Part 7 of a series discussing C. F. W. Walther’s important treatise Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible.
The effects of the Gospel are entirely different in nature when compared to the Law. The Law, as we’ve discussed, breathes threats and does not give us any means by which to fulfill those demands.
The Gospel, as some of you will rightly point out, does demand faith. “Repent and believe the good news!” is indeed the way the Gospel is to be preached, for it is the very message the Lord Himself gave us to dispense.
The second component of this point, however, may have escaped the notice of some, so I’ll flesh it out here: The Gospel gives the very faith it demands. When we preach “Believe in Christ!”, God gives them faith through our preaching. It’s not, of course, the physical sound of the spoken word which saves…it’s the content of the preaching.
The Gospel doesn’t condemn or rebuke those who hear it. Rather, it takes all the terror, fear and anguish away from them, filling them with peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Think about the prodigal father: he lavishes his riches on his wayward son. In this same way, Christ has welcomed us, his wayward and hateful children, into His home where he eats with us and us with Him.
Furthermore, the Gospel never requires anything good from the person: not a good heart, not an improvement in behavior, not piety…not even love.
Is this the Jesus you worship each Sunday? Or does the Jesus you worship demand that you be a good steward in order to be in good standing before Him? Does He give you His gift of mercy, or are you supposed to be doing something for Him like serving in children’s ministry so that He won’t think you’re a bum?
If the Jesus you serve is putting you through the paces of the Christian life…even through the victorious Christian life!…He isn’t the biblical Jesus. He’s a Jesus of someone else’s making. The true Jesus’ gospel changes people, planting love in their heart and makes them capable of good works. Walther maintains,
The Gospel does not say, “You must do good works.” Rather, it fashions us into human beings, into creatures who cannot help but serve God and fellow human beings. Without a doubt, a precious effect!
Galatians 3:2: “Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” They probably answered something like: “Hearing faith preached gave us a new heart, for prior to that we could do no good. We have now been made into new creatures.” You do not need to tell the sun to shine. By the same token, it would be just as useless to say to one of these new creatures, “You must do this or that.”
I would put to you that when Paul is exhorting the churches unto good works, he tells them to live in consonance with who they are in Christ. He is not heaping more law onto them as was done at Sinai; no, he is instead encouraging them to image the one who bought them.