Rev Dr Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Toowoomba Church; Date: 7 July 2012
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Revelation 11 – Law And Gospel
Ü Thesis 1: God speaks to people either Law or Gospel. These two ways of divine speaking need to be distinguished but belong together and work together dynamically.
When God speaks Law, he asks us to do something. For instance, he says: “Do not commit adultery. Keep the sabbath day holy. Love God with all of your heart, mind and soul. Love your neighbour as yourself.” When God speaks Law, he says: “Do this and do that.”
When God speaks Gospel, he does not ask us to do anything but proclaims what he is doing himself. For instance, he says: “I forgive you. I love you. I pour out my Holy Spirit on you. I convict you of your sin and save you.” When God speaks Gospel, which is Good News, he says: “I do this and I do that – for you.”
In summary: We do the Law and God does the Gospel.
Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article IV, 5: "All Scripture should be divided into these two chief doctrines, the law and the promises." Formula of Concord, Article V, 1: "The distinction between law and Gospel is an especially brilliant light which serves the purpose that the Word of God may be rightly divided and the writings of the holy prophets and apostles may be explained and understood correctly. We must therefore observe this distinction with particular diligence lest we confuse the two doctrines and change the Gospel into law. This would darken the merit of Christ and rob disturbed consciences of the comfort which they would otherwise have in the holy Gospel when it is preached purely and without admixture, for by it Christians can support themselves in their greatest temptations against the terrors of the law." Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XII, 53: "These are the two chief works of God in people, to terrify and to justify and quicken the terrified. One or the other of these works is spoken of throughout Scripture. One part is the law which reveals, denounces, and condemns sin. The other part is the Gospel, that is, the promise of grace granted in Christ."
Ü Thesis 2: The Law always ends up accusing us.
Why do we not obey even the best of laws? This side of eternity we are also sinners. We keep falling into sin. The Bible says: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Therefore, every law sooner or later ends up accusing us. The Law says: “Do this and do that,” but we fail to live up to its perfect standards. We sin and stand accused.
Formula of Concord, Article V, 17-18: “Everything that rebukes sin is and belongs to the law, the proper function of which is to condemn sin and to lead to a knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20; 7:7) ... the true function of the law remains, to rebuke sin and to give instruction about good works.” Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article IV, 38: “ ... For the law always accuses and terrifies consciences. It does not justify, because a conscience terrified by the law flees before God’s judgment.” Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XII, 88: “For the law will always accuse us because we never satisfy the law of God. As Paul says (Rom. ), ‘The law brings wrath.’”
Formula of Concord, Article V, 10: “The mere preaching of the law without Christ either produces presumptuous people, who believe that they can fulfill the law by external works, or drives people utterly to despair.”
Ü Thesis 3: The Law is preached first to accuse of sin, then the Gospel absolves and comforts.
Luther: “The law makes us aware that we are sick with sin. Then the gospel is welcomed as the medicine healing our sickness.” Smalcald Articles, Part III, Article 3, 1-4: “The New Testament retains and performs the office of the law, which reveals sin and God’s wrath, but to this office it immediately adds the promise of God’s grace through the Gospel” (cf. Formula of Concord, Article V, 14). Mark 1:15; Acts ; .
If we hear threats (law) after the promises (gospel), then we are robbed of the comfort, which God wants to give us.
Ü Thesis 4: The Law is not preached to those that are already terrorized by the Law. They need to hear the Gospel.
More law preaching would add to people’s misery and despair.
God would not be known as a loving God.
Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article IV, 257: “Thus in the preaching of penitence it is not enough to preach the Law, the Word that convicts of sin ... Consciences cannot find peace unless they hear the voice of God, clearly promising the forgiveness of sins ... ”
For example, Revelation 2:24-25: Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets (I will not impose any other burden on you): Only hold on to what you have until I come.
Ü Thesis 5: The Gospel is not preached to those that are no longer bothered by their sins. They need to hear the Law.
More gospel preaching would encourage people to go on sinning.
People would be fooled into thinking that everything was all right.
For example, Revelation 3:17-18: ... I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
God’s free gift of forgiveness would become cheap.
In 1937 the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: “We Lutherans [he could have added other Christians] have gathered like eagles round the carcass of cheap grace, and there we have drunk of the poison which has killed the life of following Christ ... Cheap grace has turned out to be utterly merciless to our Evangelical Church ... Instead of opening up the way to Christ it has closed it. Instead of calling us to follow Christ, it has hardened us in our disobedience ... The word of cheap grace has been the ruin of more Christians than any commandment of works ... ” Bonhoeffer attacked the preaching of “cheap grace” which is precisely the preaching of more grace to those that are no longer bothered by their sins. Bonhoeffer says: “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” Cheap grace is grace without following Jesus as our Lord. This cannot be. If we ever think along those lines, we do not need more Gospel preaching but the Law.
Ü Thesis 6: The Law does not produce good works.
If we used the law to pressure and coerce people into performing good works, we would act as if people by themselves were capable of doing what the law requires.
We would be tempted to earn our salvation.
We would either become proud of our achievements or despair in the face of the law’s uncompromising demands.
We would do good works out of a sense of duty and not out of love.
We would become resentful and bitter about what we perceive to be a cruel task-master in heaven.
Ü Thesis 7: The Gospel produces good works.
Good works are always a response to God’s good news.
Works that are performed under the threat of punishment are not good works. Good works are works of love. Luther, Preface to the Letter of Romans: “But to fulfill the law means to do its work eagerly, lovingly and freely, without the constraint of the law; it means to live well and in a manner pleasing to God, as though there were no law or punishment. It is the Holy Spirit, however, who puts such eagerness of unconstrained love into the heart, as Paul says in ch. 5. But the Spirit is given only in, with, and through faith in Jesus Christ, as Paul says in his introduction. So, too, faith comes only through the word of God, the Gospel, that preaches Christ.”
C.F.W. Walther: The Proper Distinction Between Law And Gospel, Concordia Publishing House 1929:“A preacher of the law comes down on people with threats and punishment; a preacher of divine grace coaxes and urges people by reminding them of the goodness and mercy which God has shown them.”
Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article IV, 125: “Since faith brings the Holy Spirit and produces a new life in our hearts, it must produce spiritual impulses in our hearts. What these impulses are, the prophet shows when he says (Jer. 31:33), ‘I will put my law upon their hearts.’ After we have been justified and regenerated by faith, therefore, we begin to fear and love God, to pray and expect help from him, to thank and praise him, and to submit to him in our afflictions. Then we also begin to love our neighbour because our hearts have spiritual and holy impulses.”
Luther, Preface to the Letter of Romans: “Faith is a work of God in us, which changes us and brings us to birth anew from God (cf. John 1). It kills the old Adam, makes us completely different people in heart, mind, senses, and all our powers, and brings the Holy Spirit with it. What a living, creative, active, powerful thing is faith! It is impossible that faith ever stop doing good. Faith doesn’t ask whether good works are to be done, but, before it is asked, it has done them. It is always active. Whoever doesn’t do such works is without faith; ... Faith is a living, unshakeably confidence in God’s grace; it is so certain that someone would die a thousand times for it. This kind of trust in and knowledge of God’s grace makes a person joyful, confident, and happy with regard to God and all creatures. This is what the Holy Spirit does by faith. Through faith, a person will do good to everyone without coercion, willingly and happily; he will serve everyone, suffer everything for the love and praise of God, who has shown him such grace. It is as impossible to separate works from faith as burning and shining from fire.”
Ephesians 2:10: For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Philippians 2:12-13: Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.
Ü Thesis 8: The Gospel produces good works and makes us wage “war” against our old sinful self.
Luther, Concerning Christian Freedom: “For the inner self, being conformed to God and created after the image of God through faith, rejoices and delights itself in Christ, in whom such blessings have been conferred on it, and hence has only this task before it: to serve God with joy and for nought in free love. But in doing this he comes into collision with that contrary will in his own flesh, which is striving to serve the world and to seek its own gratification. This the spirit of faith cannot and will not bear, but applies itself with cheerfulness and zeal to keep it down and restrain it, as Paul says, ‘I delight in the law of God after the inward self, but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin’ (Romans 7:22-23), and again, ‘I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway’ (1 Corinthians 9:27), and ‘They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affectations and lusts’ (Galatians 5:24).”
Galatians 5:6-18: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love … You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ … So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever[c] you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
An evangelist complains: “ ... what is particularly saddening and even agonizing, is that many ministers and leading Christians give completely false instruction on how to overcome sin. The directions that are generally given on the subject, I am sorry to say, amount to this: ‘Take your sins in detail, resolve to abstain from them, and fight against them, if need be with prayer and fasting, until you have overcome them. Set your will firmly against a relapse into sin, pray and struggle, and resolve that you will not fall – and persist in this until you form the habit of obedience and break all your sinful habits.’ To be sure, it is generally added: ‘In this conflict, you must not depend upon your own strength but pray for the help of God.’ ... ” (Charles Finney: Power From God, New Kensington 1996, 119-120).
“In my early Christian life, I was very nearly misled by one of President Jonathan Edward’s resolutions. It was, in substance, that when he had fallen into any sin, he would trace it back to its source, and then fight and pray agains tit with all his might until he subdued it. This, it will be perceived, is directing the attention to the overt act of sin, its source and occasions. Resolving and fighting against it fastens the attention on the sin and its source, and diverts it entirely from Christ.
Now it is important to say right here that all such efforts are worse than useless and often result in delusion. First, when we do this, we lose sight of what really constitutes sin; second, we overlook the only practicable way to avoid it. In this way, the outward act or habit may be overcome and avoided, but what really constitutes the sin is left untouched.
Sin is not external but internal ... Do we eradicate selfishness by resolution? No, indeed ... We may resolve upon an outward obedience and work ourselves up to the letter of an obedience to God’s commandments. But to eradicate selfishness from the heart by resolution is an absurdity ... in other words, to attempt to love as the law of God requires – by force of resolution is an absurdity ...
Our resolution has not secured love, which is the only real obedience to God ... The Bible expressly teaches us that sin is overcome by faith in Christ ... [1 Corinthians 1:30; John 14:6; Acts 15:9; Acts 26:18; Romans 9:31-32 ... The doctrine of the Bible is that Christ saves his people from sin through faith, that Christ’s Spirit is received by faith to dwell in the heart. It is faith that works by love (Galatians 5:6). Love is wrought and sustained by faith ...
Every victory over sin is by faith in Christ. Whenever the mind is diverted from Christ by resolving and fighting against sin, whether we are aware of it or not, we are acting in our own strength; we are rejecting the help of Christ and are under a specious delusion. Nothing but the life and energy of the Spirit of Christ within us can save us from sin, and trust is the uniform and universal condition of the working of this saving energy within us ... (Charles Finney: Power From God, New Kensington 1996, 120-123).
What is wrong with taking your sins in detail, resolving to abstain from them and fighting against them? This is motivating with the Law. “Do this and do that! Overcome sin with a habit of obedience!” It does not work. Sin is like darkness which can only be overcome by light. We do not get rid of darkness in a room by trying to shovel out the darkness. We have to turn on the light. In the same way, resolutions and battle plans, even the best instructions based on the Law of God, fasten our attention on the sin and its source, when we need to fasten on to Jesus – the only light that can dispel our darkness. The power for victory comes from the Gospel. The power for new life comes from the grace of God.
However, there can be another problem. If the Gospel produces good works and therefore we preach the grace of God, the actions of God, to motivate people’s obedience to God, do we not once again end up with “cheap grace”? Bonhoeffer tells the story of a pastor who was met by a parishioner after church. “The parishioner said: “Pastor, just lately I don’t seem to get anything out of your sermons. They don’t speak to me any more.” The pastor counseled: “Just hang in there. The Bible promises that the word of God creates faith. God ministers to you.” However, a few Sundays later the parishioner came back with the same complaint which left the pastor confused about what to say next.”
The pastor was confused because he tried to motivate with the Gospel and therefore kept saying: “God loves you. You are a forgiven child of God. He speaks to you in sermons and wants to bless you. Good things happen as you listen. God promises much to you. God ministers to you.” The pastor kept on going like this but it did not work. It became “cheap grace”. What then was he to do? Was he to motivate with the Law instead? No, listen to what Bonhoeffer suggests: “That particular pastor should stop agonizing over this. He needs to spell out what he knows about the parishioner: ‘You are trying to keep some part of your life under your own control. That is what is preventing you from listening to Christ and believing in his grace. You cannot hear Christ because you are wilfully disobedient. Somewhere in your heart you are refusing to listen to his call.’ ... ”
Bonhoeffer explains in general terms: “No one should be surprised at the difficulty of faith, if there is some part of his life where he is consciously resisting or disobeying the commandment of Jesus ... Is there some part of your life which you are refusing to surrender at his behest, some sinful passion, maybe, or some animosity, some hope, perhaps your ambition or your reason? If so, you must not be surprised that you have not received the Holy Spirit, that prayer is difficult, or that your request for faith remains unanswered ... How can you hope to enter into communion with him when at some point in your life you are running away from him?”
Therefore the pastor’s message to the struggling parishioner was to be: “Dear friend, unless you obey, you cannot believe. Unless you repent and obey, no sermon will speak to you because you are running away from Christ.”
Bonhoeffer recognized that in this instance and other instances you can no longer speak Gospel but need to speak Law. He followed Thesis 5: “The Gospel is not preached to those that are no longer bothered by their sins. They need to hear the Law.” However, this does not mean that in this case Bonhoeffer counseled to motivate good works by Law. The dynamic is that the Law needed to accuse again, so that the hardened parishioner reawakened to his need for salvation. He had to be confronted to overcome the lie that God is not serious about his Law (that his wrath does not burn against all unrighteousness) so that the hardened parishioner reawakened to his need for salvation which then would drive him to seek and find healing in the Gospel – the source for all of his good works.
Let’s get at this from a different angle. A Christian counselor writes: “Life in the Spirit is easy. For that is the hallmark of the kingdom – no sweat ... If we have to try to be loving, that is evidence that we are serving not God but the idol of our . [sinful self]. If kindness, love and forgiveness flow from us easily and naturally, all credit goes swiftly and easily to the Lord, for His life is in us. So the presence of striving is always our first clue ... [for something being wrong]” (John & Paula Sandford: Restoring The Christian Family, New Jersey 1979).
This reaffirms what we have said so far. “Life in the Spirit is easy [that is: Life motivated by the Gospel of God is easy because then the grace of God motivates and empowers everything we do.] . that is the hallmark of the kingdom – no sweat ... If we have to try to be loving, that is evidence that we are serving not God but the idol of our . [sinful self].”
If we have to try to be loving, then we are motivated not by the Gospel but Law, relying on ourselves to do what the Law says. On the other hand, motivated by the Gospel, having a life in the Spirit, we don’t have to try doing God’s will, we just do – easily and naturally without raising a sweat.
In summary this is how we preach on discipleship: 1. We let the Law of God accuse us of sin. 2. We surrender to God and repent of our sin. 3. We receive forgiveness which removes any blockages to the power of the Gospel. 4. Good works flow from the grace of God within us. 5. As often as we struggle with good works, we go back to point 1.
Ü Thesis 9: One and the same Word can function either as Law or Gospel.
The message of Jesus’ death and resurrection can function as either law or gospel.
V Law: You and your sins crucified Christ and you should not have done it.
V Gospel: Through his death and resurrection Christ forgives you and takes away your sins.
The message of godly prayer can function as either law or gospel.
V Law: You should pray, but you do not pray enough.
V Gospel: God speaks, listens and comforts you in prayer.
We may be aware of how we and others hear words from the Bible and our preaching.
Ü Thesis 10: The most difficult and highest Christian art is to master the dynamic of Law and Gospel, to distinguish these two ways of divine speaking, and to know when to speak either Law or Gospel.
The doctrine of distinguishing law and gospel may be easy to understand, but is most difficult to put into practise. The Holy Spirit must teach this in the school of experience. Luther: “There is no person on earth who knows how properly to divide Law from the Gospel. When we hear about it in a sermon, we imagine that we know how to do it, but we are greatly mistaken. The Holy Spirit alone knows this art ... ” (Walch, XXII, 65).
After repenting and confessing our sins, we know that we are forgiven, but this knowledge does not always sink in. Sometimes it is hard to apply the gospel to our own life-situation (cf. 1 John 3:19-20). Luther: “In your tribulations you will become aware that the Gospel is a rare guest in people’s consciences, while the Law is their daily and familiar companion. For people have by nature the knowledge of the Law” (St. L. Ed. IX, 161).
Outwardly a person may look like a devout Christian and not look like someone needing the accusing warnings of the law, but inwardly he is hardened doing evil things.
Frustrated church people easily resort to preaching the law to make people do things. That never results in joy and the freedom of the gospel.
Ü Thesis 11: Good Theology makes God the doer of the sentence. God does for us and to us.
On our own we cannot do anything, but God has to convict us of our sin and work salvation.
When God is the doer of the sentence, we safeguard against making faith and the works of faith a human work.
When God is the doer of the sentence, we stop accusing people with the law.
When God is the doer of the sentence, we hear the sweet words of the gospel and experience the goodness of God.
Thesis 1: God speaks to people either Law or Gospel. These two ways of divine speaking need to be distinguished but belong together and work together dynamically.
Thesis 2: The Law always ends up accusing us.
Thesis 3: The Law is preached first to accuse of sin, then the Gospel absolves and comforts.
Thesis 4: The Law is not preached to those that are already terrorized by the Law. They need to hear the Gospel.
Thesis 5: The Gospel is not preached to those that are no longer bothered by their sins. They need to hear the Law.
Thesis 6: The Law does not produce good works.
Thesis 7: The Gospel produces good works.
Thesis 8: The Gospel produces good works and makes us wage "war" against our old sinful self.
Thesis 9: One and the same Word can function either as Law or Gospel.
Thesis 10: The most difficult and highest Christian art is to master the dynamic of Law and Gospel, to distinguish these two ways of divine speaking, and to know when to speak either Law or Gospel.
Thesis 11: Good Theology: Make God the doer of the sentence. God does for us and to us.
Practical Exercise – Identify statements of Law and Gospel in Revelation 14:6-13:
Revelation 14:6-13: Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth —to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.”
A second angel followed and said, “‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great,’ which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.”
A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and its image, ... they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath ...
This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus.
Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labour, for their deeds will follow them.”
Give glory to God.
Do not worship the beast.
Keep the commandments.
Remain faithful to Jesus.
Die in the Lord.
God sends an angel to proclaim the Gospel.
God preaches salvation to every nation, tribe, language and people.
God made the earth.
God made Babylon the Great fall.
God proved to be greater than the great Babylon.
God stops the intoxication with adulteries.
God deals with the beast decisively (full strength of his fury).
God will make those who die in the Lord rest from their labour.
God will make your deeds follow you.
Ü Law turned into Gospel:
Fear God. => God invites us to recognize his awesome nature.
Give glory to God. => God invites us to praise him.
Worship him. => God invites us to bow down before him.
Do not worship the beast. => God warns us from submitting to a beastly master.
Endure patiently. => God encourages us to hang in there.
Keep the commandments. => God validates the importance of the commandments.
Remain faithful to Jesus. => God validates loyalty.
Die in the Lord. => God grants us to die in the Lord.
Ü Gospel turned into Law:
God sends an angel to proclaim the Gospel. => You must listen to the angel.
God preaches salvation to every nation, tribe, language and people. => Everyone must listen.
God made the earth. => Honour your maker.
God made Babylon the Great fall. => Do not fall with Babylon.
God proved to be greater than the great Babylon. => Watch whom you call great.
God stops the intoxication with adulteries. => Do not be drunk with foolish notions.
God deals with the beast decisively (full strength of his fury). => Get out of the way of God’s fury.
God will make those who die in the Lord rest from their labour. => Die in the Lord.
God will make your deeds follow you. => Do good deeds.
Debate whether a sermon/talk about Jesus should finish with Gospel or Law.
There should have been enough Gospel preaching so that the Law becomes a joyful and practical response rather than a condemning word.
The Law never motivates good works.
[Preaching sets up an encounter with God and an encounter with God is always an experience of grace even when God calls to repentance. Preaching sets up impartation.]
What are we to take home from Revelation 14:6-13? We focus on one Law statement and one Gospel statement:
Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come.
This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus.
Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. They will rest from their labour, for their deeds will follow them.