Sometimes the Christian life is an interesting balance between what we in our Lutheran tradition calls “Law and Gospel”. The Law is meant to curb, keeping the sinful nature in check; mirror, showing us what the perfect reflection of God’s image is and showing us how we have sinned; and guide, showing the follower of Jesus how to live a Christ-centered life. The Gospel, the good news of God, the divine promise of grace, forgiveness of sins, and abundant life. Sometimes this differences is described as, “The Law shows us what to do, and the Gospel tells us what God has already done”. Or other times, and this is one I’m not a fan of, the Law gets called the “bad news” and the Gospel is the “good news”. (I think that’s an oversimplification, but it’s maybe generally correct even if wrong when you look at it more deeply.)
Psalm 95 gives us a picture of Law and Gospel, where the first half of the Psalm talks about the Gospel and the second half is an expression of God’s Law.
Come, let’s sing out loud to the Lord!
Let’s raise a joyful shout to the rock of our salvation!
Let’s come before him with thanks! Let’s shout songs of joy to him!
The Lord is a great God, the great king over all other gods.
The earth’s depths are in his hands; the mountain heights belong to him;
the sea, which he made, is his
along with the dry ground, which his own hands formed.
Come, let’s worship and bow down! Let’s kneel before the Lord, our maker!
He is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, the sheep in his hands.
If only you would listen to his voice right now!Psalm 95 (CEB)
“Don’t harden your hearts like you did at Meribah,
like you did when you were at Massah, in the wilderness,
when your ancestors tested me and scrutinized me,
even though they had already seen my acts.
For forty years I despised that generation;
I said, ‘These people have twisted hearts. They don’t know my ways.’
So in anger I swore: ‘They will never enter my place of rest!’”
In the first half, we hear about all the great works of God – being king over other gods, making the whole world – and worship God for God calling us his people: it’s Gospel. But then the tone shifts, “Don’t harden your hearts” like in these two stories from the Exodus and the Wandering in the Wilderness. It didn’t go well for them and it won’t go well for you! That’s the Law. It’s a call for us to repent, having seen how we haven’t matched the image of God.
That’s why we hold these two ideas in tension. Law and Gospel together lead us into a deeper relationship to the one who both calls us to action and reminds us of the actions are already done by Jesus Christ.