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Thesis XVI
from God's No and God's Yes: The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel
by C. F. W. Walther

In the twelfth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the preacher tries to make people believe that they are truly converted as soon as they have become rid of certain vices and engage in certain works of piety and virtuous practices.

The great importance of this thesis becomes apparent when you reflect that a worse commingling of Law and Gospel than that which is censured in this thesis is not possible. Woe to the minister who by his manner of preaching leads his hearers to imagine that they are good Christians if they have ceased robbing and stealing, and that by and by they will get rid of any weakness still remaining in them. They turn the Gospel into Law because they represent conversion as a work of man, while genuine conversion, which produces a living faith in a person, is effected only by the Gospel.

This grossest form of commingling Law and Gospel is the most grievous fault of rationalists. The essence of their religion is to teach men that they become different beings by putting away their vices and leading a virtuous life, while the Word of God teaches us that we must become different men first, and then we shall put away our particular sins and begin to exercise ourselves in good works. They love to cite the well-known saying: Genuine repentance is to quit doing what you have been doing. The saying can be used in a right sense and has been so used by our forefathers. They meant to say: "You people who boast of having the right faith while you lead wicked lives, hush your prating about faith; quitting what you have been doing that is genuine repentance." The meaning which rationalists connect with the saying is this: "Do not worry; what God requires of a true Christian is that he quit doing what he has been doing. That is genuine repentance." That is the abominable teaching of moralists. The Christian religion gives us the correct teaching in one word: ŵı½¿µÊĵ. which means: "Change your mind." With this word the Lord confronts the sinner, telling him that first of all, a change of his innermost self must take place. What He requires is a new mind, a new heart, a new spirit; not quitting vice and doing good works. By making this the primary requisite for being a Christian. He puts the ax to the root of the evil tree.

John 3:3: The Lord meant to say: "All that you undertake to do while still in your carnal nature is sin; you must become spiritual before genuine spiritual fruits will begin to show themselves in your life."

Matt. 12:33: Unless a person is completely changed, unless he has become a new creature, has been born anew, with a new mind, all his doings will be corrupt fruit; for by nature every man is a corrupt tree.

Matt. 15:13: Only those works which God has wrought are good. Any work which a person has produced by the power of his reason and natural will is a plant that will have to be rooted up. God will not recognize it, but demand that it be removed out of His sight as a sin and an abomination, because it has sprung from a corrupt heart, a heart that cares nothing for God.

1 Cor. 13:3: What is all-important are not the works themselves, but the love from which they proceed. I may be so abjectly poor that I am not able to do anything, and yet in God's estimate I may abound in good works if, while I am suffering poverty according to the will of God, love awakens in me the desire to do good to all men.

Even believing pastors may, without being aware of it, slip into a horrible commingling of Law and Gospel, not so much in their sermons as in their private ministrations and in the exercise of church discipline. Many pastors and congregations make mistakes in applying church discipline. They may be dealing with a drunkard who readily professes sorrow over his sins, as these people usually do. An inexperienced minister is easily deceived by such a profession. The drunkard may be suspended from church membership and placed under surveillance for three months. Presently some brother brings the good news that the drunkard has kept himself sober all that time, and the minister decides that the drunkard is now converted, while in reality he is still quite a godless person. Beware of being deceived thus! The same may happen when a habitually profane person who has been admonished by the congregation quits cursing for a while. Or take the case of a person who is negligent in church attendance, who therefore certainly is not a Christian. After he has been brought before the congregation, he may come to church for several successive Sundays. But does this outward act alone make him a Christian? By no means: any godless person is able to do what such a one is doing. The aforementioned persons must be made to realize that no Christian acts like them: if he does, he cannot possibly be in a state of grace. But it requires labor on the part of the minister till these persons are reborn by the Word of God. If he is unwilling to perform this labor, he neglects the souls of such persons. Or take the case of tardy communicants who will come to the Sacrament once again after the minister has reproved them. If he is satisfied with that, he is guilty of commingling Law and Gospel. Or take the sin of avarice. A congregation may be so stingy as to refuse to take up a collection; it may fail to pay the pastor his salary. In that case the pastor must not resolve to preach his people a sharp sermon in order to open their purses. Opening purses by means of the Law is no achievement at alt. He must preach in a manner that will rouse them out of their spiritual sleep and death. If he does not do that, he falls under the censure of our sixteenth thesis.

Luther insists that in a regenerate person everything that he does is God's work. Even when he treats himself to a hearty meal, eats or sleeps, he is doing a good work, not only when he engages in hard labor. A servant of the Law may slave and slave, but all his activities are a martyrdom that is preparing him for perdition. A Christian has the right mind in all that he does; therefore all his actions are Godpleasing. From a pure fountain nothing but good, sweet water can flow.

Taken from God's No and God's Yes: The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel. You can order God's No and God's Yes for a total of $9 by calling the Issues, Etc. resource line at 1-800-737-0172.

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