Noxious Combination of Law and Gospel
Friday of Pentecost 22
21 October 2016
The ten commandments were given by God to the people of Israel on Mount Sinai 430 years after the promise of the Messiah was promulgated by God to Abraham (Gal 3:17). The promise predates and supersedes the law. Each was given by God, but each has its own distinct and separate purposes.
 
Mixing the law and promise (or the gospel) is like mixing chlorine bleach and ammonia cleaner while trying to get the grime out of your bathroom shower. Chlorine bleach and ammonia are very fine cleaners when used separately, but in combination they produce noxious and poisoning fumes. When the law and promises are confused or combined they produce a noxious and deadly amalgam that completely abolishes the promise and poisons the conscience with burdens that it cannot endure (Gal 2:15-16). This is why the distinction between law and gospel is the highest and most necessary art not only for a theologian but also for the conscience and heart of every Christian. If we know which word of God applies when, we shall be truly blessed and hearts will rest secure in Christ.
 
The law takes care of the flesh; the gospel the heart. The flesh needs the punishments of the law to whip it into shape (1Co 9:27). The heart needs the comforting promise that God has indeed sent His Son who has taken my sin away on the cross two thousand years ago. When our heart is accused by the law, as it will inevitably be, we must chase off the accusation with the invincible argument of God's promise in which we live by faith. Christ our Lord was beaten by rods that His cross would be the rod that beats off the law. Christ's back was stripped of its flesh that the law might be stripped of its power. Christ was affixed to the stake of death which is driven through the heart of the law, making it impotent before God. It can do its worst on earth, but it has no place in heaven. It can strip us of our flesh, but not of God's mercy. It can bring death, but not separation from God.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Luther
 
"These two, the law and the promise, must be very carefully distinguished; for they are as far apart in time, place, person, and all features as heaven and earth, the beginning of the world and its end. They are indeed close together, because they are joined in one man or in one soul. Nevertheless, in attitude and function they should be separated as far as possible, in such a way that the law has dominion over the flesh, but the promise reigns sweetly in the conscience. If you assign a specific place to each one this way, you walk safely between them, in the promise in heaven and in the law on earth, in the Spirit of grace and peace in Paradise and in the flesh of works and torment on earth. And then the troubles that the flesh is forced to bear will not be difficult, for the promise is sweet and delights the heart in a wonderful way. But if you confuse these two and place the law in your conscience but the promise of freedom in your flesh, the sort of confusion takes place that there was in the papacy. Then you do not know what is law and what is promise, what is sin and what is righteousness.
 
"If, then, you want to divide the Word of truth rightly (2Ti 2:15), you must distinguish the promise from the law as far as possible, both in your attitude and in your whole life. It is not without purpose that Paul urged this argument so diligently; for he saw that in the church this evil would arise, namely, that the Word of God would be confused, which means that the promise would be mixed with the law and in this way be completely lost. For when the promise is mixed up with the law, it becomes law pure and simple. For this reason, you should accustom yourself to distinguish the law from the promise even in time, so that when the law comes and accuses your conscience, you say: 'Lady Law, you are not coming on time; you are coming too late. Look back four hundred and thirty years; if these were rolled back, you could come. But you are coming too late and tardily; for you have been preceded for four hundred and thirty years by the promise, to which I agree and in which I gently rest. Therefore, you have nothing to do with me; I do not hear you. Now I am living after Abraham the believer; or rather, I am living after the revelation of Christ, who has abrogated and abolished you.' Thus let Christ always be set forth to the heart as a kind of summary of all the arguments in support of faith and against the righteousness of the flesh, the law, works, and merits."

Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 3.17
2 Timothy 2:14-19

Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. But God's firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: "The Lord knows those who are his," and, "Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity." (ESV)
Prayer
Lord Christ, You have taken the burden of the law into Your own person, that I might be freed from it. Let me live in the promise that I might live for You. Amen.
 
For those who are suffering from the ravages of hurricane Matthew, that they would be kept safe by God's merciful hand
 
For all those who will be traveling this weekend, that the holy angels would watch over their ways
 
For Marcheta Beasley who is recovering from surgery, that God the Lord would grant her healing
Art: Durer, Albrecht  The Adoration of the Trinity (1515) 
Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
© Scott Murray 2016
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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