For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23 ESV).
I did not understand the implications of Romans 6:23 until I was a seminary student. The sting of sin had never been shown to me in such a dramatic way until I began my studies of God’s Word and Lutheran doctrine. Hearing Law/Gospel preaching every day in chapel put how grave was my condition if I continued to sin and treat forgiveness of sin as “cheap grace” or as a “get out of hell free card”. Please do not misunderstand me and think that all the sermons I heard growing up did not rightly distinguish Law and Gospel. That’s not the case. My problem was that I could not connect what was being preached to how I should live as a Christian.
I spent more than one sleepless night agonizing over a particular sin that I committed in my “wilderness years” between college graduation and starting seminary. I knew what I had done was wrong and sinful, but I thought that because I got away with it, there was no problem. The problem was an unclean conscience. It wasn’t until halfway through my vicar year that I decided to confess my sin to my pastor and receive absolution. A burden was lifted from me. Yet one thing remained. I had to come clean about my sin to whom it was committed. That I did, and an even greater burden was lifted.
These thoughts came back into my head today as I was reading C.F.W. Walther’s “The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel” in the recently released Reader’s Edition from Concordia Publishing House. Walther says the Thirty-First Evening Lecture:
This blindness regarding sin is the chief cause of the almost universal rejection of the Gospel in our time. People who fail to recognize the horrible nature of sin decline to accept the sacrificial death of the Son of God for the reconciliation and redemption of this world of sinners. They consider His death completely unnecessary and, therefore, regard the story of the Gospel as a miserable failure.
It is, therefore, one of the most important requirements of a true, Gospel-oriented pastor that he would know how to explain to his listeners the true nature of sin in terms that are as loud and clear as they are terrible, drastic, and relevant. For without a real knowledge of what an awful thing sin is, a person cannot understand and accept the Gospel. As long as he is not alarmed that sin is his greatest enemy and the most awful horror living in him, he will not come to Christ. Law and Gospel can be distinguished even less if a person has no true and adequate knowledge of sin.
The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is in desperate need of a renewal of preaching. I heard Synod President Matthew C. Harrison say this very thing at the Northern Illinois District Convention this past March. I’ve been careful to watch how I preach both Law and Gospel. This has led me to read “Law and Gospel” for at least the third (or is it fourth?) time. As I said in a previous post, wouldn’t it be nice to have our circuits reading “Law and Gospel” together as brothers? What would also be nice is to see the return of preaching sermons at circuit meetings and having brother pastors constructively critique the sermon. I know this is the case in some circuits in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.
It’s almost shameful that it took so long for me to understand and believe the sting of sin. However, it makes the Gospel of Christ’s death for my sins all the more wonderful.