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PREACHING LAW AND GOSPEL IS NOT PREACHING LEGALISM AND IDEOLOGY
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Monday, Eleventh Week of the Year, June 13, 2016
1 Kings 21:1-16, Psalm 5, Matthew 5:38-42


Scripture quotations are from the RSV unless otherwise noted.

 

"You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also" (Matthew 5:38-39).


Jesus teaches us here not to resist evil in the sense of striking back physically. This cannot mean to just be passive towards people who are teaching and proclaiming false doctrine, for neither Jesus nor St. Paul were passive in the face of false doctrine. Jesus was always arguing with, resisting, and refuting the teaching of the Pharisees, and St. Paul spent much of his ministry combating, refuting, and correcting the mistaken teaching of the Judaizers, who taught justification by works.


It is of the greatest importance to resist false teaching and proclaim the truth in the face of those who are leading the world astray. But we are not to use physical violence in our resistance to evil. If you are persecuted for righteousness sake, "always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence; and keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are abused, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame" (1 Peter 3:15-16).


Like Jesus and St. Paul, we too must defend the truth, but in a peaceful way, as they did.


What are some of the errors that we must resist and refute today? There are those today who are trying to subvert all morality, saying that there is no clear line between good and evil, between sin and righteousness, that we should preach God's mercy to everyone without requiring repentance or a firm purpose of amendment, without even recognizing sin and the need to be sorry for our sins.


They proclaim that people can continue in their sin and still receive God's mercy, forgiveness, and full acceptance. They tell us that preaching God's moral law is pharisaical legalism, which we must get beyond, and that preaching Christ's vicarious death that made reparation for our sins is ideology. They say that we must get beyond legalisms and ideologies, that we are not to preach legalism and ideology, but what they really mean is that we are not to preach law (God's moral law, the Ten Commandments) and gospel (the message of salvation through the vicarious death of Jesus Christ on the cross).


They say that we are not to ask anyone to repent, but only to proclaim God's mercy to him. They say that the moral law cannot be said to be "this, and nothing else," for that is rigid, legalistic, pharisaical, and heretical, not Catholic, in their opinion. Each person, rather, must make up his own mind about what is best for him, and God's moral law is only one inspiring thought, but not a rigid, legalistic, pharisaical law, they say.


Besides, they insist, people grow and so God does not always require that they follow the law. At the point of their present development, they are probably already doing all that God is now asking of them at this stage of their life, even though they may be violating the Ten Commandments. Adultery, for example, they say, may be all that God is now expecting of someone, and so he is not guilty or in sin or in need of repentance or of a change in his way of life. God simply treats him with mercy, and so should we, they say. So let's get away from a legalistic, pharisaical mentality, and stop preaching ideology, and just preach mercy, they say.


So how are we as Christians to respond to this? We should turn the other cheek and "not resist one who is evil," says Jesus today (Matthew 5:39). That is, we should not resort to physical violence against such people, as Jesus did not use his divine power to strike back at his enemies. Rather we should do as Jesus and St. Paul did when they were opposing false teaching and upholding the truth as God has revealed it. What did they do? They taught the truth and refuted the false teaching of their opponents, but they did it in a peaceful way. They did this for the good of the Church so that people would not be misled, deceived, and led astray by false teaching.


So today we need to say that we must not fall into this pit of relativism. God's moral law is written in stone, on the two stone tablets that God wrote and gave to Moses. It is clearly "this, not that." It is not "this and that". Adultery, for example, is mortally evil and can never be accepted. "Thou shalt not commit adultery" (Exodus 20:14 KJV) is black-and-white. It is written in stone. There is never a time in anyone's life or development when God asks him to commit or live in adultery. It is always wrong and mortally sinful for everyone. It is offensive to God, alienates us from him, and will be punished forever in hell if one dies in the state of adultery.


No one has the excuse of ignorance. Every Christian knows the Sixth Commandment, "Thou shalt not commit adultery" (Exodus 20:14 KJV). No extenuating or mitigating circumstances can make it acceptable. It will be punished for all eternity in hell if one dies in this state.


The solution is not mercy without repentance, not mercy without a firm purpose of amendment. The solution is to repent and confess our sin and then abandon it, and call upon the merits of the reparation-making death of Christ on the cross, "for, ‘every one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved'" (Romans 10:13).


Such a solution is not preaching pharisaical legalisms and ideologies, as some are saying today. It is preaching law and gospel, the basic Christian message. Only Christ's death on the cross can make reparation for our sins, reconcile us to God, and save us from hell; and for this reparation to work for me, I need faith. Faith always includes genuine repentance, which means a firm purpose of amendment, admitting and confessing my sin, and deep sorrow for it. Faith also means a deep trust in the merits of Christ's reparation-making death on the cross to reconcile me to God, forgive my sin, and enable God to justly dismiss his case against me and declare me righteous and just.


This is not preaching legalism and ideology. This is preaching law and gospel. This is the basic Christian message, the gospel message of God's salvation in Jesus Christ for all who believe in him.


How do law and gospel relate to each other? The moral law is the pedagogue or custodian that leads me to Christ (Galatians 3:24). Doing the works of the moral law do not justify me. Only Christ's death does that for me, through my faith in him, which includes repentance and a firm purpose of amendment.


The moral law (the Ten Commandments) rather leads me to Christ by showing me my sinfulness (Romans 3:20; 7:7). Seeing my sinfulness leads me to feel guilty and depressed and deeply sorry for my sin and gives me a great desire to abandon my sin, to be forgiven, and justified by Christ. This is the work of the law for a Christian.


Then comes the work of the gospel, namely the proclamation of Christ's vicarious death on the cross to make just reparation for my sins so that God can forgive them justly and declare me righteous.


So Christian preaching is the preaching of law and gospel, as understood by St. Paul. This is most certainly not preaching legalisms and ideologies, as some are falsely claiming today. Law and gospel is precisely what we are to preach. It is the basic Christian message.

 

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