Full Text for Homiletics 2- Volume 10 - What is meant by Walther's thesis 23? (Video)

Homiletics 2 File 10 Professor Carl Fickenscher II Question by: David >> DAVID: Thanks, Doctor. Here's another one for you. Thesis 23: "In the 19th Place, the word of God is not rightly divided when an attempt is made by means of the demands or the threats or the promises of the law to induce the unregenerate to put away their sins and engage in good works and thus become Godly. On the other hand, when an endeavor is made by means of the commands of the law, rather than by the admonitions of the gospel, to urge the regenerate to do good." That's a mouthful. What's Walther getting at here? >> PROF. FICKENSCHER: That is, David. And it's a very, very important thesis. Again, frankly, one of the most practical of the entire series. Look at, again, what he says. And he really addresses two issues run together which we'll separate. The first part of the thesis is where Walther says it is a confusion of law and gospel and error to try to bring the unregenerate to put away their sins and engage in good works as a result of the law. Now, actually, that is a reiteration of Thesis No. 16. You may recall we said it was an error to think we were really making great progress with Sharon when we simply got her to stop cursing and sleeping around and that sort of thing. That could, of course, be accomplished by the law, but that really wasn't our goal with her, was it. The second part of this thesis, though, is a very important development that pastors ought to take into consideration every time they preach. In the last part of the thesis, he says, "It is also an error when, by the means of the commands of the law rather than by the admonitions of the gospel, we urge the regenerate, the believers, to do good." What does that mean? Well, quite simply, that means that we are erring, we are confusing law and gospel, if we think that the law can ever be the means to bring about good works in our own people, in believers. Remember when we talked about the first thesis and we talked about how the fifth difference between law and gospel were the different functions and effects of law and gospel? At that time, you'll recall I mentioned that under the effects and functions of the gospel, Walther listed that the gospel and only the gospel enables the believer to do good works. Right? At that time, we referred to this briefly, and this is what the thesis, the second part of this Thesis 23, really now elaborates. The law and the gospel each play a role in bringing about good works, but the roles are very, very different and need not be confused, must not be confused. The law serves the very important purpose of describing to us, picturing to us, teaching us what good works look like. Remember, Luther so well explains the Ten Commandments when, in each case, he gives not just the reminder of those things we are not to do, but also again and again says what we are to do as believers in Christ. We're not just to avoid hurting and harming our neighbor, but we're also to help and befriend him in every bodily need, for example. In each of those cases, the law in that case, the fifth commandment helps us to see what a good work would look like. Part, for example, of loving our neighbor is to see that he has some physical need and to do the best we can to help him, to feed him, to bring him medical care, to give him a home to live in and to give him our support and so on. That's an example of what a good work would look like. And the law shows us that. The law pictures what a good work looks like. However and this is the point of this portion of the thesis the law can never motivate us to do those things. Take the example of the fifth commandment. I perhaps would not hurt or harm my neighbor simply because if I did, I would go to jail. I also might help him by giving him food, by giving him clothing, because it makes me feel good about myself. I'm pleased to have helped him. Or because it makes me look good to others, okay? Those are certainly motivations that sometimes bring about good works, apparently good works of serving our neighbor. But the truth is, those would not really be good works at all, because in each of those cases that I described, the motivation ultimately is self serving. Now, those are motivations of the law. When the law says, "If you do this, you will get some result," whether it be the adoration of others or a feel good kind of feeling for myself, in either case, the law motivates us to do things only to serve ourselves. In the grossest cases, the law can motivate us to do good works because we think that by obeying those laws, we're actually even earning God's favor, perhaps earning our way to heaven. However, God sees a good work only as that which is done from a pure heart, that which is done with no selfish motivation whatsoever, that which is done in no way to help myself, even to make me just feel good. A true good work is only that which loves God, loves our neighbor; for God, for neighbor, and not in any way for ourselves. As long as we're living under the law, we always feel as if there's something that we can do for ourselves. It's only the gospel that enables us to live completely for others, for God and for neighbor, and it happens quite simply in this way: When we realize that Jesus, by his death and resurrection, has earned for us eternal salvation, then we realize that there is nothing that we can ever do for ourselves to improve our lot in any real way, in any substantial way. By what Christ has done for me, I already have a perfect relationship with God. I already have his perfect love for me. I already have eternal, endless blessings beyond my wildest imagination in heaven. I already have God's assurance of care right now. Frankly, realizing what Christ has done for me, I realize there's nothing I could ever do to make anything in life better for myself. And freed, therefore, from serving myself in any way, I now look about me to see who I might help, to whom might I be helpful and loving. That's a motivation that comes about only by means of the gospel. Because it's only the gospel that assures me I already have everything worth having in Christ Jesus. There are so many examples that come to mind and come into to daily life for a pastor. One that always comes to mind is the pastor's annual discussion of stewardship in his preaching, whether it be a particular sermon a particular Sunday or a series. It's always a temptation to see as our primary goal, in a Sunday or series of Sundays devoted to financial stewardship, to raise the offerings. That being the goal. And, you know, your board of elders and your board of stewardship will certainly encourage you, pastor, to do what you can to make sure we make budget this year. There's nothing wrong with the goal. It's certainly a practical goal for a congregation. But a pastor has to realize that the law can help you make budget; the law cannot enable your people to really be God pleasing stewards even of their money. Walther even uses the example of how a pastor might, after seeing the offering come in at about 20 cents it's a different era, obviously might decide that he needs to preach a little more a little more law on the matter of money to his people and decides that he'll shake them down for a while with some good law sermons, condemning them for their miserliness and offering them all kinds of rewards for opening up their pocketbooks. And he says, yeah, he may, in fact, get an offering that winds up being 20 bucks instead of 20 cents. And then Walther says that pastor should never think he's accomplished anything, because, frankly, God doesn't want the 20, 200, 2,000, 20,000, $20 million offering that is given with any desire to enhance one's own position. God doesn't need our money. Even the congregation doesn't need anyone's money. God takes care of these things and he does them through his gracious will that moves his people to respond. God wants those acts and even in the area of financial stewardship that are moved solely by what he has done for us in Christ Jesus. There are a couple of very important practical implications, too, in how we might structure sermons, when it comes to this 23rd thesis of Walther's. Come with me just a moment. It's not at all an uncommon arrangement in a sermon to move something like this: To begin with a portion of the sermon that speaks law, second use. Just refreshing our memories there again, the law, second use, of course, is the mirror that shows us we are sinful. And by the way, this law, second use, is really the most important use of the law in our preaching and in our pastoral care, okay? It's, above all else, essential for our people to realize that they need a savior, okay. And so this is commonly included in the early portion of a sermon. After speaking law, second use, it's quite natural then to speak gospel. To speak of how Christ has absolved us, forgiven us for whatever particular sins we pointed out in the first portion of the sermon. Law, second use. Now then, at this point, a pastor very often says to himself, "Good. In fact, great. I've brought them to repentance and absolved them of their sins. But of course I also want them to carry out this faith in their lives. I'd even like that to show up in the life of our congregation, if at all possible. And so what I probably need to do now is give them a kind of a 'therefore.' If you're sinful but forgiven, now what are you going to do about it?" Okay? And so a frequent third inclusion in a sermon would be, again, law. This time, third use. And, again, to refresh our memories, third use is the guide or the rule, right? For the believer in Christ Jesus, what are the things that God wants us to do? What what does a good work look like? Now, this can be an appropriate arrangement. It certainly can. But since it is something that people use so frequently in preaching, perhaps we should critique it just a moment and see if it's really doing what we would like it to do. As I've described it, it's done the job of first showing us our sin, reminding us we have a savior, and then pointing us to go out and do whatever good works the pastor has in mind for his hearers to do this week or or in the months and years ahead. But is that last portion, the third use of the law, really serving that purpose properly? Remember I said, as we started this question, that the law shows us what a good work looks like. That's absolutely true. If it were not for the law describing for us what loving our neighbor looked like, how it was fleshed out, we really wouldn't know and, in fact, we'd probably invent a lot of imaginary good works that are quite apart from God's will for us. So it's important to picture what a good work looks like. But just what does the second use of the law do, and how does it do it? In showing us that we are sinners, second use, does the law also not show us what a good work looks like? To realize that we are sinners, we typically describe what we should have been doing and have not been doing. Okay? In other words, the second use of the law also provides a picture of what a good work looks like. It just shows that we've failed to do it. If that now has already been done in our first portion of the sermon, second use of the law, and following that we have absolved our hearers by the gospel, is it really necessary to picture for them again what a good work would look like? Very often it's not. Why then do we so often come back to a final portion of the sermon that would be identified as third use of the law? I'm afraid it's because all too often we really don't believe that the gospel will do its job. You see, the gospel changes hearts. The gospel, by assuring a forgiveness, motivates real love, motivates true good works, and since already in this sermon we have pictured for the people what a good work looks like, which they haven't been doing, now, giving them the gospel is the power to do that very thing. Do they need to be told again what it looks like? Probably not. But so often after giving the gospel, we don't really believe that it will move them to do that good work, and so we come back with third use. Ultimately, when that is our sequence of thinking, our third use of the law is really nothing more than tightening up the screws, trying to make them feel a little bit guilty if they don't do the thing that they were already told they were supposed to do and weren't doing. If that is the case, then what we are really doing is an violation of Walther's Thesis 23. What we're really doing, then, is urging the regenerate believers, our members, to do good works by the law. We're trying to motivate them by the law, rather than by the gospel. I tell my students to keep in mind this little simplicity simplistic kind of observation, and that is, that the law when it comes to good works is always informational, never motivational. It is necessary to use the law to give the information as to what a good work looks like, but if we ever try to motivate by the law, that's a confusion of law and gospel, because only the gospel can actually motivate, can actually move the heart to do good works willingly. And that's the only kind of work that God truly sees as good. To complete this thought, this sort of arrangement is not out of the question. There are times when particular forms that our good works could take ought to be elaborated in a final portion of the sermon. I think frequently of, for example, a sanctity of life Sunday, which in my congregations I would have every year. In a portion of the sermon, I would always talk about the sins of abortion, of failing to do our best to help those who have had abortions, failing to support those who were in need in crisis pregnancies and so on. Those would all be second use of the law kinds of issues. Then of course the heart of the sermon was to remind everyone that the sin of abortion, the sin of failing to help those who have had abortions and so on, are all atoned by the death of Christ Jesus, and therefore every one of us stands forgiven in spite of whatever particular personal and maybe private guilt we might have had uncovered in the first portion of the sermon. Then it's possible, in the third part of the sermon, to say something like, "Here are some ways that we can help to be supportive of the sanctity of life." For example, we might encourage people to join Lutherans For Life, an organization which is very valuable toward that goal. We would never put Lutherans For Life up here and say, "If you don't join Lutherans For Life, you're being sinful." No, we'd never say that. But we could put it in another portion of the sermon to say, "Here's one of many ways that we can help to protect the sanctity of life." In other words, there are situations, there are certainly sermons, and there are texts that lead us to this kind of arrangement. But let us always critique ourselves carefully. When we're going to conclude a sermon with things to do this week, are those things really things that need to be brought to our attention as new information or are we really just trying to set the screws a little tighter because we don't believe the gospel is the means the Holy Spirit uses to move the hearts of our people to truly good works?