Law and Gospel: Once more…with feeling

I have been pondering of late the topic of Law and Gospel and whether it was really meant by Luther as a homiletical principle or simply the practice of dealing with sinners in the Church, or both. Luther in his lectures on Galatians as well as in other places says that whoever can properly distinguish these two, Law and Gospel, deserves to be called a Theologian and that learning this distinction is the highest art. Walther in his 39 evening lectures applies Luther’s principle of Law and Gospel to preaching. So in our homiletics classes we are taught that every sermon should contain law and gospel and that it be properly distinguished so that the Law is not preached to frightened sinners and the Gospel is not preached to secure sinners, or, so that the Law is not preached in such a way as to give the impression that God accepts sinners through their keeping of the Law, etc. etc. The problem is, on any given Sunday, you may (and likely will) have both sitting in the pew, that is, some who are troubled by their sins and some who think they are righteous apart from the Gospel.

For me, it is not difficult to properly distinguish Law and Gospel in a sermon. The hardest thing to do is to rightly distinguish it when I am dealing with parishioners. To me, that is the true pastoral art–the ability to know what to say in different situations to parishioners. I have no trouble writing a sermon that contains both Law and Gospel. What I have trouble doing is applying it to my people in my person. Maybe I’m off base here. But that seems to be what Luther is getting at when he says that whoever can properly understand these two words deserves to be called a Theologian.

Luther says in various places (I’ll provide one later) that what needs to be preached in the Church is faith and good works (love). Emphasize one and not the other and you either end up with lazy Christians or works-righteous pharisees.


About Rev. Paul L. Beisel

Graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN in 2001 (M Div.) and 2004 (S.T.M.); LC-MS Pastor and Adjunct Instructor for John Wood Community College; Husband of Amy and father of Susan, Elizabeth, Martin, and Theodore.
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One Response to Law and Gospel: Once more…with feeling

  1. Lincoln - BoW says:

    The ultimate laww-gospel preacher was our Lord. He knew what would condemn the self-righteous and comfort the repentant – in the same sentence! For example :

    You must be born again.
    If you continue in my word, then you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
    The bread which I give – my flesh – is for the life of the world.

    Some of the most beautiful Gospel eveer uttered. But look at the reaction in John 3, John 8, John 6.



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