Been a little while since we posted an excerpt from Law and Gospel: A Theology for Sinners (and Saints). Here’s what we’ve been told is one of the more controversial passages, taken from the Forgiveness section: 

In those places where the Gospel speaks loudest we often find ourselves grasping most desperately for the law. How does this happen in regard to forgiveness? Our tactic is somewhat diagonal. We make ‘repentance’ a pre-condition for pardon. We insist that people express (sufficient) remorse before we let them off the hook. In this scenario, sorrow somehow activates absolution.

This not only undercuts the gravity of Christ’s promises—if they are subject to our ever-shifting attitudes, how trustworthy can they be?—it opens up a rabbit hole of introspection and second-guessing. You said you were sorry, but did you mean it? And if you really meant it, why did you do the same thing a week later? Human behavior is back to being the key that unlocks divine favor. Fortunately, all our carefully curated testimonies and feebly drawn portraits of personal progress cannot shake Calvary’s foundation.

If the Gospel is really to be Good News, forgiveness must find its grounding outside of us, which it does, in the death and resurrection of Christ. This is why sinners like us are bold enough to say that God forgives before we have the chance to come clean (Rm 5:8). In fact, that happy news may even give us the freedom and fearlessness to realize just how much we need to do so.

All this said, there may be something presumptuous about claiming to understand the exact mechanics of cosmic reconciliation. If we could, it probably wouldn’t be divine or complete. The backstory, or cause, of the forgiveness of sins has power, but to the one drowning in a sea of trouble, the only thing that matters is the outstretched hand—not the physics of salvation, but salvation itself.

Perhaps it is enough to say that the Law reveals that we need to be forgiven; the Gospel announces we have been forgiven. Full stop.