What to listen for in a sermon

God’s Word speaks to us in two ways. In law and gospel.

God’s law helps to keep us from disintegrating into ch aos, personally and corporately, and (theologically) it kills us off, brings us to our knees in repentance and drives us to Christ. The law is demand… pure and simple.

The gospel is what gives us life. It is promise, pure and simple. The gospel isn’t the law and the law isn’t the gospel. The Sermon on the Mount is not gospel, but law. There is no life in it. 

How can that be!  Jesus is speaking those words to us!  Remember…God speaks to us in law and gospel. In the Sermon on the Mount, it just so happens that Jesus was using the law to kill us off to any foolish notion that we will be made right by anything that we do. The life was not in the demand of the law that Jesus was giving, but in the person of Himself.

It’s not always easy to distinguish the law from the gospel for people not taught to do so.

Since the law is demand, one ought listen to hear that. If it sounds like someone is using scripture, or other words to get you to do something, or to think something, or to feel something, then you have just heard the law. “Now that you are in Christ Jesus you should read your bible more, attend Bible studies, help those in need.” That is law. Are those bad things?  No they are not, we ought try and do those things. But they will never make us  right with God, or make us a better Christian. Can those things be bad things? Yes they can, if they are emphasized to the point where one believes that he or she will be gaining something towards Heaven if they are doing them.

A preacher needs to proclaim God’s law. But not to spur people on to be ‘better Christians’. That will backfire. That will create different congregations. That will create despair in those who finally realize that no matter how hard they try they can never get there (sometimes the kind of despair where they will never again enter a church door). And that kind of ‘how-to’ preaching will create phonies. Those that know that they cannot live up to what is being asked of them, but not wanting to look less than Christian’ or out of place, they will fake it. They will play the game and look and act the part. The last group of people that you will end up with are those that actually believe they are doing what the preacher is telling them they ought be doing. Now, these poor folks are guilty of pride, and that may be the worst place to be.

So, if a preacher understands the purpose of the law correctly, he will not use it to spur on better behavior towards making people better Christians (that is totally  not necessary since we can never become better Christians than at the moment we were baptized), but will use  the law it was intended in it’s theological use, and that is to kill people off to their self-righteousness project.

If you leave a worship service and you now realize that you’d better get busy with X,Y, or Z, otherwise you are not a very good Christian, then you ought reconsider going back there because you probably won’t hear the gospel there.

The gospel is ‘yes you are a sinner, yes you do not do, say, feel, or think the right things, yes you engage in the wrong things, often at the expense of your neighbor…but Jesus Christ loves you and forgives you. He died for people that are just like you (and that is everyone). Because of that cross and resurrection, and in your baptism, He has promised to you new life and the forgiveness of your sins, and salvation.

That is the gospel.

It’s not a little of both, either.

It’s not a little law mixed in with a lot of gospel. One drop of poison in a glass of water ruins the whole glass of water. (the Galatian letter)

So hear the law, the full law, the hard, unmitigated law…and die to yourself. Die to your religion project.

Then hear the gospel, the sweet, pure sound of the love and forgiveness of the One  who knows what you are up against and who has done something about it in the person of Christ Jesus. And in that new found freedom in that Word of forgiveness, go into the world and do what you will to express that love and freedom that Christ has won for you and given to you.

By the way, the law and the gospel are not something that you apply, God is applying them TO   YOU.  He IS DOING them to you…for His purposes…for those that by God’s grace, have ears to hear it.



I know that this is a radical notion to many of you, and that many of you do not like having ‘what you need to do’, taken away from you.

But when you realize that what I(the scriptures actually – God actually) am saying is the truth, and that it is biblical, and that God is the one that wills to make you whole and righteous totally on His own…without your help…it is liberating like nothing else is liberating.

Can you handle that kind of freedom?  It’s not always easy, you know. Living by faith and not by sight is a very tough way to live.

What do you say?