We Poison Souls When We Mingle Law & Gospel (Law & Gospel In Laymen’s Terms: Thesis II)


A teacher of scripture who wishes to teach and preach correctly needs  to present all the different doctrines of the Bible correctly. If this isn’t a heavy expectation, one cannot call themselves a good and correct teacher unless they also understand how to balance and handle God’s two words in the Bible… His words of Law and His words of Promise.

In other words, it is good if we are able to distinguish the difference between Law and Gospel. We can confidently share with another that God’s demanding word of Law issues threats, reveals sin and the like. We can also boldly share that God’s promising word of Gospel grants assurance, absolves sin and the like. However, if we apply the Law and Gospel in a manner that ‘mingles’ them and confuses them, we essentially poison other people’s souls.

For example: God’s demanding words of Law are only to be proclaimed to people who are secure in their sin, people who feel as if they have it all together with their own spiritual accomplishments. The demanding words are to be applied so as to ‘rattle their cage’ and bring them to the end of themselves. Once they are rattled, God’s promise words are to be applied so as to grant them assurance in Christ. Just think of the damage that is done when this is mixed? Giving God’s demanding words when someone is already spiritually bankrupt? That is enough to drive the poor person to unnecessary despair and spiritual suicide! Giving God’s promising words to someone who is spiritually puffed up? That is like giving precious pearls to filthy swine!

To make things worse we can easily mingle God’s demanding words and God’s promise words. Ever hear a sermon full of good advice? Is this the Gospel or is this Law? It clearly is Law, simply disguising itself as Gospel. Ever hear a sermon stating the demands of the Gospel? What is going on hear? This again is Law disguising itself as Gospel.

Thus a correct teacher of scripture not only understands the doctrines of scripture and the definitions of Law and Gospel, but also applies and frames them in their proper context. This is an art that is learned in the school of experience.

About Pastor Matt Richard

Rev. Dr. Matthew Richard is the pastor at Zion Lutheran Church of Gwinner, ND. He was previously a Senior Pastor in Sidney, Montana, an Associate Pastor of Spiritual Care and Youth Ministries in Williston, North Dakota, and an Associate Pastor of Children and Youth in Rancho Cucamonga, California. He received his undergraduate degree from Minot State University, ND and his M.Div. from Lutheran Brethren Seminary, MN. His doctor of ministry thesis, from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO, was on exploring the journey of American Evangelicals into Confessional Lutheran thought. Pastor Richard is married to Serenity and they have two children. He enjoys fishing, pheasant hunting, watching movies, blogging, golfing, spending time with his family and a good book with a warm latte! To check out more articles by Pastor Matt you can visit his personal blog at: www.pastormattrichard.com.


We Poison Souls When We Mingle Law & Gospel (Law & Gospel In Laymen’s Terms: Thesis II) — 5 Comments

  1. Forgive my ignorance in all of this, so the Gospel is to assure and comfort the sinner/saint but the Law, in all 3 uses, is not the Gospel? Preaching on how to live the Christian life then is not the Gospel?

    I say this in a trying to understand manner…

  2. @Graham #1

    Hey Graham,

    Right on my friend! When reading or listening to a sermon ask yourself the following question, “Am I hearing good news or good advice?” Good News that points us to what Jesus did is Gospel. Good advice that points us to what we should or ought to do is Law.

    While giving good advice through the law is good because it informs us of God’s will, it still isn’t the Gospel.

    The following may be helpful in thinking about preaching:

    Grace and Peace,

    Pastor Richard

  3. I’m reading Steven Paulson right now; see if I’m getting this correct. You can say the message is the distinction of law and gospel? The law is good and is the word of God, but the gospel is that God also gave us a second word, the incarnated Christ, which appears contradictory to the law to the unsaved. Every sermon should be a teaching moment on the distinction.

  4. @Pastor Matt Richard #2

    Ok, I see what you are saying. So, the point is not to mingle them as if they cannot be seperated, but that there is a clear distinction any time we speak on n or the other, correct?

    For instance, when there is teaching that exhorts one to a godly lfe in holiness, this is because of the Gospel and not to be put in place of the Gospel. When teaching of the Law, this is again because of the Gospel and not in place of the Gospel. Is that correct?

    Just to clarify. You do not mean that we should not teach on the law, or on the things that are right and just to do as a follower of Christ but that it should always be in light of the Gospel being preached distinctly that we have the forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus and we have been saved from ourselves and set apart, slaves of righteousness.

    On that note, I have heard the term, the New Obedience, what say you in regards to what St. Paul says in regards to “obedience in faith” . What does obedience fall under, Law or Gospel?

    Thank you, Pastor Richard, for bearing with me.

  5. @Graham #4

    Hey Graham,

    It is a pleasure to have this discussion. As far as Law and Gospel, you are correct that we need to hear them both. Both are necessary and both are beneficial for mankind. Furthermore, we must distinguish them both yet not divorce them from each other.

    As far as the Law and its uses, there are three.

    1) The Law Curbs. This use of the Law is for non-believers and believers. The Law in the first use simply keeps us from doing stupid stuff to ourselves and others. It keeps order. This is good.

    2) The Mirror. This use of the Law is to help us see our sin, mirror back to us where we have fallen short. In other words, in this second use we see God’s holiness and perfection, thus seeing how we have failed in thought, word and deed. This second use reveals sin. This use is called the Theological use of the Law and is its main use.

    3) The Guide. The third use of the Law tends to be very controversial among Lutherans. The reason why is that if this third use of the Law isn’t handled properly, it can lead to legalism and works righteousness. Some Lutherans reject this third use while others hold to it. Personally, I do hold to the third use of the Law, yet I am always very cautious in discussing the third use. I typically talk about the third use of the Law as “God’s Will.” In other words, in the third use of the Law we see God’s Will. However, here is the catch. Just because we know what God’s will is, it doesn’t mean that we have the spiritual will-power to fulfill it. Yes, the third use of the Law shows us what is good and perfect and true. However, the Law in its third use does not contain the motivational power for a Christian to fulfill it, for that belongs to the Gospel.

    So, how do we reconcile all of this?

    One thing that I try to keep in mind is that I am called to simply preach the Law. The Holy Spirit working through the Word will then apply the Law to the hearer in at least one of the 3 ways.

    As far as the third use of the Law, I typically try to phrase things in a Gospel tone. In other words, the Law is what we ‘get to’ walk in or are ‘free to’ walk in as a response to what Jesus has done.

    As far as obedience and faith? It is interesting to note that obedience and faith are many times used as synonyms in the New Testament. Check out the following link to see what I mean, (http://www.pastormattrichard.com/2011/05/obedience-and-faith-synonyms.html)

    Off to bed now. Keep the questions coming! This is a great conversation.


    ~pastor richard

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