The Law of God is good and wise; first and foremost, because it is the Word and will of God, which He speaks to you in love. He reveals His Law to you for your benefit, for your good. And it is for this reason that He has given us the Ten Commandments, which are a perfect summary of His Law, of His good and gracious will for you and for your neighbor.
Not only that, but He has also written His Law on man’s heart, on his conscience; so that, even those who do not know His Ten Commandments still have a strong sense of right and wrong by nature. Unless a man has completely hardened his heart and seared his conscience, he knows that he should not kill his neighbor or take his possessions or family. And governments around the world and throughout history have put into place laws that convey these same things.
In all of these ways, God protects you from your neighbor, who would otherwise hurt you and harm you in your body, your possessions, your family, and your home. And, let’s be honest, He also protects your neighbor from you and the sinful desires of your fallen flesh.
God’s Law, as it confronts you, exposes your sins. For God commands you to do things that you really don’t want to do, and that you are not doing. And as He commands you, He threatens to punish you if you do not do what He commands. He also forbids you from doing those things which you enjoy doing. Things that you are doing and want to keep on doing, He tells you to stop doing and not to do. And here again, He threatens to punish you if you disregard His Law.
So it is that, when the good and wise and holy Law of God confronts you as a sinner, it accuses you. It condemns you. It judges you and would damn you. God knows that it does all of these things, and yet, He speaks His Law to you, not with petty anger, as though He had lost His temper, and not for the sake of vengeance, but in love for you. In exposing your sins, He begins His good work of repentance in you. He reveals your faults in order to demonstrate your need for Him, for His forgiveness and salvation. And in this way He begins to drive you to the Cross of Christ.
In calling you to repentance, He does not seek to drive you further away from Himself, but rather to bring you back to Himself. His Law points you finally to the Gospel, that is, to Christ, who is the fulfillment of the Law. For everything the Law has required of you, Christ Jesus has done in your stead, on your behalf. Everything the Law has demanded from you, Christ has done and given for your benefit. He has fully satisfied the Law in your stead.
It’s not that Christ has simply kept the rules and checked them off God’s big “to do” list, so that now the Lord is off your back about it. No, the Lord’s desire, from the start and forever, is that you would live in a relationship of love with Him, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And when you did not love Him, He sought you out in love and reconciled you to Himself in Christ Jesus.
All that the Law requires, Jesus has done, not only in your stead, on your behalf, but also for you. In perfect faith and love for His Father, He has lived in perfect love for you, His neighbor. He has not harmed you but has helped you in your body and your soul. He has not sent you away, but has rather called you to Himself. He has not taken from you, but He gives you all good things.
This is at the heart of His keeping of the Law. This is His righteousness, which He has established for you. And all of this He bestows upon you through His Gospel, beginning with the waters of your Holy Baptism. He washes you clean with forgiveness of all your sins, and He clothes you with Himself and His righteousness. Thus are you adorned by Christ, the Fulfiller of the Law.
So it is that you now stand before the judgment seat of God, and you are declared not guilty. You are innocent. You are righteous. You are set free. There is no condemnation for you before God, but only His judgment of righteousness, which is yours by His grace through faith in Christ.
All of this the Lord has done and given to you freely in love. And not only that, but He keeps on giving it to you. Though you daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment, Christ all the more forgives your sins. Within His Body, the Church, in the company of the baptized, He daily and richly forgives your sins and the sins of all believers.
He preaches His Word to you. He continues to catechize you in both the Law and the Gospel, so that you would know what is the good and acceptable will of God, and by His Holy Spirit you would walk in it. And for that journey of faith and life in Christ, He feeds you with His own Body, and He gives you to drink of His own holy and precious Blood. That is the ongoing Ministry of the Gospel, the free gift of Forgiveness and Life and Salvation, which Jesus keeps on giving.
The Gospel, though, has not set you free from the Law. It has rather set you free from the Law’s accusation. It has released you from the Law’s condemnation and judgment. It has freed you from the punishment that you deserved under the Law. But the Gospel has not set you free from God, nor from His holy will. It has rather freed you from sin and death to live with God in Christ: To live in faith and love, which are the very things the Law has always commanded and described.
In this way the Ten Commandments continue to serve you, even as a Christian, because they set before your eyes and ears the Life of Christ, to which He calls you by His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. That is the life which is yours in Him by faith in His Gospel.
In the first three Commandments God calls you into relationship with Himself. He calls upon your heart to belong to Him. Not because He needs it, but He knows that you need Him. So He calls you to love and trust in Him. Yes, you are to fear His wrath, because He is God and you are not. But for that same reason, He invites you and welcomes you to look to Him for every good thing. Everything you need, He can and does provide in love for you.
He calls upon you to hear His Word, through which He serves you and bestows His Holy Spirit upon you. And He teaches you to call upon His Name in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, that you should know Him as your God, the One who has brought you out of Egypt by His powerful hand.
For His Name’s sake, He also calls you to love your neighbor, and He puts you into relationship with your neighbor after the Image of Christ. Therefore, do not hurt or harm your neighbor, but help your neighbor, and love your neighbor as Christ loves you. Do not take from your neighbor, nor desire your neighbor’s things, but look for ways to serve your neighbor, as the Lord Jesus serves you. Above all, forgive your neighbor, as you are forgiven by the Lord.
Fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Listen to His Word. Receive His gifts. Knowing Him as your God and Father, call upon Him in prayer. And in this fear and faith of God, do not despise your neighbor, but as you are able do good to all men. Show love, serve, and forgive. This is the way of life with God, which His Law reveals and requires.
In doing so — even for you who are a Christian, forgiven by Christ and living in Him by grace, by His Word and Holy Spirit — the Law continues to expose your sins and to accuse you in your conscience. For you do not love your neighbor as yourself. You do not do unto your neighbor as you would have him do for you. You do not treat him as you want to be treated. You do not love and care for your neighbor as your dear Lord Jesus Christ loves you and cares for you by grace.
You do not love your neighbor as you should because you do not love the Lord, your God and Father, as you should. You do not call upon Him in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. You do not expect good things from Him at all times. You worry and you fret. And when things are going poorly, you’re more inclined to blame God than to look to Him for help. You do not always trust Him when the Cross is heavy upon you. You sometimes despair because of your sins, or you despair because of your enemies. And for all of these sins the Law continues to accuse you.
Nor is the accusation of the Law to be taken lightly. It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God, and He threatens to punish all who break these Commandments. Therefore the Catechism teaches you to fear His wrath and warns you not to disobey Him. As the Law thus exposes your sins, you quail before Him. And then you are tempted to do as our first parents did, to run away and try to hide from God, because you do not want to fall into His hands.
The great irony is that, in trying to flee from God, you fall precisely into His hands of wrath. And yet, in speaking His Law to you, He still desires, not to drive you away, but to call you back to Himself in repentance. The very fact that He speaks to you at all, and that He confronts you with His Law to expose your sin, is indicative of His loving care and concern for you, and of His desire that you live with Him in faith and love. You thus flee His wrath by fleeing to His hands of mercy. You flee His wrath by fleeing, not away from Him, but to Him in Christ.
His Law instructs you in the way that you should go — in relation to Him and to your neighbor — not that by your behavior you will fix anything, or appease God’s wrath, or make things better, but because it is in Him and in His Church that you find grace to help in time of need.
He places you in relationships with your neighbors, especially your brothers and sisters in Christ, not only that you may serve them, but that your brothers and sisters may speak the Gospel to you. He admonishes you not to forsake the assembling together because it is in His Church that He serves you with every good and perfect gift through the Gospel, the forgiveness of all your sins.
He commands you to remember the Sabbath Day and to keep it holy — to cherish His Word, to regard it as sacred, and gladly to hear the preaching of it, to receive the gifts He gives by His Word — because He desires to give you rest, and blessed peace, and life with Himself in Christ Jesus. And all of this He does for you and gives to you within the Body of Christ, His Church, by the ministry of preaching and the Sacraments in His Name and stead.
Christ Jesus is here, and He does not hold your sins against you, but by His Word He graciously and generously forgives you all your sins. As often as you have disobeyed His Law, failed to do what you should, and done again what you should not, He keeps on calling you back to Himself. And His arms are open to you in mercy. For He stands fast as the One who has already fulfilled and satisfied the Law for your salvation, which is to say, for life with God in Him.
The Law does not serve you by telling you how save yourself. It serves you by pointing you and driving you to Christ, who lives in love for His Father, for you, and for all people.
So, when the Law exposes your sins, do not try to hide them, nor try to hide yourself away, but confess your sins and seek the forgiveness of Christ. Dr. Luther has taught you to use the Ten Commandments in this way: To consider your place in life in light of the Ten Commandments, that you might know what sins you should confess before your pastor. Why? In order to hear and receive the Word of Absolution from your pastor as from God Himself, in the Name of Christ, and that the good and gracious will of God should thus be done for you with His forgiveness.
Truly, this forgiveness of Christ is the fulfillment of the Law for you and your salvation. For by this Gospel He loves you and gives you Life in body and soul, both now and forever. He has become your Savior and your God, and He has not only called you into His own household and family as a beloved child of His God and Father, but He preserves your life within His Christian Church. He has sanctified you with His Name, as in your Baptism, so also with His Absolution. And He gives you Sabbath Rest within His own Body and Blood here at His Altar, where He daily and richly forgives you all your sins, unto the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.