Part 4 of a series discussing C. F. W. Walther’s important treatise Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible.
If you’re anything like me, you have (or have had) people in your life who will make promises contingent on something you do. “If you do this, then I’ll do that.” This is precisely what the Law does to us. Both the Law and the Gospel promise eternal life and salvation, but the Law gives conditions which must be satisfied prior to those items being obtained: namely, perfect obedience to its demands. Says Walther,
…the greater the promises of the Law, the more disheartening they are. The Law offers us that food, but not close enough for us to reach it. The Law offers us salvation in about the same manner as refreshments were offered to Tantalus in the hell of the pagan Greeks. …[The Law] always adds: “All this you will have, but only if you do what I command.”
Leviticus 18:5 says, “You shall therefore keep My statutes and My rules: if a person does them, he shall live by them.” This means, Walther explains, “that only a person who keeps the Law, and no one else, will be saved by the Law” (emphasis his).
The self-righteous scribe in Luke 10:26-28 is instructed by Jesus, “Do this [that is, keep the greatest commandment) and you will live.” The message Jesus gave to his disciples recorded in Mark 16:15-16 is much different. There is “no condition whatsoever” attached to the Gospel; it is solely a promise of grace. This is a precious, important difference, brothers.
Ending his section on the promises of Law & Gospel, Walther relates,
If we were to ask to Christ, “What is expected of me so that I may be saved?” He would answer: “Certainly not works! I have already accomplished all the works that had to be done. You need not drink one drop of the cup I had to drink.”
And if you would only reflect on this, my dear friends, you, too, would jump for joy that these glad tidings have been brought to you as well. But…anyone who keeps on brooding and says, “I am a despicable person; there is no forgiveness for me,” does nothing less than reject the Gospel. This person rejects Christ. …I need to receive the Gospel because it demands nothing from me.
Let us preach that Gospel to our people every week. What better message do you have?