Lutheran preaching uses the Law and Gospel hermeneutic. It will often begin with what God requires and man can not give (Law) and will finish with what God alone gives (Gospel). Like Lutheran theology, Lutheran preaching terminates on man.
Reformed preaching often likewise followed the Law and Gospel hermeneutic. Reformed preaching will also emphasize how the law leaves us guilty before God, with the same ringing announcement that God must do all.
The difference between Lutheran and Reformed preaching is that Lutherans saw Justification (the Gospel glad tidings in preaching) as being an end in itself. Once the announcement was made to man that God has done all that is the end. Not so the Reformed. The Reformed agreed with Lutherans on the wonder of Justification (the Gospel glad tidings in preaching) BUT the Reformed insisted that Justification was not an end but a means to a higher end — a higher end that could not be spoken of apart from the good news. The higher end of Justification was the answering of the question, “How shall we now live, as a Justified people, in order to glorify God.”
In brief the Reformed didn’t absolutize the antithesis between Law and Gospel. The Reformed in their preaching, following Scripture, saw the hermeneutical antithesis as between the seed of the Woman and the seed of the Serpent. The law does not function solely as negative in the lives of those who belong to Christ. The Reformed saw a harmony between the Gospel and the third use of the law with which Lutherans are not typically comfortable.
And so Reformed preaching goes on from Lutheran truncated Law Gospel to explain what it looks like now, in keeping with the third use of the law, for a purified people who have been Redeemed by Christ from every lawless deed to now live as a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds (Titus 2:14)
Lutheran ears hear Reformed preaching and think that it fails their Law Gospel hermeneutic, and so is legalistic, but the point of the matter is, is that Lutherans have made the Gospel end upon man’s salvation (and so really is anthropocentric) while Reformed preaching understands that man’s salvation serves God’s glorification and so Reformed preaching, while announcing the same glad tidings as Lutheran preaching goes on to instruct God’s people that salvation means that we make it our goal to please Him and then spends time how it is that people who God is pleased with, for the sake of Christ’s atoning work, can live as children who please their Father in all their living. Thus Reformed preaching is Christocentric.
Subtle differences. Important differences.
Now, Reformed preaching can break down and where I have heard Reformed preaching break down is in the respect that it is often Law/Gospel/ and then the Law again as a means to earn God’s favor. It ends up sounding something like, “Yeah. Isn’t the good news good. OK. That’s enough of a break from the burden of the law. Now get back under there and start doing some “sanctified” law keeping.” To avoid falling back under the works of the law, we need to keep in mind the Heidelberg Catechism which teaches us that good works are,
We also need to keep in mind that we, as God’s Redeemed, never obey in order to attain an uncertain forgiveness, but we obey out of love and gratitude for a certain forgiveness granted. We do not obey to gain life. We obey out of life already obtained. As such, our third use of the law, law respecting, is not a threat to justification by faith alone.
Next, we need to remember that the Holy Spirit has been given as a deposit guaranteeing that which is to come. Because we have been given the Holy Spirit we are a people thirsty to work out what God has worked within us. We are not a people who are obeying by lifting ourselves by our own bootstraps, seeking to curry an uncertain favor. Rather we are a people who are only living in ways that we are bent toward due to our possession of the Holy Spirit.
Finally, we need to keep before us that even when God is pleased to increase in His people sanctification that we still are only received by Him for the sake of the finished work of Jesus Christ. We remain unprofitable servants who have, even when we have done what we think is our “best,” only done what we ought (Luke 17:10). There is nothing in us or our performance that wins our salvation. Our salvation is anchored only in the performance of the Lord Christ on our behalf. This is a comfort to us when we begin to see that even our best of works are far from what they are called to be.