we don’t need to beat up the broken and stiff-arm sinners :: can i still be a lutheran?

May 12, 2011

It was like a punch in the gut.

I couldn’t breathe.  I just sat in the pew next to her with my jaw clenched.  There were eternal consequences here, I thought.  I couldn’t belive this was happening.  I could feel her retreating from the church – retreating from Jesus.

He was a potential candidate for the now vacant Senior Pastor position in the church where I served as the Worship and Arts director.  He was being seriously considered for a call, and this was his day to preach.

She was a relative of a relative.  Visiting our church.  She NEVER went to church.  But this was her day. Prayers, the Spirit, and circumstance brought her here.  Could have been the most important day in her life, and she didn’t even know it.  She was wounded, hurting, lost.  She needed Jesus.  She needed “Come to me, all who are weary…”

He was a jerk.

It is one thing to preach the Law in all of it’s sterness to awaken the souls of the complacent and pierce the hearts of the defiant IN ORDER THAT they might receive the life-giving Gospel truth: Jesus has already paid our penalty, we have hope, it is finished.  It is another thing to revel in the preaching of the Law.  To wield it like a clumsy weapon, clubbing the saints and the searching alike.  As if guilt were a better indicator of healthy spiritual life than love.

I realized early in the message she would never come here again.  Truth be told, I had decided early in the message that if he took the call, I would not come here again, either.  But now I felt hope slipping away and angry walls being built, brick by brick.  He was railing. Railing against those who would defile their body with tattoos. Spit in the face of God by piercing their bodies, His temple.  Those who would wear their sin proudly like a badge of honor in their dark clothing and Doc Martin boots and heavy eye make-up.  How shameful they were. How disgusting their vanity and rebellion must look to God.

She shifted uncomfortably, uncrossing her legs to lower her Doc Martins under the pew.  Her plaid flannel sleeves weren’t long enough to cover the ink spilling down her forearm and onto her wrist.  She was ashamed.  Then she was angry. Then she was gone.

I have never – NEVER – forgotten the lesson of that day, but I’ve never written about it.  Here I am in a Lutheran Seminary, learning how to divide all of scripture into two distinct categories:  LAW and GOSPEL.  God has given us the Law to kill our self-reliance and to point us to the cross.  And as a fifth (sixth… more than that?) generation Lutheran, I’ve been taught that the Gospel without the Law is cheap grace.  People need to be confronted with their sin before they are ready to receive the Gospel.  True conversion involves repentance. We die to self before we are reborn.


That “but” has big implications.  I have feared pushing against centuries of Lutheran orthodoxy and thousands of Spirit-led theologians who would warn me that in this regard, there are no “buts.”  Law, then Gospel.  LAW, then Gospel.


Sometimes, people already know they are broken. Sometimes, people are aware that they don’t measure up. Sometimes people come to church expecting God to view them the way this clumsy, angry, mean-spirited preacher viewed them.  And to them Jesus says, “Come…”

Why is this? It is because He created us to be in a relationship with Himself, for His glory and our enjoyment.  It is not unholy or selfish to seek to enjoy God.  He crafted us with a longing to be satisfied.  And NOTHING satisfies like the enjoyment of God Himself.  As we express that enjoyment in worship, thanksgiving, service, obedience, and praise, God gets glory.  And the two great longings in the universe are simultaneously met.  Man hungers to be satisfied, God desires to be glorified.  And God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.

So I look at the great God-story of the Bible.  And I see how it all points to Jesus.  And I believe it is the GREATEST truth in all of time – and that people everywhere need to hear it.  And I look at the beginning of the story.  And I see God there, “In the beginning…”  And I see the beginning of man.  And I notice something important…

Adam was created in God’s image, bearing His likeness in a personality and a desire for relationship… and God said it was very good. They walked together in the garden and had face-to-face relationship.  It was very good.  And this is the relationship mankind was created to have with God.  This was God’s intent from the start, and it is His desire now.

And all of this is solidified before Genesis chapter 3.

Why is it we start out as preachers and street evangelists, wielding our bullhorns and pointing our fingers from the pulpits, and we start at Genesis chapter 3?

“She took of its fruit and ate, and she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.”

Tragedy.  Horror.  Shame.  Separation.  Judgment.  Brokenness.  Pain.  Death.

It is true.  Because of that day, and because of all of the days between then and now that man has spent serving himself instead of our gracious creator God, everybody takes their first breath on earth as a sinner.  Disconnected from that “walk in the Garden… and it was very good” relationship.  We are hopelessly broken and unable to make our way back to God.  And that is why Jesus’ death on the cross is the centerpoint of history.  And that is why people need Jesus – to be rescued from themselves.  And that is why well-meaning evangelicals swing their clubs of condemnation.  They want people who don’t even realize they need saving to be saved. So the Law must do its heart-breaking work.  To break up the hard-packed earth of the hearts of men, so that the Gospel seed might take root and grow and bear much fruit.


Sometimes people are broken and they know it already.  Must we always skip over the first two chapters of Genesis?  Must it always be LAW, then Gospel?

The message I have heard for so many years often sounds like this… (1)  You are a sinner. Your sin is ugly, and it separates you from God.  There is nothing you can do to avoid eternal judgment.  You are condemned by your sin. (2)  Jesus came to pay the price for that sin. On the cross, your sin was crucified with Him.  When he rose from the dead, He announced once and for all that forgiveness has triumphed.  Because of Jesus, we are forgiven, and we can be with Him in heaven forever.

You know what?  This isn’t the whole story. I submit that when we LEAD with the LAW, we beat up already wounded souls.  Not every time.  But often. Way too often.  I propose proclaiming a message, over a lifetime of biblical preaching, that looks more like this:

(1)  God loves you.  He created you for a purpose. God is zealously pursuing a relationship with you, and He will rejoice over you when you turn to Him.  This is what we are here for.  To enjoy the love of God.  God is a pursuing God, and you are made in His image.  He wants to restore you to your created purpose.

(2)  Sin mucked it all up. God is Holy and can’t be around sin.  He is righteousness, and He cannot tolerate sin.  Therefore, your sin separates you from Him, and nothing you can do can change that.  You will never be “good enough” for God.

(3) In light of Genesis 1 & 2 – in light of your created purpose – God made a way to redeem your soul.  Jesus death on the cross was payment for your sin.  Repent of your selfishness and self-reliance.  God has been pursuing you because He longs to be in relationship with you.  Jesus is the answer.  There is hope for even you.

Evangelicals will face judgment for the souls they have driven away from God with their clumsy handling of the Law.

Yes, the proud need to be broken.  But not by us.  By the truth of the Word and the work of the Holy Spirit.  And not all who hear us preach believe they don’t need God in their life.  Some come to hear because they simply have no idea how to find Him.  Some come to hear because they already consider themselves a screw-up.  Those people need to hear Jesus call, “Come, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest…”  And they need to know God is pursuing them.

Some of you are clenching your jaw right now.  You feel this is dangerous ground, and that I stand at the precipice of a slippery slope.  We cannot soften the full weight of the Law.  We cannot compromise. We cannot settle for “gospel-light” just because it’s what people want to hear.

I submit that your uncomfortability may come from the evangelical culture you have been steeped in.  What I am saying is rooted in scripture. God created us as deeply valued sons, born with a purpose first.  THEN sin broke the ideal.  First God created and it was very good.  THEN sin separated us from Him.  Some people will reject God because the church FIRST reflects His judgment rather than His love.  I believe more souls will be willing to hear the truth of their sin and their need for Jesus if they FIRST hear the truth that God loves them, considers them deeply valuable, and that he is pursuing a restored relationship with them out of his zealous love for us.

It’s not all about us.  It’s about Him. And when more souls are saved, and more hearts are set free and restored to their created purpose, God receives more glory.  He loved first.  It has been this way since Genesis 1 and 2.  Not just since the 3rd chapter, when we stood condemned by our sin.

So back to that day in the church pew, with my jaw clenched, and the tat-covered, lip-pierced girl sitting next to me…

I wonder what would have happened that day if the message surprised her, instead of confirming her suspicions.  “Yep, I am rotten.  Yep, the church is all about making sure I know that.  Yep, I thought this would be uncomfortable.  No way am I coming back to hear this stuff again.”

What would have happened if she would have heard how valuable she is to God?  That there is hope for her, and that she has been created by a God who knows her personally with all of her failings and rebellion, and still pursues her.

Tomorrow (Friday, May 13), a number of Christians on Twitter will be using the hashtag #4Giveness to connect with those outside of the church who have been pushed away from God by His people.  If this post resonnates with you, read this from my friend Chris Goforth, and join us tomorrow.

Too often the people of God have beaten people up with the Law as if WE don’t need it anymore, and it is meant to be applied as judgment to the sinners “out there.”  Too often we have stiff-armed people, making the gospel difficult to reach by way of a long trail of guilt and shame.  Jesus says “Come…” It is simple.  It is very good.

It is time to tell people that God is loving God who is pursuing them.

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Psalm 24:7 & Luke 10:42 >> Like David, and Mary, I'm in pursuit of my one thing. I'm the Pastor at St. Olaf Lutheran Church in Montgomery, IL. Pastor, teacher, writer, communicator, designer, and drummer. I definitely got the better deal in my marriage to Amy. And I couldn't be any more proud of my five amazing boys. Deeply grateful.

48 responses to we don’t need to beat up the broken and stiff-arm sinners :: can i still be a lutheran?

  1. I had a thought one time – I heard a statistic somewhere that 90% of the unchurched thought that the Church believed their lifestyle wasn’t good enough –

    I’m not saying 100% that the statistic or the stereotype is accurate – (wouldn’t surprise me) but if it is, then a strong case can be made that the Church has spread the LAW to all corners of the earth already, but hasn’t done a good enough job delivering the GOSPEL

    which then, yah, kinda makes the whole “Let me tell you once again what a sinner you are” at square one kinda like a harping shreaking naggy person you want to defriend immediately.

    • Exactly. And I would agree that non-churched people’s lifestyles aren’t good enough. I would aslo quickly add, of course, that nobody in the church is living a “good enough” lifestyle, either. We are not saints and sinners. We are sinners and forgiven sinners.

      Thanks for bringing this top light. I think you are wise to point out that we maybe have done a much better job of “spreading the Law” than spreading the Gospel.

      I do think we need to share the truth – even the hard and accusatory parts. I’m just suggesting that we would serve the Church and our Lord well by representing Him as a God who loves and pursues us BEFORE we hit people with their failure.

      This may also dependent on the leading of the Spirit to some degree. There is a place for a pointed, unapologetic, LAW-leading message when the text demands it. But I struggle with the true effects of a ministry (or preacher) that LEADS with the Law without the relational capital of establishing relationship first.

      Thanks Russ. I love your input. Check on this one with your Lutheran Pastor soon-to-be wife for me, would you? 🙂 Bless you both.

  2. I love to tell the story of Jesus and His love for us-He is so sufficient! I have heard that to preach Christ IS to preach both the law and the gospel. Whatever the case, He is the risen Savior who commissioned us to share this good news to the world, which is what I see many people do. Some like to share the Law and Gospel to the world, to which I have adopted the attitude of rejoicing that the gospel is being preached and many will believe in Him as a result. When I think back to what I consider to be perhaps the best two years of my life studying the word, I credit the joy to being in the presence of the good news on a daily basis. The law-(meh). I suppose it serves a purpose, but those who revel in it I believe are really suffering from a bit of unbelief. It’s sort of like: Gospel-“God loves you!” Law-“But wait, don’t let it go to your head.” This is just one guy’s point of view.

    The gospel is a proclamation, not an invitation. It became an ivitation, when it became a trend to make it so. When the Catholic church broke from the Orthodox church many years ago, they distorted the gospel with a works-righteousness. The Protestants tried to break from this as best they could, but after several hundred years the best they could do was to say we are saved by faith (our faith as most understand) in Christ. And of course, we all know how this became a process with hoops to jump through that was easy to understand (i.e. 4 Spiritual Laws, Bridge Illustration, Decision Theology). Now think-Really?! Can you EVER imagine Paul drawing the bridge illustration and praying with someone to “recieve” Christ. Did the woman at the tomb run back to the other disciples with the good news of “Christ is Risen, if we accept Him into our hearts and repent of sin!” Has the good news become boring, so that we have to add something to it? Or does it bother us to think that there is virtually no string attached? If we compare the preaching and practices of modern churches with that of the church in the bible I think we see often a disconnect. It may be good to ask the question “Why?”

    • Jon, you’re a friend, so I think I can be straightforward with you, and I have before.

      On the one hand, I agree with you that we tend to complicate the Gospel from its beautiful simplicity. Jesus says “Come to me…” that’s it. We turn to Him for forgiveness, and BOOM. He already did the work. We should not add hoops.

      But you are consistent. Your message of “the good news means everybody’s in!” is dangerous. God talks about sin. A lot. And he is more than clear about what happens to those who refuse to accept Christ. You always seem to imply that Jesus death “for all” means that everybody is saved already… so why waste time sharing the “good news”? It doesn’t really matter anyway, right? It’s all good.

      So while I stand by the premise of this post that we would be more effective in sharing the truth with people if we FIRST proclaimed His love for them and the purposeful creation that makes everyone deeply valuable to Him, I have to clarify this with no apology…

      Gospel without Law IS only half the story. The Law is a gift of God. It points people to their need. Your theology could well send people happily on their oblivious way to hell, without the understanding that they need Jesus. I love you, Jon, and you’re my friend, but you are wrong. And your contention is not with me, it is with Scripture and it’s Author. That is between you and Him – unless you post here in my blog comments. Then I need to respond.

      Hoping you are doing well, and that God is close to you.

  3. “Go ye therefore and preach the Law and Gospel to all creation, and I will be ready to come into their hearts. BUT-they need to ask, first.”

    • Jon, your argument doesn’t hold water. He does say “Believe in me.” I don’t have to imagine him saying things in the way you have framed them. We can just see what he has said. And we can read the rest of the Bible, which illuminates the clear reason for Jesus’ condescension and death on the cross – to account for our sin. “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)

      Or this… “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:18)

      Just because Jesus doesn’t mention the “law,” per se, in the great commission moment you are reconstructing doesn’t have any bearing on whether or not he made it clear in other passages.

      • Will you be posting these examples?

        • Good grief Jon. You know this stuff better than most. You simply choose to reject it.

          If anyone doubts the position I’m advocating, I suggest reading Romans. Then move on to the Gospels. That should be plenty.

  4. Cheering you on in my head as I read this … I absolutely, firmly, unequivocably believe this is the way to reach those scared, disillusioned, don’t-go-to-church people. I know, because I was one.

    If I had heard all LAW when I started searching for a relationship with God, it would have confirmed my suspicions that I was doomed, unworthy and too-little, too-late. BUT – my husband, who was my boyfriend at the time, his family and the church I started attending, made me aware that WHILE WE WERE STILL SINNERS, Christ died for us. That Jesus LOVES ME and showed me by dying for sin – not just mine – but that everyone falls short. It finally made sense and I didn’t feel alone, isolated, abandoned or late to the party. I felt LOVED.

    I agree as a Lutheran, you can’t have all Gospel, but we need to remember, we don’t all start at the same place in our walk, haven’t all grown up being baptized as infants (I was at 18, confirmed at 22).

    Super post, Josh – really excellent.

    • Thanks Mela. You’re living proof that being loved into the Kingdom is an effective form of evangelism. 🙂 Who knew?

      Three cheers for relational evangelism! I know that the clear preaching of the Word is a powerful tool God uses to save many souls. However, those of us who preach would do well to keep your words in mind… “we don’t all start at the same place in our walk…”

      Amen. Thanks friend. God bless the Kamin family.

  5. First, preaching against Doc Martins is not preaching Law. That’s preaching stupidity.

    But you are right in pointing out how easily the Law and Gospel paradigm is abused. I have many reservations about it. It is too ill-defined and, as such, often misunderstood (if I’m even understanding it correctly myself).

    The bottom line of the Law/Gospel paradigm is that we are responsible as helpless sinners and God gives us eternal life as a gift. The issue with the preacher wasn’t that he was preaching Law. God did not die to save us from Doc Martins, tattoos, and eye shadow. Law can simply be connecting with what most people already know in their conscience. That is: they are broken. Talking about God’s original intention really only emphasizes the sinner’s current state of brokenness, making the blame fall where it ought.

    The issue with the preacher is that he WASN’T preaching Law and Gospel.

    “Remember this: When the Law condemns you, then immediately lay hold upon the Gospel.”
    C. F. W. Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel Thirty-nine Evening Lectures (St. Louis, Mo.: Concordia Pub., 1929), 45.

    Law should never be preached if it is not immediately followed by Gospel. Preaching Law and Gospel correctly is like dancing the Two-Step. It is not white washing the problem. Your sin is bad! It is not withholding the solution. But God still loves you. Look at what Jesus did!

    • YES! Excellent thoughts, brother. And the terminology does get murky. You are correct that what this preacher was doing was really more about spewing personal judgment than preaching the law (at least in the short example moment I was talking about here). However, he’s not alone. There is a false belief among far too many that making people feel guilty is somehow in and of itself righteous behavior.

      I like the two-step analogy. And I share your reservations, or at least have some of my own, with regard to the Law-and-Gospel paradigm. But who am I to argue with Luther? Or Monseth? 🙂

      I think if you tried to nail down my theological paradigm as a growing preacher, comitted to sound biblical exegesis, I would probably have to label it as a “purpose-brokenness-redemption” model. When I have had off-line discussions with Seminary faculty regarding the Genesis 1 & 2 problem I see with the Law-and-Gospel paradigm, they have tended to lump the good news that we have been created for relationship with God in AS Gospel. This preserves the paradigm, but I’m not sure that is helpful.

      I think the fact that God has created us in love to be in a mutually joy-giving relationship with Him has HUGE theological implications for our preaching and ministry.

      I still have no better solution or label to slap on these theological ramblings, so I’ll keep pondering.

      We’ll see how this all plays out when I preach for class tomorrow. 🙂

      If I haven’t told you so in the last 24 hours, I LOVE being in Seminary with you, Kurt. Love you and your heart and your brain and your friendship. God bless.

  6. Interestingly enough, this is almost exactly what we’re dealing with as we prepare the Organic Evanglism material for this Summer’s Student Mission trip. We’ve been studying how Jesus and the Apostles did “evangelism” and how they used SO many different methods, circumstances, words and analogies, etc. One thing we noticed is they NEVER did a consistent “law first, then gospel” or “break them and make sure they know they are wrong before you offer them the good stuff” model. God has written His law on our hearts – we all have a conscience, we all know we’ve done something wrong. You don’t need to be convicted of all of your sin before you can accept the gift. You just need to know you need HIM. The rest CAN come later. Maybe this is part of the case for why discipleship is so important? And “saving” people without it is so wrought with problems?

    I have to say I think this is one of your better posts. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with all of us! 🙂

    • Thanks Rachel! YES – discipleship IS the call. “Go and make disciples…” that is long-term, relational work. I hope people read your comment and really think through the implications. You make some great points. God bless you and your family. 🙂

  7. Hey Josh-

    Excellent article. Thank you for really pouring out your heart and not being concerned about the reaction (which I think should be positive). I agree with Kurt, this was not an example of correctly dividing Law and Gospel. This is not Law – at least not God’s law. This was preaching man’s law as if it were God’s law – the law of the Pharisees. Sadly, this is what we think of as “law” preaching. When I first started at the Seminary I too was wary of Law preaching, also seeing the large amounts of broken people who go to church desperate to hear the Gospel. Over the years, however, I gained a greater appreciation of Law/Gospel. The classes with Pastor Haugen have been especially helpful in my understanding of this. Like you said, to preach only Law or only Gospel is only half the story, but the Gospel must always be the destination. If someone ever said that my sermon neglected the Law, I would seek to change that next time, but if someone said that my sermon neglected the Gospel I would seek forgiveness.

    Thanks for sharing! (don’t tell your father-in-law I used the word ‘sharing’)

    • Your secret is safe with me. 🙂 I reserve the “Tell Pastor Lee Hotline” for really egregious errors in judgment. For example, those people who consider Red Vines preferable to Twizzlers.

      I don’t mean to throw the baby out with the bathwater here, by the way. For me it may literally come down to a matter of clarifying the semantics – not necessarily the theology.

      And I agree with you and Kurt about what this example shows… NOT true “law” preaching. However, I’m really not only discussing theology here. I’m also discussing methodology. Leaving this horrible example alone, there is a place for true, unfiltered preaching of the weight of the law. I just think it is almost always a bad idea to lead out of the gate with it, and it is a horrible misrepresentation of the heart of God to over-emphasize Law to the exclusion of Gospel. The two are two sides of the same truth. We need Jesus. He meets our need. I’m also emphasizing that we are created to be with Him. It’s a three-sided coin in my mind right now… But I’m still a rookie, and I recognize the great wisdom of my elders on this. 🙂 God’s still working this idea out in my heart and mind.

      Thanks for checking in Barry. God bless.

      • Also, I think it is important that when we are talking about preaching that we need to avoid using formulas of any kind to dictate the Law/Gospel content (and order) of the sermon. Law/Gospel isn’t an order in terms of first law then gospel, but it means that we faithfully preach the Word – the law in all its sternness, the gospel in all its sweetness – and let the Holy Spirit do his work in terms of application. The true danger comes in preaching the law as gospel and the gospel as law.

        As far as the theological discussion goes I think purpose-brokenness-redemption is definitely true, although I would also stress that I believe the Garden was never our intended purpose – our redemption was always the purpose. Our eternal relationship with Christ in heaven as his bride – the church – will be much more intimate than even the one experienced with Adam and Eve in the Garden. Our redemption through the cross was not Plan B – it was always THE plan. I think sometimes we idealize the Garden as if heaven is just its restoration. Adam and Eve were not sinful by nature, but they were always capable of sin. In our eternal home, sin will be no more – only the tree of life remains, and that ancient serpent will be forever defeated. Even in the Garden, Adam and Eve were dependent on their own righteousness for continued life and relationship with God, in heaven, we will be forever dependent on Christ’s righteousness – a righteousness that can never be undone.

        • Hola again, brother.

          As to your first paragraph… good thoughts. I agree on all counts.

          As to your second paragraph… I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered that idea. At least not that clearly. I have to think, pray through, study, and discuss that more. Thanks Barry. You’re keeping my wheels turning.

        • Barry, Wow! It never occurred to me that Adam and Eve were dependent on their own righteousness for continued life and relationship with God. That’s an interesting thought that requires some looking into! Thanks.
          About the Law/Gospel balance, my husband always says, “Law to the proud, Grace to the humble.” I think it’s a Ray Comfort quote. It demands that when witnessing to someone you actually take the time to listen to them. Not that you are judging them but that you listen and let them proclaim by their own words what they believe and where they’re at in their belief. I don’t know how someone would apply that to “preaching” but for personal evangelism Ray Comfort’s “The Way Of The Master” program is definitely helpful. My husband and I have used his method and teaching for years and it is actually very helpful in getting to the heart of the matter with each person with whom we speak. And the amazing thing is that they are not all “cookie cutter” cases. Each one is different but because you spend time asking and listening you are able to really minister to someone where they are at personally.

          • Thanks Amy. You are correct – our congregations are made up of INDIVIDUALS, all coming to hear the Word for different reasons and at different places in their spiritual life. I like your husband’s advice to give Law to the proud and Grace to the humble when it comes to personal evangelism… but preaching to a mixed crowd is another animal. We must first rely on the Holy Spirit, and then…

            Actually, maybe that’s enough. Preach the Word. Love people as you do it. And let the Spirit lead.

            Good thoughts Amy. Appreciate it much.

  8. This is a good discussion. I like your emphasis on purpose-brokenness-redemption. That’s Biblical theology. I think it exists on a different plane than Law/Gospel. In other words they can coexist without disrupting each other. They aren’t speaking to the same thing. Let me try to explain…

    Original intended purpose can be Law if we use it as a backdrop to our fallen state. It is not God’s fault we are broken. We did that to ourselves. Darn it.

    Original intended purpose can be Gospel if we are talking about how God desires through the cross to restore us to what he intended. God made you good and in relationship with him without guilt. He is making that possible for you again by the cross. Become part of the new creation that God is making in Christ!

    See what I mean? Law and Gospel is all about pastoral application. Biblical theology is about God’s story from Gen to Rev. They co-exist in harmony.

    • WHOA! Mind = blown.

      I think you’re a genius. I’m not sure this works perfectly, but it might… It just might…

      Thanks brother. My heart is full. I love being in this line of work, so to speak. What a priviledge to peer into the wonders of God and then share eternally significant, life-changing news with the world. I can’t imagine doing anything else with my one life.

      You have given me a whole new concept to ponder. Gratsi.

  9. Craig Johnson May 12, 2011 at 9:01 pm

    I appreciate your thoughts Josh on this crucial topic. I was thinking about Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well in John 4. He presents gospel first – talking about living water and getting her interested. Then He forces her to recognize her need by asking about her husband. That’s followed by gospel. People need to see their sin and need, but I also think early in a message, people need to get a sense, “there might be something helpful here for me.” The woman got that from Jesus right away.
    Romans 2:4 talks about how God’s kindness leads you toward repentance. People are much more likely to listen to law if they believe the one sharing the law loves them. And the law that’s declared should be the law that shows us our need – not just some suggestions for living. And it must be based on God’s Word. I don’t know any verses that talk about Doc Martins.

    • Craig, YES! on all three counts!

      (1) I was thinking about John 4 as well. Wrote a paper on it earlier this year, actually. You’re right. Jesus begins by reaching across the cultural lines and initiates conversation with a Samaritan… and a woman! Double whammy. This is GOSPEL first.

      (2) Romans 2:4 is also germane to this discussion. I’m advocating more kindness. That will never mean lessening or lightening the preaching of the true Law of God. But there is a time for Law preaching, and it must be fused to the Gospel.

      (3) Doesn’t 2 Thessalupians speak of the evils of rugged yet stylish leather footwear?

      Thanks for reading. And commenting. I know I’m wandering through a theological hotbed here. I know the importance of understanding this well. I appreciate the feedback – keeps me sharp. God bless you and your family.

  10. Your proposition, Josh, seems to fit well with what we try to do in our services (I say “services”, not “messages”, because sometimes the message is only a part of the whole “purpose/brokenness/redemption” storyline that takes place throughout a service.)

    I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s a very simplistic model we use (it needs to be simplistic for this simple-minded, child-like lay pastor.) But throughout the service we share the GOSPEL.

    “G” od created us to have a relationship with Him. (Just like your first point of “purpose.”)
    “O” ur sin has separated us from that relationship. (Law – “brokenness”)
    “S” in cannot be repaid by good works. (An important “sub-point” that shouldn’t be neglected.
    “P” aying the price for our sin, Jesus died & rose again. (“Redemption”)
    “E” veryone who repents & trusts in Christ alone will receive eternal life. (Another part of “Redemption”)
    “L” ife that’s eternal means we will be with Jesus forever in heaven. (Final part of “Redemption”)

    Maybe it’s a little too simplistic for some and can be picked apart by others, but it works well as a reminder for me, and as a teaching tool for training our entire congregation as we incorporate many various Scripture passages (all of Scripture actually) into one or more parts of this GOSPEL message.

    Thanks for your post, Josh! I always love reading your ponderings!

    • Thanks Paul! I like the GOSPEL guideline you shared. And I really agree that it is critical, in our discussion of the Law – the “brokenness” part of my God-story trifecta – that we make it crystal clear that we cannot earn back this favor with God. This clarifies JESUS’ work of redemption as His alone. He does the work. We get the benefit. He gets the credit. We enjoy freedom and relationship with God. He gets more glory.

      It’s beautiful, simple, perfect.

      Thanks for checking in here brother Paul. I’m a work in progress, so I’ll keep pondering… and writing it down for the masses to critique. 🙂 Keeps me accountable when my theological ponderings become wanderings outside of the Biblical guideposts.

      Blessings to you and your family and your church!

  11. Thanks for this, Josh. Thought-provoking as always.

    In a counseling class I took a few years ago, we pondered the difference between the terms guilt (which we defined loosely as a proper realization of our sin and our position before God) and shame (a view of ourselves that says “because I am guilty, I am worthless”).
    I know this is a bit off topic from the great responses above and even from your main ideas… but maybe this is a worthwhile distinction. Preaching the law with the intent of giving the Holy Spirit an opportunity to work a Godly sorrow for sin has to be an entirely different beast from preaching the law with the intent (however un-recognized) of making people see themselves as worthless.
    Seems like Biblically rooted preaching of law and gospel is, among other things, actually a tacit acknowledgment of our worth in God’s eyes–that something infinitely better once was, and has been made possible again.

    • Wow, Renah. This is wonderfully on topic and insightful. The distinction between “guilt” and “shame” is KEY, as you have distinguished one from the other in your comment here. This really does get mixed up by well meaning people. Two examples come immediately to mind from this last year in my life… both of which from good friends who seemed to think that it may be a good thing for people outside of the faith (or young in their faith) to feel a degree of shame for not “measuring up.” Like feeling “less worthy” somehow could properly bring about sanctification. In both cases I reacted pretty strongly.

      Guilt that is of he Lord will be manifest as Godly sorrow that leads to repentance. This may be painful, but it is good.

      To the degree that SHAME results in people feeling like they are less VALUABLE in God’s eyes, I say it has NO PLACE in the church. In this definition of the term, shame does not square with the God of the Bible.

      Your insight that proper Biblical Law+Gospel teaching actually affirms the worth of those being preached to (and the one preaching!)is wise, friend. Thank you.

      • —and you know, on further thought, I realize that have a hard time keeping that distinction present in my own life. Guilt, like you said, is good. Painful, but good, and it drives me to rely on God’s grace. Shame, on the other hand, is an alienating force and an insidious lie that tempts me to think that maybe I’ve gone too far for God to bring me back. My natural posture, and that of a lot of Christians I know, is shame. So clear preaching and application of the whole picture (as you said, a “three-sided coin”) is sounding more and more important.

  12. Wow. That’s a lot of good discussion. Thanks, Josh. I feel really bad for this girl and I pray that the Spirit was able to work in her heart regardless of the preacher’s shortcomings. God is greater than one lousy sermon. Perhaps she’ll find her way to this blog.

    Oddly enough, I came across a paragraph today in Michael and Debi Pearl’s book, To Train Up A Child, in which they mention the “lawful use of the law”…”By elevating his standards and causeing him to value truth and purity, you are aiding the Spirit in convicting him of sin, which, in time, will cause him to realize his need for a Savior.”

    The law works wonderfully as a barometer, for unbelieving sinners and christian sinners alike. Ideally, as believers we don’t need it because we get our queues from the Holy Spirit, but we wander and before long, without something to measure ourselves and keep us sober, we end up decrying dress codes and becoming completely irrelevant to the Kingdom.

    I don’t know if it’s strictly a scandinavian/lutheran problem, but ironically, it seems so much easier to try to do all the work the law requires than to accept the fact that someone actually had to go through a lot of pain and hardship to give us a gift that is free to us. I’m reminded of this whenever I watch my mom and grandmother fight over the dishes. It’s so painful for one to recieve grace and allow the other to take on such a dirty job on her behalf.

    • Hey brother Luke!

      Thanks for getting in on this. I agree… God is bigger than one lousy sermon. I just felt the frustration that day of a “man of God” working from the pulpit to actively distance her from the church and from the love of Jesus. It was painful, but the story doesn’t end there. I don’t know where she is now spiritually speaking, but God is still pursuing her, and we can still pray.

      I also recognize the tendency we have to “do it ourselves,” rather than accept grace. I think the root of this is pride… we have to accept in the case of our soul’s condition that we CAN’T do this in our own strength. We must stop striving and do more “abiding.” You’re sharp to bring this out.

      Luke, lastly, I need to leave you with this tangential disclaimer. I have written here often about not taking shots at other believers with whom you disagree. I grieve the damage that has been done to the Kingdom on account of self-righteous Christians in one camp firing attacks at Christians in another camp. Whenever possible, I believe we must do what we can to encourage peace between believers and point people back to Jesus…

      With that long disclaimer, I feel I need to humble but firmly make a clear stand here. The Pearls promote some DANGEROUS and HARMFUL theology. I have a copy of “To Train Up a Child,” and I have spent time reading it, praying about it, GRIEVING it.

      *NOTE: I just wrote 400 words about why the Pearls ministry is, in my opinion, far more harmful than good… And then I erased it for three reasons: (1) This isn’t the place, (2) I have a number of friends who have grown up under or are using their materials to parent now, which could be difficult to navigate in this forum, and (3) I’d really rather take you out to lunch and discuss it in person.

      But Luke, let’s PLEASE have that lunch. 🙂 Cool?

      //end rant

      Thanks for checking in here, Luke. I miss you, and I think lunch (or breakfast!) some time soon to catch up would be awesome. I’ll be in touch. Bless you and your growing family!

  13. “If a preacher is not first preaching to himself, better that he falls on the steps of the pulpit and breaks his neck than preaches that sermon.” John Calvin

    I have used the above quote as a guide when it comes to preaching the law, I must apply it to myself first. If I don’t identify with my application or I find myself pointing the finger before I point it at myself, I must rewrite that aspect of my sermon.

    I don’t believe that it’s the Law that fails, it’s our application of the Law that fails. When we apply it to someone else before ourselves we fail and that’s what that preacher did, and by doing so twisted the Law into an unusable shape. It will not pierce the heart if it is blunted by our twisted application that has not first pierced our hearts. If we are pierced by the Law we are far more faithful in our preaching of the Law as we know the pain that it produces. Instead of using a club, we will carefully use the scalpel then gently and slowly apply the Law to the infected area the Law is touching. The Law is just as stern, it takes no prisoners, but our application will be more compassionate and our joy in preaching the Gospel will be all the sweeter as we also run to it for relief ourselves.

    The most effective Gospel messages have been ones that I needed to hear because the Law had done its work on me. This is also why preaching is the most consuming part of a pastors work. Week after week I am pierced by the Law, and mended by the Gospel and blessed to be under that work. It has made me a far more tender pastor and far more willing to listen than to speak.

    • Jason – I love that you used that John Calvin quote. I actually quoted you quoting Calvin to start my last blog post just a coupkle days ago. 🙂 You can see it here > http://bit.ly/lEIbyd.

      This is my prayer, too… “Lord, speak to my heart, and break the hard parts and restore the broken parts in me, so that I preach out of a personal encounter with your truth.”

      I think you are right to assert that we must apply the Law to ourselves first. And being a tender pastor who is quick to listen and slow to speak is beautiful and rare. 🙂

      God bless Jason. I love your insights.

  14. Bro. Josh: As always I believe you have some excellent insights. These come from the wisdom the Holy Spirit imparts to those who care about and study God’s Word. There are indeed many hurting and broken people in the world. Jesus said “the harvest is white but the laborers are few”. It is also true that every denomination has its “jerks”. Jesus’ only harsh words were aimed at religious leaders with an inflated sense of self and a loathing for the sinners He loved. I was just a very young man at the time but still remember how a group of self righteous deacons totally destroyed the zeal of a new Christian who did more in bringing people to Jesus in two weeks than they had probably done in the last ten years. The only caveat I would add and I am sure that you already agree is that there are no cookie cutter approaches to winning people to Jesus. I offer in proof of this point the following passage from the book of Jude. Jude 1:21-23 Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. (22) And of some have compassion, making a difference: (23) And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh. Although an old preacher from my youth could be a “jerk” in his own approach to some people, he had it right when he said, “The Lord has a monkey wrench that will fit any nut”. I believe the approach you prefer is doctrinally sound yet people are all different and it is vitally important that the minister or lay worker for that matter pray earnestly and listen to the guidance of the Spirit. Staying in the Word and keeping an active prayer life is our best guard against becoming a “jerk”. Our job is to proclaim the truth, His job is to draw them and convince them of the truth. Prayers for the young lady with the tats and piercings. She deserves to hear the truth. Preaching preferences as doctrine is a dangerous mistake.

    • “The Lord has a monkey wrench that will fit any nut…” 🙂

      One of my favorite quotes in the history of my blog. Or blogging in general, for that matter.

      The Jude 1:21-23 reference is EXCELLENT, and I will remember it. This is the advice I have gotten consistently from mature believers I trust… If any “style” of evangelism pushes my buttons to the point of irrational anger it is the kind of reckless law-heavy finger-pointing that this pastor was doing in our pulpit, mixing preferences with doctrine, as you say. In conversations with some mentors of mine, each of them told me that “God uses all types to reach all types.” I was ready to get all Matthew 28 on them and politely them to leave the church forever and not return so as to protect other tat-wearing pierced-lip sporting broken souls from more damage. I guess it is my particular “holy discontent.” But again, I keep hearing this message. All kinds of wrenches.

      Well Paul, I’ll add your voice to those of my elder mentors. I won’t try to run anyone out of the ministry just yet. But I hope a million people read this blog and decide right now to LEAD with LOVE rather than LAW.

      Love your insight brother. Always. God bless.

  15. While I’m not going to be nearly as eloquent as the rest of the discussion that’s gone on I would add a few words from experience.

    Firstly, I agree that this pastor was much more along the lines of legalism and unrealistic judgement than true application of the Law, which is a completely different conversation. However…

    If we fall into the danger of theology that is only based upon the Gospel and God’s unfailing love and neglect to rightly apply and teach the Law (in whatever order), we are going to create a body of believers with no conscience. I’ve seen it first hand where a pastor refused to EVER preach law and insisted that he could never “beat people up with the law” which is to your point. The problem was, he didn’t even prick people’s hearts or minds with the law, he didn’t even NUDGE people’s hearts or minds with it.

    And because of that I witnessed inconsistent lifestyles in the church body with what they believed (including my own), constant gossip within the church body, a pastor that publicly berated his wife on several occasions, a pastor that had his kids accuse him of some serious things, congregational leadership that rarely agreed on anything, and a host of other serious problems within the church body.

    He was afraid to challenge his people and there were deep, deep problems there.

    I guess the real question would be, “What is the purpose for a corporate gathering anyway?” Should it be a place to invite unbelievers so that they hear the Gospel or shouldn’t we be doing that in our own homes and interactions outside the church?

    The church needs to be a place of challenge (Paul said clearly in dealing with the Corinthian church’s multiple problems “Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?” *1 Cor 5:12* but also said clearly in the same sentence “what have I to do with judging outsiders?…God judges those outside” *5:13*)

    I think it’s clear that grace and Gospel need to be extended to those outside the church WHILE outside the church, Law and Gospel need to be extended to those INSIDE the church, and both with sensitivity and extreme love.

    • WHOA! Another genius moment! This keeps getting better and better…

      You’re reference to 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 has earned it’s very own blog post, my friend. Right after I write about leading worship from the drums for your blog, of course. 🙂

      With regards to who church is “for,” I wrote an article last year about this… “is church for believers or unbelievers :: starbucks, the gospel, and outsiders among us” You can find it here >> http://bit.ly/ksfAMP

      Lastly Ryan, I absolutely agree that we MUST teach the full gamut of the Bible message – LAW AND GOSPEL. One without the other is dangerous and comes with it’s own set of problems. Jesus did send out his apostles as disciple-makers, after all, with the charge to teach them “ALL that I have commanded you.”

      Thanks a ton and a half for checking in and lending us you point of view. Great discussion – made better by you, brother. Bless you, and high-five that red-headed pastor of yours on my behalf. 🙂

  16. From a mere mortal Lutheran who has sinned plenty, especially in my youth, let me be a witness – it was the message of God’s love and forgiveness, no matter HOW broken you are, that led me back to church. I also sat there thinking, “God can’t love me… I’m too far gone.” But that voice, that all encompassing voice that comes to you in the quiet of the night said, “You ARE enough. Come to Me and heal your soul.” Future worship leaders, take Josh’s words of advice and start at the beginning.

    • Trudy – your story had me shouting a Hallelujah! Amen! as I read it. Did you know that when I was in about 7th or 8th grade, I had that moment, too? I was in my bedroom, feeling like dirt. I knew the truth, and I had chosen to do my own thing, keeping God and His rules out of my face while “playing the part” of the happy church kid to my parents and church crowd. But I knew better.

      So I cried out to God that night, and asked him for ONE MORE CHANCE (although I felt I was too far gone). I randomly opened my Bible looking for… something. The first verses that I saw were these from 1 Timothy 1:15-16…

      “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.”

      Well, true or not, I felt like the worst of sinners. And here was God – talking right to me – telling me of His unlimited patience for those who would believe and receive eternal life.

      That was my second birthday.

  17. “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden.”

    “Take my yoke upon you, for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

    Tell me more about this burden we should carry for lost souls the way Jesus and His disciples spoke about it. I’ll start-Paul DID say that he wished he himself could be accursed, if it meant his people would believe. Did Paul really mean that he would accept the terrors of an eternal hell, if it meant the salvation of others. Personally, this is not what I think he is saying, but would be interested to hear the opinion of others.

    A skeptic was challenging an evangelist in saying that if he were to really accept the evangelists’ words, he would himself feel the need to crawl on hands and knees across his countries’ land on broken glass (or nails) to share the gospel with a person he has judged to be a lost sinner. Is this the kind of committment we see coming out of evangelical churches to the salvation of the lost? If you are desiring for the Law to be preached-Here it is-Preach the Gospel! Now! Or else! Don’t you know millions are dying and heading toward a Christless eternity w/o him? Why stop to watch a TV show, go golfing or spend money on new houses, cars and clothes, when you can spend it on more valuable mission work? God have mercy on you if you should make it a habitual sin by neglecting this most important work. It would be more hellish for a person NOT to share the law and gospel with a lost sinner than it would be for that lost sinner not to accept Christ (even though this sinner wasn’t lucky enough to hear the Law and Gospel to be saved). Yet, we tend to think only the lost sinner will burn in hell and NOT the “Christian” who habitually keeps the words of salvation to themselves. Do we think this sort of Christian will go unpunished?

    • In response to your earlier response, Josh, I just have a couple points:

      1) You say the good news is “Come to me.” I think the bible teaches the good news is “Christ is risen!”, and believe this is the message that shook the world and upset people like Alexander the metalworker, who probably made his living off his own form of gospel (selling idols?). To preach the gospel this freely and without a hook (…turning to Him, etc.) is VERY upsetting to people who make their living off a different form of the gospel. It is also upsetting, because those who formerly thought their purpose was to win people for Christ, all of a sudden realize that sharing the gospel is simply telling people the good news.

      2) About those who are “happily (unknowingly) are going to hell. So I tell a person that Christ is alive and has saved them from their sins and they go away happy, believing all is right between them and God.

      So they are going to hell, why? Because they didn’t hear the Law first? They weren’t repentant or contrite? Let’s say I accept the idea I ought to preach the Law first. Now how do I know when the person is contrite?-should they cry? Ok, now they are ready and I can tell them the good news? This is not to say Christ never spoke Law to the crowds, but these were stiff-necked and unbelieving. I tell people the good news and they accept it right off, but you think they need to be treated as those who are stiff-necked and unbelieving (even though they DO believe).

      Is the real issue hear that we are worried that some will go to heaven who never really felt a heavy burden of their own sin, felt the terrors of hell, first? Is this a fairness issue? “I felt bad about myself and my sin and so should my neighbor,” so we resent them when we don’t see this. People will repent, but AFTER they know their sins were taken care of by the finished work of Christ. When they have observed His kindness there, they will repent of previous evil deeds, since they know there will always be a tomorrow, no need to lust for anything, knowing Christ is preparing a place for us. They see other human beings in the world and they are no longer strangers or enemies to be mistrusted and hated, but brothers and sisters who are also saved by Christ. It is then their privilege to comfort those in despair by pointing them to the good news of the empty tomb. If it is true that Christ is risen, what else can matter more? The good news is not conditional upon whether we accept or believe it. It remains true, but we can be as one of whom Christ spoke “condemned already” if we refuse to accept it, but this self-condemnation only lasts while we are stubborn and it is not in the mind of God to condemn us.

      I just thought I’d take a little more time to explain this position so as not to be misunderstood. If you feel the gospel, repentance, etc, is not this way, I understand. I know very well the doctrines you are learning and the background of your church. I understand the reverence for Walther’s Law and Gospel, Mueller’s Christian Dogmatics, and several other library works and I know the challenges that go to those who might speak a different idea. But ask yourself if the average person would arrive at these doctrines from simply reading the bible. This is why I have so strongly rejected the notion of praying to ask Christ into our hearts-It sounds all nice and fluffy, but from reading the Old and New Testament over and over, it is clear to me that this is yet but another church tradition, cutesy, yes, but a tradition, nontheless.

      I think I have said enough for now, so with that I just pray for you, your family, your church and your friends God’s peace that surpasses all understanding. Take Care. Jon

      • Thanks Jon.

        (1) You say that “Come to me…” is not the Good News, but “Christ is Risen!” is the good news. What you are saying sounds like this to me: “You say that APPLES are food, but I say that ORANGES are the true food.” Both/And, Jon.

        (2) If all the people you are evangelizing accept the truth that they need Jesus to forgive their sin and be Lord of their life can somehow do that without hearing about their need to be forgiven, then praise God. I suspect, however, it is not because the Law is unnecessary but because the Law has already done its work in them, so your sharing it was not necessary at the time.

        As for the rest of your universalist position, I’m not going to debate it here anymore. Maybe we should do a head-to-head blog discussion on this issue – not so one of us can “win,” per se, but in order to clarify your point of view in light of scripture. I’d be up for that… just not in the 43rd comment in a thread which is meant to be discussing a different topic.

        For now, I think we’ve gone far enough here. Thanks again Jon. God bless.

        • Josh-I only joined the discussion, because I only felt what was being talked about was on topic. I’m sorry if you feel that this is off-topic. I think what you are looking for is a discussion amongst your Christian friends who already accept the notion that in order for someone to be REALLY saved, they must hear the Law and the Gospel, or the “sin-grace experience” that some say. If this is the case, I apologize for intruding on your blog. I am gathering that you are kindly inviting me to not post anymore, unless I agree with these pre-suppositions.

          I go to a Lutheran Church (ELCA) and I don’t stiff-arm or beat-up any broken sinners. I just tell them the good news of Jesus Christ. The truth is we are ALL broken sinners and I am pretty sure everyone knows they are not a perfect-moral person (at least I haven’t met someone who thought they were morally adequate b4 God), so why would the approach be any different with anyone we meet? That is all I am saying.

          Just because someone seems coarse and/or indifferent on the surface on the outside doesn’t mean that they are hardened sinners and even if they say they don’t believe, I wouldn’t assume what they are telling me is even true. They may just say something like that because they don’t know a polite way to say they aren’t interested in talking about the topic or they could be avoiding an argument.

          When I think of the girl who left the service you spoke about, I guess I don’t consider it to be a tragic thing. Just because a preacher is either awful or had an off day, doesn’t mean she won’t ever know that Jesus loves her or that God is unable to reach her just because she wasn’t reached by this particular church.

          I am trying to win an idealogical battle here, but I am not looking for a personal accolade. I believe firmly in following the Lord’s command and am wary of those who teach a Judaized form of the gospel. This is not an ethnic thing (not anti-semite), but a theological issue (grace + something).

          Whether it be a tattoo issue, ten comandment issue or even the command to love issue, whenever you preach the law you may always run a risk of alienating someone in your congregation, so you may have to be ready to watch a young girl walk out of your congregation from time to time. It takes a person with pretty tough skin to handle this without crying inside to see this happen. I don’t think I am tough enough for that.

          If you want to meet up this summer some time, I’d be glad to, but please don’t try to make me imbibe that sinful beverage of coffee with all the caffeinated drugs it contains, ok? I’d just as soon eat a soul-less vegetable salad (w/ no meat, of course) with no salad dressing. I’m kidding about the coffee-I drink from time to time.

          Thanks for your patience and candid comments. I think if you continue to be true and transparent before your congregation, you will continue to hold the respect that you have already gained with them and much good will be accomplished.

          I think people listen to people they trust-to question a particular method as you have done is showing the sensitive side of a preacher, which will be a very endearing attribute these people will never forget.

          I can say this because I can even recall a discussion about Law and Gospel as we sat in a class together about 20 years ago. It sounds as I read you here I am talking with the same classmate I knew even then- You haven’t changed a bit! You might say that I have, however-If you recall, a man (or woman) once had a heart attack during a service in which I preached a three-minute “turn-or-burn” sermonette. If my memory serves me correctly, your dad attended to the victim. I am not accepting the blame, however, as it could have been our singing. :oD

          You will know how to reach me if you want.

          God’s peace.

          • Thanks Jon. If I haven’t changed a bit on this issue I sure hope I’m right, because I’m far more interested in being aligned with God’s Word than protecting my reputation. Yes, I was politely shutting down this stream of discussion because I thought that we were going to end up running a hamster wheel with each other, since it seems to me that you and I, at least to some degree, believe that the Bible is teaching different things. I thought we were going to get sidetracked into a discussion about the core evangelical doctrines (saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus alone, bsaed on the Word alone) vs. the Universalist position (basically, everybody will be saved in the end, regardless of their faith or lack thereof during their life on earth). However, your comments here seem to be more germane to the discussion. We still differ, I think, because you seem to see that Jesus’ death FOR ALL means that, in the end, ALL are saved. I think Scripture clearly rejects that idea. However, on the topic of evangelism, I understand you saying that you think everybody already knows they are sinners, so we don’t need to make the point verbally with them in order to share the good news. Is that a correct understanding of your point of view?

            If so, I still disagree, but you’re on topic. 🙂 I’m fine with disagreement – clarity is more important, and clear presentation of Scriptural truth most of all.

            I don’t hold you responsible for that poor man’s heart attack 20 years ago, either. And yes, my dad helped resuscitate him. And yes… I’m pretty sure it WAS our singing. Good gravy. 🙂

            Let’s meet for salads and have a good head to head argument with our Bibles open. Sounds like a lunch hour well spent.

            Thanks again.

  18. LOVE, love, love your thoughts Josh! I deeply appreciate your insights, not only within the actual blog, but also within your responses to the ensuing comments. As always, I am grateful for your willingness to write what God is stirring in you.

    I do believe the Good News is this: God created us for relationship; with Himself, with one another. This is where God’s story for humanity begins. Our sin separates us from relationship with Him. We do need the LAW, but I don’t believe that in our telling and living of His Story for us that we begin at Genesis 3. We start at the beginning, declaring His heart to BE with us. (pre-Genesis 3) As we continue to tell the Story we speak the truth of our brokenness and need for redemption In Christ. We LEAD with His incredible GRACE as we tell the whole Story of His heart for humanity.

    Grateful for you, Josh. Keep writing. Keep learning. Keep stirring His Church to a deeper and more and more restored grace and truth in Jesus.

    • Ah Ben, you have nailed it. Thank you. This is the theology I want to live, breathe, model, and teach. We are created for relationship – with God and one another. Aren’t the first and greatest commandments Love God and Love People? Why, yes they are! 🙂

      Thanks for the encouragement Ben. I probably could have just posted your middle paragraph there and shaved about 1000 words off my blog post. 🙂 Bless you and Dre. Great to see you with Jeremy last night. Time for us to go eat some Parmesan gnocci.

  19. Okay, Josh, you know I don’t have time, yet hear I sit and read your blog… and you’ve dropped what you’ve been holding out on for so long (or so it appears). 1st – I haven’t read all of your TONS of responses… I will if I have time, but time is short in Seminary life. 2nd – I’m writing in response to what you said….

    Josh:“Evangelicals will face judgment for the souls they have driven away from God with their clumsy handling of the Law.”
    Me: The Lutheran stance was not, Law, then Gospel. Furthermore, it was not equal law and equal Gospel, or this amount of law and that amount of Gospel. Not having a real Lutheran background, maybe I’ve gained a different perspective, perhaps even the wrong one. Yet, there has been a difference between what I’ve heard said by others and what I’ve read of the Lutheran Theologians in days of old. The difference is (LUTHER’S QUOTE or WALTHER) THE PROPER DISTINCTION BETWEEN LAW AND GOSPEL. The distinction… and this my friend is A HUGH issue.
    This man on a immature anger stampede, who attempted to preach, was not distinguishing the law properly… clearly he was not distinguishing it at all.

    Josh: “Yes, the proud need to be broken. But not by us. By the truth of the Word and the work of the Holy Spirit.”
    Me: Amen! That is why it should be in every preacher’s heart to preach what the Scriptures preaching… nothing more, nothing other. If they can parallel a clear connection of the historical scriptural past to today (which is a must) PRAISE GOD!
    WE repent, change, leave sin, BECAUSE He Loves us and we respond in love to Him. Law (convicting scriptural truths) are to be used:1. to show us our sin so we know we need him (see Romans 2:14-15 discussion below for more thoughts on this) AND to show us how we ought to live for God, which we follow from a DESIRE to please the one we love!

    Josh: “You feel this is dangerous ground, and that I stand at the precipice of a slippery slope.”
    Me: No, but what you say is LAWFUL to all clumsy, ill spiritually prepared preachers (myself included sometimes). Yet, you must understand that you are not arguing against “the proper distinction of Law and Gospel,” but against a common APPROACH of “Law, then Gospel.” I stand with Pastor Haugen (current professor at AFLTS: http://www.aflts.org) on this one when he says “A sermon that is lacking the Gospel is dangerous, compared to the one lacking the Law. Don’t forget, people live under the law every day in their lives.” To this statement he gave evidence that he truly believed it, when I preached a almost 100% Gospel message of the hope in the coming of the Messiah. The critics said, “there was no law” but he disagreed that there was NO law.
    Anyone who shares the truth of God must remember Romans 2:14-15. The Law is “written in their hearts,” and because of this “their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them.” This is cut out of the text, but the context is talking about how the Gentiles (Non – Christians) have the Law of God written on their hearts… WE ALL LIVE UNDER THE LAW, ITS IN OUR HEARTS!

    So, my hearts conviction, in the Words of Peter by inspiration of God’s Spirit: “whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God.” Thus, the only “first”… “then” in my preaching (I deeply pray) is to preach first God’s WORD, then get my clumsy self out of the pulpit in a hurry! If I can properly explain what God is ACTUALLY saying, it is his word preached… not my “law and gospel.” Properly dealing with the text is to handle the text as it is meant by the original other, preach that and be sure to clearly explain the Law or Gospel in the text as you do so.

    “I believe more souls will be willing to hear the truth of their sin and their need for Jesus if they FIRST hear the truth that God loves them, considers them deeply valuable, and that he is pursuing a restored relationship with them out of his zealous love for us.” AMEN BROTHER! God’s love for us is central to all scripture. That’s the point, God with us.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Jesse – Thanks for taking the time away from your finals prep to jump in here. You make a number of GREAT points.

      You are absolutely correct that Luther/Walther/Mueller/Pieper/Ylvisaker/Lenski/My Great Grandpa (you know… the Lutheran Saints of Old) did not make a distinction about the ORDER or the RATIO of Law and Gospel, just that the Word be rightly divided when preached. So BINGO, I am discussing the common APPROACH to preaching, which often leads with the Law and wraps up with a little Gospel. Also, I am clarifying for myself (through this GREAT discussion – I love these comments and good friends whom the Spirit is using to refine my thinking) whether or not I agree that all of scripture can fall into these two camps, or whether a third (created and valued with divine purpose in His image) would be more beneficial. I think Kurt helped me understand this dilemma within the frame of Pastoral Application (see his comment above), but my brain hasn’t had time to percolate long enough on this to consider it resolved yet.

      As a side note, we would all do well to stand with Pastor Haugen. As often as possible. 🙂

      God bless, dude. I consider it a great honor to have your thoughts in the mix. Love your heart. See you soon.