It has long be said that God’s Word is made up of two words. God’s first word of the law, which reminds us of our inability to save ourselves. And God’s word of the Gospel, which makes clear that are only hope is found in Christ alone.
The law often automatically gets categorized as bad.
While in some senses the law does deconstruct and even kill, the law is in fact good. Because even when the law functions for the purpose of showing our sin, it sets us up for the Gospel. This sense of the law is not the only way of course that the law functions, but it is hugely important in our understanding of God’s Word.
There are two descriptions of the law that I find helpful when thinking about the way in which the law shows our sin. These are the descriptions of hammer and mirror. In Preaching Law and Gospel by Herman Stuempfle he describes these two understandings of the Law.
The hammer functions for accusation. It targets the conscience with the goal of accountability. Guilt is evidence that the hammer of the law has done its work. The hammer swings with the goal of convicting the sinner.
The hammer bangs the gavel as a judge. It makes it clear to us that we are guilty. It destroys our self-justifying desires in the face of our own inability to do what the law demands. The hammer shatters the notions that the Gospel can be found in what we do.
At times the hammer swings in hard destroying what needs to be killed in order that life may come. And at other times the hammer is more like a mallet, gently exposing our sins and failures.
“Rather, our role is more that of surgeons who know they must cut in order to heal, or of therapists who understand the necessity of leading clients to insight which holds simultaneously the prospect of pain and the promise of renewal.” - Stuempfle
The mirror functions in a more descriptive role. It targets the consciousness seeking to make the hearer aware of the problems. The mirror is like the doctor who makes a diagnosis. The doctor describes the problems and points out the problem so you can get the right treatment.
The mirror reveals to us what we really look like. When we look in the mirror, we find out what we really look like. Our self-made images are shattered, when we find we aren’t as great as we think we are. We find that we cannot save ourselves and are left with a harsh diagnosis about our state of sin.
The law is good even when it makes us feel bad. But, in the words of Stuempfle, “the Law is never terminal.” It always exist for the sake of the word that follows. It is always for the sake that once the diagnosis has been made, that the surgeon would come in and heal the disease.