“When a tone-deaf person sings, it can be painful to hear. But if you have to listen to theologians who know only the one note of the law, it is not only painful but deadly.” Steven Paulson, Luther for Armchair Theologians
The law is simply everything we are supposed to do. In the Bible, the law is good. The law is very good at what it does, which is accuse us before a holy God. Because of the law, we know when we step outside of God’s will. Because of the law, we stand condemned as law-breakers.
Good preachers preach the law to afflict people with their failure to keep the law. But if a preacher only knows the one note of the law, they keep preaching the law, even to those already broken by their sin. This serves only to weigh down people with burdens they cannot bear.
Good preachers preach a second note, a greater note, of gospel to those crushed by the law. The gospel announces to those who cannot bear the burden of their sin that Jesus Christ has already carried their burden on His own body to the cross. At the cross, their sin was nailed to the cross. Jesus declared, “It is finished!” putting an end to our sin bearing.
Few preachers would see themselves as preaching only the one note of the law. Most preachers see themselves as gospel centered in all they do. But if the law is simply everything we are supposed to do, consider: How much of the sermons you hear encourage, call, or exhorts you to do something?
The sermon may not be on the Ten Commandments or even the Old Testament, but if its major note leaves you challenged to do something, you might have a one note preacher. One note preachers may talk about the gospel, but their note of emphasis will be on what you should do in light of the gospel. In other words, on the law.
The problem with the one note of the law: while the law does a great job exposing our sin, it’s a complete failure in making us right with God. A steady diet of one note law will leave you burdened by your failure to keep the law. Only the second note of gospel, of God’s work for you, gives life, sustains faith, and leads to new life.