St. Paul’s Surprising Admission

I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. (Romans 7:7)
A popular television preacher once made the remarkable claim that it’s fruitless to tell
people they’re sinners, because deep down they already know that. Instead, churches
need to tell people they are “fantastic” (Robert Schuller).
He at least understood something very basic about human nature: people don’t like to
hear the truth—especially when they’re wrong. Even people who say they believe that
Jesus is their Savior don’t like to hear God’s law. They don’t like to hear that they’re
sinners and that their sins are enough to send them to hell.
What that preacher didn’t understand is that even though we don’t like to hear God’s
law, we need to hear it. Unless we first see ourselves in the accusing mirror of God’s
law, the gospel means nothing. Any preaching that avoids telling us that we’re sinners
actually leads us away from the God who saved us from the punishment our sins
We have a problem. We want to think of ourselves as basically good, so we minimize
our own sins, as if they weren’t that big of a deal. But whenever we do that, the very real
need we have for God’s mercy and forgiveness becomes less urgent to us. We may still
appreciate Jesus as a great example of kindness, love, and compassion—maybe even
the greatest example ever. But if we lose our appreciation for him as our Savior from sin,
we lose the heart and core of the Christian faith.
In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul makes a surprising admission. He writes, “I would
not have known what sin was had it not been for the law” (Romans 7:7). He needed
God’s law. We all do. We need faithful preachers who candidly point out our sins and
their consequences. We need to be alarmed at our guilt so that we turn to Jesus for
mercy. We need to hear the law, because if we don’t recognize that we need a Savior,
the gospel (the message of God’s love and forgiveness) will not help us.
A message that makes no mention of sin may entertain us. It may be soothing and
agreeable to our ears. But it will never expose our hearts for what they really are, and it
will never comfort our conscience when the truth of our sin hits home. Only the law and
gospel, working together as God intended them to work, can do that.
We don’t need to hear that we’re “fantastic.” We need to hear that Jesus is
fantastic—that his love is perfect and that his forgiveness is complete because he
poured out his life for us on the cross.
Prayer: Lord, expose my sin through your law so that my heart is prepared to accept the
sweet comfort of the gospel. Amen.

Note: The season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday on March 2. Worship services are at 3:30
and 6:30 pm.