This is a repost from the old “Ask A Lutheran” blog. Yesterday I had a brief conversation with another Lutheran gentleman that brought this post to mind, so I thought I’d give it another spin. Because I am lazy. Or efficient. It’s one or the other.
The Gospel doesn’t say “Do”, it says “Done”.
What Does This Mean?
I think it refers to our human tendency to try to make the Gospel into Law. We say and think things like, “If you want to be saved, all you have to do is…” and “If a person is truly saved then he will not do…” etc.
When Lutherans are concerned about the mixing of law and Gospel, they are concerned with the loss of the promise-nature of the Gospel – and it is the promise nature which is the Holy Spirit’s way of calling forth faith *and of sustaining faith*. “For the Word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who ARE BEING SAVED it is the power of God.” [1 Cor. 1:18] And this mixing invariably means speaking “Gospel” (or what we think of as Gospel) in such a way that it is not experienced by the hearers as promise. The dread of uniting law and Gospel together for Lutherans is that if there is a pathway from the one to the other, then the Gospel has ceased to be pure promise and has become instead something due, owed to our fulfilment of some condition. It is immediately rendered doubtful and uncertain.
People ask: Well, isn’t faith a condition? No, faith is what appropriates, takes the promise, holds it, the trusting of it, and rejoicing in it – but such faith is never a condition for a Gospel promise. Rather than say: If you believe, your sins are forgiven you. Better to say: Your sins are forgiven you, blotted out by the blood of the Son of God. Believe it, for it is true.
“If the word becomes an appeal, faith becomes its performance in action. If the word becomes a demonstration, faith becomes insight; if it becomes a statement, faith becomes knowledge. Finally, if the word becomes an expression, faith becomes a ground of experience given with human being as such. Only if the word is promise (promissio) is faith really faith.” [Oswald Bayer, Theology the Lutheran Way, p. 139]
Reposted from August 27, 2008