A friend of Simul Blog asked us to publish this. We were glad to provide a public platform for these thoughts and concerns.
This is one of the hardest letters I’ve ever had to write. These are hard things for me to say, but I know that they are devastating for you to hear. I know because I’ve watched you unravel when we had this conversation face to face.
Then you asked, “So what is it that you aren’t hearing from me that you need to hear?”
I answered honestly from a place of brokenness, “I need to hear how the life of Jesus speaks into my failures. I need you to preach the gospel to me.” I sat with tear filled eyes and watched you come undone as the words left my lips. The confusion on your face. You didn’t understand. This letter is an attempt to explain myself.
I’ve sat under the preaching of the Law as the solution to “get better” for most of my life. I’ve listened to you for countless hours promise me that if I could just follow some simple disciplines I would sin less frequently. If I could just obey God better, I would experience joy in my life. If I would just be willing to wake up an hour earlier and read my bible, I wouldn’t snap at my family. If I could just fast every so often, I wouldn’t struggle with lust as much and food would cease to be the place that I ran for comfort. If I could just keep the “garbage from coming into my brain then I could keep it from coming out of my mouth”. If I just set up enough parameters around my life, protecting me from the evil world, I could be an example of godliness to that dying world.
There was one thing that you pressed into me though, that was the most crushing of all.
You said that if every time I felt myself being tempted to sin, I should recite the Law to myself. You promised this would set me free. The devil would flee from me, you said. The problem was that trying to “apply” the Law to my flesh was like throwing gasoline to an open flame. You fanned the innermost sinful desires of my heart. The impact of hearing a law that I knew I couldn’t live up to was that I discovered even sneakier ways to transgress. It was making things worse. I was finding new ways to hide my sin, and I was getting better at lying about it. Sin increased.
If following your blueprint of a quaint, moral life is what it means to be saved, then how can I ever be confident that Jesus loves me?
You presented the Law to me as though keeping it were attainable. You attached my worth to my obedience. If I did this thing, I could keep this Law, and then, because of my obedience, I would have favor with God. You promised me that God mainly loves Law-keepers. By this point, my own cancer was undeniable: I was a law-breaker.
No matter how hard I tried, no matter how many of these exercises of yours that I practiced, I failed to keep the Law. If your sermons are true, then this means that God is disappointed with me and can’t love me to the same degree as the better-behaved Christians.
When I thought I couldn’t handle any more condemnation, you expounded on your many glorious, shining examples of inspirational obedience to the Law. I wasn’t inspired. In fact, I left with the assumption that you, yourself, only see victory in your Christian walk.
Have you ever failed? Have you ever come apart, Pastor? Be honest with me. I’m dying and I need to know that you know what it feels like.
(And, please understand, I’m not inviting you to recite the tale of splashing lighter fluid all over your Led Zeppelin albums in college.)
The weight of sitting under the preaching of threats and untrue promises has crushed me. You’ve muddled Law and Gospel. You’ve committed the fatal error of preaching Christ crucified.
Law and Gospel are not two sides of the same coin. God has two coins- The Law and the Gospel. They act separately and in different ways. The purpose of the Law is to hold my head under the water until I can no longer thrash about and save myself. When the last bubble of air escapes from my lungs and my body grows limp and begins to float to the surface, when it finally kills me- the Law has done the job that God intended for it to do. It gives no life. It offers no rescue. The Law is not a Defibrillator. It has no resurrection capabilities. It can only bring me death.
I can’t keep it no matter how hard I try- and that’s the point God was making by giving us His perfect Law.
The gospel, on the other hand, is what picks my lifeless body out of the water and breathes life into my lungs. It speaks the final word over the Law. It says, “It is finished”. I couldn’t keep the Law, and that’s the point of the gospel. Jesus was the perfect Law keeper who died for me, the Law breaker.
It is Jesus’ Law keeping alone that is my assurance of God’s love for me.
That is the best news that there is. What you’ve been feeding me is very bad news.
Please tell me you see the difference here. When I’m tempted to sinfully indulge my flesh, I should be running to the gospel and reminding myself that I am unconditionally loved by God because of Jesus’ obedience for me. It is that kind of crazy love alone that is the trump card to the false promises found in indulging my flesh.
It’s that kind of love that promises to love me even when I do choose to indulge- because Jesus never chose the indulgence of his flesh- instead he sacrificed it for me. His broken body and his shed blood bought this sinners pardon and freedom. That kind of love is scary to believe and I am sure even scarier to preach. But that’s what grace is- and it’s what you’ve been withholding from me all this time.
I haven’t been back to listen to you preach. I know this stings. And on some level, it makes me really sad. The truth is that I love the Church. I love Jesus’ bride and believe it or not, I love you. It’s just that I’ve sat under so much Law-teaching with no gospel relief that if I never heard the Law preached again, I will always feel it’s weight.
The guilt and shame that you’ve thundered at me for years will always be that voice of condemnation ringing in my head. I just can’t take it anymore.
I’m broken. Immobilized. Exhausted. This might come off as shaming towards you. I don’t think I mean it that way. I want you to feel the burden of your congregation. I want you to know what the view looks like from this side of the pulpit. It is bleak. We see storm clouds, and we hear thunder.
I’m a failure as a Christian. I haven’t scaled the spiritual mountains that I was told I should. I slid down the cliff side and landed in a ditch.
I need to know that you know the view from the ditch. Your posture of propriety, goodness, and pietism is not helping me in my battle against sin. I need to hear you say that you are a sinner too. I need you to mean it.
I need you to climb down off of your platform as an example and I need you to kneel down next to me. I need you to bow your head, beat your chest, and mutter, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” I’ll hold your hand and we can say it together.
I’m not saying “Don’t preach the law.” I need you to preach the Law to me. But I need God’s perfect law, not your “more-practical” version of it. Preach the law to it’s full extent- be bold in the Law’s perfect demands. Remind me that as long as I am in this body, I will continue to be a Law-breaker. Tell me I’m simul justus et peccator (it’s not just a Lutheran thing).
Then I need you to usher me as fast as you can to the cross of Christ and remind me that I am also, even as a sinner, deeply loved by God. Preach the complete foolishness of the gospel to me with loud proclamation every single week.
I am a worn-out sinner. I will never grow weary of hearing “It is Finished.”
My plea is earnest. Will you preach the gospel to me, the broken, failing Christian? May I hear the good news? I’m broken and desperate to hear a word of Grace, to be reminded of God’s radical, incomprehensible love to undeserving sinners.
My weary heart is thirsty for peace.