Preaching law and the Gospel. Do you dare?

imagesHerein I am addressing the matter of confession. That is, what is being done when the preacher is making a public witness to the world of the one, holy Catholic Church’s proclamation of, and faith in Christ. Just as Paul said: “For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and confesses with the mouth and so is saved.  The Scripture says, ‘no one who believes in him will be put to shame.” [Isaiah 28:16; Romans 10:10]

The goal of a confession is to be confessed. That is, to give the free word of God in Christ, gratis, as a promise without any strings attached. Such confession comes, “in these last days of this transitory world: God has time and space we know not of, and gives this as a new creation and new time—by your preaching through the office of the ministry.” So, what time is it when you come to preach? God’s final judgment and so Day of Wrath has already come, and you were found guilty of killing God. You can’t go back and undo that. It is historical.

But then God ups and does a new thing apart from the law. Who would have thought it! A new history! We call this time of preaching, “mercy time,” where you stand guilty and yet are declared just in such a way to actually make you right. In relation to God in the new kingdom you are just, not in yourself but in relation to Christ who gives all.

God does this, elects sinners to eternal life through men in the preaching office. That is, we leave “if… then,” conditional speaking and move to “because… therefore” speech that is categorical. “On account of Christ your sins are forgiven.” 

The brightest light we have from the Lutheran Confessions for doing this is the distinction of law and the Gospel. “The distinction between law and gospel is a particularly glorious light. It serves to divide God’s Word properly and to explain correctly and make understandable the writings of the holy prophets and apostles. Therefore, we must diligently preserve this distinction, so as not to mix these two teachings together and make the gospel into a law.  For this obscures the merit of Christ and robs troubled consciences of the comfort that they otherwise have in the holy gospel when it is preached clearly and purely.  With the help of this distinction these consciences can sustain themselves in their greatest spiritual struggles against the terror of the law.“ (FC V.  581.1)

images-23This comes especially from Luther’s re-discovery of Paul’s distinction in 2 Cor. 3 that, “the letter kills and the Spirit gives life,” is a literal truth! God actually does this. He kills and raises the dead to new life.

Typically the church has mucked this up. Every text was understood to be time-bound and must have a relevant meaning released for people who come afterward. Once it was allegory. Every text tells a story of the past, but hidden in its words is a lesson for you, usually tropological, this is what God wants you to do. Now it is, “meant/means.” Once it meant this, but times have changed, and now it means that.

Instead we confess that God creates a new kingdom by the preached word. We call this, “doing the text” to hearers, whose wills are bound against hearing, rather than turning hearers into moral agents. That is:

“Law and Gospel are rightly divided in preaching when the sermon is not primarily didactic, but rather something that claims the listener on God’s behalf… Christ is really present in preaching! Hence, preachers need to be bold enough to give Christ to their hearers. Preachers are tempted to give the text a moral – translating it into our terms or allegorizing it in order to offer us something to do. We miss Luther’s insight that it is the Scripture that interprets us. Preachers need to read the pericopes so as to allow themselves to be exegeted by them and then preach in a fashion that allows the text to do its deed to the hearers.” (Gerhard O. Forde, The Preached God: Proclamation in Word and Sacrament)

This means further that the direction of action is key, from God to us is key. Or, to use four rules of grammar:

a) When Christ is preached he is the subject of every verb.

b) The hearer is the direct object, “for you.” 

c) The promise (what Christ is doing for us) is identified and given unconditionally.

d) And the Gospel is present tense. “here and now,” not, “one day, perhaps our prince will come.”

1364044_jesus_on_cross_5The great fly in the ointment for preachers is the danger preachers see in freedom.  This comes because preachers think they are speaking to free wills rather than bound wills. First fear in their parishioners. What if they actually began to act freely, might I then either loose control or they would use it as an excuse to do nothing? Then nothing would improve and I will live my whole life in a leper colony! Then fear in themselves. What if what I am saying actually works? What if the Holy Spirit does what he is promised to do? Kill and make alive. Then I too would come under the Spirit’s operation, suffer and die, even for my very preaching of this word?

What do scared preachers do? Put the breaks on and make everything first a gift, then a carefully managed demand, i.e., “If Jesus did this for you the least you can do is…”  

Practically speaking, ask, “What happened when God’s word went out in this text?” That means first that you have no other responsibility in your sermon than to deal with God’s own word in Scripture. Your illustrations are manure in comparison. Manure can help, but it isn’t the plant! God’s own words are the things. Look for what happened in the text that caused God’s words to be left, resisted, contorted, unbelieved [the fight against the words by bound wills] [I find it helpful to take a text and anticipate your own fear by turning everything into a legal requirement first] Then locate what God did with such sinners, i.e., locate the judgment (working of the law) and/or promise. Then, prepare to make this a present event. Give it “for you,” don’t just talk about it.

Do you dare? Are you that free? Can you let go an unconditional word of God in Christ and watch God work the end of the law in us, while in Christ he makes all-in-all so that we have no other God than this man, Jesus, and no other freedom than a death like his and a resurrection like his? I double dare you to go out into the world and confess like that, and watch the Holy Spirit elect sinners through you in ways you thought were impossible, for what is impossible for you is quite possible for the God who gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall be saved.



Preaching law and the Gospel. Do you dare? — 37 Comments

  1. “God does this, elects sinners to eternal life through men in the preaching office.”

    In contrast: “The eternal election of God, however, vel praedestinatio (or predestination), that is, God’s ordination to salvation, does not extend at once over the godly and the wicked, but only over the children of God, who were elected and ordained to eternal life before the foundation of the world was laid, as Paul says, Eph. 1:4. 5: He hath chosen us in Him, having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ.” FC SD XI:5

  2. Now see, where does repentance fit in to law and gospel? Seems like repentance is in one sense a by-product of faith, rather than an active part of salvation. Not saying it’s unimportant, but wouldn’t it be something that’s done as a result of faith, rather than something that produces it?

  3. LCMS–THE SYNOD W/O Law and Doctrine and Practice aas we all know-a corporate synod of sin and dying members as they lose truth and hope thanks to the most powerful working with EVIL

  4. @ralph #3

    How about the thousands of local LCMS congregations and schools along with hundreds of thousands dedicated church workers and volunteers spreading hope and the saving gospel among a crooked and depraved generation?

  5. @Robert #1

    Uh, Robert, Pastor Riley isn’t saying anything different than what the quote from the Formula of Concord is saying. God channels his election and saving will to sinners in time through the means of grace. This is opposed to the Calvinist teaching that the decree of elections works salvation for sinner apart or (at best!) alongside the means of grace. Are you suggesting that this is the case? If so, you’re a Reformed and not Lutheran.

    To paraphrase C.F.W. Walther in one of his early convention essays: For Calvinists, election happened apart from and before the means of grace, for Arminians it happens after we encounter the means of grace, for Lutheran God’s electing will is enacted in the means of grace!

  6. A preacher who is not simple in his preaching preaches [not Christ, but] himself. And any one preaching himself preaches people into perdition, even when they say of his preaching: “Ah, but that was beautiful! That man is an orator!” Even a true, honest preacher is visited by thoughts of vanity that spring from his sinful flesh .But as soon as he notices this, he casts these cursed thoughts of vanity from him and cries to God to rid him of them. He enters his pulpit a humble man. People can tell whether his preaching comes from the heart or not.

    The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel C.F.W. Walther

  7. “God does this, elects sinners to eternal life through men in the preaching office.”

    This statement is true, and is to be distinguished from the sacerdotalist false statement, “God does this, elects sinners to eternal life only through men in the preaching office.”

  8. @Joe Krohn #5
    So, if the Church doesn’t go out and preach the Gospel, so to let the Holy Spirit work at calling people to repentance and faith, and so to salvation-how then, do you think it will happen? Last time I read the Confessions, the Holy Spirit works through the Word and Sacraments.

  9. ” This is opposed to the Calvinist teaching that the decree of elections works salvation for sinner apart or (at best!) alongside the means of grace.”

    Excuse me..this is just a silly statement. Give me one example of Reformed/Calvinist teaching that states this. From Westminster, or the Three Forms of Unity.

    Betcha can’t.

    More Lutheran(and I am one) ignorance or wicked misrepresentation of our brothers in the Faith. Shame on you.

  10. From Westminster Larger Catechism:
    Q. 154. What are the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of his mediation?
    A. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to his church the benefits of his mediation, are all his ordinances; especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for their salvation.

    From the Shorter:
    Question 91: How do the sacraments become effectual means of salvation?
    Answer: The sacraments become effectual means of salvation, not from any virtue in them, or in him that doth administer them; but only by the blessing of Christ, and the working of his Spirit in them that by faith receive them.

    Question 92: What is a sacrament?
    Answer: A sacrament is a holy ordinance instituted by Christ; wherein, by sensible signs, Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant, are represented, sealed, and applied to believers.

    Question 93: Which are the sacraments of the New Testament?
    Answer: The sacraments of the New Testament are, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper.

  11. The Heidelberg Catechism instructs on the sacraments on Lord’s Day 25.

    Question 65. Since then we are made partakers of Christ and all his benefits by faith only, whence does this faith proceed?

    Answer: From the Holy Ghost, who works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the gospel, and confirms it by the use of the sacraments.

    Question 66. What are the sacraments?

    Answer: The sacraments are holy visible signs and seals, appointed of God for this end, that by the use thereof, he may the more fully declare and seal to us the promise of the gospel, viz., that he grants us freely the remission of sin, and life eternal, for the sake of that one sacrifice of Christ, accomplished on the cross.

    Question 67. Are both word and sacraments, then, ordained and appointed for this end, that they may direct our faith to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, as the only ground of our salvation?

    Answer: Yes, indeed: for the Holy Ghost teaches us in the gospel, and assures us by the sacraments, that the whole of our salvation depends upon that one sacrifice of Christ which he offered for us on the cross.

    Question 68. How many sacraments has Christ instituted in the new covenant, or testament?

    Answer: Two: namely, holy baptism, and the holy supper.

  12. Belgic Confession, Art. 29:

    “29. Of the marks of the true Church, and wherein she differs from the false Church

    We believe, that we ought diligently and circumspectly to discern from the Word of God which is the true Church, since all sects which are in the world assume to themselves the name of the Church. But we speak not here of hypocrites, who are mixed in the Church with the good, yet are not of the Church, though externally in it; but we say that the body and communion of the true Church must be distinguished from all sects, who call themselves the Church. The marks, by which the true Church is known, are these: if the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein; if she maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in punishing of sin: in short, if all things are managed according to the pure Word of God, all things contrary thereto corrected, and Jesus Christ acknowledged as the only Head of the Church. Hereby the true Church may certainly be known from which no man has a right to separate himself. With respect to those, who are members of the Church, they may be known by the marks of Christians: namely, by faith; and when they have received Jesus Christ the only Saviour, they avoid sin, follow after righteousness, love the true God and their neighbour, neither turn aside to the right or left, and crucify the flesh with the works thereof. But this is not to be understood, as if there did not remain in them great infirmities; but they fight against them through the Spirit, all the days of their life, continually taking their refuge in the blood, death, passion and obedience of our Lord Jesus Christ, “in whom they have remission of sins, through faith in him.” As for the false Church, she ascribes more power and authority to herself and her ordinances than to the Word of God, and will not submit herself to the yoke of Christ. Neither does she administer the sacraments as appointed by Christ in his Word, but adds to and takes from them, as she thinks proper; she relies more upon men than upon Christ; and persecutes those, who live holily according to the Word of God, and rebuke her for her errors, covetousness, and idolatry. These two Churches are easily known and distinguished from each other. ”

    There ya have it, DR. Jack. You need to drown your old Adam and quit bearing false witness against fellow Christians.

  13. JH- Thanks for the quotations, but you missed my point. I am not bearing false witness against my fellow Christians.

    All the Reformed confessional documents you quoted to me say that there is some sort of visible sign accompanying the election, justification, and regeneration of Christians. The visible sign though, does not contain within it the coming of the Holy Spirit. As the documents you quote make clear, the Word and the sacraments do not contain grace, as in the Lutheran or Roman Catholic understanding, but they are signs that grace active in the elect people who are receiving them. They are not signs of real grace for non-elect folks, because God hovers alongside the the means of grace and doesn’t give himself to people whom he doesn’t favor. The most glaring example of this is the claim that non-believers receive nothing but bare signs in the Lord’s Supper- taught by every Reformed theologian I am aware of. Here’s Calvin’s agreement with the Zwinglians that makes all of this real clear:

    Hence, for Reformed Christians, the Spirit does not work election and salvation in and through the sacraments, but along side them, or even apart from them (if you’re Zwinglian or Puritan). There’s a difference between saying that God works with the means of grace (Reformed), or through them (Lutheran).

  14. @J. Dean #2

    A couple points to keep in mind: 1) repentance is both contrition and faith (two parts of a whole) in God’s promised word that your sins are forgiven for the sake of His Son (Apology XII(V)) ; and 2) repentance is in response to God’s Word, the hearing of which creates faith (Romans 10:17).

    Iow, there is no faith without the Word of God and it isn’t on account of contrition that our sins are forgiven, but because we receive in faith the promised Word that our sins are forgiven.

  15. @Dr. Jack Kilcrease #15
    Thank you for that excellent distinction! Those who distort or downplay such a difference between Luther and Calvin are what I believe the Confessions call “cunning sacramentarians”. 🙂

  16. I find it amusing that someone calling themself “JH” presumed to school Dr. Kilcrease on theology. As Dr. Kilcrease pointed out, the Reformed confessions cited proved his point, not JH’s.

    The one bearing false witness is JH, who accused Dr. Kilcrease of “ignorance or wicked[ness]” @JH #11

  17. so it is fine that our dps and leaders who claim faithfulness do not address sins of doctrine and practice of His truth in the LCMS? and thanks to other pastors who run and hide rather than defend truth and corrupt the faithful members or push them out-right?give mission money to faithful causes who defend truth and practice as God would have it-and not spineless cowards who call themselves leaders and teachers in the LCMS-give us back our inner city church of the BOC

  18. @Joe Krohn #16
    So, what do you call those who repent and believe in the Gospel? Besides, I said nothing about “the kingdom.” I simply asked that if the Holy Spirit works through the Word and Sacraments, how else but by the Office of the Ministry and its preaching and teaching does the Word and Sacraments are administered to the world where people are thus elected to salvation?

  19. @Craig Nehring #22

    My point is putting too much emphasis on the Church and sinful human beings; that we have to do do something so the Holy Ghost can do his thing. Granted, we go out into the world as Christ’s ambassadors, but the Holy Ghost gathers the Elect to the Church in spite of us. The rocks would cry out if need be. The Elect is a number that does not fluctuate as they have been foreknown since the foundations of the world were laid.

  20. @Joe Krohn #23

    Joe- It has to be born in mind that God only enacts his electing will through the means of grace. Perhaps I’m misunderstanding you, but you act as if the Holy Spirit works outside of the means of grace to gather the elect. The elect are elected in and through the means of grace, and not apart from them. Hence, the Church, as an organ of the Holy Spirit’s work in the world, must proclaim the gospel to every living creature.

  21. @Joe Krohn #25


    One example of what Dr. Kilcrease is pointing out is the Word of God. God uses the preached Word to give faith to individuals (Romans 10:17). That entails preachers who are sent and go out and actually preach. There is no gathering of the elect apart from the Word of God given to the World through proclamation. So, your statement “…the Holy Ghost gathers the Elect to the Church in spite of us” is missing the point of why it is necessary for there to be an “us” (the Church) through which the Gospel is proclaimed to the world (see Matthew 28:18-20). It is true that God could “cause the rocks to cry out,” but that is not the means He has chosen through which to give the forgiveness of sins to the human race; therefore, God will not work outside His means of Grace to draw the elect to Himself.

  22. WHY have cc’s and dp’s and their adoring munchkins-when few stand up and defend DOCTRINE AND PRACTICE OF THE WORD and Confessions? Why?

  23. @Jim Pierce #27

    “There is no gathering of the elect apart from the Word of God given to the World through proclamation.”

    This is excellent, Jim.  I would only further emphasize that this proclamation isn’t limited to pastors (preachers?).   It has been my experience that the gathering of the elect can initially involve proclamation from teachers, mentors, parents, grandparents, friends, co-workers, etc.

  24. @Jim Pierce #27
    I can’t disagree, Jim. However, in my experiences with Jack he seems to have a propensity to jump to conclusions.

    The OP in his last paragraph opines: “I double dare you to go out into the world and confess like that, and watch the Holy Spirit elect sinners through you in ways you thought were impossible…”

    It begs the question in my mind; Do we help or hinder the Gospel?

  25. @Joe Krohn #32
    But your previous comments do say that you disagree with Jim. And all Jack was saying is that the Holy Spirit uses means in which to “call, gather, sanctify and enlighten.” He doesn’t “have to”, but the Confessions make clear that He does. You were disagreeing with that assessment.

  26. Take the cc and dp money and send it to misssionaries who STAND UP FOR JESUS AND PREACH LAW AND GOSPEL——SO how many congregations members and servants are dying in the LCMS because of its tolerance? how many? as elderly who build churches over 100 years-weep due to sins of LCMS leaders who took oaths

  27. @Craig Nehring #33

    Let me be clear: I have never believed that the Holy Ghost acts apart from the MoG. Jack did leave himself open to the chance he might be misunderstanding my comment. He was.

    Can you answer the question I posed?

  28. SO how many congregations members and servants are dying in the LCMS because of its tolerance? how many? as elderly who build churches over 100 years-weep due to sins of LCMS leaders who took oaths

  29. @Joe Krohn #35

    Joe- That is correct. I was trying to be polite. But you did say “but the Holy Ghost gathers the Elect to the Church in spite of us. The rocks would cry out if need be. The Elect is a number that does not fluctuate as they have been foreknown since the foundations of the world were laid.”

    Here you are quite literally claiming that the Holy Spirit goes outside the Church and gathers the elect apart from the means of grace. If you don’t believe that, that’s fine. But I don’t think you can blame me from reaching that conclusion based on what you said. Moreover, it was not me “jumping to conclusions.”

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