It sounds so simple - Law and Gospel. It is a fundamental teaching of the Lutheran Church, one that we take for granted in our lives. We are sinners. We are separated from god by our sin. We deserve damnation. God, in love, sent His only Son to suffer and die for us upon the cross. His sinless life, death and resurrection paid the full and complete price for our salvation. through faith in Christ, faith bestowed by the Holy Spirit through the Means of Grace, we are saved. We are given forgiveness, life and the power to please God through good works. We are assured of salvation instead of damnation. Law and Gospel, foundational to the Christian faith.
But there are many who don't know these two teachings. They struggle with their lives and their theology because they do not understand the difference between them, or perhaps they don't even know them. How often do you hear someone preach the gospel only to say, "You are a sinner going to hell"? That isn't gospel, that is law. Anytime that we put our works into the mix, we are moving back into the law. We are putting forgiveness and salvation on our shoulders and it means that all is lost again.
Another teaching that we take for granted is that we are at the same time both saint and sinner. We are saint by virtue of the grace and forgiveness of God. We are sinner by virtue of our nature. We struggle with that each and every day. Just when we think we have this Christian life thing down pat, we find ourselves caught up in sin once again.
The reason I am thinking of this is that I was reading an article this morning. "We've Won the Lottery - Now What?" (BTW - It really wasn't about the lottery.) Written from the evangelical point of view, it struggled with sinful behavior on the part of people, especially high profile people who claim to be Christian. How can a person be a Christian and still find themselves in the life of sin? How can a Christian really be a Christian and be an adulterer or an embezzler? And does all those sinful people invalidate the message of the Gospel?
As a Lutheran, I do not struggle with that question at all. Sin is in this world. Sin is in the life of those high profile Christians such as George W. Bush and Billy Graham. They are not saints. they make good decisions and bad decisions. Their children, raised as Christians, will get into trouble. The pastor of the congregation will sin. The elders of the congregation will sin. The little old blue haired lady sitting in the pew shaking her head at the sins of others will sin. That, my friends, is the reality that we face. (read Romans 7)
Having said that, I also proclaim that those same ones are saints, not by their actions but by the grace of God, that forgives them for Christ's sake. They live in the state of grace (now that doesn't mean that we sin boldly so that grace may abound. That thought only comes from the sinful heart that is not following the way of the Lord. What a wicked heart we have to think that way.). Forgiveness is theirs. As Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery, "Go and sin no more." Do you think she actually never sinned again? Of course not. In my mind, she didn't commit adultery ever again. Then again, maybe there is something to the saying, "Once a cheater, always a cheater." The thing is that under the forgiveness of Christ, she went away forgiven and renewed for a new life in Him. She continued to have to confess her sins and receive forgiveness, just like us.
The problem with some theology is that they have set people up for failure. They want people to think that they can be perfect here on earth. And when they fail to reach that perfection, when some famous person falls into a public sin, they are shocked, appalled and sure that they were not true Christians. That fills my heart with sadness for in the moment of greatest need, we are shaking our heads, wagging our fingers and telling that person that they were not a true Christian because of their sin. The law is already crushing the person and all we can do is heap more law upon them.
Perhaps it is time for us to get back to the teaching of law and gospel, sin and grace. It helps to know that I am at the same time saint and sinner - all under the power and love of Christ Jesus. I thank God for the forgiveness given to me. And I pray that the Spirit would strengthen me and help me to live as He would have me live. Yes, we still reach for perfection, knowing all the while that we will only attain it when we enter into heaven. Doesn't stop us from trying - but we must remember that a bruised reed he will not break.