Law and Gospel
October 15, 2017
Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID
In our Gospel reading for today, Christ answers the Pharisees’ question, “Teacher, what is the great commandment in the Law?” and in turn puts a question to them, “What do you think about the Christ?” Today, we are reminded that these two points should always be preached: First, the teaching about the Law or the Ten Commandments, and second the teaching about the grace of Christ. This is Law and Gospel. If either one of these two teachings are missing, the other suffers. On the other hand, if one remains and is used correctly, the other will necessarily follow.
And so let us take up the first question, and the answer which Jesus gives us. The teaching of the Law, which Jesus here cites from Deuteronomy 6:5, “You shall love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind… and You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The Law teaches this is the way you were, and this is the way you are, and this is the way you still should be, and you will become. In Paradise you had this treasure and you were created to love God with all your heart. You have now lost this. But you must become this again. Otherwise you will not come into the kingdom of heaven.
The problem comes in the idea that we can somehow do this if we just try hard enough. All too often in Christian churches around the world, the message of the Law is proclaimed as something that you must, and you can, do in order to be saved. This is the way that the Pharisees understood God’s Law 2000 years ago. This is the way the Roman Catholic Church understood God’s Law 500 years ago. This is the way too many churches today still understand God’s Law. Do this, and you will live. Which is true enough. It is a good teaching which teaches us what we should be. The problem is that we can’t do it. Not perfectly. Not all the time. Not with our whole heart. The Law is always present, holds us guilty, drives and demands that we are to be godly and righteous. What are we to do when our own conscience finds us guilty of not doing this wholeheartedly? The Law gives no answer to this, it only wants and requires you to be obedient.
Which brings us to the second question. The answer to the first question means nothing if there is not a right understanding and faith in Christ. What does it mean to know Christ? The Pharisees and scribes certainly don’t know. They think no more of Him than that He is David’s son. But they didn’t know that they needed him to rescue them from sin and death. This is why the Holy Spirit explains to them that He is only David’s son, but also God’s Son. Our Gospel reading teaches us that Jesus is both David’s true, natural Son from his flesh and blood, but also David’s Lord, whom he must worship and regard as God. It was impossible for them to make sense of this.
This is where the Gospel flips the world on its head. Jesus steps in and says “I will fulfill this, not only for Myself, but for all.” Christ has fulfilled the Law for our advantage, so that we can have the benefit of Christ’s work and through this come to grace. This grace is not the power to do the Law perfectly, but it is the delivery of the One who does it perfectly. Then this One promises and delivers the Holy Spirit so that our hearts begin to love God and love others.
The Law comes first here, namely, what are to owe God – perfect love toward Him and toward others. If a person does not know this, then will not know or care at all about Jesus. If we are to know Christ as our Savior, then we must first know what we need saving from – our sin, and greed, and hatred. Christ reminds us in order to teach that is not enough to have the Law, which only shows how far we have fallen. Rather, if anyone is to return to it and be renewed, Christ must do this through the faith that He was certainly born God and man. It is this good news of our salvation in Christ that motivates us and frees us now to do the works of the Law, not out of compulsion or thinking that it somehow will make God love us more, but out of simple thankfulness to God for Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
In other words, if you don’t know who God is or what He has done for you, if you have not heard nor believed in Christ and His love, then you can’t love God. And if you don’t love God and you don’t know the love that God has shown you in Christ, how can you share His love with others? Faith in Christ has made easy the love of God. Fear casts out love, but Christ casts out fear. The Law that accuses us of our sinfulness and drives us back to the Gospel to find forgiveness, life and salvation in Christ, also serves us as a Word from the Lord that guides us into holy living through faith in Jesus Christ, the fulfiller of the Law.
We cannot overlook this fact: The Law may guide us in holy living, but it is only and always the Gospel motivates us to do good works. We must guard ourselves against the spiritual lazy thinking that “even if you do not keep these commandments of loving God and others, that does not hurt you; if only you believe, then you will be saved.” Too often this our excuse and self-justification for our sin. We tell ourselves that we know our sin is wrong, but we keep on sinning thinking that what “really” matters is that we believe in Jesus. As good Lutherans we know that we saved by God’s grace apart from works, but at the same time we must guard ourselves against the temptation to use God’s grace as an excuse to continue in sin. For Jesus did not come abolish the Law. He did not come to say these things don’t matter and now you can do whatever you want as long as you label it out of “Love.” In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus remarks to those who would think like this, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have no come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass away from the Law until all is accomplished.”
So yes, you are to love God and love your neighbor as yourself, because God loves him as He loves you. Love your neighbor for God’s sake, if not for his own. As God loves you for Jesus’ sake, so love others for Jesus’ sake. God is not gracious and merciful to sinners so that they would remain where they are, but He does so to lead them to conform to Christ until the Last Day when it will no longer be called grace or forgiveness, but pure truth and completely perfect obedience. In the meantime, He continues to grant us grace for the sake of Christ so that He always gives, forgives, bearing and carrying us to the grave and then to the resurrection. He gives us the Holy Spirit, so that we might follow Him and begin here to suppress our sinful desires and cations, until He comes to us at the Day of Resurrection when there will be no sin and we will all live in complete righteousness.