God’s law condemns—but his good news promises forgiveness and joy!

I feel the most vital and necessary teaching we Confessional Lutherans are “still standing” by is the proper distinction between the law and the gospel. Before I became Lutheran, I attended and was involved in many Christian churches that were good at preaching the ways I didn’t fulfill God’s word but never clearly preached that Jesus perfectly fulfilled God’s law so I didn’t have to do anything else to be saved. Their teachings mixed the law and gospel by conveying if I just did my part, God would do his and my life would be prosperous, fulfilling, and happy. I did believe Jesus died to save me, yet the sermons that promised an “easy yoke” and an enjoyable, “Spirit-filled life” left me insecure, burdened, unhappy, and unsatisfied. I wanted to do good, but I couldn’t do enough to prove to God how thankful I was. I could not understand others saying that reading the Bible made them “feel better” or “comforted.” I kept trying the next book, experience, or deed, but got bitter results: being ashamed of my life, feeling both sad and inadequate by my “good” actions.

At the end of my rope, I read Lutheran articles that clearly separated the law from the gospel. In those articles, salvation was sure, based on Jesus’ works, not man’s. I finally understood the comfort Scripture offered! Now, my trust in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is where my treasure lies, my satisfaction will never disappoint, and my heart finds contentment. I confess with Paul, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes . . . For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith'” (Romans 1:16-17).

This post by Evelyn Bickel commemorates the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation (31 October 2017).

500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation

Today is the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation! It began on October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther started calling the church to return to these teachings of the Scriptures:

More information:

Celebrating in Ottawa at 3:30 pm on Sunday, November 5:

Keep all the commandments to enter life

As I opened my New Testament, I expected to read a passage and then return to life as usual. Instead I found this:
Once a man came to Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what good thing must I do to receive eternal life?” “Why do you ask me concerning what is good?” answered Jesus. “There is only One who is good. Keep the commandments if you want to enter life.” “What commandments?” he asked. Jesus answered, “Do not commit murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not accuse anyone falsely; respect your father and your mother; and love your neighbor as you love yourself.” “I have obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied.
Matthew 19:16-20a, Good News Translation
But I obviously had not obeyed all those commandments! Condemned by Jesus, I fell to my knees, begging to be allowed somehow to enter eternal life as a slave.
Years later I learned that because “the only One who is good” was sentenced to death for my crime, I not only received eternal life but received it as God’s forgiven child. Grace alone.
I did not receive it by doing a good thing but simply by believing that good news. Faith alone.
No church council or Pope could take the joy of this full pardon from me, for I had not learned it from mortals but from the very words of God. Scripture alone.
Just as I am, thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
This post by David Bickel commemorates the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation (31 October 2017).

“Are there legal regulations in the New Testament?” (centennial; August Pieper)


And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.
Matthew 27:50-51a
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.
Colossians 2:16-17
Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.
Galatians 5:2-5
. . . In the way in which it is stated in the Ten Commandments the love toward God and toward the neighbor is to express itself unconditionally on the part of absolutely all human beings and under all circumstances (except if he himself should make exceptions) and not a tittle differently (Mt 5:18ff).

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Sharing in another’s teachings by expressing Christian unity

If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.
2 John 10-11, ESV

To express unity of faith with false teachers is to partake in their works—false teachings. In agreement with the Brief Statement once held by the LCMS, the theses on fellowship adopted by the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod teaches that “Those who practice church fellowship with persistent errorists are partakers of their evil deeds. 2 Jn 11.”

  • Paul, in unity with John, warned that false teachers arise because they have the support of “itching ears” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
  • That fellowship is a sharing of deeds is taught not only by the apostles but also by our Lord, who said whoever supports a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, etc. (Matthew 10:41).

In short, partaking in joint expressions of Christian unity by its nature is fellowship—sharing—in one another’s doctrine. A joint confession of faith is necessarily a confession of a joint faith.

The theses continue, “His clear injunction (also flowing out of love) to avoid those who adhere to false doctrine and practice and all who make themselves partakers of their evil deeds.”

  • Those sharing in the evil deed of causing division must be denied fellowship (Romans 16:17-18).

In other words, to condone sharing in that is to become a partaker. What about those who by their offerings, joint communion, church membership, and other expressions of a common faith take their stand with a leader making a common confession with false teachers in their name? They thereby take part in the leader’s work of false teaching:

If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.
2 John 10-11, ESV

Corruption exposed

The privileged few maintain the status quo even at the expense of their integrity, telling the others how they can better themselves. The people long for relief from an administration that levies excessive taxes for wasteful spending programs while enforcing a legal system that favors the wealthy. Many find hope in a man who proclaims freedom through a new regime, a man not afraid to expose the greed and arrogance of the current leaders. He tells them their respectability in the eyes of society is a facade, noting that they take advantage of the most helpless for monetary gain.

But this man does not speak of the highly educated as the only slaves of materialism. Although he does not have his own home, he cryptically warns the hungry that they must stop seeking food as if their life depended on it. He also supports the full payment of taxes to the current government. Equally disappointing, he refuses to resist the authorities he has infuriated, enabling them to arrest him, privately try him, and publicly execute him. So much for the freedom he had promised the oppressed. His closest followers go into hiding, and their most vocal advocate of the poor commits suicide. Continue reading

How to face stressful events without anxiety

The care which God demands: V. 33. But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. To seek, earnestly to covet, to put the whole heart to the gaining of, the kingdom of God, is a most necessary care for the disciples of Christ, for the children of God. For this kingdom is not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, Rom. 14, 17. To possess this righteousness, which is well-pleasing to God, to be filled with the fruits of this righteousness, to become rich in truly good works, that is a goal worthy of the Christian’s ambition. Such a constant seeking after purity of heart and holiness of life will incidentally stifle all care and worry of this life. And the little things of this earthly body and life will then come as a matter of course, the main object of the quest having been secured. They will be cast into our laps as an overplus, as an addition to the great bargain which our seeking has gained.

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Why do believers still need the Ten Commandments?

Just as Jesus used the Decalogue to restrain and condemn Satan, believers use it to restrain and condemn their flesh. Like Jesus, believers wield the written code against their enemies.

The one who cannot sin did not otherwise need the Decalogue. Similarly, believers, having God’s eternal will written in their hearts by the Spirit, would not need to hear Moses were it not for their ever-present sin.

While believers want to keep the commandments, they find themselves doing what they do not want to do because the flesh is weak, even to the point of clouding their judgment about what God requires. They always need to hear the law to inform them of what they already want to do as new creations. They are glad to learn which works please God and which are just human inventions.

In conclusion, believers delight in the Decalogue precisely because it is so effective in the battle against the flesh. They rejoice even more that their names are written in heaven, for only that good news can truly kill the flesh, burying it in baptism. That gospel promise alone can raise believers to new life.

Acknowledgment. I thank Robert C. Baker for helpful discussions on the third use of the law.

Should New Testament commands be obeyed as new laws?

Since everything a Christian is required to do is already in the moral law as summarized in the Ten Commandments and as revealed at least to some extent in natural law, the New Testament issues no new laws, ceremonial or otherwise. The New Testament instead proclaims freedom from the law as a tyrant without abrogating the moral law, which it applies to specific cases.

Christ’s commands are not legal in character. For example, in the Sermon on the Mount, Christ pointed out that the ancient prohibitions of murder and adultery had always condemned hatred and lust. Rather than issuing new laws, he commanded the oral and visible proclamation of the gospel and freely gave apostles, evangelists, pastors, prophets, etc. (Matthew 28:18-20; Ephesians 4:11).

Nor can legal regulations be found among the numerous directives in the Pauline epistles. The fact that Paul gave specific instructions on the qualifications of deacons (1 Timothy 3:8-13), on head coverings (1 Corinthians 11:2-16), on appointing presbyters (Titus 1:5), and on Sunday collections (1 Corinthians 16:2) does not mean those instructions are new rules binding in all circumstances (on 1 Timothy 3, see A. Pieper, “Are There Legal Regulations in the New Testament?,” pp. 7-8). Rather, they are inspired applications of timeless wisdom to the current church setting.

Similarly, Paul did not give any new regulation when writing to Timothy about the role of women but rather appealed to the order of creation. Any conclusions drawn from what Paul said are only binding if they can be found in the moral law. For Paul did not appeal to his own authority in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 or any new regulation but instead to the creation account of Genesis 2-3. For example, 1 Timothy 2:14 is readily understood as an application of Genesis 3:17 (M. Braun (1981) “An Exegesis Of I Timothy 2:11-15 And Its Relation To The CHE Statement: ‘The Role Of Man And Woman According To Holy Scripture,’” p. 11).

In fact, Timothy could have learned from the Pentateuch not only what Paul said about the role of women but also what he said about paying elders who govern well (1 Timothy 5:17-19). The cases are similar in that the specific instructions are relevant applications of the will of God already revealed. Any interpretations of those instructions that do not follow from the Pentateuch go beyond what Paul actually argued.

For example, the contention that it is not fitting that females speak on behalf of a male Christ (W. C. Weinrich, “‘It is not Given to Women to Teach’: A Lex in Search of a Ratio,” Concordia Theological Seminary Press, Ft. Wayne, 1993) has absolutely no support from Paul. Rather, it reflects a papal form of the ancient Eros piety and conflicts with what the New Testament says about church and ministry. Recognizing the non-legislative nature of the New Testament can prevent such extreme positions on the ministry of the word.

3 January 2015. Hyperlink updated 6 July 2016.