The old Lutheran teachers said, “Preach the Law as if there were no Gospel and then preach the Gospel as if there were no Law.”

Sometimes folks hear one thing. Sometimes, we hear the other.

Often, when we’re living our lives, we have a habit that is part of our sinful human nature: we don’t notice our own sin. Remember how you get used to how you smell after working hard all day in the sun? Sin behaves like that. Sin hates to be called sin, especially when it is true by the Lord’s definition in Scripture. And we’re so shocked to be called on our sin, we may — may — be so focused upon that realization that we miss hearing the Gospel.

When we’re already feeling guilty, we often don’t hear any further preaching of law. We know we’re without hope on our own. And then comes the preaching of the sweet Gospel. Forgiveness! Life! Salvation! Comfort! Reconciliation! Renewal!

The old Lutheran preachers said, “Preach the Law as if there were no Gospel and then preach the Gospel as if there were no Law.”

They learned it from St. Paul in passages like Ephesians 2: And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

In Galatians 5:13-14, Paul says, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Ephesians 2 continues: But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

Merciful. Loving. Enlivening. Gracious. The law has paved the way for the proclamation of the Gospel. Hear Ephesians 2:8-9 together with verse 10 and understand them all better: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

We know we have been saved by grace through faith. We know that this is not our doing. We know it is the gift of God. And we know that it is not a result of our works, but a result of Christ’s work. What is the purpose, the role of good works in the life of a Christian?

God Himself created, redeemed and sanctified you so that you would be a blessing, for you were created to do good works in the name and for the sake of your Lord. You are a gift to your loved ones, your school, your workplace, your neighborhood, your community. You share the love of Christ to the end that others may be gathered by the Lord to be His people, give Him glory, and continue to share Jesus, the Gift. Amen.

Rev. Paul J Cain is senior pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School/Immanuel Academy and a member of Pastors United in Christ