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Tuesday, September 06, 2005 

Rehashing Luther and the Law

Reading: Surfing the blogosphere and love letters
Enjoying: H. Upmanns 1844 Monarch
Listening: Nothing. Its too late; wouldn't want to wake anyone

Awhile back, I posted a quote from Luther's commentary on Galatians concerning the use of the Law. To sum up what The Reformer argued for goes something like this: we Protestants don't annul good works, and we aren't antinomians ("against the law"). Rather, we see two purposes for the Law; 1) the restraint of evil in society ("bridle civil trangressions"), and, 2) to increase the knowledge of and actual grievances of individual spiritual sin. Therefore, the Law brings light to the exceeding sinfulness of man, and acts as a terror on his conscience and, hopefully, drives him to Christ.

Now, what is said here is rock solid and biblically true. However, it is also true and biblical to say that this is not all the Law does. Typically, the Reformed have identified three uses of the law. The first two are in sync with Luther supra, while the final one deals with the Law as a comfort and guide and light to Christians, teaching them and instructing them in how to live, i.e., how to love one's neighbor in a manner worthy of Christ.

Now while there is debate as to whether or not the Lutherans affirm this final tenent, it seems wholly fair to agree that this thinking can be found in Luther, and especially in Melancthon and his followers. However, what is beyond a shadow of doubt is that the emphasis, for Lutherans, fall on #2 - the Law drives us as sinners to Christ. Conversely, for the Reformed, the emphasis falls on the final category - the Law is good for the Christian.

In some ways, this seems to be the problem with the New Perspectives on Paul that have been ciruclating in academia and, especially, the Presbyterian churches in America. In many ways, the NPP reacts against a more Lutheran view of the Law (which they perceive to be) as negative. The NPP thus reflects a do-able, possible law that is able to obeyed.

However, this is not in keeping with Scripture. The glories of God's Law found in Psalm 119 need to be balanced against Paul's indictment of humanity from the Law in Romans 3. Both need to be held in tension, and neither should be lost.

Luther's remarks are terrific... except for his very last statement:
This is the proper use of the law, and here it hath an end, and it ought to go no further.
But here the Reformed respond and say, "No, it needs to go farther. The Law of God plays an important part in every day living for the Christian." Yes, the Lutheran emphasis on Law for justification is important, but not to the exclusion of Law for sanctification. Perhaps there is a logical primacy to the second use of the Law, but not an ultimate primacy. What good is justification if sanctification does not follow? And there is no sanctification without justification. So the two are equally necessary.

In defense of Luther, there is an important sense in which he is correct. For instance, a person is overcome by their sinfulness - no doubt by the convicting power of the Spirit through the Law - and trusts in Christ alone for the forgiveness of their sins and salvation. The person is justified. Now, his relationship to the Law is far different. When Christ commands us to love another as He has loved us and as we love ourselves, the way this is played out practically is by looking to the Law as to how to love one another. After all, the first table (commandments 1 - 4) are how to love God, while the second table (commandments 5 - 10) deal with loving our neighbors. So now the justified Christian is looking to the Law for how to live. However, as he goes about his days, he will see constant failure to fully live up to what is required of him. His only hope is to flee to Christ. Therefore, in a real sense the Law, an aid to his sanctification, is once again driving him to Christ. In this sense, there is a circular path to tread: the Law drives us to Christ, we humbly love as God commands us (in the Law), we realize our shortcomings, and flee back to Christ.

The Law/Gospel contrast is unfortunately difficult in a day and age in which it is so rarely preached and taught. However, it is of the utmost importance. I will weigh in on this more later.

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Transplanted from the artic blight of Minnesota to the sunny paradise of SoCal, I am attending school and learning to say "dude." I like to think of myself as equal parts surf rash, Batman, heavy metal, Levinas, poetic license, and reformational. Other than creating blund blogs, I enjoy reading, sporting, and socializing with serious and funny people.
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