Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller, of Hope Lutheran in Aurora, CO has a refreshing article which bids us to ponder, “What would life be like for a Christian without the Gospel?“. How do you think that would look? The Apostle Paul provides an answer to this question when he said, “If Christ had not risen from the dead, we are still in our sins, and above all to be pitied”. Thank God Christ is risen for you (He is risen indeed)! Sadly, however, many Christians live as though there were no Gospel, as though Christ wasn’t a great Savior! They live as though Christ has not paid a 100% satisfaction for the sins we committed against God’s revealed will (the Law), and sadly they live as though He is still in the cave behind the stone. They are to be pitied indeed! If Christians (and pagans) want to live as though there is no Gospel, than they have only one option, to live as though the Law got the best of Christ, as if the Law had trumped our Redeeming Lord, and consequently as Paul said, “they are still in their sins” and must pay for their treason committed against a Holy and righteous Judge; for where there is no refuge sought in Christ, there is no hope against condemnation.
Pastor Wolfmueller notes that there are only two viable responses that flow out of this life under the condemnation of the law, either a self-righteous pride or a descent into despair:
Without the Gospel we have only the law, only demands, rules, a raging conscience which is devouring us or which is caged and ignored. Without the Gospel there is no Jesus on the cross, no forgiveness of sin by His blood, no comfort in His Word. What is the result of such a void?
The answer is two-fold: pride or despair. A Pharisee or a Judas. Without the Gospel we are flung toward pride on the one hand, and despair on the other.
Pastor Wolfmueller uses the Lutheran Confessions to clarify this dilemma further:
As long as they hear the bare preaching of the Law, and nothing concerning Christ, and therefore do not learn from the Law to perceive their sins aright, [they] either become presumptuous hypocrites (who swell with the opinion of their own righteousness) as the Pharisees, or despair like Judas. [Formula of Concord, Epitome V.7]
As I noted early, without the Gospel, sin must be dealt with accordingly, there is no smoke and mirrors which can hide a sinner from the Law of God, there is instead a growing fiery eternal debt which must be paid. Wolfmueller notes, “We have to do something with our sin. If we cannot confess our sins and hear the promise of forgiveness, then we are set to get rid of our sins in another way. Either we act like we have overcome sin, or we know that sin has overcome us.” And this brings us back to our response of pride or despair. On the one hand, pride seeks to overcome sin by an outward obedience, on the other, despair runs rampant and leads a man to a worldly sorrow seen in the example of Judas.
The purpose of pride, is to twist the intended use of the Law, and to create man made laws that we have the ability to accomplish with our own power, which is the pinnacle of Pharasaical idolatry. Whereas God’s Law wills that a man’s heart, mind, and strength be in 100% service to his neighbor and His God, desiring love, obedience, service, protection, and sacrifice, man’s law gravitates towards outwardly attainable acts of morality: “Don’t smoke!” “Don’t drink alcohol!”, “Don’t dance!”, “You shouldn’t enjoy food or coffee or tea.”, “No TV!”, “No secular literature!” and the list goes on (I’m sure you have your own swirling about in your conscience). But tell me, do you see the pattern? All of these laws can be accomplished; sure they can, with a little bit of “elbow grease” anyone can follow these rules. “God’s law”, Wolfmueller says, “demands our heart, soul, mind and strength”, but the laws of man, “may be kept with our hands.” He clarfies further:
Whatever laws we add to the the Scriptures might be difficult, but they are always possible. And this possibility is where pride lives. Whenever humanity invents a law it dulls the accusing edge of God’s law until you have mere instruction that asks for correction instead of demanding repentance. This is the road of pride, the way of the Pharisee.
“Such things”, the Apostle Paul said, “indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.” (Colossians 2) It’s like a man with a spade who works on the rocky soil of his heart, he can take his tool and knock all kinds of rocks out of the soil, pick one of the pebbles and look up to God like a Pharasee and say, “Here’s one, and I got another right here!”, but eventually, he will hit the stone foundation of sin to which there is no answer found in the flesh, for he has come to the source of his sinfulness, his corrupted and depraved heart. When a man finally sees his own spiritual poverty and futility, he is ready for the healing comfort of the Gospel of Christ’s mercy and grace, but without the Gospel, the accusations of the Law will continue to whip our man until he is thrown into the depths of bloody despair:
The other road taken without the Gospel is the path of despair. This is the result of the law doing what it is meant to do…The law shows us our sin; it always accuses. But the Lord intends that the Gospel would then come around to comfort us with the forgiveness of our sins. Without this comfort despair is given free reign; despondency runs free. This is the way that Judas went, and King Saul. (Wolfmueller)
While God deeply despises pride, he does not will nor desire that a man be left in the dregs of his own sin, for His word promises that He does not turn away the sick, that He is near the poor in spirit, and above all, that He came for the sinner. God in His undying love and mercy has provided the most beautiful solution, His Son given and shed for you for the remission of your sins, risen and ascended to God’s right hand so that you might have a shelter from the heat of God’s law. Dear Christian, do not live as though there is no Gospel, as if Christ is still in the tomb and you are still in your sins. Why seek the living among the dead? Pastor White of Our Savior Lutheran in his Easter proclamation says it so eloquently:
People of God, why do you seek the living among the dead? Do not carry the guilt any longer for He has taken the guilt Himself, He has lifted it to His cross, He has buried it in His grave, and He is here among us now. Do not dwell on your wounds for He has risen to heal you, He has risen to forgive you, He has risen to change you all, and bind us together now. People of God, the tomb is empty. He is risen! He is risen indeed! In his death and resurrection your sins are forgiven. Go in peace. Alleluia! Amen.
The solution to sin is not to create a plethora of new laws and emotional experiences, for that is to be a white-washed tomb, our only hope and consolation must be found in Jesus Christ and the promises of forgiveness, reconciliation, and peace with God through His redemptive work! Amen.