Kruiz edited
God Says It Can
Thursday of Lent 1
22 February 2018
There is a great difference between the law and the gospel. Paul is referring to that difference when he speaks of the difference between the letter and the spirit. By "letter" he was speaking of the law of God, that brings death and judgment upon sinners. By "spirit" he meant the gospel which forgives and gives life to sinners. The distinction does not mean that God disdained the benefits of the written text of the Bible in favor of a purely "spiritual" revelation. It would be strange indeed, if God had rejected His written self-revelation in a written text. This would be strangely self-contradictory. So the spirit and letter divide is not a division between text and spirit, but between the things that are represented by the two terms, that is, law and gospel. The divide between those two doctrines in the Bible is also not absolute. They are both the divine Word of God. Both give us the will of God. But they have different uses and purposes. The law kills and the gospel makes alive. Just as human speech can both accuse and forgive, so the speaking of God can both kill and make alive.
Law and gospel, although they are both the speech of God, are radically different words from God, as we have seen. The law's purpose to kill stirs up great anger and rage in the human heart. We take not its blows against our ego and person with equanimity. We do not confess that God is right in ripping apart our pretensions to self righteousness. We decline to believe that we are liable to its threatened punishments. Yet, the law is shown to be an overwhelmingly wrathful instrument, it kills at the smallest provocation. Every sin is liable unto death before its unbending and unerring code. The Old Testament made even the collection of kindling for a fire on the Sabbath an infraction that brought death. The smallest crime could bring death.
The gospel reversed the devastating effects of the law, so that those who ought to have died because they perpetrated enormous crimes, have been absolved of their wickedness and lived. Perhaps you remember the story of Jeffrey Dahmer, who had people for dinner, killing and eating them, storing the bits and pieces in his kitchen freezer. It is said that while in jail he converted to Christianity. He is a test case for the extent of God's grace. Does the gospel forgive a murderer like Dahmer? If it is God's gospel, then it certainly can and does. Will we be shocked to meet Dahmer in heaven? Will we wonder if we have not arrived in hell instead if he is one of the greeters at heaven's door? The answer to those questions tells us how we believe and confess about the gospel ourselves. Can it truly forgive the chief of sinners, or not? That is really the question "can it forgive me?" God says it can. So who are you going to believe?

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   John Chrysostom
"By 'letter' here Paul means the law which punishes those who transgress; but by 'spirit' he means the grace which through baptism gives life to them who by sins were made dead (2Co 3:6). For having mentioned the difference arising from the nature of the tablets of the law, he does not dwell upon it, but rapidly passing it by, bestows more labor upon this, which most enabled him to lay hold on his hearer by consideration of what was advantageous and easy; for, he said, it is not full of labor, and the gift it offers is greater. For if when speaking about Christ, he puts especially forward those things which are of His loving-kindness, more than of our merit. Since Christ and the testament are mutually connected, there is much greater necessity for his doing so when treating the testament.
"What then is the meaning of 'the letter kills?' He had said tables of stone and hearts of flesh. So far, he seemed to mention no great difference. He added that the former testament was written with letters or ink, but this with the Spirit. Even this did not stir them up. He says at last what is indeed enough to give them wings; the one 'kills,' the other 'gives life.' And what does this mean? In the law, he that has sin is punished. By 'the spirit' he who has sins comes and is baptized and is justified, and being justified, he lives, being delivered from the death of sin.
"The law, if it lays hold on a murderer, puts him to death. The gospel, if it lays hold on a murderer, enlightens, and gives him life. And why do I use the example of a murderer? The law laid hold on anyone who gathered sticks on a Sabbath day, and stoned him (Nm 15:32, 36). This is the meaning of 'the letter kills.' The gospel takes hold of thousands of homicides and robbers, and baptism delivers them from their former vices. This is the meaning of, 'the Spirit gives life.' The law makes its captive dead from being alive. The gospel renders the man it has persuaded alive from being dead. For Jesus did not say, 'Come unto me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will punish you,' but, 'I will give you rest' (Mt 11:28). For in Baptism sins are buried, the former things are blotted out, the man is made alive, the entire grace written upon his heart as though on a tablet.
"Consider then how high is the dignity of the Spirit, seeing that His tablets are better than those former ones; seeing that something greater than the resurrection is shown. For indeed, that state of death from which He delivers, is more impossible to repair than the former one, because the soul is of more value than the body. And the life of the soul is conferred by that which the Spirit gives. But if the Spirit is able to bestow this, how much more then that which is less. For, despite everything the prophets were able to do, they could not give life. For none can remit sins but God only. Nor did the prophets bestow that life without the Spirit. But this is not the marvel only, that the Spirit gives life, but that He enabled others also to do this. For Jesus says, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.' (Jn 20:22) Why? Because without the Spirit this might not come to be? Yes, but God also shows the Spirit is of supreme authority and of the divine Essence, and has the same power with Himself, said this too. Therefore, He also adds, 'If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.'" (Jn 20:23). 

 John Chrysostom,
Homilies on 2 Corinthians, 6.2

2 Corinthians

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.   (ESV)
Lord God, You have sent the Spirit among Your people that they might receive the divine mercy through the speaking of those sent by You. Help Your people to receive this speech filled with forgiveness, that they might live in the life You give them. Amen.
For Michael Koutsodontis, that he would be strengthened in hope and confidence of God's goodness
For the elders of Memorial Lutheran Church, that they would be examples of faith and piety for the people of God
For all those who are seeking work, that they might find labor in keeping with their gifts
Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias   Isenheim Altarpiece (c. 1515)
Memorial Lutheran Church
©  Scott Murray 2018