Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Law and Gospel

Some modern theologians, following Martin Luther, contend that the Law of God always/only accuses and condemns, and that the Gospel always/only encourages and saves. But a careful reading of the Bible indicates that this hermeneutic (way of interpreting Scripture) is too simplistic. In Psalm 19, "the law is perfect converting the soul." And in Paul's letter to the Corinthians, the aroma of Christ (the Gospel) is life to some and death to others.

Instead of "law versus Gospel," perhaps a better, more Biblical dichotomy is "belief versus unbelief." To the believer all of God's Word (law and Gospel) is blessing. He rejoices to hear the news of God's free grace in Christ Jesus, and regarding the law, he exults with the psalmist, "O, how I love your law, it is my meditation day and night!" In stark contrast, the unbeliever hates with equal vigor both the law that exposes his sin, and the Gospel devoid of his merit.

Martin Luther's "law/gospel" distinction was certainly helpful as he battled the works orientation of the 16th century Roman Catholic Church, but unhelpful as a permanent hermeneutic. Martin Bucer, the Reformer of Strasbourg, took Luther's teachings and refined them, retaining both the death-dealing and life-giving properties of God's law. Viz:

"Bucer absorbed everything Luther said on human sinfulness, on human failure to fulfill God's law, and on the impossibility of becoming justified through works. He agreed entirely with Luther that Christians must place their trust solely in Christ, not in their own deeds and accomplishments. But Bucer was driving at a much broader understanding of God's law. God certainly accuses us and convicts us of our sins, but we have to go beyond this understanding of God's law, which remains external and foreign to us human beings. Christians, however, relate to God's law in a new way: they consent to it in their hearts and are moved by the Holy Spirit to live and behave according to it. Borrowing from Aristotle, Bucer described the way the law works in Christians as Entelechia, as an 'active and effective energy.'" (Martin Greschat, Martin Bucer - A Reformer and His Times)

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