Here is my sermon for this months midweek service. I answer the question: How do we resolve the tension between sin and grace, law and gospel? (Hint: We don’t) But here’s how I said it in my sermon:
Sin and grace. As Baptized Christians we receive grace from God, that is, his undeserved love and mercy, the forgiveness that is ours in Christ Jesus because of his death and resurrection.
So, with free forgiveness for Jesus sake, we have a get out of jail free card, right? It’s like those TV shows and movies we see where the crime boss has the judge in his pocket, so he can do whatever he wants. After all, we can get free forgiveness from Jesus, so who cares what we do? That’s how it works, right?
No, No, No, No, No. Saint Paul: Shall we go on sinning so that grace may abound? BY NO MEANS! We have been forgiven our sins, freely for Jesus sake. And that forgiveness is good for all of our sins. We don’t deserve the forgiveness, we do nothing to earn it, and so the temptation is always there – and it’s a temptation that the church has had to address repeatedly throughout her history – the temptation to say, Well, I’m forgiven, I can commit any sin I want to. Saint Paul answers this questions as he ties our salvation back to Jesus death, to the death we went through in Baptism where we were joined to his death, and then says, “How can we who have died to sin live in sin any longer?”
There is a tension here. And it is un-resolvable. It can not be lessened or fixed. You are at the same time a saint and a sinner. You are a saint, redeemed by God through Jesus Christ, and given new life through the waters of holy baptism. There is nothing lacking. You are saved, you are righteous, you are pure spotless, blameless before God.
And yet, in this world you are still a sinner, worthy of total condemnation, and in daily need of forgiveness. These two absolute and opposing truths can not be compromised, and the tension between them can not be reduced. Ever.
But that tension creates a problem for sinners. Because we are sinners, we want to abuse the word of God, to make it say what we want it to say, rather than what God says. We don’t want to fear love and trust in God above all things. We don’t want to lead holy lives according to God’s word. And so, despite the clear word of God, in this case, through the Apostle Paul, we try and justify things by saying, “I can do whatever I want, I’m forgiven. I don’t need to worry about sin anymore, because I’ve been saved by Jesus, and it’s all his work.” And so this tension between saint and sinner can easily lead to an anti-law position. The law is no longer needed at all. I will do whatever I please, and no one can tell me differently.
Throughout the church’s history there have been attempts to fix this, to solve the problem, to somehow take away the tension between saint and sinner, between law and Gospel.
They are attempts to try and make it so that people take seriously their position as a child of God. And these attempts always end up destroying the very Gospel they hope to save.
In Luther’s day he fought against the idea of works righteousness- Jesus does some of the saving, and that our good works do the rest – an idea not even today eradicated from Romanistic theology. On the other side of things, there were other reformers who tried to resolve the tension by saying that Jesus saves you, when you follow him. Sure, It’s faith that saves, but if you really want to impress God, you will take that next step to being a true disciple. That’s when you truly walk away from sin. This teaching found its way into the Lutheran church during the time of pietism, and it’s still there in various forms. The idea that, yes we are saved, but now we need to do something to really show our gratitude for salvation. We have moved works righteousness from the second article of the creed (the one about redemption through Jesus Christ) to the third article (the one about being made Holy by the Spirit through the word and sacraments.)
There is no way to resolve the tension. Any attempt will fail, because Law and Gospel themselves are in tension. In the old Luther movie, at one point Luther is explaining to students that he has rediscovered the Gospel. He realizes that It’s all Jesus, it’s not our effort at all. And one of his students says, “You mean we can do whatever we want?” The implication is that drunkenness and orgies would be the result of such liberty. Luther responds, “Yes, you can do whatever you want. Now, what do you want to do?”
And that shows the proper understanding of how this all fits together. One recent theologian added a few words at the end, “What do you want to do, now that there is nothing that you have to do?” You are freed from the demands of the law by Jesus. Now, what do you want to do?
Do you want to return to your old way, the way of sin and death, or do you want to live in the freedom of the Gospel? You see, the Gospel says that all is accomplished. There is nothing you can do, and if you try, then you destroy the very Gospel you are trying to serve. It must always be Jesus, Jesus, only Jesus who saves.
And so, as a Christian you still are forgiven each day. As Luther says, Baptizing with water indicates that the old Adam in us should be daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires. And a new man daily come forth and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. That is the way of Jesus. In baptism you are put to death with Christ and raised to a new life. And everything that God demands of you in Baptism, he gives you in Baptism. You are his, he has claimed you as your own. The life you live is no longer yours, it is Christ living through you. All has been accomplished by Christ and his sacrifice.
What do you want to do, now that there is nothing that you have to do? Amen.