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?