If You Love God, You Should Be Really, Really, Really, Really Sorry (Law & Gospel In Laymen’s Terms)

Another great post found on Pastor Matt Richard’s blog, PM Notes. Pastor Richard has been the Senior Pastor of Sidney Lutheran Brethren Church of Sidney, Montana since 2008.


Thesis XI Of Walther’s Law and Gospel In Laymen’s Terms

If a person finds himself broken by the sting of sin and regretful in their soul, they are obviously ready to here the unconditional Gospel.  However, what can often happen is that pastors and individuals will withhold the Gospel until the struggling individual can show that they are really, really, really, really sorry.  In other words the Gospel is withheld until the person can prove and validate that they are genuinely sorry. Let’s look at an example and see how this works.

Meet Sam.  Sam, has been made contrite by the Law.  The Law has done its work on him.  He  is alarmed over his sin and is in a state of sorrow knowing that his own righteousness will not stand in the presence of a Holy God.  At this point Sam obviously needs to hear the Gospel.  Unfortunately what can happen is that a pastor or another parishioner will ask Sam to validate the worthiness of his contrition.  They may say, “Sam if you really love God you should be really sorry for these sins.  So Sam, do you really love God.  Are you really sorry for these sins?”  Do you see what just happened here?  They just perverted Law and Gospel with Sam!  One’s love for God does not bring about contrition for sin; the Law brings about contrition.  Furthermore, using the term “do you really love God” is is adding Law upon Law.  If the poor lad isn’t already crushed from the Law, he is now really crushed because he is told to validate his contrition by turning inward and proving his contrition from his love towards God.  Good luck with this Sam!  Poor Sam will now have to prove that his contrition is genuine before he hears the Gospel.

The problem with this is three fold.  1) The Holy Spirit through the Law brings about contrition as a gift.  We can’t make ourselves sorry for sin.  2) Our sinful nature does not love God.  3) “Our love for God” is not our  foundation.  Rather the foundation for Christianity is “God’s Love for us” in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.  “God’s Love for us” does not bring about terror of God but comfort, peace and assurance.

My friends, the Law breaks us and drives us to terror.  The Gospel on the other hand brings about absolution, forgiveness, faith and rest.  Once we hear the Gospel we are then free to love God as a free response.



Law and Gospel can be found at CPH here. It is also available on Kindle (be sure to get the one published in 2010).

This edition of the classic work of The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel will make this powerful resource available in a format for all readers of the Bible. Offering a fresh look of the older translation, it will provide comprehensive notes and annotations to aid reader’s understanding bringing to life the power and excitement of the original German lectures. This new unabridged edition restores Walther’s witty, staccato fire, including text omitted in prior English versions. Read Walther’s lectures like no one has since he originally spoke them.

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.


If You Love God, You Should Be Really, Really, Really, Really Sorry (Law & Gospel In Laymen’s Terms) — 7 Comments

  1. 2) Our sinful nature does not love God.  

    We struggle with our sinful nature all our lives, thanks be to god that our sins can’t haunt us anymore in our new life with Christ.

  2. @Nathan Redman #1

    Not in “our new life” but sometimes they do, because we still struggle. The devil, I think, is busiest at a wakeful 4 a.m. He can find things then that we haven’t thought of in years, if not decades.

  3. But we do need to be careful of what Dr. Ron Feuerhahn warns of as a theology of adverbs and adjectives in Pietism, where the referent of faith becomes the self and sentiments and experience rather than the absolution:

    And excerpt from a paper by Dr. Feuerhahn

    Confession & Absolution

    I assume that Dr. Krispin will be dwelling on this topic. I therefore offer only this summary description and comments on it.

    Private confession, which had for the most part become an empty formality [!], was gradually supplanted in may places by general confession, but was more meaningfully replaced by a new emphasis on the cure of individual souls.

    There was a move, then, away private to a general, public confession. Even here we can note evidences of Pietist influence. This can be observed in some forms of Confession and Absolution, e.g.:

    I now ask you before God, Is this your sincere confession, that you heartily repent of your sins, believe on Jesus Christ, and sincerely and earnestly purpose, by the assistance of God the Holy Ghost, henceforth to amend your sinful life? Then declare so by saying: Yes.”

    Perhaps an even more telling form of pietistic practice is found in the following form of absolution [?]; it begins in the declarative statement, no uncommon in Lutheran rites:

    Upon this your confession, I, as a called and ordained servant of the Word, announce the grace of God to all of you. On behalf of my Lord Jesus Christ and by his command, I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

    Now notice what is added immediately in the very next sentence:

    God forbid that any of you reject his grace and forgiveness by refusing to repent and believe, and your sins therefore remain unforgiven.

    The words following seem a weak attempt to recover the full promise and joy of the absolution offered so recently.

    My he comfort you with his holy absolution, and strengthen you with his Sacrament, that your joy may be full.

    Here the Pietists may have attempted to address a concern even expressed by “more orthodox” Lutherans: “Can the pastor responsibly pronounce the forgiveness of sins in such a blanket manner or in such a public (contra private) setting?” The problem became real when the church lost the practice of private confession and absolution.


    f Repentance

    Repentance occupied a dominant place in the theology and life of the pietists. The emphasis on the inner life encouraged, even demanded, serious and constant self-examination. This “self-analysis…cast them on the iron couch of introspection.”

    Constant probing of the inner life often led to morbid introspection and gave great vogue to diaries, autobiographies, and other accounts of spiritual struggles. Weeping, wailing, and groaning were regarded as sure signs of true repentance, and people belabored themselves, even in their hymns, as “rotten carcasses” and “stinking worms.”

    This was very indicative of a shift in theology which in turn had practical consequences, i.e. that it placed the believers right back under the law.

    Repentance was reduced to remorse, and in time a sort of routine was devised artificially to excite appropriate feelings. This sometimes led to self-deception, hypocrisy, and an affected mouthing of pious clichés, the “language of Canaan.” The consequence, theologically, was that what man does in repentance was placed in the foreground rather than what God has done and does in Christ. This inevitably carried with it a change in the understanding of justification.

    All of these changes reflect the shift of accent from institution to individual, from outward act to inner experience.

    g Forensic Justification – Regeneration

    Pietism expressed many of its concerns in what I describe as an “adverbial” manner: e.g., ” Do you really repent?” This question was especially with reference to confession itself. (See above) “Are you really saved? The same may be observed in much “Evangelical” piety today. Arthur Repp noted that Spener “looked for some means by which he as pastor could deal with the individual to assure himself that his parishioner was truly converted.”

    Pietism was not content with criticizing the orthodox institutional church and demanding the introduction of reforms. It also–and this constitutes its real church historical significance–focused chief attention upon a different biblical-theological subject. The reformers and the orthodox theologians had given central place to the Word of God and the doctrine of justification. But Pietism’s central subject was regeneration (conversion, rebirth).

    Spener fostered a tradition of mystical spiritualism.

    Characteristic of this tradition is the central place given to regeneration (a biological image) instead of justification (a forensic image). The language of “rebirth,” “new man,” “inner man,” “illumination,” “edification,” and “union of Christ with the soul” is common to Spener and to the older mystics.

    Thus there was a shift away from forensic, justification talk. This came under the influence of Eastern Christian ascetic tradition and elements of mysticism in the West.

    Forensic terminology gave way to organic terms implying growth and development. The popularity of the language of “rebirth,” “new man,” “inner man,” “inner prayer,” “illumination,” “sanctification” or “godliness,” “partaking of the divine nature,” “union with Christ” and “union with God” was illustrative of shifting theological emphases. Most important was the shift from justification to regeneration (conversion, rebirth) as the central theological theme and a parallel shift from faith to love.

    This “most important” shift is further explained in the following:

    Major emphasis was placed on regeneration, which Spener thought of as the granting of a new life. Justification is the fruit of regeneration. The doctrine of imputation was therefore replaced by the idea that justification and sanctification form a unity. This unity is expressed by the term “regeneration” (or “new birth”), which no longer–as in the older tradition–coincides with the concept of the forgiveness of sins but designates an inner transformation which in turn is the source of the new life that characterizes the Christian man.

  4. That’s a really good book. Our pastor obtained copies of it for the members of our Board of Elders when they first came out, as he did with Pr. Klemet Preus’ book.

    The new version is also available on Kindle. Be sure you don’t accidentally purchase the older version.

  5. @Nathan Redman #5
    I guess by new life I meant after our earthly death.

    OK, that works, with what you said. 🙂

    But, as redeemed saints, don’t we have it now?
    “This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom Thou hast sent.” John 17:3

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