The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel: Thesis XIX

“In the fifteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the preacher speaks of certain sins as if they were not of a damnable, but of a venial nature” (C.F.W. Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel reproduced from the German edition of 1897 by W.H.T. Dau (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986), 3).


11 thoughts on “The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel: Thesis XIX

  1. You guys may think I’m stupid. But here’s my question: Does this thesis mean that in vertical righteousness there is no sin that worse than others, expect on the horizontal plane?

  2. I don’t think you’re being stupid, and, actually, I think you’re right…although you have a bit of a run on sentence. But yes:

    Veritcally, all sins are mortal. They are all the same in God’s eyes: damning.

    Horizontally, venial sins can be said to exist, if understood correctly. Adolf Koeberle points out that, horizontally, sins of the heart are less “bad” because they only hurt the sinner. Sins of the mouth go a step further. And sins of action deserve punishment by governing authorities.

    Walther’s point is that the Word is misapplied if,when making such distinctions, we forget that all sins are the same before God and therefore think we are somehow “better” than others based on what we have done/not done.

    (Why do you think you’re stupid?)

  3. If it is established, and agreed upon, that all sins are equally _damning_, I am not sure that there is not a certain sense in which there are “degrees” of sin in God’s eyes. For example, in Leviticus, it is God who gives the punishments for various sins, yet He does not declare that every crime/sin will have the same punishment. Or is that simply for the sake of us humans?


  4. In line with Tim’s question, what about rejecting Christ? In the vertical realm, it seems odd to place rejecting Christ on the same level as coveting. Rejecting Christ causes you to lose your salvation.

  5. God is holy, human beings remain corrupt, due to their sinful condition. We can try and sort out which sins damn us, but that seems like a strange task when confronted with the holy God. All sin corrupts us. Without the work of the Spirit, we all reject the saving work of God, we all reject Jesus Christ. To quote Forde, “What matters is not the degree of the sin but whether there is true fear of God. This is true even, indeed one should say “especially,” for the righteous.” (On Being a Theologian of the Cross, p. 43).

  6. Michael: “Without the work of the Spirit, we all reject the saving work of God.”

    But, some reject Christ to the point of losing salvation? How do you reconcile that with your statement?

  7. I do not see how anything needs to be reconciled or if it can be reconciled. If the story of salvation was somehow reasonable, then I would be able to reconcile it. (Notice how we always want to make it reasonable; that stems from our sinful condition as well. Not that “reason” is sin in itself, but we, by not letting God be God and be our only hope for salvation, try to make the story of salvation reasonable according to our standards, whatever those may be.) In conclusion, Chris, I cannot make it reasonable. All I can do is offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving for the salvation given to me. If the whole thing was reasonable, I am not sure if I would have any reason to praise.

  8. Hear, hear, Mike.

    Chris, have you restled much with “election”? This is what you have called “unreconciable,” and which Mike has said, “yes,” to. The reality is, God saves, by grace _alone_. But it is man who damns, and its always his own fault. That is the paradox. It’s simply the way the Scripture speaks. You can find a nice treatment of it here:

    Tim – I would say that in Leviticus, yes, this is _for_ man. It is part of God fulfilling his covenant to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob by showing “his people” what it means to be “his people,” which means recognizing uncleaness and having atonement made for their uncleaness. The entire tabernacle system is designed to teach you that God is holy, and if you want to get near Him, then you need to be made holier than you are.

  9. Yes, it is. I believe that is the one and only “sin against the Holy Ghost.” It is kind of in a category all by itself.

    But, we should also define what we mean by “rejecting Christ.” Every day, every time we sin at all, we reject Christ in action. But that is not what Christ was referencing. He was talking about people who were literally calling him the devil incarnate.

    Sinning against the Spirit is outwardly confessing with our mouths and believing with our hearts that Christ is NOT who He said He was. That’s the one we all better pray the Lord prevents from being our temptation.

  10. Yes, it is a sin.

    And sin condemns. All sin condemns.

    “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:24-25a, ESV).

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