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Law and Gospel – Luther’s Plea to the Church


Martin Luther, the great German Reformer, believed that the key to understanding the Holy Scriptures was based on the understanding of Law and Gospel. Luther writes, “…whoever knows well this art of distinguishing between Law and Gospel, him place at the head and call him a doctor of the Holy Scripture”

Martin Luther:

“Now when a man has learned through the commandments to recognise his helplessness and is distressed about how he might satisfy the law—since the law must be fulfilled so that not a jot or tittle shall be lost, otherwise man will be condemned without hope — then, being truly humbled and reduced to nothing in his own eyes, he finds in himself nothing whereby he may be justified and saved. Here the second part of Scripture comes to our aid, namely, the promises of God which declare the glory of God, saying . . . ‘If you believe, you shall have all things; if you do not believe, you shall lack all things . . .’ God our Father has made all things depend on faith so that whoever has faith will have everything, and whoever does not have faith will have nothing . . .” —Luther’s Works (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press; St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1955), Vol. XXXI, pp.348, 349.

There is a great need for this distinction in the modern church, to counteract the neo-evangelical preaching of the mega-churches, – and the ‘church growth movement’. They don’t want to mention sin… The message is watered down – You’re quite a decent person really, – special in the sight of God, but if you accept Christ, he will make your already good life even better, even happier, even more prosperous. So Jesus is not the saviour from sin, he is a life coach, an example of manliness, or self-sacrifice, to make you a better person, a better mother or father, a better professional, a better nurse or teacher or pastor!

But if people are not rightly informed that they are sinners, how will they ever know that they need a saviour from sin? So, Luther argued, our worship and our preaching should contain both elements, reminding sinners of their deadness, and inability to save themselves, and the good news that Christ died for sinners.

Several prevailing myths are dispelled by the proper understand of Law and Gospel and its proclamation, and by the passage in 2nd Corinthians below:

The dispensationalist view that OT believers were justified by their works. No one ever kept the law, and no one ever got to heaven without Jesus.

The opinion that we can in any way merit heaven by our own righteousness of by just doing our best.

The Pentecostal excuse for irreverent worship practices, – for the promise of the liberty that we have in Christ is given in the context of our redemption and freedom from the law.

So, Paul lays out contrasting elements of the law and the gospel – the ministration of death and the ministration of life, the old covenant and the new…

2 Corinthians 3:-

7 Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end,

8 will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory?

9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory.

10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it.

11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.

12 Since we have such a hope, we are very bold,

13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end.

14 But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away.

15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts.

16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.

17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

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