Aaand...just like that, I'm a believer in the "law and gospel dialectic", the "fruitful prejudice", if you will. I've been taking a class on this very hermeneutic of life and Scripture, and the whole time, I've been a little...underwhelmed (as I mentioned here). It just seems so black and white, like "this" is law, and "that" is gospel. This person needs to hear "the law", that person needs to hear "the gospel". It seems kind of artificial and non-relational - not the kind of thing a God who loves us and made a covenant with us uses to get our attention. What parent do you know that says, "my oldest child needs some law today, and my youngest needs a little gospel" ?? Of course not.
But then last week, I was asked about what I would say to someone who has an apparently perfect life, and is wondering why he needs Jesus. I failed miserably, although that's neither here nor there. But the whole time I was trying to respond to the questions, I was thinking, "there's got to be something wrong with this guy's life, he's just not willing to admit it." I wasn't thinking in specifically law/gospel categories, but I was just so frustrated by this hypothetical "man with the perfect life" who kept insisting that I tell him why he needed Jesus, but at the same time insisting that he had no need of Jesus because he had a perfect life.
So, imagine my surprise to hear that my miserable failure in this regard constituted a "failure to articulate the heart of the gospel". I didn't understand. "That's what you wanted me to do?" I kept thinking. "Why didn't you just say so?" But now that I've had more time to think about it, I realize - I couldn't articulate the heart of the gospel because this man doesn't need it. He's right - if his life is perfect, he doesn't need Jesus. Now, my life isn't perfect, and that's why I need Jesus. And frankly, I've never met anyone whose life is perfect, and that's why we all need Jesus - to come heal the non-perfect parts of our life, which, when you get right down to it, is actually all the parts of our life. But I suppose if someone actually did have a perfect life, then he would have no need of Jesus - of the gospel.
Somebody who thinks he has a perfect life needs to hear the law, not the gospel. "Your sins are forgiven" or "Jesus loves you" or "You're welcome here" or "the promise of heaven" or whatever your particular idea of "the heart of the gospel" is, isn't worth a hill of beans to someone who doesn't believe himself to be a sinner, unloved, excluded, or afraid of death. "Those who are well have no need of a physician", and all. Only when the law - the sickness of life in this world - hits you - wow, I screwed up; I'm terrible and no one loves me; I'm so lonely; I don't want to die - is the gospel sweet and beautiful. Otherwise, it's just meaningless platitudes.
But perhaps that's just me.