I wish I could remember the exact setting where I heard the teaching. Time has clouded my memory. I'm sure it will continue to happen. Sometimes I wish I had a pensieve as Dumbledore did in the Harry Potter novels. That way, I could dig through and find all the memories I know are there and revisit them in their detail. Forgive me for forgetting the entirety of the context, but the teaching was very important.
I remember clearly a conversation about reading the Bible. The presenter/teacher said with conviction, "As you read the Bible, much of what we read can be seen as either Law or Gospel depending upon who hears it."
I was intrigued, and listened further.
"If you take for instance the teaching 'Blessed are the poor...', a poor person hears that as good news. A wealthy person hears it as law. It depends upon who hears what is written."
The teaching made perfect sense--from a certain point of view; irony noted. For it is indeed true that certain portions of Scripture are clearly good news for some while bad news for others. It is indeed true that depending upon one's particular situation in life a particular teaching from Scripture will either step on toes or reinforce one's conviction that he or she is on the right path.
But, I have begun to question whether or not this is indeed how the Law/Gospel distinction should be made. I believe this distinction is rampant throughout American Christianity, and more and more, I am convinced it is one of the main drivers in Christianity's loss of authority within society. Why?
It is actually works/righteousness in disguise. It is nothing more than legalism with a sugar coating. Why do I say such a thing? Let me lay out my argument.
Let's first travel to the right hand side of Christianity in the U.S. The implicit message in many of those congregations is, "Jesus died for you, so be as moral and upright in your life as you can be so that you will get to heaven. Do not drink, smoke, cuss, and what have you. Keep appropriate marriage and sexual boundaries, and by doing so, you will live a life pleasing to God." Notice the emphasis. Notice also what is missing: any corporate responsibility for care and concern for the poor. The "right" hand side of Christianity emphasizes personal morality above corporate morality and reassures its members they are right with God because of what they are doing. And if you are not showing forth exemplary moral righteousness in your life, then you are excluded. There is good news for those who are striving to live a moral life and law for those who aren't.
It depends upon how one hears the Scripture...
Let's now travel to the left hand side of Christianity in the U.S. The implicit message in many of these congregations is, "Jesus died for you, so work for justice and peace in the world. God has a preferential place in His heart for the poor, and so we must work to eradicate poverty, hunger, injustice, and ensure that everyone has access to health care. We must work to make the kingdom of God happen right here on earth for those who are in need." Notice the emphasis. Notice also what is missing: any personal responsibility for living an upright and moral life. The "left" hand side of Christianity emphasizes corporate morality over personal morality, and it reassures its members they are right with God because of what they are doing in their struggle for justice or solidarity with the poor. And if you are not showing forth exemplary means of working for justice, then you are excluded. There is good news for those who are striving to work for justice and peace and law for those who aren't.
It depends upon how one hears the Scripture...
I submit that these tracts are absorbed in the Law and have missed the Gospel. I submit that each of these tracts are absorbed in works/righteousness instead of living by grace.
Grace does not divide. The Gospel does not draw lines. The Gospel abolishes, destroys, manhandles all the exclusionary tactics of the Law. The Law can be seen as good news for some, bad news for others. The Gospel is good news of great joy for ALL PEOPLE!!!
At the heart of the Gospel is the God made flesh who died for us, reconciling us unto God WHILE WE WERE STILL SINNERS. At the heart of the Gospel is the God made flesh who took upon Himself all our sin, all our guilt, all our shame, all our hopelessness, all of our pain, all of our misery, all of our suffering, even death itself to defeat it and give us hope that transcends any and every distinction we might like to draw.
Note: Each "side" as defined above will give lip service to this, but it is not at the core of their teaching. Not in the least. The core of the teaching is works/righteousness, not grace. This works/righteousness plays out as lines get quickly drawn between these two branches of Christianity, and they wantonly attack each other as failing to embody of what God wants us to do.
The Gospel, the good news of God's reconciliation of the world through Jesus, does not allow anyone to make any sort of distinction because all fall morally short and corporately short. No one can measure up to the moral standard of life as articulated by Jesus. Neither can anyone measure up to fully working for justice and peace. Yet, many congregations harp and harp and harp on these things. It's no wonder people eventually leave. They become discouraged because they simply cannot fulfill what is demanded of them.
Not so with grace. The embodiment of Grace leads one to accept both moral and corporate responsibility. It leads one to strive to live an upright life abstaining from personal sin to the best of one's ability, and it leads one to engage in helping the needy, poor, and distressed to the best of one's ability. Not because one feels guilty or believes one is going to change the world into the image of the kingdom of God, but because of joyful obedience to the God who first suffered and died for us.
Good news must be preached before people are willing to respond. Good news, not just for some, but for everyone.