Don Matzat, a Lutheran pastor of fifty years, tells the following story of teaching a new church the doctrine of justification by faith apart from works:
In one parish I served, after installation, I called every active member, inviting them to come to a Sunday morning Bible Class. I got a decent response so that my Sunday morning class had over one hundred members. I began by studying the Book of Romans.
After teaching the truth of Romans 3:21, explaining that God had now provided a new way of being righteous before Him, by faith in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, one woman in the class was becoming visibly upset. She raised her hand and stood up.
“Why are you teaching us differently?” she asked, somewhat angrily.
“What do you mean?”
“All our pastors taught us we go to heaven by obeying the Ten Commandments,” she explained.
“No, they didn’t!” I responded adamantly.
“O yes they did!” she responded with equal assurance.
“If your former pastors had taught you that you go to heaven by obeying the Ten Commandments,” I responded slowly and firmly. “Every one of them would be a heretic and, if their teaching became public, they would have been kicked out of the church. Now, I don’t know from where you got the idea that you go to heaven by obeying the Ten Commandments, but your former pastors most certainly did not teach you that.”
“Well, you weren’t here,” she concluded and sat down (The Righteousness of God, pp. 18-19).
There is something about preaching salvation by faith that makes it very hard for people to hear what you’re saying. You can be taught it for year after year, decade after decade, and never have it register. For this woman, it finally registered. But did she believe it? We don’t know.
Matzat suggests this lesson:
When it comes to knowing the Gospel, clear teaching and repetition is necessary until eyes are opened and truth is received (The Righteousness of God, p. 18).
Remember, it may take repeating the saving message a hundred times before someone hears it for the first time.