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Law and Gospel – the Proper Distinction

October 28, 2018

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Reformation Sunday                                                           Trinity Lutheran Church

28 October 2018                                                                                      Murdock, NE


+ Jesu Juva +


Romans 3:19-28


Today we properly distinguish the law and the gospel. This is the specific teaching and gift that God gave to the church by the Lutheran Reformation. To preach and apply the proper distinction between the law and the gospel is why God created Lutherans. Seriously! The Bible teaches what God does through the law and what God does through the gospel. They are not to be confused or mixed. They are to be properly distinguished. The law is the law. The law is not the gospel. The gospel is the gospel. The gospel is not the law. We’ll learn and review this today. Hang on tight folks. This will be quite a ride.


Sadly, the majority of Lutherans in the world today are ashamed of the Reformation. They call it a mistake. Seriously! Consequently, they have lost their biblical nerve to preach and teach the proper distinction between the law and the gospel. In fact, they categorically refuse to do so. This is an enormous tragedy in the history of the church. Why? Well, these Lutheran in-name-only preachers and theologians make the law as the instrument by which God saves sinners. In other words, that the law is the gospel! Or that the gospel is the law! No proper distinction! Never! Ever!


However, here at Trinity Lutheran, we are not embarrassed to be Lutheran. We are thankful for the theological heritage God has given us. So, we make the proper distinction and we dare to be Lutheran for the sake of the church! The proper distinction is bigly important. Salvationally significant! Vital! Central! A glorious light! The proper distinction between the law and the gospel enables you to understand and believe in the central and most important teaching in the Bible. And it’s this: so that you, the sinner, will trust only in Jesus for forgiveness and salvation just as the apostle Paul preaches in today’s Epistle: “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” Or that God is “the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Did you hear that? FAITH in Jesus! Paul says more. He declares that sinners are, “justified by his [God’s] grace AS A GIFT, through the REDEMPTION THAT IS IN CHRIST JESUS, WHOM GOD PUT FORWARD AS A PROPITIATION BY HIS BLOOD TO BE RECEIVED BY FAITH.”


Did you hear that? Justified by faith – faith only in Jesus — apart from works of the law! God justifies the one who has faith. Faith in whom? Faith in the CRUCIFIED-DEAD-ON-THE-CROSS-SACRIFICE-THAT-ANSWERS-FOR-ALL-SIN-AND-EVERY-SINNER-JESUS!


So I ask you:


Why does God forgive you?


How does God save you?


Why does God give you heaven?


Through the law or the Ten Commandments? Or through the gospel – the preaching of GOOD FRIDAY Jesus the only Savior?


Do you put God under obligation to save you, forgive you and give you heaven through the law, namely, the Ten Commandments? Does commandment keeping forgive you, save you or give you heaven? Can you expect God to forgive you because you try hard to keep the commandments? No way! Just the opposite!


Listen to the Epistle. The apostle Paul categorically preaches: “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his [God’s] sight, since through the law COMES KNOWLEDGE OF SIN.” The Ten Commandments don’t save anyone. God didn’t give the Ten Commandments for that purpose. Instead, they are God’s CAT Scan, MRI or X-Ray machine. They reveal our malignant spiritual disease. And what’s that? It’s this: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Jesus put it this way: “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” Since the fall of Adam in the Garden of Eden, all people – and you’re not excluded – are sinners, enslaved to sin, bound to self-centeredness, addicted to the 24-7-365 desire to be like God, incessantly insisting that your words are divine, better than God’s, doomed to hellacious eternal death and blind to this slavery of sin.


Thanks be to God that He uses the Ten Commandments, the law, to SHOW US OUR SIN! Seriously. We are so blind to our spiritually sick situation that God has to reveal it to us THROUGH HIS WORD, namely the Ten Commandments! “Through the law COMES KNOWLEDGE OF SIN.”      And this is the divine work of the Holy Spirit by the way. Jesus says so in John 16:8, “He [the Holy Spirit] will convict the world concerning sin.” So, if you’re picking up what I’m throwing down the Holy Spirit uses the law to convict you of your sin.


Why? So that you’ll tell the truth about yourself. That you’re a … SINNER! So that your old Adam dies – DAILY! So that you kick the habit of constantly trying to use the law to get saved. That you stop depending on what you do or don’t do to put God in some kind of salvational full nelson. THAT YOU’LL FINALLY AND FOR THE REST OF YOUR EARTHLY LIFE TRUST ONLY IN … GOOD FRIDAY DEAD ON THE CROSS JESUS FOR SALVATION, FOR FORGIVENESS, FOR HEAVEN! So that you are “justified by faith [in Jesus] apart from works of the law.”


So, the law doesn’t justify you, save you, forgive you or give you heaven. It shows you your sin. Puts the old Adam to death on a daily basis. Only the gospel justifies, saves, forgives and gives you heaven. Like St. Paul in Romans 1:16 we are not “ashamed of the gospel.” Why not? “For it is the power of God FOR SALVATION to everyone who believes.” Did you catch that? The gospel is the power of God FOR SALVATION! Not the law! The gospel! The gospel saves sinners.


The gospel is the salvific good news that Jesus died FOR YOU. And that in and through the preaching of the gospel the promise of forgiveness is actually given and bestowed. The promise gives what it says. The gospel gives what it promises. Namely, that all your sin is forgiven because His divine Good Friday blood purifies or cleanses you from all sin. Name the sin or sins. No matter how big or bad. God the Father put His Son Jesus on the cross as “a propitiation by his blood.” In other words, Jesus is the one and only sacrifice that counts for your salvation. Only His Good Friday body and blood atone for your sin. Only in Jesus who kept the law perfectly in your place are you forgiven. Justified before God.


To which faith says: “Amen. Thanks. I believe it. I trust that Jesus died for me. That all my sin is forgiven for Jesus’ sake. That my salvation doesn’t depend on my commandment keeping but on Jesus bearing all the sin and hell of my commandment breaking.” That’s the gospel. It speaks of what Jesus did FOR YOU! Faith only speaks of that which it is given, namely, “the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”   Faith in Jesus – trust in Jesus for forgiveness, salvation and heaven is the highest worship of Jesus!


Consequently, the Lord Jesus has sent me to you as your pastor to preach both law and gospel. The law, not to save you, but to show you your sin. The gospel, not to show you your sin, but to forgive you your sin for Jesus’ sake. Every Sunday as I speak the absolution, preach and teach the gospel, baptize your children and grandchildren and hand out the Lord’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper according to His promise as the Lord’s messenger the first reading from Revelation 14 is taking place. “The I saw another angel flying directly overhead with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on the earth.”


So too I, like the angel in Revelation 14, exhort you here at Trinity to “fear God and give him glory because the hour of his judgment has come.” His judgment of both the law and gospel comes through the preacher. The law: you are a sinner. You old Adam must die. You need the Savior. The gospel: you the sinner are forgiven.   FOR YOU Jesus died! Fear, love and trust in the Triune God!


In addition, I like the angel in Revelation 14 exhort you here at Trinity to worship God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. One in three and three in one! Who created the “heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.” Who also created you to redeem and sanctify you. Redeem you by the blood of Jesus. Sanctify you in the preaching of the gospel, baptism, absolution and Supper.


Nothing to be ashamed of today, this Reformation Sunday. Instead, we are bold to properly distinguish between the law and the gospel. The law: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in God’s sight since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” The gospel. It is the “righteousness of God” that has been “manifested apart from the law.” Sinners “are justified by God’s grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood to be received by faith.” God is “the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”


Commandment keeping is not for salvation. Faith is Jesus is for that. Now, you the believer, the faither, the truster, want to keep the commandments for God’s glory and for the benefit of your neighor. But that only flows the gospel — from faith in Jesus who saves. And it will. God has good use of you in that way. What joy!


Happy living by faith in Jesus only for salvation. Happy loving your neighbor in love.


Happy Reformation Sunday!


In the Name of Jesus.


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