One of the distinctive marks of Lutheran preaching is the emphasis on law and gospel, sin and grace. We know that the law slays sinners before God, leading them to repentance and faith in the gospel. However, in my time in Lutheran parishes, one thing I’ve noticed is that pastors don’t always preach the law very well. The sermon begins with something like, “well, we are all sinners,” or “we all fall short of God’s glory” without anything more being said. We then quickly qualify those statements by pointing to the forgiveness of sins. Now, there certainly isn’t anything wrong with those particular phrases, but we can’t expect real repentance from our people if we aren’t specific about the law. We need to get into the details.
Repentance only comes through the hearing of God’s law, of his standards for his creatures. And this law is heard, not when we give bland statements about the fact that people sin, but when we point out specific sins. We need to point out what God’s specific demands are. We are real sinners, who commit real sins. We can’t speak of sin or God’s law in the abstract. If a particular text spoke about gossip, for example, I know some pastors who would mention in passing: “well, this is a sin that we all struggle with, but God forgives us.” Instead, the preacher of God’s law should explain gossip, give examples, and talk about how it ruins relationships and churches. It’s only when we get into the specifics of God’s demands that we experience real sorrow over our sins, and real repentance. How can we expect people to confess and repent of their sins when we aren’t letting God’s law expose those sins?In my short time as a pastor, one of the things I’ve noticed is that it is really hard to preach the law. It’s really hard to preach the law in such a way that it actually impacts our congregations. I’m just as guilty as anybody in shying away from getting down to specifics. One thing a pastor quickly notices is that a lot of the congregants really don’t like being told what God requires. We would rather hear about the sins of the broader culture, or just a bland message of Divine love. We don’t want to be confronted with out own sins. But that is what the law does. And only when the law convicts us of real sins will people be set free.