2017 is the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, Martin Luther’s pinning of the 95 theses on the wall. In Lutheran magazine articles and churches, we are having classes and reminders of the theology of the Reformation. In the January 2017 issue of the publication of the ELCA, “Living Lutheran”, David Ratke has a good reminder of “How Lutherans read the Bible”. He lists the textbook description of the “law”. “Scripture contains both law and gospel. The law tells us what to do. The problem, of course, is that we can’t possibly succeed in doing all that we should. No matter how many good deeds we do, there is always one more to be done. The law is a mirror that tells us we fall short and can’t succeed in earning God’s love. The law drives us to Christ.” I understand why Dr. Radke describes the law this way. The audience of this magazine is Lutheran, and he is dean at a Lutheran University. This is the correct description for a Lutheran audience studying the Reformation.
However, I would like to expound a bit on the law. In my city, I can go to a website and download the “Law” for my city. It lists each offense in the city and penalties for that offense. I can do the same at the state and Federal levels. Each government entity has documents that list the law and the penalties for breaking the law. The Bible isn’t the “law” in the same sense. It doesn’t list the law in the same way that my city, state, or federal government does. And, for penalties, the only one it mentions is death. When Christians try to read the Bible and get a list of laws, they get a confusing mix of stories that often seem out of touch with modern society. Just like I believe the Bible wasn’t intended to be a science textbook, I don’t believe it is a “law book” in the legal sense of the term.
That leaves us with the challenge of defining the law when we don’t have a legal textbook. As children of God, we are created in the image of God, and the law is written in our hearts. The law gets hidden from us by the brokenness in creation and in our own lives. The role of the Spirit is to reveal the law to us and to convict us of the law in our own lives. It is not our job to express or reveal the law in other people’s lives. The Spirit is only revealing the law to us and revealing how it effects our own lives. Our role is to participate in that revealing by reading and reflecting on the Bible, by participating in the sacraments, by participating in the liturgy and in the liturgical cycle of the church, and by having regular times of prayer. As we participate in the life of the church and in our own prayer life, the Spirit reveals the law to each of us. In the wonderful working of the Spirit, he simultaneously reveals to us the “Gospel”, the wonderful good news that God loves us as his children and offers us freedom, forgiveness, and reconciliation.