Full Text for Homiletics 2- Volume 8 - Are all the Law and Gospel Theses practical? (Video)

Homiletics 2 File 8 Professor Carl Fickenscher II Question by: Paul >> PAUL: My name is Paul, Dr. Fickenscher. I'm enjoying this discussion. You're providing us with some real help here. Those theses are very practical. Are the rest of them as much so? >> PROF. FICKENSCHER: They really are practical, aren't they, Paul? Yeah, as a matter of fact, one after another really has tremendous application for us as pastors and, as I said from the very outset, for Christians in general in our interaction with all people throughout our lives. Let's look at Thesis No. 16. That's again another very practical one. Walther says, Thesis No. 16: "In the 12th place, the word of God is not rightly divided when the preacher tries to make people believe that they are truly converted as soon as they can become rid of certain vices and engage in certain works of piety and virtuous practices." Think, for example, on this one, about a young lady that you work with at the office and you're working in a secular business, okay? Every Monday, she comes to the office and wants to share with you, at the water cooler, about her delightful weekend. Every week, it's a different guy. Every week, she's had parties galore. And every week, she comes back to work not the least bit ashamed of what's been going on. Okay? This, frankly, is offensive to you and all of your coworkers. You're tremendously bothered by this. But you're also a very conscientious Christian and so you want to do the very, very best that you can to be helpful to this woman. Walther might encourage us to ask ourselves: What would real progress with her look like, and how would you approach it from a standpoint of law and gospel? Well, let's take one approach, and this is actually a very common one. That would be to suggest that we have some obvious problems here. We have sexual promiscuity. We have an intemperate life where she's involved with drugs and so on. Her language let's add that is terribly offensive to everybody. Her she cusses like a sailor and spares no sensitivity when she tells you details about her weekend. Now, you realize that it would be highly desirable for her to not be sleeping around, not drinking and doing drugs. You would frankly appreciate that her language would be cleaned up a little bit. And so you could make it a goal to help her improve in each of these areas. How could you do that? Well, we certainly could help her improve in each of those areas by being very explicit with the law. We could say, for example, "You know, Sharon" we'll call her Sharon "sleeping around like that, one of these days, is going to leave you very much alone. I mean, you're just not going to find the love of your life to spend the last 50 years of your life with that way. Do you really want to wind up that way?" And we could caution her about AIDS and about venereal disease and all that sort of thing. We could say, "Sharon, you're going to destroy yourself drinking like that. Don't you know what's going to happen when you get busted one of these days for driving under the influence? Don't aren't you afraid of what the drugs will do to you? Sharon, let me give you a little hint. The boss is sick and tired of hearing your mouth that way, and if you don't clean it up, you're probably going to lose your job." Okay? Now, each of these examples could be something that you offer Sharon with very good intention. Lovingly. Really. Wanting her to improve these aspects of her life. Each of these, clearly law. We call these first use of the law, I might add. These are those curbs that God gives us, the threat of punishment, of adverse reactions, if we continue in certain sins. Okay? And, you know, those uses of the law, for this kind of situation, can work. They can work! They could bring her to the reality that she wants something more out of life than growing old alone, and she may become aware of the physical danger to herself of drugs and alcohol, and she may just flat out appreciate your little insight that she's going to lose her job Monday through Friday if she doesn't clean up her Friday through Sunday. Okay? And that really can bring an outward change in her lifestyle. As a Christian, you ask yourself: If we could achieve all of that with Sharon, what would we really have achieved? Something that from a social aspect could be good, but spiritually, Sharon would be in the very same place that she was before. Now, many Christians do not understand this. Many Christians see outward change of lifestyle, improvement in the way a person lives outwardly, as real progress toward faith, toward eternal salvation, and it may not be that at all. To bring about real progress for Sharon spiritually, to help her not just to clean up her act for the last 50 years of her life, but to live with Christ Jesus eternally, is a matter not of the law, but of the gospel. It's true, of course, that it may be necessary to give her a preaching of the law gently, of course to show her her need for salvation, but your desire is not simply to show her the ill effects in the short term but to show her that she stands condemned before God for all eternity. Now, the purpose of giving that kind of law is quite different, isn't it. The purpose is not to help her clean up her act. The purpose is to prepare her for the gospel. This ultimately is always the intended purpose of the law. The law is always what we give in order to show someone they need a savior, so that immediately following, as soon as the law has taken its effect, we can share Christ Jesus and his salvation with Sharon or with anyone else that we work with. In other words, for Sharon, our goal is really very different than that which we can achieve by the law, getting her to clean up her act. Our goal is to share with her that Christ Jesus is her savior. And it may be that as Sharon realizes her need for salvation in Christ, that her language improves, that her lifestyle on the weekends improves, or it may be that it does not improve nearly as much as we would like to see. It may, nevertheless, be true that the Holy Spirit, through the preaching of the gospel, has worked faith in her heart and brought her into the eternal salvation that is our true desire for her. Walther says, Thesis 16, very practically, don't think you're really making great progress when you just get people to clean up the outward act. Walther says that really is like taking a bucket and trying to dip out of a river of iniquity. It simply won't work. Walther says quotes from Jesus in Matthew 7 that instead, our goal is to make the whole tree good from the roots up, so that then the fruit that is borne is good fruit. Thesis No. 17, again, very, very practical. Walther says: "In the 13th place, the word of God is not rightly divided when a description is given of faith both as regards its strength and the consciousness and productiveness of it that does not fit all believers at all times." Let me give you a couple example of examples of the sorts of things Walther talks about, and as I read each one, ask yourself: Would each of these be appropriate to say in a sermon or not? Okay? Okay. An example like this: To say in a sermon, "Faith in Christ gives us the patience of Job." Would it be appropriate to say that in a sermon or not? Or, "One can be sure someone doing that" whatever "that" wicked thing might be "is no Christian." Would that be appropriate to say in a sermon or not? This one: "The true Christian isn't afraid to die." Appropriate or not? "When we become believers in Jesus, we lay down our sinful pride." You going to buy that one or not? "Prayer. Prayer time is the Christian's favorite time of the day." Would that be appropriate to say in a sermon or not? And, "As a believer, you quickly lose your desire for worldly riches." Uh huh! I suspect you sense that there's something a little bit inappropriate about each one of these to say in a sermon. Why? Well, "Faith in Christ gives us the patience of Job." The fact of the matter is, for some people it does and for some people it doesn't. Many Christians will find that they are very impatient about all kinds of things that are relatively trivial. "One can be sure doing that" whatever "that" is "is no Christian." Well, as Walther points out, Christians often behave in a very un Christian manner. "The true Christian isn't afraid to die." For some, that is true. Many Christians, nevertheless, fear death, while at the same time looking forward with joy and with trust in the eternal salvation that is that is before us after death. We might still be not too thrilled about the idea of dying. "When we become believers in Jesus, we lay down our sinful pride." I think that falls on the face of it. Many Christians, nevertheless, take sinful pride in a lot of things. "Prayer time is the Christian's favorite time of the day." I think of my dear Christine Loschke in my last congregation. For her, prayer time was her favorite time of the day. For a lot of Christians... hmm... it's a little less on the joy scale. "As a believer, you quickly lose your desire for worldly riches." I think not. I think many Christians continue to love worldly things, sometimes sinfully. So what have we got here? Well, we certainly have things that are desirable, virtues that Christians would like to exemplify, and in each case which some Christians do exemplify. But if we make the statements as they're worded here, what message do we give? Well, we suggest to our hearers that if they do fear death, or if they are a little proud sometimes, or if they find themselves coveting earthly riches from time to time, they must what? Not be Christians. This is a terrible confusion of law and gospel, because it suggests that to be saved, to be a believer in Christ Jesus, requires this sort of behavior, these particular actions or absence of actions on the part Christians. Now, the truth is, we could reword each of these to give some real value. To say "Faith in Christ gives us the patience of Job," we could say something like, "Only by faith in Christ could we ever have patience like Job." It is possible, and for some it is true. "One can be sure someone doing that is no Christian." We could reword that to say, "A Christian, when he falls into that sort of sin, repents of his sins and trusts in Christ." "The true Christian isn't afraid to die." We could say, "A Christian need not be afraid to die. He need not be afraid to die, because Christ has overcome death for him." But the point, then, once again, is to say this: That we cannot suggest that all Christians should fit into some particular kind of molds, however desirable those outward actions molds really might be. Christians are still sinful, and their sinful weakness of faith, their sinful actions, their sinful thoughts, in case after case, vary from one believer to another. We must not make the mistake of suggesting that such people do not really enjoy the benefits of Christ's death and resurrection, the gospel. How about Thesis No. 18? Once we've talked about how we cannot expect too much in what a believer will look like when he or she comes to faith, Walther also cautions us in the other direction. Thesis 18, he says, "In the 14th place, the word of God is not rightly divided when the universal corruption of mankind is described in such a way as to create the impression that even true believers are still under the spell of ruling sins and are sinning purposely." Now, what does that mean? Well, it means that when a person becomes a believer in Christ, he is set free from the slavery of sin. The Christian is not someone who does not sin, but he is someone who is not ruled by sin. He is someone who is continually penitent for his sins. We might remember, for example, that St. Paul in Ephesians 2:1 does not say, "You are dead in your trespasses and sins" but, rather, that you "were" dead in your sins. The believer in Christ is now alive and when we see someone who has given himself over to sin, he willfully sins, realizing its significance, and yet not repenting, then we have grave concern that that person is not a believer at all. Our confessions here cite the example of David. We talked about him earlier, didn't we. After his sin with Bathsheba, murdering Uriah, to live in that sin for nine months was an indication that he was not sorry for the sin. In fact, as 2 Samuel 11 ends, as David went on with his life quite comfortably, but God, the text says, was displeased, we see that David was actually rather proud of the fact that he got away with his sin, got off scot free. And so our Lutheran confessions, like the Smalcald Articles, for example, say that if David had died at that time, he would have been lost. He had ceased to be a believer in Christ when he gave himself over to ruling sin. Ceased struggling against that sin and, rather, surrendered to willful sin. But when our confessions explain it, they say the Holy Spirit will not long remain in a heart that has given itself over to willful sin. Other examples are also appropriate for this very same sort of issue. St. Paul says, for example, in 1 Corinthians 6 and this is a I've found to be a tremendously helpful passage as a pastor. 1 Corinthians 6:9 11, Paul says, "Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor effeminate nor homosexuals nor thieves nor the covetous nor drunkards nor revilers nor swindlers shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you, but you were washed, you were sanctified. But you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the spirit of our God." Paul cites this grievous list of sins and he says, You were this way. Many of you were. Were guilty of homosexuality and drunkenness and adultery and so on. But you were washed. You were sanctified. You were justified. The believer is no longer living in these sins." Which then does tell us that as we preach and as we care for our members, it is necessary to warn them that remaining in such sins will indicate that they are no longer believers in Christ, no longer heirs of eternal life. And notice the way Paul says it. This is what's been so helpful to me, when he says at the beginning of Verse 9, "Do not be deceived." You know how our world is today, where it tells you that fornication, sex before marriage, homosexuality, drunkenness, and so on, are all acceptable and in some cases identified as acceptable alternative lifestyles the world is deceiving us. Paul says, "Do not be deceived," and it is necessary for us to preach the law to our people so that they, too, are not deceived, not tricked into thinking that if the world says it's okay, that it really must be acceptable also for the Christian. It is not. St. Paul therefore says, essentially, in verse rather in Thesis 17 or rather, Thesis 18, that it is not possible for a person to be a believer and still be under the spell of ruling sins and sinning purposely. One more thesis that I think helps to clarify this also significantly is the very next one, Thesis No. 19. Thesis 19, Walther says: "In the 15th place, the word of God is not rightly divided when the preacher speaks of certain sins as if they were not of a damnable but of a venial nature." Now, this one is a little bit tricky. We hear those terms "damnable sins" or "venial sins" or we could think of mortal sins and venial sins and we immediately think, "Well, that's a distinction that Catholics make, isn't it." Actually, Walther develops his discussion of Thesis No. 19 by beginning by saying it is necessary to make a distinction between mortal and venial sins. The crucial thing is to make the right distinction. The distinction is not, as the Catholic Church has taught, where certain sins are small and certain sins are great. The small sins perhaps covetous thought, perhaps disobeying your mother about a small thing those are venial. They don't need to be confessed. They don't need to really be repented of and it's not necessary for those to be atoned for either. The bigger sins if you commit adultery; not just think about it, but do it those would be mortal sins. Now, those have to be confessed. Those have to be atoned for. Something has to be done to take care of those. Walther says, rightly, that that is not the proper distinction between a mortal and a venial sin. The proper distinction between a mortal sin and a venial sin is that a mortal sin is a sin that we continue to live in, giving our heart over to it. It's not a matter of how great is the outward act, but the attitude of the heart. A person who commits a terrible outward sin and yet repents of it and believes in Christ as his savior is forgiven. That does not stand as a sin which destroys his faith in Christ. On the other hand, a sin which could be relatively minor in its outward action just cheating a little bit each year on your federal income tax could, if unrepented, come to be a schism between ourselves and God, something that cuts us off from God, that causes the Holy Spirit to leave us. A sin that is not repented is a mortal sin. Walther says, on Page 332, that small sins become great when they are regarded as small. And so Walther's point to us in Thesis No. 19 is that it is necessary to teach that every sin, even if it seems very, very minor, really does deserve eternal damnation, and of course he explains beautifully that because each sin deserves eternal damnation, each sin has been atoned by the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus.