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

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

“Federal Vision” theology messes with these boundaries. It attempts to follow the lead of Scripture, even when that seems to conflict with Confessional formulae and seems closer to Luther than Reformed orthodoxy. It develops a baptismal theology that is not starkly at odds with Luther.

Peter Leithart, “Presbyterian Identity Crisis.”

A few people have questioned, in the comments section of my last post, whether or not I was fair in my insinuations concerning the Federal Vision’s doctrine of baptism.  First, I’d note that FV seems to be fairly self-conscious about its tinkering with this doctrine, and similarity to the Lutheran scheme, as seen in the above quote from Leithart.  Second, I’d note that my description of FV’s position as “baptismal regeneration lite” would not be contested in the least by at least some FV proponents, as they have in many places explicitly used the terminology of baptismal regeneration, albeit in a qualified manner.

But more specifically, Xon and Jeff Moss asked me where any FV proponent has claimed that “baptism [is] an instrumental means, alongside of faith, by which we lay hold of Christ’s righteousness unto justification.” So I wanted to point out at least a few places where this particular form of “baptismal regeneration lite” (as distinguished from the conveying of regenerating grace) has been articulated by Federal Visionists.  I’ll just pluck out a few examples.

But the concept of instrumentality is a bit fuzzy. We can legitimately ask: Are there other instruments of justification? Paul says we are justified by faith. But James says we are justified by works together with faith. James uses the same preposition for works that Paul uses for faith. He does more than simply qualify the kind of faith that justifies (though he does do that!). He says that works, along with faith, have justifying value. Thus, in some way works are instrumental in justification as well as faith….

There are other complicating factors as well. For example, several NT passages connect baptism with justification (e.g., Acts 2:38: baptism is “for” the remission of sins). In Reformed theology, it has been common to speak of the instrumental efficacy of the sacraments. But how can baptism’s instrumentality in justification be understood vis-à-vis faith’s instrumentality? Do baptism and faith compete with one another or do they work together? I think the solution is easy enough if we remember that baptism is really God’s action, not a human work. God is the Baptizer, ultimately. He may use the minister and the water as his agents, but it is his Spirit who does the work (cf. 1 Cor. 12:13).

The Westminster Standards point in this same direction. On the one hand the Confession says no one is actually justified until Christ is applied to them (11.4). But the Shorter Catechism specifically says one function of baptism is to apply Christ to the believer (92). Putting these two statements together yields this conclusion: Baptism is the instrument through which Christ is applied to us unto justification.

Thus, we can say that faith is the instrument of justification on our end, while baptism is the instrument on God’s side.

-Rich Lusk, “Faith, Baptism, and Justification

Commenting on Acts 2, Lusk also writes of Peter’s audience:

At this point, the word has done its work. The hearers have been aroused and convicted, but, apparently they still aren’t saved. Preaching alone is insufficient to make them participants in Christ’s work of redemption.  Thus Peter tells them what they must do. They must respond to the preached word with repentance and be baptized to enter into the way of salvation. Baptism, not preaching per se, is linked with forgiveness and the reception of the Spirit. Clearly, Peter believes God will give them something in baptism that they have not received through preaching alone. Baptism will consummate the process of regeneration begun by the Word preached.

This article, “Some Thoughts on the Means of Grace:  A Few Proposals,” is no longer available on Mark Horne’s website, but this portion can still be found in the OPC Report.

This is also an implication of Peter Leithart’s teaching:

How can Paul attribute justification and sanctification to baptism when he everywhere attributes justification to “faith, without the works of the Law”? We can go a ways to answering this question by taking more seriously the biblical claim that the church is the “body of Christ.” Because this is true, being joined to the church also means being joined to Christ. Christ is the holy one, and His Body is the holy people, the “saints” (”holy ones”) claimed as God’s peculiar possession. By His resurrection, the Father vindicated or justified the Son (Rom. 4:25), and by union with the body of the Justified Christ, we are justified (ie., counted as covenant-keepers).

-Posted by David Gadbois

New Source-Book on FV

Not all the authors would label themselves FV in this book. However, it will be an important source book for FV teachings. Articles are by Sandlin, Shepherd, Horne, Armstrong, Leithart, Lusk, and Garlington. Read with discernment (as with all books)!

Hebrews 2:17-18


ὅθεν ὤφειλεν κατὰ πάντα τοῖς ἀδελφοῖς ὁμοιωθῆναι, ἵνα ἐλεήμων γένηται καὶ πιστὸς ἀρχιερεὺς τὰ πρὸς τὸν θεόν, εἰς τὸ ἱλάσκεσθαι τὰς ἁμαρτίας τοῦ λαοῦ: ἐν γὰρ πέπονθεν αὐτὸς πειρασθείς, δύναται τοῖς πειραζομένοις βοηθῆσαι.

Translation: “Whence it behooved Him to be made like His brothers in all ways, so that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the things related to God (especially for propitiation with regard to the sins of the people). Since He has suffered, having been tempted, He is able to help those being tempted.”

Paul just finished telling us that it is not angels that Jesus helps, but rather the seed of Abraham, which is the covenant people of God. So, if Jesus is going to do that, then He needs to be made like us in every way. Of course, this does not mean that Jesus was sinful. He did not inherit our sinful nature. However, Jesus did take upon Himself the guilt of our sin. Our sin was reckoned to Christ, as if Christ had done it, even though He didn’t.

Some people might wonder just how much like us He is, if He never sinned. Can He really sympathize with our weaknesses if He has never sinned? The answer is yes. We have not resisted sin to the bitter end. Jesus has. Satan tried every trick in the book to get Jesus to sin. Jesus faced every single temptation known to mankind, and yet resisted successfully.

One big word in these verses is “propitiation.” The word means to appease someone. We have to be careful here. It is not as if God is some kind of homocidal maniac, and Jesus placated Him. After all, it was God the Father who sent Jesus into the world to bear the guilt of our sin (though only those who trust in Christ have this forgiveness). We were, however, children of wrath, as Paul says elsewhere. That wrath was diverted from us to Christ when Christ took our sins upon Himself on the tree. And so now Christ is our High Priest. He can sympathize with us, because He has suffered under temptation, and has taken the guilt of our sin away. Is Jesus your Great High Priest?