“I have good news and bad. Which would you like to hear first?” We all would dread to hear those words from our doctor. How would we react if we heard them from God?
Imagine that God appears to you tonight and says, “If you love me with your whole heart, you will be in heaven.” Is that good news or bad news? Have you loved God with your whole heart? This is bad news! For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). If this was the only word from God, we would all be spending eternity in hell. God’s Law is not the way for sinners to get to heaven.
Now imagine that God appears tonight and says, “Because my Son, Jesus, loves me with His whole heart, you are going to be in heaven.” Is that good news or bad? It is the best news! It is the Gospel. This good news means that in Jesus our sins are forgiven. Sinners, like you and me, can be in heaven with God. It also means that salvation is completely Jesus’ work, not ours. Jesus saves us. We can’t save ourselves.
The difficulty is that people want to mix a little bit of the bad news with the good, a little bit of Law with the Gospel. They do this whenever they make salvation contingent on some action of man, such as a decision, a prayer, etc. When this is done, all certainty of salvation vanishes. Even if we say that God does 99.5% of the work and man just has to do his 0.5%, how can we be sure that we have done all of the 0.5%? We may begin to wonder if we really meant it when we made the decision or if our prayer really came from the heart.
God doesn’t want us wondering if we are going to be in heaven. He wants us to be 100% certain that we will be because Jesus has done all the work. The good news is that we are saved by grace. God in Jesus loves us and forgives. No strings attached. We don’t deserve it. That’s the point! It is simply His free gift to us.
Freely we have received. Freely we can give. When we engage others with Jesus, we are to consciously proclaim the Law and Gospel without confusing them or comingling them. The bad news has its purpose: to show the consequence of sin. It prepares the individual for the good news. Only the Gospel proclaims Jesus the Savior from sin. It alone can create saving faith. It alone can make a person confident that they will be in heaven.
So you have good news and bad news. Use the bad to serve the good. Engage others with Jesus. Confess the good news in God’s Word.
Reverend Tim Hartwig
Peace Lutheran Church
North Mankato, MN