When is too much law too much? Can there ever be too much Gospel?

In Lutheran circles there has always been the distinction between law and Gospel in the Christian life and in preaching.  When it gets down to counseling or ministering to others, it can be difficult to determine whether a situation calls for application of the law in one’s life or the Gospel.  The message of redemption and forgiveness of sins through the person and work of Jesus Christ according to the Will of God the Father, should always be front and center in our lives.  There are times, however, when we need the application of the law.  For the non-Christian, knowing the need for a Savior is not accomplished without application of the law which, as Paul says, shows us our sins, magnifies them and increases them.  But at the same time, grace increases even more and the forgiveness of sins is poured out.  Romans 5:20ff.  And even for us as Christians there are times when we need to be reminded with the Hammer of the Law (Jeremiah 23:29) that we are simultaneously saint and sinner, where grace no longer holds the place of a priceless treasure, a pearl of great price, but is dispensed as loosely as campaign donations to politicians in a room full of lobbyists.   And perhaps that too is when the Gospel is used too much and loses its power in our lives — we think we are entitled to forgiveness, without true repentance and repairing the damage we have done to others with our sin.  For with true repentance and forgiveness comes the work of reconciliation of our relationship with Christ and with our neighbor, the fruit of the Spirit.  We use the law too much when we use it as a hammer to beat others over the head with their sins, or when the Word of God is reduced to a handbook for living “do this” and you will have peace and joy and blessings.  Law and Gospel are mightily confused when we focus solely on the blessings promised in Scripture, and ignore all else, seeking only the benefits of being a Christ follower without the cost.  Cheap grace again. 

In the hands of sinful people, the Law can be misused, as can the Gospel.  And it is always good to practice applying God’s Word to our lives in proper ways.  One of the examples that came up in our Bible Study from Mark 10 last evening was how would we minister to a woman who is in a physically abusive marriage where, as Scripture tells us, divorce is permitted only where there has been adultery.  Consider the following example, how would you respond?

A woman has been accused of and admitted to an adulterous affair.  She works for a Christian business and loses her job because her conduct is deemed unbecoming of a Christian.  At church, she is told that she cannot receive communion unless and until she repents and submits to counseling for several months.  People stop talking when she walks into the room;  they whisper and talk secretly about what she has done.  Her husband, who travels extensively and has many of his own hobbies that do not involve his wife even when he is not traveling, refuses to undergo marital counseling.  He stands squarely with those at his church who have imposed conditions on her reception into fellowship of the church.  And he wants a divorce.  After all, he is the innocent party.  The woman is crushed, and truly sorry for what she has done.  Soon she stops coming to church, and starts attending a different one.  What would you say to this woman?  What about her husband?  Was it handled appropriately in the church?

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Posted on September 9, 2010, in Men's Bible Study. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I believe that the adulterious woman is the only Christian in this example. Her employer, fellow church members, and husband were all wrongfully administering judgment and condemnation. Luke 6:37(NIV) states, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” The adulterous woman admitted her sin and asked for forgiveness not only from God, but her husband as well. Consequently, she has satisfied God’s will with regard to the recognition of personal sin and true repentance.

    However, the husband here has also committed sin; it’s just in a different form and plus he has made it worse by refusing to recognize it or admit any wrong doing. One thing I learned very early in business school was not to throw resources at fixing symptoms to problems, but rather find and fix the actual problem. The wife’s adulterous behavior here is a symptom to the underlying problem of the husband’s sin of ignoring his wife. This is what the church and her employer should have recognized and instead of judging and condemning only the wife’s actions, they should have helped them both to discover their true problem, and more importantly, help them to fix it so that “what God has joined together, let man not separate.” (Mark 10:9 (NIV))

    Furthermore, I don’t believe any Christian should turn their back on anyone when they have fallen, as in this example. This is when we need each other the most. For Jesus replied after being asked which is the greatest commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31 (NIV))

  2. Well said Richard. Things are not always as black and white as we would like them to be.

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