Do Lutherans Deny the Third Use of the Law?

Some today have posited that the Lutheran view of the law only has the first two uses (to restrain evil, and to act as a pedagogue to point us to Christ). However, it is clear that not all Lutherans rejected the third use of the law. In fact, the evidence rather points to the opposite conclusion. Take this section from the Form of Concord (Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, III, pp. 130-131):

Article 6. Of the third use of the law. Statement of the Controversy. Since it is established that the Law of God was given to men for three causes: first, that a certain external discipline might be preserved, and wild and intractable men might be restrained, as it were, by certain barriers; secondly, that by the Law men might be brought to an acknowledgment of their sins; thirdly, that regenerate men, to all of whom, nevertheless, much of the flesh still cleaves, for that very reason may have some certain rule after which they may and ought to shape their life, etc., a controversy has arisen among some few theologians concerning the third use of the Law, to wit: whether the Law is to be inculcated upon the regenerate also, and its observation urged upon them or not? Some have judged that the Law should be urged, others have denied it.

The rest of the article clearly and explicitly affirms the third use of the law. The last sentence quoted here, however, might be a reasonable explanation as to why this misperception of Lutheranism has arisen: some Lutherans may have denied the third use of the law.

Posted by Lane Keister

About these ads

6 Comments

  1. Daniel Kok said,

    November 30, 2007 at 6:45 pm

    Luther included the Ten Commandments in his catechism and taught the necessity of good works. In his introduction to the epistle of Romans, Luther notes “it is just as impossible to separate faith and works as it is to separate heat and light from fire!”

    He also stated:

    “Faith is a living restless thing. It cannot be inoperative. We are not saved by works; but if there be no works, there must be something amiss with faith.”
    As quoted in Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, page 259.

    “Therefore works do not belong to the gospel; for it is not laws but faith alone, because it is nothing whatever but the promise and offer of divine grace. He, then, who believes the Gospel receives grace and the Holy Spirit. Thereby the heart becomes glad and joyful in God and then keeps the Law gladly and freely, without the fear of punishment and without the expectation of reward; for it is sated and satisfied with that grace of God by which the law has been satisfied.”
    -“Works”

  2. Matt said,

    November 30, 2007 at 7:00 pm

    I always knew you were a crypto-Lutheran, Daniel…. :-)

  3. pduggie said,

    December 2, 2007 at 10:39 pm

    So Concord says there is a third use, because fleshly Christians need some kind of rule to know how to shape their life.

    Does the WCF present the third use as an allowance for our fleshly natures? The WCF says its NOT EVIDENCE of being ‘under law not grace’ for someone to obey a commandment because God told him to in the law.

    “The promises of it, in like manner, show them God’s approbation of obedience,and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof: although not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works. So as, a man’s doing good, and refraining from evil, because the law encourages to the one and deters from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law: and not under grace.”

    If I can expect blessing for performing the law, does that fall under Luther’s condemnation of ‘expecting reward’?

  4. Jeff Cagle said,

    December 2, 2007 at 11:25 pm

    If I can expect blessing for performing the law, does that fall under Luther’s condemnation of ‘expecting reward’?

    I can’t speak for Luther … no one could, apparently … but I would say that it depends on *why* and *how* you expect blessing for performing the law.

    If you’re relying on the Law as a means of blessings and cursings a la Deuteronomy — then yes, I would discourage that. And it won’t work.

    If you’re obeying the Law out of love and trusting in God to bless you for the sake of Christ, then it’s reasonable to anticipate that wise actions will lead to more favorable results, in general.

    If you try to absolutize the above without reckoning that following Christ will lead, on average, to insults, persecutions, and hardships … then you’ll be disappointed again.

    So a definite “maybe.” :) The flesh/Spirit dichotomy is probably very relevant here, as in all discussions of the Law.

    Jeff C

  5. pduggie said,

    December 3, 2007 at 9:43 am

    1. When the WCF refers to the promises of the law, are they excluding lists of blessings in deuteronomy?

    2. Were Israelites not expected to follow the laws of Deuteronomy “out of love and trusting in God to bless them” who delivered them?

    I agree Deuteronomy’s blessings shouldn’t be ‘absolutized’

  6. Jeff Cagle said,

    December 3, 2007 at 2:21 pm

    Ah. I see the problem. I wasn’t very clear.

    1. The promises of it, in like manner, shew them God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof: although not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works. So as, a man’s doing good, and refraining from evil, because the law encourageth to the one, and deterreth from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law; and not under grace. — WCoF 19.6.

    The key emphasis in my statement was “relying on the Law”, not which part of the Law you are relying on. Or as I teach my Ethics students: “Legalism is relying on God’s Law (or any other law) as a means of righteousness in the power of the flesh.”

    2. Yes. But a large part of the problem with Israel by the time of 2nd Temple Judaism was its “reliance on the Law” which was inextricably coupled with “reliance on the flesh.”

    Probably, my points 1-3 could have been better stated. I was in no way trying to disparage the Law, but rather distinguish between various attitudes towards following the Law, all of which look the same “externally” (“covenantally”?!). Some of those attitudes work, some don’t.

    Jeff Cagle


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 327 other followers

%d bloggers like this: