by Frank Marron (Lutheran)
While many sermons on Sunday may teach the orthodox Christian faith, most are not proper because they do apply the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the lives of believers. Sure, you may leave church after hearing the truth concerning both the Divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ – that He is both man and God, but most likely you will not have heard the Gospel applied to your everyday life. Here is a case study illustrating this fact, based on a recent broadcast of Law & Gospel by Pastor Tom Baker. All names are fictitious.
Ann is a middle-aged woman who recently lost her husband in an automobile accident, where a drunk driver was responsible. She is a member of a mainstream Christian church denomination where her fellow members and pastor all encourage her to forget and forgive because the bible tells her she must do so. After all, we read such commands in the bible. Under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, St Paul writes:
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Jesus Himself states:
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,  but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Grieving over the loss of her life’s companion, Ann is naturally confused. When asked, she forcefully testifies she is not angry with God, but instead angry with the drunk driver who caused her pain and suffering. Her pastor and church friends are uncomfortable being around Ann and continue to encourage her to forgive the drunk driver and get on with her life. But Ann cannot simply do this. She thinks she is in a good church home and has heard the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But has she really?
Most Christian denominations believe that “if the bible says it, then that settles it - I believe it”. Sadly, such a viewpoint is prominent throughout Christianity and demonstrates a profound ignorance of the Word of God. There are two methods God speaks in His Word: Law and Gospel. “Law” is shorthand for the will of God, usually understood in the context of the ten commandments. In the above Scripture quotations, these verses are definitely Law. It is the will of God that we forgive one another, just as stated in the Lord’s Prayer(e.g. Matthew 6:12). All religions of the world are Law based, believing that the way a person gets right with God is by doing the will of God. Such people are referred to as those who live under the Law. Although Ann’s denomination professes belief in Jesus Christ, this church is not really different from all other religions of the world because it encourages it’s members to live under the Law. Ann is terribly burdened by her loss and under condemnation for failing to forgive the drunk driver who killed her husband. Instead of comforting Ann, her church burdens her with the full weight of the Law: Ann must forgive. This is a classic example of the failure to properly distinguish between Law and Gospel.
The bible is riddled with passages of Scripture that are either Law or Gospel. In fact, many verses can be understood as either one, depending upon whether one lives under Law or under the Gospel. Most denominations fail to understand that the primary purpose of the Law is to reveal and magnify sin, not to present a challenge for a man to keep the will of God(Romans 3:20;5:20). The Law of God is good in that it reveals the will of God, but it only condemns a person and does not enable him to keep it. The Law is a mirror showing us how imperfect and sinful we really are and is a tutor pointing to Christ(Galatians 3:24). Most denominations know the Law well and rather than emphasize the scriptural purpose for it, they encourage members to try to keep it, often believing that the Holy Spirit will empower people to do this, thus pleasing God. Such encouragement is a confusion of Law and Gospel and even attempts to use the cross of Christ as Law rather than Gospel! Such denominations believe that the purpose of the bible is to present “right rules for living”. Unfortunately, this is not Christianity, but rather exactly what all other man made religions of the world teach, such as Buddhism, Mormonism, or Islam.
Romans chapters 7 and 8 illustrate the apostle Paul’s understanding of Law and Gospel, sin and Grace. Romans 7:9 shows how the Law created awareness of sin for Paul and the inner turmoil over failure to keep it. Paul says that even though the Law is good, it caused death for him. In verse 15 Paul states that he does the exact opposite of the will of God, despite his desire to do otherwise! Verse 24 shows Paul exclaiming what a wretched man he is, finally realizing that the only solution to his dilemma is Jesus Christ. Paul is no different than any other man: All have sinned and fallen short of the will of God(Romans 3:23). The good news is that there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus(Romans 8:1). Most denominations don’t seem to understand why there is no condemnation of believers such as Ann, who professes belief in Jesus Christ. Instead, such churches place Ann on another guilt trip for failure to keep the Law completely. Such denominations read Romans 8:1-6 as those who live under the Law, believing that walking according to the flesh refers to continuing to sin and walking according to the Spirit as ceasing from sinning. But this is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ! Such churches should be embarrassed and ashamed at failing their members. Ann’s denomination does not heed the Scriptures, which plainly state that the Law reveals sin to those secure in their sins, as shown above, but that the Gospel is to be given to those terrified of their trespasses. Jesus came to fulfill the Law perfectly for all men, including Ann(Matthew 5:17). Jesus did what no other man was capable of – He was the Representative Man. Jesus came not for the righteous, but sinners(Matthew 9:13), including Ann. As a believer, Ann is concerned over her failure to forgive, which is a sin of omission, not commission(e.g. James 4:17). The Gospel is that Jesus Christ died for the sins of the entire world, which includes Ann(John 3:16). Jesus did not die for y those who kept the will of God perfectly throughout their entire lives, but for sinners. Only Christ lived the perfect, sinless life. This is the GOOD NEWS, the Gospel, which is rarely preached from the pulpits of most denominations. The Gospel is not that God forgives your sins and sends the Holy Spirit to enable you to keep the Law of God. The Gospel is 100 percent gift: God forgives your sins because the Son of God took the punishment for your sins. God gives you the gift of Faith in which to receive this blessing and also the seal of the Holy Sirit(Ephesians 1:13-14). Jesus Christ exchanges His Righteousness for your sins so that we become adopted children of God through absolutely no merit of our own. Being aware of her sins and failure to forgive the person who killed her husband, instead of being burdened with more Law, Ann should have been comforted with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Ann should be encouraged to continue to walk by the Spirit, confessing her sins and receiving the forgiveness of sins and the peace of God through Jesus Christ her Savior, which is living under the Gospel. Jesus Christ lived the perfect life of obedience under the Law for Ann. Jesus Christ received the full wrath of God for Ann’s sins. In the eyes of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, Ann is considered perfect, sinless, and righteous(2Cor 5:21). This is the Gospel. This is the comfort and peace which is sorely lacking in Christian preaching today.