he is required to help the neighbor improve it. Luther by not mentioning outward robbery and murder assumes that the Christian simply will not do these things. Gross immorality is out of range for the Christian, but refraining from it does not even begin to fulfill the commandments. Any harm to the neighbor breaks the commandments. You may not rob the neighbor, but if you manipulate law or contract to deprive him of his property, you stand condemned. Perhaps Luther’s delineation of the law of God to less than blatant transgressions is acceptable by all. But Luther reverses the negative prohibition into the positive requirement of helping the neighbor, especially in his distress. The prohibition against cursing God becomes a requirement to pray. Instead of saying foul things about our neighbor, even if they are true, we are to put the best construction on everything. Luther’s explanation of the first and sixth commandments have no prohibitions whatsoever. He turns the first commandment around so that the prohibition against idolatry becomes an invitation to faith. What was law is now gospel. About the sixth commandment Luther makes no mention of adultery, but says that spouses should honor and love one another.

In my estimation Luther’s positive intensification of the commandments is the work of theological genius. His explanation of the commandments are addressed to Christians, not non-Christians. They have nothing to say to civil law. Rather they are addressed to Christians as sinners and saints. Man as a sinner cannot escape the negative prohibitions of the law, but at the same time the Christian is addressed as a saint, taken back to that original paradise situation in which he loves God and his neighbor. The Christian, since he is in Christ and Christ in him, even before he becomes aware of the possibility of fulfilling the law, is actually fulfilling the law.

Has Luther manipulated the Ten Commandments beyond their recognition by following the negative prohibitions with positive suggestions? Here is the law in its pristine sense as positive requirement as it was known before the fall into sin. Here is the law as it was fulfilled in Christ. All of the positive descriptions of the law in the Christian’s life are really only Christological statements, things which Jesus did and which reached their perfection in him. The fulfilled law is Christological, as it is the account of the life and death of Jesus. He loved God with his whole heart, he prayed to God, he heard the word of God and kept it, he honored his parents, he helped those in bodily distress, he lived a life of pure thoughts, he provided for those in financial distress, he spoke well of others, he had no evil desires. Christ is the fulfillment of the law not only in the sense that all the Old Testament prophets spoke of him, but he is the positive affirmation of what God requires of us and what God is in himself. In Christ the tension of the law and the gospel is resolved.

Luther’s understanding of the commandments as positive Christological affirmations are similar to the parable of the Good Samaritan, though I could hardly demonstrate any influence this pericope was on the reformer’s mind. The commandments are not really fulfilled by refraining from the prohibited evil, but helping the stricken traveler. Thus Christians should be embarrassed into making any unwarranted claim to moral perfection for themselves. They should be so engaged in positive good that they have no time to think about their personal morality or holiness.

How did Luther come to such a radical contradiction which required that the Christian think of himself as total sinner and as a person who accomplished only the good things which Christ did? He took the first commandment with its prohibition against idolatry and turned it into an invitation to faith: “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” The first commandment is transformed into a statement of the gospel. But the reformer was not playing fast and free with the commandments, as in Exodus the commandments really begin with a statement of redemption: “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the land of bondage.”

– David P. Scaer, “The Law and the Gospel in Lutheran Theology”

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