September 5, 2004: Are You Living Under The Law Or The Gospel?

Let us pray: Dear Savior, as repentant sinners we’re well aware that You don’t pussy-foot around with those who slap You in the face and violate Your honor by ignoring You.  We know that although this life at times seems devoid of true justice, Your heavenly tribunal awaits all people.  We know that eternal punishment and hell are a reality. Lord, sometimes our flesh dwells on those facts and the reality of our own shortcomings pulls us down.  Today we ask You to uplift us!  Elevate our hearts and minds toward heaven by focusing our attention on Your forgiveness and love and deliverance in You, our Savior fromsin!  Amen


TEXT:  Hebrews 12: 18-24

Fellow Redeemed Sinners:

I caught a bit of the political convention this week from New York City.  I listened to some of the speeches.  And the thought struck me: what’s the difference between a speech and a sermon?  I’ll bet that many of you have had similar thoughts at times, too.  Well, a speech is really about what a person believes.  It is a talk, intended to rouse passion and interest, based on human principles and logic.  Obviously some are successful—the pundits like to call them “home runs”—while others fall a bit flat—I guess they’re fly ball outs.

Sermons have some similarities.  That is, sermons use words and human language.  They employ rhetorical devices—stories, comparisons, and descriptive language.  Hopefully they rouse people from spiritual lethargy.  And God willing, they aren’t boring.  But, sermons are really a totally different animal than mere human speeches.  How so?  Well first, they are based on God’s Word and not mere human ideas.  Second, the Holy Spirit works through them, through the Word, to strike a responsive cord within the heart.  And third, they had better correctly divide the differences between God’s Law and God’s Gospel.  For if they don’t the preacher will either create a whole congregation of self-righteous Pharisees, or he’ll have a group of beaten, battered souls who feel totally lost and forlorn by God.

All the lessons this week speak of various aspects of God’s judgement against human sin and the sad outcome of such waywardness.  That is, all the lessons are very “law” oriented.  And yet, they also contain the gospel!  They all have elements that uplift—if we but focus our attention on those uplifting truths.  With that in mind, today I want to ask you a very important question:



Most people don’t know it, but they are living under the Law.  Ask 10 average Americans about some sort of afterlife.  The majority of those who believe in an afterlife also believe they will get there by “being good people.”  You hear that all the time, don’t you?  Then, ask them: “Do you think you’ve been good enough to earn such a reward?”  The answer will either be: “I’m trying.”  Or, it will be: “Well, no, but since I’m nicer to children and  small dogs than others I know, I feel God will have to take that into consideration.”

Do teachers hand out A’s just because students sometimes try?  Do colleges hand out Ph.d’s simply because the students mean to show up for class?  Does your mechanic void your repair bill just because you thought about paying it?  Well, neither does God.

We don’t talk much about sin in our society.  The word sounds harsh and seems so judgemental.  We talk even less about hell.  To modern ears the whole idea of hell seems vindictive and over-the-top.  And yet, we do expect and even welcome punishment for evildoers.  We want murderers, child abusers, rapists, and thieves to be punished.  We don’t accept their feeble “I’m sorry now” as adequate retribution for what they have done.  We expect consequences for such evil actions.

Where does that idea that evil should be punished come from?  It comes from the human conscience.  And since the human conscience is placed into us by God, ultimately God must feel the exact same way.  Since God is perfect and any sin is tantamount of slapping Him the face, He cannot abide even one violation of His perfect will without denying Himself.  So, after the fall into sin by Adam and Eve, God created a place to punish sin called hell.  He also gave humans His perfect guidelines on how to avoid it—called the Law.

But, once again, we sinners perverted His guidelines.  Sometimes we think them too restrictive.  Sometimes we ignore them and make believe they don’t exist.  And other times we delude ourselves with a superficial view of them.—As if only sinful actions matter to God and not sinful thoughts, too.  And then there’s you, dear Christian.  For how often do you try to obey God and “do His right thing” and failing, you get discouraged and constantly second-guess yourself?

In our lesson, the writer to the Hebrews takes us back to Mt. Sinai and the giving of the Law, the 10 commandments.  He reminds us of the awesomeness of God’s majesty, of His perfect holiness that cannot even allow a sin-tainted human or animal to touch His presence.  Listen again to our text.  “You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom, and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: ‘If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.’  The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, ‘I am trembling with fear.’”  Indeed, if God is terrifying to you; if His judgement causes you to lose sleep; if your conscience is overwhelmed by your inner failings then you’re living under the Law.  But, there is a better way!  There is a way to approach God and live!  There is a way to have a happy heart and a clear conscience—even though you know you have done nothing to deserve it!  And of course, that better way is: the Gospel.  It is the good news about Christ Who came and kept the Law in our places, bringing to us God’s love and  thereby earning us a place in glory!


“But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.  You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven.  You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”

The blood of Abel called for justice and vengeance.  That’ law.  But the blood of Christ calls for forgiveness.  And those who embrace Christ in humble faith areforgiven because He shed His blood in love to buy back our souls.  Note that Christ is the mediator, the author of a “new covenant” between God and humans.  In that covenant, He does all the giving and we do all the receiving.  That’s where faith comes in.  For faith simply receives the blessings of a clean conscience, a life of thanksgiving, and the certainty of eternal life.  Note also, that God here speaks of “the spirits of righteous men made perfect.”  Not that any is perfect, or can make themselves perfect, but they are made perfect.  That means outside intervention.  And Jesus Christ is the One Who engaged in such crisis intervention of save our souls!

So, today I ask you: Are you living under the law or the gospel?  What predominates in your life—gloom, doom, and judgement, or forgiveness, love, and peace with God?  Do you let guilt guide your actions and thoughts or do you let love guide them?  Embrace God in love and thankfulness!  Embrace His perfect Law by clinging to His forgiveness for your failures of it. Live under the humility born of the Gospel and you truly will be blest!  Amen