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Missions 101

Luther, the Law, and Evangelism

Feb. 26, 2013By: Evan Burns

I have been doing evangelism for years and in all my training, 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.  I don’t think I have ever really understood that it’s 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 Luther has helped me tremendously to see how the Law is necessary for converting the soul.  When Luther says, “the Law”, he does not mean the whole Pentateuch; he 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, but 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 it said, “we don’t want fear-filled converts, but tear-filled converts”.  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 Charles Finney 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 what he has sown in American evangelicalism.  The doctrines of persevering faith and ongoing repentance have been eclipsed by easy-believism 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 Lord, Savior, and Treasure.  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.”

Tags:  evangelism, gospel
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