lutherwittenbergI have been doing evangelism for years and in all my training, and until a few years ago, I cannot remember ever learning how to use the law in evangelism. In the past, my evangelism efforts have started with telling someone that God loves them, just mentioning that we are all sinners, and that if they believe in Jesus they will go to heaven when they die. Of course that is very simplistic, and I have usually explained it better than that. However, I think many people probably just hear that simplistic presentation, and never feel convicted of their own sin. It is not enough to say that we are all sinners, and it’s not enough to say we need to believe in Jesus. There is more that needs to be said; and the great German reformer, Martin Luther (1483-1546), has helped me to see how the law is necessary for converting the soul.

When Luther says, “the law”, he does not mean the whole Pentateuch; he generally means the Ten Commandments. In his understanding, that’s generally how Scripture understands the law. Luther is very clear that we cannot offer the comfort of the gospel without first leading people to despair of their sin through the law. The law wounds, and the gospel heals. Luther did not want gospel presentations to be so focused on the wrath of God that people would be fleeing his wrath out of fear; rather, he wanted them to flee God’s wrath because they knew they were sinners and they despaired of their sin. This despair of sin only comes through the conviction of the law. I’ve heard Ray Comfort say that we don’t want “fear-filled converts,” but “tear-filled converts.”1 I think this statement reflects Luther’s view of using the law to convict and drive the sinner to despair and flee to Christ.

A problem in churches today is that there are many false converts who have been wrongly assured that they are heaven-bound based solely on a past decision or even a simplistic, rote prayer. When the revivalist, Charles Finney (1792-1875), introduced the altar call and a quick decision card as the method of leading someone in conversion, this easy-believism morphed through the generations and today we are reaping the weeds that he has sown in contemporary evangelicalism. The doctrines of persevering faith and ongoing repentance have been eclipsed by decisionism and cheap grace. One reason why there is so little repentance in new “converts” could be because their consciences have not been wounded by the law. In order to produce genuine contrition, sinners need to feel broken under the demands of the law. Then, and only then, will sinners flee the wrath to come and fly to Jesus as their Saving Redeemer, Sovereign Ruler, and Supreme Reward. The use of the law to break the sinner in order to receive the balm of the gospel was the method of Jesus, Paul, the Apostolic Fathers, the Reformers, the Puritans, and great preachers such as Spurgeon, Whitefield, Wesley, Edwards, and Lloyd-Jones. Psalm 119 says: “the law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.”  May a new generation of reformers arise and preach the law along with the gospel of the grace of God in Christ.

 

Comfort said this in a sermon, entitled, “Hell’s Best Kept Secret”. For a manuscript of his sermon, see https://www.livingwaters.com/pdf/HellsBestKeptSecret.pdf.  

 

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Luther, the Law & Evangelism
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3 thoughts on “Luther, the Law & Evangelism

  • May 12, 2015 at 4:47 am
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    Thanks for the post, Evan. Good thoughts. I am curious, how has your learning about the role of the law in preaching and evangelism changed the way you preach and share the Gospel? Theologically, I am with you here, but I am thinking about the practical implications. When I listen…. er, read some of the old preaching, I wonder to what degree (and how strongly) we should specify and give the details of sin to our listeners? We need to do more than just say, “we’re all sinners” but I am thinking through how specific do we get.

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    • May 18, 2015 at 3:57 am
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      Hi Karl, these are good questions. I do not always find the law/guilt aspect of evangelism as a helpful starting point. In some contexts it is probably useful to start with, but I find that in many instances, whether in a Buddhist context or a secular context, it is helpful to start at least talking about what the person’s predominant worldview considers to be sin. Because everyone has a conscience and no one is a pure antinomian, though we all have some degree of lawlessness in us. So, I think it might be helpful to simply as the question: “In your culture, what would be the greatest act of sin that would bring the greatest sense of guilt or shame upon someone?” And from there, discuss sin, God’s law, shame/honor, guilt/justification, and grace This might all sound unclear, but below is an anecdote from my own life that I blogged about once; see this article and it might help illustrate what I am trying to say: http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/from-traitor-to-heir

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