Thursday, July 22, 2010


Speaking of “buzz words,” one of the most well known among Lutherans is the term “Law and Gospel.” Our interpretation of scripture always includes this foundational concept. When Lutherans read scripture, we are reminded to look for both the law and the gospel in the text we are reading.

One of the basic understandings of this concept is that the law convicts us of our mortality and our brokenness. It is with that understanding that we are driven to the cross. The gospel reveals the love of God for us and our redemption through Jesus Christ, because of the cross and the resurrection.

When we think about the term “law,” we usually connect it with the Old, or Hebrew, Testament. When we think about the term “gospel,” we usually connect it with the New, or Christian, Testament. However, the law can be found throughout the entire Bible. The gospel can also be found throughout all of scripture.

In the beginning, Adam and Eve disobeyed God. When God removed from the Garden of Eden, we appropriately recognize law for the consequences of their actions. However, we don’t often “hear” the gospel when God clothed them. The same goes for their son, Cain, when God placed a mark on him so that no one would kill him. David lost the son born of Bathsheba because of his adultery. Furthermore, civil war erupted in the years following. Yet, from that relationship, Solomon was born and became the most powerful king in the history of Israel.

All of the gospels spent much of their time telling the story of Jesus’ passion and resurrection. It is the story of the gospel, or good news of the victory of Jesus. Yet, read the Sermon on the Mount and find the new laws that Jesus was prescribing as he redefined them, making some more flexible and others more strict. Remember the story of the rich man? Remember how he could not sell all that he had and follow Jesus? This is another example of the law within the gospel.

We need both law and gospel. We always need to be reminded of who we are and whose we are. We need to be reminded that we are broken, sinful, and imperfect with shortcomings and character defects.

It is through the law and the gospel that we have a deeper understanding of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Somewhere I have read or heard that, “Confession is good for the soul.” While it probably isn’t scriptural, it certainly is good theology. I have included in my “book” of sayings, “We are as sick as our secrets.” I don’t know about anyone else, but it is certainly true for me. It has also been obvious when I have listened to other people’s stories.

I believe confession is necessary to clean the soul of spiritually toxic material that can impair the abundant life that Christ wishes us to live. In Lutheran worship, we have a general confession that assists us as we prepare for worship. It is a reminder that we are sinful, we are in bondage to sin, and that we humbly come before our God, through Jesus Christ, to seek forgiveness and reconciliation. It may also remind us that we are saint and sinner at the same time. This confession is also part of other denominations’ liturgies. However, in some denominations, it is believed that once we are saved we are always saved and there is no need for additional confession.

Martin Luther had this to say about confession. He asked, What is confession? His response was, Confession embraces two parts: the one is, that we confess our sins; the other, that we receive absolution, or forgiveness, from the confessor, as from God Himself, and in no wise doubt, but firmly believe, that our sins are thereby forgiven before God in heaven. And, he also asked, What sins should we confess? Again, he responded, Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even of those which we do not know, as we do in the Lord's Prayer. But before the confessor we should confess those sins alone which we know and feel in our hearts.” Luther believed that there was a need for us to use a individual confessor to cleanse our souls of those character defects and shortcomings that affected our relationship with God. In the 12-Step programs, there is also a belief in this need to confess. Steps 4 and 5 reflect this belief and need for action: STEP 4 - Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. STEP 5 - Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
Dietrich Bonhoffer talked about this subject in his book, Life Together, where he discussed life in the community of faith. Sin that has been spoken and confessed has lost all of its power. It has been revealed and judged as sin. It can no longer tear apart the community. Now the community bears the sin of the individual believer, who is no longer alone with this evil but has “cast off” this sin by confessing it and handing it over to God. The sinner has been relieved of sin’s burden. Now the sinner stands in the community of sinners who live by grace of God in the cross of Jesus Christ. Now one is allowed to be a sinner and still enjoy the grace of God. We can admit our sins and in this very act find community for the first time. The hidden sins separated the sinner from the community and made the sinner’s apparent community all a sham. The sins that were acknowledged helped the sinner to find true community with other believers in Jesus Christ. Bonhoffer goes on to say, A confession of sin in the presence of all the members of the congregation is not required to restore one to community with the entire congregation. In the one other Christian to whom I confess my sins and by whom my sins are declared forgiven, I meet the whole congregation.

So, what is sin? Of course we have the Ten Commandments. They outline the basic relationship we have with God and with one another. If any of those are damaged, then we sin. However, those enumerated commandments may be too specific. Martin Luther also said that the basic sin is that of self-centeredness. In other words, we never get past the first commandment. Scholars who have studied the Gospel of John have indicated that the author of John might have been indicating that sin, according to that gospel, is not to have faith and trust in Jesus. Other theologians have suggested that sin is anything that keeps us from having a healthy relationship with another.

One reason we do not attempt to bring another person into our life through confession is because of the deep confidentiality of our comments. We just don’t share our private thoughts and past actions with just anyone. This lack of trust also includes pastors/ministers/priests. This is understandable. A real blessing is to identify someone within the community of faith who can be trusted, with whom you can share personal concerns, and you know will keep such conversations fully confidential.

The words of Luther, Bonhoffer, and others give us much to think about. However we treat sin, however we deal with it, we need to consider that sin can be toxic in nature and destroy relationships. However, as Jesus reminded us, to indentify sin, we begin with ourselves.