At times our conscience terrifies us, and our heart panics. It looks for something good in us or some good work—something for our hope to grasp hold of and think that surely God would be merciful to us and forgive us our multitude of sins, if just for this one elusive thing. Usually, our searching is for not, as we realize that we are not good, are not loving, are not anything we hope or want to be, let along what God has commanded us to be.
It is only when we feel hopeless that we give up trying to be a “good person,” someone who could somehow earn enough points with God to merit his love or favor or forgiveness...and we cry out for grace as ones slayed by the terror of Christ’s Law. As Luther writes:
It is imperative that man be taken captive by the Law and be placed into the bondage of sin, that is, in terror of his conscience. He who feels no sin will not be impelled to seek grace; he will pay not attention either to the Gospel or to faith. Therefore the Law is conscience’ jailer, chains, fetters, and prison. The Law points to sin and exposes it, and thus it takes conscience captive. God does not deliver us from these bonds whenever we deem it necessary, but He permits us to be humbled and tormented in them until we thirst for grace.
But how does God come to us and rescue us from ourselves? In his Word, of course. His Gospel promises that demand nothing from us but are, on the contrary, tell us of the work God has done for us in Christ Jesus. Christ comes to us in the Gospel and the Supper and gives us his grace-filled promises upon which to tangibly cling—making use of each of our five senses as he raises us to life eternal.
Now He comes and gives us His Word, to which we cling, and leads us out of captivity. Thus we escape a terrified and despondent conscience, and we get a good and sure conscience. That is the twofold work and performance of Christ in us: He kills us, and He resurrects us; He humbles us, and He exalts us, each in His good season. (LW 13:6)