Greetings of peace be to our entire community in love and faith through the Lord Jesus Christ!
The foundation of our examination of core Lutheran principles has been established. Last month I hope you all had a chance to reflect on God’s amazing grace through the theme of justification by grace, through faith in Christ Jesus. That theme has laid the footings for what we will build upon in the coming months; we cannot become justified in God’s eyes on our own, it is only because of the grace God has bestowed on us through the faith God has given us by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord.
The next logical question to ask is how do we know for sure that we cannot become justified on our own? This is where a basic understanding of Scripture comes in handy. Now I don’t mean that everyone should be able quote verse after verse from the Bible in order to answer this question. All a basic understanding of Scripture entails is understanding the ways in which scripture verses function. In order to understand this easily Luther talked about Scripture verses in two ways: Law and Gospel.
The first place Luther started, as he should have, was with the law. When we hear that word our minds automatically go to thinking about the laws in which govern our lives handed down to us by our government. This is the most basic understanding of the law and what it does; the law is a set of rules. In the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, among others, we are given a variety of laws, the chief of which is the Ten Commandments. The Law tells us what we should and what we should not do. They govern our lives in order that we are kept safe while at the same time bringing punishment for those that do not keep them; in this way the law functions as a curb, keeping us on the right path. But this this is not the only way in which the law functions. Luther also understood the law to function as a mirror. When we look at ourselves through the lens of the law we come to see ourselves as not being able to live up to the expectations that God has for us. The law gives us clear examples of how we continually fail to justify ourselves before God. Once we have seen ourselves as poor miserable sinners the law then acts as our guide driving us toward that which can justify us before God.
This, then brings us to the second understanding of Scripture: the Gospel. Once the law has convicted us of our sins against God it is time for the Gospel to administer to us the cure for our sinfulness: the good news of our salvation given to us through Jesus’ death and resurrection. In contrast to the law, the gospel does not tells us what we ought to do but instead tells us what God has already done for us. The gospel tells us that we are justified by grace through faith in Christ Jesus.
In Luther’s eyes all of Scripture functions simultaneously in these two ways. If we were to pick out certain random verses from the Bible we would be able to tell what is law and what is gospel. But that is not the way we use Scripture. Instead we are to look at Scripture as a whole, allowing it to show us the law and the gospel of God’s grace.
Next month we will keep building on our foundation as we look at how we experience God’s grace in our lives.
May the undying love of our Lord Jesus Christ keep you God’s embrace now and forever.