If you hear a pastor preaching the Law in such a way that it makes you feel uncomfortable, and you think that you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable, then you are not listening rightly.
For example, Luther’s statement, from the Large Catechism, to which we unconditionally confess:
“Nevertheless, it must be known that such people as deprive themselves of, and withdraw from, the Sacrament so long a time are not to be considered Christians.”LC V:42
Now if, upon hearing that, your response is:
- to reject it,
- to make excuses for why you cannot keep that part of God’s Law,
- to explain to yourself why you cannot be expected to keep it,
- to blame this or that person,
- to think that you don’t need to go to Church because you have strong faith,
- to think that God will forgive you anyway,
- to think that the preacher is talking about someone else,
- to become angry,
- to go to Church less often,
- or even to go to Church more often…
… then you are not listening rightly.
It is our sinful nature to always want to DO something. We hear the Law of God and we want to fix the situation or find the solution, thinking “What must I do?” But each of those responses to God’s Law are dead wrong. Even going to Church more often isn’t necessarily the solution, because that too can be done without faith.
But remember, the chief purpose of God’s Law is not to make you feel good about yourself, giving you a second chance or an opportunity to do better. The chief purpose of the Law is to condemn you. When the Law is preached correctly, the person hearing it is crushed. He cannot escape from under God’s Law by trying harder or doing more. That will bring no lasting comfort. Just as the Gospel does not partly save you, so also the Law of God does not partly condemn you for your sin. Hence, each and every person hearing God’s Law MUST conclude that he has no faith.
The reason none of the above options provide a correct response to hearing God’s Law is because none of them run through Christ. The solution to the uncomfortable condemnation of the Law is not to do this or that, but to repent and hear the Gospel of Christ Crucified!
Listen to the way C.F.W. Walther explains it in his sixth thesis on Law and Gospel:
You are not rightly distinguishing Law and Gospel in the Word of God if you do not preach the Law in its full sternness and the Gospel in its full sweetness. Similarly, do not mingle Gospel elements with the Law or Law elements with the Gospel.
Whenever you preach the Law, you must always bear in mind that it makes no concessions. That would be completely contrary to the character of the Law, because it makes only demands. The Law says, “You must do this. If you fail to do it, there will be no patience, loving-kindness, and long-suffering of God for you. You will have to go to hell.” To make this point quite plain to us, the Lord says, “Whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” That does not mean he will have assigned to him the lowest place in heaven, but that he will not go to the kingdom of heaven at all.
Galatians 3:10: “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’” If you direct people to do good works and — just for their comfort — add a remark such as: “You should indeed be perfect. Yet God does not demand the impossible from us. Do what you can in your weakness; just be sincere in your intention!” I say, if you were to speak like this, you would be preaching a damnable doctrine, for that is a shameful corruption of the Law. God never spoke like that from Mount Sinai…
A sermon on the Law that you deliver from the pulpit must measure up to these standards if it is to be a proper preaching of the Law. Do not rant about horrible vices that maybe running wild in the congregation. Continual ranting will prove useless. While people may quit the practices that have been rebuked, in two weeks’ time they will return to their old ways. You must indeed testify against such outbreaks with great earnestness, but you must also tell the people: “Even if you were to quit you habitual cursing, swearing, and so on, that would not make you Christians. You might go to hell for all that. God is concerned about the attitude of your heart.” Explain this matter with the utmost composure, but state it quite plainly.
Romans 3:20: “Through the law comes knowledge of sin.” God does not tell you to preach the Law in order to make people godly. The Law makes no one godly. Rather, when the Law begins to take effect, the person begins to fume and rage against God. He hates the preacher who has shouted the Law into his heart, feeling that he cannot slip off its coils. When this happens, you sometimes hear people say: “I will never go to that church again. Why, that preacher strikes terror into my soul. I prefer to attend the services of the Rev. So-and-so. He makes you feel good. When you listen to him, you realize what a good person you really are.” Alas! Down in hell these same people will want to take revenge on the preacher when they see how that false prophet got them thrown into the pit.Walther, Law & Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible, 89-92
All thanks, praise, and glory be to God alone that we have a Savior who has, at every point, perfectly fulfilled the Law where we have failed, and who imparts His righteousness to us sinners by faith in Him!