The Troubled Conscience

Daily Reform, Day 106

Galatians 2:14 & 2 Timothy 2:15

From the Reformer

The right separation between Law and Gospel is very important to know. Christian doctrine is impossible without it. Let all who love and fear God, diligently learn the difference, not only in theory but also in practice.

When your conscience gets into trouble, say to yourself: “There is a time to die, and a time to live; a time to learn the Law, and a time to unlearn the Law; a time to hear the Gospel, and a time to ignore the Gospel. Let the Law now depart, and let the Gospel enter, for now is the right time to hear the Gospel, and not the Law.” However, when the conflict of conscience is over and external duties must be performed, close your ears to the Gospel, and open them wide to the Law.

—Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians

Pulling It Together

How does one rightly handle (or divide, as the King James puts it) the Word of God? It begins by understanding that God’s Word contains both Law and Gospel. There are things God would have us do — and not do. This is part of the law portion of God’s Word and contains both moral and ceremonial code. The former is what we typically think of when we consider Law, and the Ten Commandments are the best place to begin and end the discussion. The rest of laws are based on the original ten that Moses brought down from his meeting with God on Mount Sinai.

Love the Lord your God and your neighbor, honor you momma and your daddy, do not lie or murder or cheat or lust, honor the day of the Lord. God would have us keep these laws, these commands that we simply call the Law — as well as keep a host of other precepts based on those ten. Sometimes we succeed and at other times we fail. We must then keep trying to honor God by attempting to keep his ways. Yet many give up trying when they have failed too often. This is because they do not rightly divide the Word of truth.

God’s Word is not only Law, but Gospel or grace as well. At times the Law is so harsh with your inability to keep it that your conscience may you tell you, God cannot possibly love a sinner like me. At such times we are prone to give up the faith. This is when we must listen to the Gospel! Once the Law has done its job of driving you back to God, hear the gracious words of heaven; accept God’s mercy. Refreshed by his grace, you may try once again to be faithful. Just remember that the right handling of God’s Word means that you must also accept his grace when your works have failed you — because they will disappoint and your conscience will be troubled. That is a good thing; it is what the Law is meant to accomplish. Now let the Gospel do its work in you too.

© Mark E. Ryman, Daily Reform: Devotions with the Reformers

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