A Lutheran's Guide to the Law and Grace

Things have two sides.

A coin has heads and tails; the best soft ­serve cone has both chocolate and vanilla; a set 24 hours has both night and day. They work in tandem to create one thing, and were one side to be taken away, the lopsidedness of what's left would fail to fulfill the goal of the original thing.

So it is with the Law and the Gospel. Both knowledge of the order and the salvation are needed for anything in the Bible to hold true. A sick person needs to know they can go to a doctor to get better rather than languishing in pain.

James 1:12-­18 struck me as being a balance of such: there is sin, and there is hope for the sin. If there were only Law, there would be only despair and death. If there were only Gospel, we'd be skipping along merrily to our deaths, thinking everything was okay.

Being a lifelong Lutheran, this brings me back to my two years of confirmation classes. According to the introduction to the Explanation of Luther's Small Catechism, questions 7 and 8 describe what God does in each.

For the Law in question 7, he “commands good works of thought, word, and deed and condemns and punishes sin.” Romans 3:20 stands out as a supporting verse here:

“For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”

This knowledge of sin is essential! We're sinners in need of a Savior.

Question 8 in the Explanation says, “In the Gospel, the good news of our salvation in Jesus Christ, God gives forgiveness, faith, life, and the power to please Him with good works.”

This is not saying good works is what he wants; rather, works come about as a result of our faith in him (James 2:14-­17) and this faith is a gift of the Spirit (Ephesians 2:8).

This underlies everything in our faith, really; the mirror of the Law shows us we are in desperate need of God's saving grace in the Gospel. And you can't have one without the other.

I don't want to delve into the difficulties in distinction between Law and Gospel (it's tougher than you think!). But I do like this paragraph from a Lutheran Witness article on C. F. W. Walther and discerning between Law and Gospel, because I think it underscores what James is saying in 1:12­-18:

While the Law of God promises life to those who keep it and threatens punishment to all who break it, it is powerless to make a person righteous in the sight of God. It is only the Gospel that declares sinners to be righteous, not on account of their morality or good intentions but solely because of the work of Jesus Christ who has fulfilled the Law, suffered under its condemnation in our place and was raised from the dead as our Brother.

James starts verse 12 with talking about a crown of life to the faithful, then gets into temptation and being tempted, then sin and death. Not fun stuff to read! That's the Law. But I see verse 16 as kind of a, “Phew!” --

But do not be deceived, my beloved brothers[!]” he says. There is hope!

Verses 17 and 18 and their talk of gifts and life and light and truth balance out the grimness of the ultimate result of sin. Phew!

Would you join me in reading and meditating on Romans 8 today?

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

See You In The Round!