Monthly Archives: May 2019

C.F.W. Walther’s Talk on God’s Law and My Talk on God’s Law

The measure of very little.

(Note: my last post for a while. Summer break…)


I don’t mean that statement as praise of what we today call “human beings”.

I mean that both in the sense of quiet exclamation and as a key topic of this post….

I’m talking about W. H. T. Dau’s Preface to C.F.W. Walther’s Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel.

Yes, it was written way back in 1928, but nevermind that… I was glad to take this ride again, and if follows below for you too.

You will find that there is some very strong “second use of the law” here (that is, the law as a mirror that shows us our sins): the concrete sins addressed below being those of the first table of the Ten Commandments (in sum, we are to fear, love, and trust in God above all things…)

I’ve put in italics things that stand out to me, given recent discussions and debates in the Confessional Lutheran world…

“When I hear Nadia Bolz-Weber, I hear the Gospel” — many a “conservative Lutheran” a couple years ago. Today?

In sum, I find all of that which follows to be rather excellent. While Dau does not allude directly to the fact that a conscience can be seared, an important topic that is little discussed today, I note he does say this: “[fallen man] loved to cheat himself by believing that he was complying with the Law of God, which he had grossly changed by his wanton misrepresentations….”

To be sure though, ultimately, this too, is true:

“No single or concerted effort of lawless spirits and men can put [the moral law] out of commission.”

Again though, as I think Dau alludes to above, this does not mean that the Law of God – not just a general sense that there is indeed a God and a right and wrong that we should apply to all – cannot become increasingly suppressed, ignored, denied, in the hearts and minds of most in this or that people… In other words, as he says, the “Law of God,” which they might tell themselves they are complying with has been altered more and more….

Hatred of God, His Christ, and His Kingdom grows… even as all kinds of nice things are said about Jesus in this or that context. I submit that unless we give real attention to the progressive sanctification Dau alludes to, we will, increasingly, go with that flow.

Whether it be outside or inside the church we know…

In these last days, I do indeed recommend reading the whole of Walther’s great work, freely available here. And please – don’t believe for a minute that he was the forebearer of the “Gospel reductionism” and “antinomianism” that is now engulfing us more and more…

And here also, as promised, is a bit from the recent talk I gave on the Law’s “Third Use” in the context of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. I hope you find the short outline helpful…

Let’s jump into Dau’s great introduction of Walther’s great work….


The treatise which is herewith offered to the public will be found, in the last analysis, to be a searching study of the will of God as related to the will of man.

From Genesis to Revelation, the Scriptures teach us that the will of God is directed towards man along two distinct lines. While the divine will itself is always one and never self-contradictory, it operates from distinct purposes and for distinct ends. But no matter how it operates, the element of man’s sin is always a factor in its operations. The will of God is related to the possibility and actuality of man’s sinning and exerts itself in two peculiar ways, against man’s sin and all its effects, by denouncing, opposing, fighting, and destroying them.

In the first place, God has willed, is now willing, and will never cease willing, that man shall not sin. Sin is the absolute negation of that moral rule and order which God has set up for the universe that He created and in which He placed man as His foremost creature. Sin is lawlessness and constitutes the doer thereof a rebel against the righteous rule of His sovereign Lord.

God created man in His own image. That means that the original human being whom the almighty Maker of heaven and earth and all their substance fashioned from a clod of earth and made a living soul by breathing into him the breath of life, — that this original, primeval man was holy and righteous as his Creator is. He was holy because His entire being, body, soul, and spirit, with all their faculties and functions throughout man’s life on earth, were consecrated solely and entirely to the service of God in whatever station the divine Ruler might place him or to whatever task He might appoint. He was righteous because his essence and actions were in perfect conformity with the will of his Maker. His human intellect, will, and affections were at no point out of harmony with the divine intellect, will and affections. God had put the attributes of holiness and righteousness which exist in him as His very essence into man as created gifts and as reflections of that perfection which exists in Him essentially.

God has worked into the very nature of man the rule of right — of being right and doing right. This rule has been permanently fixed in man. St. Paul says it is “written” in man’s heart. Even sin does not wholly eradicate it; for the pagans, who are without a divine code of law, still do “by nature” the things contained in the code of Law which God published at a later time. Accordingly, what God is by a law of His own and in autonomous fashion, that man is to be by submitting to his divine Ruler and Potentate and in a heteronomous fashion. In God, holiness and righteousness are the characteristics of the one Sublime, Sovereign Being, to whom no one can issue a command or lay down a law. In man, holiness and righteousness are concreated characteristics of an intelligent creature of God that was made dependent upon, and subaltern to, God, of a being that was never meant to be a law unto himself or the sole arbiter of his volitions, judgments, and desires, or answerable to no one for what he might choose to do.

Of this fact, that a divine norm of holiness and righteousness is implanted in him, man is made aware by a faculty which his Maker created for him when he made man in His likeness. This faculty is called the conscience in man. It is the natural, instinctive ability of man to apply the divine rule of right to himself, to his moral state, at any given moment of his existence and to any action of his or to any failure to act when action is demanded of him. While the divine norm of right implanted may be viewed as a judge who measures actions by the law and the testimony of witnesses and renders a decision, declaring a person guilty or not guilty.

Furthermore, man is made conscious by the forces of nature that he is living in a moral universe. This great, wide world and its history through nearly sixty centuries is a witness of God’s sovereign rule over man and serves only for the glory of God. Its powers are spent for the benign purposes of the great Creator; its forces move in a heavenly rhythm to silent laws which He made for them. Man discoveres that this world was not made to sin in; that even the laws of nature resist the effort to sin, and the brute and inanimate creatures rebel, as it were, against being pressed into service to sin. Man finds out that it is really more proper, easier, and more advantageous not to sin in a world like ours and that under existing conditions a person invariably makes life here hard for himself and others by sinning. Fully to suit sinners, the world would have to be made over again.

The divine norm of right concreated in the first human being and transferred in the course of natural propagation from him to all his descendants was afterwards published in writing in the form of “Ten Words,” or commandments, and delivered by Moses to the chosen people of Israel, whom God has made the standard-bearers of the norm of righteousness in a morally decaying world, and the keepers of His oracles which from time to time He communicated to mankind through inspired writers. These Ten Words, or the Decalog, which were published more than two thousand yours after the creation of Adam, formed the subject of many a discourse delivered to the followers of the true God in Old Testament times by their prophets, teachers, priests, lawyers, and scribes and in New Testament times by Jesus Christ and His apostles. The inspired records of all those deliverances is called “the Law” in Holy Scripture and in the theological literature of the Church.

The unwritten law in men’s hearts and the conscience have revealed their existence in the efforts of natural man to do right, to lead an upright life, to serve his fellow-men and his country, to practice the virtue of religiousness and the domestic and civil virtues. The laws of nations, the ethical codes of society, are emanations and manifestations of the ineradicable notion of right and wrong implanted in man’s heart, or of the natural Moral Law. The fearful operations of this Law are also exhibited in every device which the retributive justice of legislators and courts has set up for the punishment of wrong-doing and the protection of the good. Furthermore, the terrors of the Law are produced in every human heart under the smitings of the conscience, which rivets his guilt upon the wrong-doer. The nemesis exhibited in the old Greek drama, in Shakespeare, and in every great drama since is nothing else than the cry of despair wrung from guilty souls by the accusing and damning conscience.

The Moral Law, in both its unwritten and written form, is made ever-enduring. No single or concerted effort of lawless spirits and men can put it out of commission. There will never be a time while this universe lasts when men will not feel the power of the Moral Law in their private and public lives; nor will the Moral Law ever lack advocates, defenders, and champions amidst the growing corruptions of the decadent world hastening to its final collapse. To the end of all things, up to the bar of the last assizes, and beyond the crack of doom the holy and righteous will of God will be asserted throughout eternity by the rightly reprobated in their endless, legally inflicted misery and by the Righteous One in heaven, who has made Himself the end of the Law to all who believe in Him.

“The end of the Law,” — is Paul really justified to apply a phrase like that to an interminable matter like the divine rule of right and wrong? Yes; for God, who maintains His moral rule over men forever through the expression of His holy and righteous will in the Law, has willed, in the second place, that the breakers of His Law shall be given another chance to become righteous in His sight. The Hater of sin and sinners (Rom. 5, 10; Eph. 2, 3) is at the same time the Lover of sinners, and He has declared His good and gracious intentions to the breakers of His Law by the same serious, energetic, and complete will which has been expressed in His holy and righteous Law.

This second manifestation of the will of God for the secure of sinners from the fatal effects of their sinning, viewed from our position in time and space, has occurred after, and in consequence of, sin’s coming into the world. To us this second manifestation of the divine will looks like an after thought, somewhat like this: After beholding the wreckage which the sinner has made of the original plan of the Creator concerning him, the Creator, instead of inflicting inexorably the condign punishment with which He had threatened the sinner, arrested Himself, as it were, in His avenging act and proposed to the sinner a way of escape from the doom of temporal corruption and eternal destruction which the sinner had merited. But this view would not be altogether correct.

To God nothing is an accident. He knows events before they occur, and He determines beforehand the limits of each happening. While in no causal relation to sin, God had forseen in eternity its entrance into the world and in eternity had prepared those safeguards against the ravages of sin which He afterwards proclaimed in the form of compassionate, merciful comforting promises which He made to men in their ruined condition under sin. How these two forms of the divine will can coexist in God passes our comprehension, but that they always do exist in God at the same time, God has declared throughout His written revelation. In fact, the entire Bible which He breathed into the holy writers, from Moses to John, is nothing else than a continuous account and exposition of both His holy and righteous and His good and gracious will. While the former has been called the Law, the latter has been given the endearing name of the Gospel, that is, the goodly, or godly, spell, or tale — so good that it could only come from God. The entire Scriptures, which are chronologically divided into the Old and the New Testaments, are topically, or logically, divided into the Law and Gospel, both of these running through both Testaments.

In expounding to sinners His good and gracious will, God has stated in detail what all He purposes to do in order to help the sinner out of His sinful state. He has declared that in this divine endeavor to reclaim the sinner the entire holy Trinity is to be at work. As the manifestation of the holy and righteous will is a manifestation by the entire Deity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, so the manifestation of the good and gracious will embraces an account, not only of the loving and gracious counsel of God in eternity, but also of the redeeming work performed by the Son of God and the sanctifying work of the Holy Ghost here in time. The contents of the Gospel have been enumerated by Christians it the three articles of the Apostles’ Creed, as the contents of the Law have been condensed in the Ten Commandments.

The Gospel, then, represents a profoundly thoughtful, elaborate, and orderly scheme of God to bring renegade man out of his rebel condition under sin into a state of loyalty to God under the Gospel. The sinner’s rescue from his wretched condition by God’s Gospel plan consists in this, that the sinner is told not only that God loves him in spite of his sin, but that He so loves the sinner, who is by nature a child of wrath, as to sacrifice His own Son for him and to send the Holy Spirit into his heart to produce in him repentance over his sins and faith in the divine forgiveness of his sins. The love of God for sinners of which the Gospel speaks is not like the easy-going attitude which an indolent and indulgent parent assumes to his libertine son, when he tells him not to bother his mind about his wrong-doing and its consequences, to forget it, and to consider himself still loved by his doting sire. No; the redemptive love of God works in conjunction with the righteousness and holiness of God. These divine attributes which God expounded to man in the Law are not put out of commission by the love of God, but without destroying the sinner, as He has threatened to do, God by His redeeming love finds a way to meet the demands which God’s righteousness and holiness make upon man and to execute the lawful punishment which the sinner has incurred by breaking God’s Law. God sent His Son, coequal and coessential with Himself, on earth in the form of a human being. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was made man and placed under the Law that had been issued to man for the purpose of fulfilling it in man’s place. Through the sinless life of Christ on earth under every condition and in every relationship which the Law of God determines for man, a treasurer of righteousness has been accumulated that balances even with all the demands of the divine Law. This treasure Christ did not collect for Himself; for He was in no need of it, being both the holy and righteous God and a holy and righteous man, who never did the least wrong in thought, word, or deed. This treasure was designed by God to be given away to every sinner as his own and to be regarded by God as the sinner’s righteousness. In other words, God in His love decreed that the sinner, who had lost the original righteousness in which he had been created and who had spent his life in unrighteousness, should be made righteous by proxy, viz., by the foreign righteousness of the Son of God, who had spent His earthly life under the Law as the sinner’s Substitute, in the sinner’s place.

Furthermore, the sinless, impeccable Christ, at the end of His sojourn among men, suffered death, which no one has to undergo except sinners; for death is the wages of sin. There is only one explanation of the death of the incarnate Son of God — it is substitutive, or vicarious, just like His life under the Law. Jesus died the death which sinners had deserved to die, and by His redeeming love, God purposes to regard the death of His Son as the death which He would have to inflict upon every sinner for breaking His Law.

The Gospel, then, embraces the entire work of Christ on earth, as the evangelical Teacher of men, as their evangelical High Priest, who makes atonement for their iniquities, and as their evangelical Regent, who sets up a new rule in their rebellious hearts by the power of His love.

By his first sinful act man had not only changed his relation to God from that of a loyal subject and loving friend to that of a mutinous rebel and hating enemy, but he had also changed his spiritual condition. The first sin was evidence that the human intellect, will, and affections no longer functioned as they had in the state of innocence; they had become blind, crooked, perverse, disorderly. Out of this changed condition other sinful acts kept springing up, and this condition was passed on from father to child by natural propagation. The blight which had fallen on the bright intellect, the strong will, and the correct desires of Adam and Even in the fatal hour of their first disobedience was inherited by their descendants.

Fallen man no longer understood fully the will of God, no longer purposed to live according to that will, no longer desired to please God. Despite the thundering accusations of the divine Law and his conscience against him he continued to live for his pleasures and defied God continually. But he loved to cheat himself by believing that he was complying with the Law of God, which he had grossly changed by his wanton misrepresentations. He managed to consider himself passing fair and even better in God’s sight, and he suppressed the misgivings and scruples that would arise in him by reckless indifference or licentiousness or by increased hypocrisy. Of the divine Law, then, he still retained a partial knowledge, but had no inclination sincerely to live up even to his partial knowledge, and of the divine Gospel of the forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake he could have no knowledge, for by nature no man knew of this divine plan of salvation.

The good and gracious will of God, then, had to embrace this kindness, that, after His Son had completed His work of redemption in the sinner’s place on earth, God sent His Holy Spirit to men by means of His Word. The Holy Spirit was to lead men to a true knowledge of their wretched and hopeless condition as lawbreakers and lead them to genuine spiritual sorrow over their sins, crush their natural conceit and stubbornness, and make them contrite. Next He was to make them understand the wonderful kindness of God in sending His Son to be their Savior; He was to make them accept by an act of faith the work of Christ as performed in their place, and then teach them to lead holy and righteous lives from gratitude to God and after the pattern of Christ’s life, until God would advance them after a life of progressive sanctification to be coheirs of Christ in everlasting glory.

Since God confronts man at all times both by His holy and righteous and by His good and gracious will, He wants him to understand clearly at any moment of his life on earth what his relation to God is when measured by either will. This is a task easy enough to grasp intellectually, but quite difficult to carry out amid the vicissitudes of a life in a world steeped in wickedness and with a body every prone to sin. The task is to keep the Law and the Gospel of God strictly apart, using either for the better understanding of the other, but never mingling the teaching of the one into that of the other.

Dr. Walther’s treatise on this subject has been reproduced in this volume. It is one of the most searching disquisitions of the vitals of a truly Christian life. The reader will find in this treatise amazing insights opened up for him into his own inner life and that of other Christians and fellow-men in general.

  1. H. T. Dau
    Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, Ind.,
    Thanksgiving Day, 1928.
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Posted by on May 16, 2019 in Uncategorized


The Notes I’ll Have at Hand to Help Me in Today’s Q and A

“Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.”

— David, in Psalm 1:1,2.


Today, I am blessed to be presenting at this conference. The title of my paper is “The Third Use of the Law, ‘Seminex,’ and Today: Fatal Denial”.

I won’t be able to publish the text of my talk on the blog here, but I will put up an outline with some quotes relatively soon (a week?). I am however, putting up the notes that I’ll be using to assist me in any Q and A today after my talk.

I hope you find them interesting and edifying.

Blessings in Christ,



With the way I am defining the third use of the law, it leaves open the option of gently exhorting and almost pleading (on the basis of the mercies of God), not just killing with the law (2nd use), or rebuking old Adam (“1st use for the Christian”)… This use is only possible because you are dealing with one who has faith in Christ.

The law must be defined as the immutable will of God, and we must preach it to the regenerate as those who are regenerate, fully aware of the sinner-saint battle (this needs to be taught as well). Epitome VI is quite clear that the preacher has a role in this as the “use” of the law is not just how its received (that plays into to hands of Forde… it really gets the focus off the content, i.e. “fixed rule” of the law….)…


Marquart: “Sanctification and good works clearly do not dominate Reformation preaching, but they’re equally clearly an important part of it. This is important because the new creation in us is under constant attack by the devil, the world, and our own flesh. This new creation in us needs encouragement and care! To ignore it, to preach as if we had no new creation in us, but only the wicked old flesh, is to break the bruised reed, and to quench the smoldering wick, contrary to Isaiah 42 (cf. St. Matthew 12:20). We preachers need to encourage our hearers as they battle for what is good and right and God-pleasing in their daily lives.” (emphasis mine)


Walther goes on to quote Luther here: “Paul shows the nature of exhortation, which is only for Christians, when he writes, ‘I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God’ (Rom. 12:1). Luther comments ‘He (Paul) does not say: I command you; for he is preaching to those who are already pious Christians, in the new man, through faith, who are not to be forced with commands but rather exhorted so that they willingly do what is to be done with their sinful old man. For whoever does not do it willingly, through friendly exhortation alone, is not Christian. And whoever forces it by laws from the unwilling is already no Christian preacher [but] a worldly jailer. A law-driver urges with threats and rebukes; a grace-preacher draws and encourages with demonstrated divine kindness and mercy. For he wants no unwilling works and unhappy service. He wants joyous and happy service to God. He who is not moved and drawn by such a sweet, dear Word of God’s mercy, granted and given to us so abundantly in Christ, so that he also does it with love and will for God’s glory and his neighbor’s benefit, is nothing and everything is lost on him’ (Church Postille on the Epistle for the First Sunday after Epiphany [Rom. 12:1-5]; Erlangen, VIII, 5f.), 69-70, emphasis mine.


Walther: “As to the apostles, no sooner had their hearers shown that they were alarmed than they seemed to know nothing else to do for them than to comfort them and pronounce absolution to them. Not until that had been done, would they say to their people: ‘Now you must show your gratitude toward God.’ They did not issue orders; they did not threaten when their orders were disregarded, but they pleaded and besought their hearers by the mercy of God to act like Christians” (94, in Law and Gospel).


Luther: “The law is not to be taught in such a way among the pious, so as to accuse and condemn, but so as to admonish to good. . . . The law then is to be attenuated for them and is to be taught them by way of exhortation.” Martin Luther, and Holger Sonntag. Solus Decalogus, (Minneapolis, MN: Lutheran Press, Inc, 2008), 211, 213 ; WA 39/1:474.29–475.2.


For Protestants, preaching has always been a primary component of the church’s life together. Two of the main contributors to the Lutheran “Book of Concord,” Martin Chemnitz and Jacob Andreae gave a clear explanation of what sermons should be all about “in our Lutheran congregations”:

“Preachers should be diligent not to preach in generalities, but always to arrange the material according to these parts: sin; God’s wrath and punishment of sin; contrition, remorse, anxiety of the conscience, etc.; the resolve to abandon and avoid sin; the person of Christ; His office and merit; God’s grace; the forgiveness of sin; faith; the good fruits of faith, such as the good resolve to do better, good works, patience in suffering, etc. This is done so that in the sermons, the teaching may always have its application or accommodation to use, as the doctrine should be used in the best way.”


From Holger Sonntag’s unpublished paper “God’s Last Word”, (available at

“Every deliberate use of the law by the preacher (or the individual Christian) as anything other than stern condemnation is regarded as an attempt to manipulate God’s unchanging Word in order to let the sinner get off easy, a practice that will turn them inevitably into secure Pharisees. We just ought to preach ‘the law’ and then just let the Holy Spirit use it as he wills – a view also upheld by [Scott] Murray.”


Scott Murray’s position: “[the third use of the law] ’gives direction for the impulses of the Christian to do good works’ (14) or, as he states later, ‘The third use is the description of how the Law functions under the Gospel’ (56).  This third use is ‘the use of the Law that applies to Christians after conversion’ (13). Throughout his text Murray defines the “‘Law’ as God’s ‘objective and eternally valid legal code’ (44 et passim).” in Matthew Becker, “Murray’s Law, Life, and the Living God (Review Article)”,

In his book, Murray also talks about Hermann who “took the Law out of the hands of God and set it in the hands of unholy humans.” He then talks about how “humans proclaim the law. God uses it.” Murray, Law, Life and the Living God, 66.


Werner Elert, with more confusing theology: “Law is not moral prescriptions, but is instead the ominous destiny that hangs over every sinner’s head.”


Werner Elert, who stated that “[a]ccording to the Law the hope for reward and the fear of punishment are legitimate motives for the keeping of it.” Since Elert saw the law of God entirely through the lens of the first (the political use) and second use of the law (the theological, or pedogogical use), this might seem to make some real sense. The third use, after all, speaks to the renewed man, not the unregenerate one who operates “from fear of punishment or desire for reward” (FC VI:16). And yet, note here that if Elert really believes what he is saying, he has gotten the second use of the law flat-out wrong! And is it not true that in even a missionary and pastoral context, using the law to convict of sin necessarily entails not only talking about sins that “hit home with” and are relevant to the one being preached to, but also talking about a lack of fear, love, and trust in God as well?


Don’t accept cheap law substitutes. Is the law really good, or is it just “good” in the sense that follows?:

In the end, this also all relates to the atonement, and ideas like those of Gerhard Forde, who believe that Jesus was “justly accused by God’s law”. See more on this in my post: “Jesus Became Sin – But Did He Also Become a Sinner According to God’s Law?” What it comes down to is this: Christ ends up a damned sinner, “defeated” by that most coercive and even killing of forces: the merciless “order keeping” law! What do I mean? By “order keeping” I mean something like this: law is not necessarily associated first and foremost – or at all! — with God’s law, the 10 commandments, but is rather anything which provides boundaries, “makes life work,” and keeps peace – all good things! What really is true, right, and just may not even need to be considered here, as this story from a good friend of mine illustrates: “In Kindergarten I was accused of and punished for throwing a snowball at recess. I had not done it. Oddly enough, 45 years later, it still kind of hurts to think about. In other words, even though I was not guilty of the sin for which I was punished, there was significant suffering involved on my part. I didn’t need to be the sinner to suffer for the sin of whoever did commit that sin. Although that is what I, for all intents and purposes, became. And justice was served. The boy hit by the snowball in the face, and his parents, were satisfied. The teacher and principal upheld the law. My classmates learned from my experience.” By “merciless,” I mean that the law, though “good” in an earthly sense, ultimately fails because it does not have the good of particular persons in mind – even Jesus!…


Clearly the concrete Christian learns. An issue here though, I think, is whether or not the Christian as Christian is ever educated as Christian, as inner man. Yes, He is never educated where one attempts to coerce him by way of compulsion, but what about where education in God’s law is attempted as information earnestly presented for the good of the neighbor, in line with how and why we were created? I realize the part about the new man being like the planets that run their course appears to challenge this line of interpretation….

“And, indeed, if the believing and elect children of God were completely renewed in this life by the indwelling Spirit, so that in their nature and all its powers they were entirely free from sin, they would need no law, and hence no one to drive them either, but they would do of themselves, and altogether voluntarily, without any instruction, admonition, urging or driving of the Law, what they are in duty bound to do according to God’s will; just as the sun, the moon, and all the constellations of heaven have their regular course of themselves, unobstructed, without admonition, urging, driving, force, or compulsion, according to the order of God which God once appointed for them, yea, just as the holy angels render an entirely voluntary obedience.” (emphasis mine)

Lange says that “According to Luther, the new man (Christian qua Christian) is a complete and perfect creature in which the believer (Christian in concreto) strives to be found through faith in Christ Jesus.” Lange, Jonathan G. 1994. “Using the Third Use: Formula of Concord VI and the Preacher’s Task.” Logia 3 (1): 19–25. Elert says “insofar as the regenerate are empowered by the Holy Spirit, they do not need the law at all.” Elert, Werner. 1949. “The Third Use of the Law.” The Lutheran World Review 1 (3): 38–48. I note that in each case this not what the text says in the Formula of Concord (or, with Lange’s quote, the sermon of Luther’s that FC VI mentions). Regarding Elert, if he were interested in comporting with FC VI, he should have said something like: “insofar as the regenerate are completely renewed by the Holy Spirit…” Most accurately, the text is dealing with a hypothetical. If the regenerate were completely renewed…. See also Eggold, Henry J, Jr. 1963. “Third Use of the Law.” Springfielder 27 (1): 15–23, who makes the same point. And Ken Schurb also refutes Elert’s claim that Melanchthon said that the Christian needed the law insofar as he was a new man in Christ. Ken Schurb, Philip Melanchthon, the Formula of Concord, and the Third Use of the Law (PhD diss., Ohio State University, 2001), 142.

Digging into FC VI more, what makes this statement from FC VI very interesting is the point that no instruction would be needed if this were the case (which it most definitely is not!). Does the phrase “completely renewed” go hand-in-hand with innocence – or, instead perfection (i.e. completeness, maturity?). On the one hand, one can make a case for innocence, in that “completely renewed” is explained in part by the phrase “entirely free from sin”. One does not need to be mature to be entirely free from sin, even if one might need this, perhaps, to be free from temptation! In any case, I suggest that, biblically speaking, it makes sense to think of it as going hand-in-hand with totally maturity, and hence the FC uses the important phrase “completely renewed” here. Critical here is the fact that the boy Jesus learns and grows, matures… (see pastor Paul Strawn’s sermon on this here:… and is perfected. And presumably, instruction from the word of God, in part from the law, has something to do with this! (or did Jesus never learn anything from his parents or teachers?). And of course He was always completely a new man, even prior to being a completely mature new man!

And if this is the case, what then, might this mean for us and our growth? Again, “completely renewed” in this life, is, in the end, not a possibility, for it suggests total maturity before heaven, where, because of the Word of God which we have learned in our heart though the Holy Ghost (and how does this begin to get there if not through instruction in this life from other persons who give us God’s, not their, teaching?), we “do freely of themselves what God requires of them, by the prompting and impulse of the Holy Ghost, just as the sun of itself, without any [foreign] impulse, completes its ordinary course…”

Again, I note that this whole section from FC VI is a thought experiment, and one which, it seems, is ultimately not very helpful for our current debate. As it stands, I think insisting on statements “[t]he Christian is both old and new simultaneously. We are not old and new partly but wholly,” (Mattes, Mark C. 2005. “Beyond the Impasse: Re-Examining the Third Use of the Law,” 275) close off discussions concerning the nature of Christian anthropology that need to happen (see the paper from Paul Strawn summed up and linked to here: “The Saint-Sinner Christian Life: Driving out the Sin that Remains,”, as well as my paper “Paradise Regained: Placing Nicholas Hopman’s Lex Aeterna Back in Luther’s Frame.”


My blog post: Top Ten Law Sections of the New Testament Epistles That Can Encourage the Christian

Christian brothers and sisters who want to talk all the time about “radical grace”… now please don’t get me wrong.

I think I understand pretty well why you want to do what you do. Therefore, let me make some things very clear from the get-go:

  • There are passages in the New Testament Epistles that almost always[i] encourage the Christian because they are about what God, in His great love, has done for us in the life of Jesus Christ. They are specifically constructed to give us this gift, help us remember and reflect on this gift, and tell us who we are by this gift, and we find ourselves, first and foremost, receiving or passively consenting to these truths in joy. I’m not going to deal with these “pure Gospel” passages.
  • There are passages in the New Testament Epistles, even outside of Romans 1-3[ii], that tend to condemn us. They tell us as Christians to avoid sinful thoughts, words, and deeds, that we, since we remain sinners until we die (that’s why we die!), always continue to entertain at some level. As they tell us what not to do, they deal with God’s law. I’m also not dealing with these below.
  • Regarding what I do deal with below, these passages tell us what to do (therefore they are also rightly called “law”). Please note that I am not saying that I am empowered by these words that follow. They, in fact, also at times bring a very strong sense of condemnation in me!

But you see, I do know the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which does empower me. Which does motivate me. Which – since it has, thanks be to God, been driven into me like a nail – does change me from the inside out (Eph. 3:16, 2 Cor. 4:16).

This makes all the difference.

(speaking of exclamation points, in what follows, I removed lots of explanation points from my original draft. Feel free to add them yourselves!).

And I know that many of you “radical grace” persons also know this Gospel — this breath-taking-ly amazing good news. Jesus Christ has rescued us from this “passing-away” world, this “present age”, death, the devil, ourselves…. He has died for the sins of the whole world – even ours. Even mine. Through Him, we have been adopted into the family of God and are His own precious child.

Amazing! (I left that explanation point in)

And insofar as we are new in Christ, we are a new man. And qua new man, we know that these commands are exactly the kinds of word our flesh, our old man, our “old Adam,” needs.

We need to put that self that is dying, that false self — that being who clings to what Peter calls “the empty way of life” – down (see Gal. 5:16-17).

Me to – as an individual part of that body. It’s like Paul said in Gal. 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Mystery of mysteries. Grace of graces. I, like Paul, want to live in Christ to!

In His way.

As a new creation raised to new life who delights in His holy will! His lex aeterna.

For He is good and holy, and I want to be this to! Not so that I can be accepted before Him, but because He, through Christ’s blood and righteousness, has accepted me! As Christ was and is, so shall we be.[iii]

Therefore, that we may be His hands for the sake of all our neighbors whom He dearly loves, I give you these fine words that remind us who we are in Him – and who we are becoming… are to become.

And – of course – what He desires for our neighbor to become in Christ by faith as well.

(I’ve also italicized some of the parts that either explicitly or implicitly refer back to the Gospel which grounds all such exhortations)

  1. II Thesalonians 3:7-10

For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.

Comment: OK, I’ll admit it. This comment encourages me because that last sentence gives me some “teeth” when it comes to dealing with my sometimes ungrateful and lazy children. Oh, and that describes me to sometimes, doesn’t it?

  1. Philippians 2:14-16

14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.

Comment: That first phrase really smacked me down the other day. Sometimes, I complain and grumble a lot, and that is clearly not an attractive quality. I like the idea of being able to leave that behind completely, and evidently, the watching world likes that idea as well. It’s encouraging to think that God knows this is hard for us, wants us to be honest, and yet will give us the hope and strength in Christ to make progress even now. Down old Adam! Shut up with your whining! The neighbor depends on your fearing and trembling! (see previous verse) I have all things in Christ!

  1. I Thessalonians 4:10-12

…we urge you, brothers, to [love one another] more and more, 11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.

Comment: The idea of living quietly and working with one’s hands – to the end that one need not [overly] depend on others but rather give to others, no doubt helping them to do the same – is very appealing, is it not?

  1. Philippians 4:4-8

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness[a] be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Comment: I love that we are exhorted to not be anxious. Also that we are to think about all these good things that are worthy of praise – even in a fallen, sin-infected world! The Apostle Paul is someone who was clearly familiar with great and praiseworthy things in the Greco-Roman world, and we to can be encouraged to think about God’s goodness and providential working in our own cultural contexts.

  1. 2 Timothy 2:24-26

24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

Comment: How would I want others who are concerned that I am ignorant, blind, and misled to treat me? Like this. Hard words are more readily accepted in a relationship where you are convinced that the other person is not trying to “win” or use you – or worse – but to really help you.

  1. 1 Peter 3:15-16

15 .…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

Comment: I am glad that we are told to share the hope that we have in Christ with gentleness and respect. Thank God Jesus is God. I am also glad that we are told to defend our faith, because this implies that good reasons can be given to others, which in turn implies that God values the rational intellect in service to Him.

  1. Ephesians 4:1-4

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Comment: We are told here to maintain, or keep, or treasure that unity that we are given by Christ and His Spirit (through His word). Contra the impressions given by many “ecumenical” Christians, we are not told to create unity in the church. It is a gift given to us in Christ, and Paul urges us to walk both from this gift and in this gift.

  1. Romans 12:1-2

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Comment: In truth, the whole of what follows in Romans 12 is rather exhilarating. Check it out. Certainly, painting the picture it does, it gives us a glimpse of the kind of love and attitudes we will know in a perfect way in heaven. It sounds quite wonderful. That said, through the blood-bought forgiveness of Christ, we are blessed to receive – and live – a taste of this even now.

  1. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Comment: Correct me if I am wrong, but this verse tells me, in part, that God actually enjoys listening to me – constantly. I get the impression He is even eager to hear from me – all the time. I am just not an annoyance to Him, like I might be with others. To say the least, I am not like that with my own kids.

  1. Ephesians 4:32-5:1,2:

32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Comment: If Matthew 18 is weighing you down, read it alongside this passage. We should forgive as He forgave and continues to forgive us, out of a kind and tender heart of compassion and loyalty – love!

And yes, there are many others that I wanted to include (passages like I Thes. 2:11-13, 5:15; Colossians 4:5-6; Philippians 2:1-2)…. But this is already long enough.

As Christians we don’t live by God’s law — we live by grace through faith in Christ. That said, it’s alright for you to highlight these beautiful commands in your Bibles! In fact, given their rich understanding of the pure Gospel, I submit that Lutheran Christians in particular have a lot to offer fellow believers when it comes to a deeper understanding of Bible passages like these.

What are your top ten encouraging law-sections from the epistles? Feel free to list them below.


[i] As Martin Luther points out in his Antinomian Disputations, sometimes even the good news that Jesus died for our sins can condemn us. Why? Because we recognize that if it were not for our sinfulness – and the actual sins that result from it – Jesus would not have needed to die on the cross. Some might even despair, thinking that their own sins are so great or grievous that they could not be forgiven by God. This to, of course, is the result of a sinful pride, and this is one reason why it is important to speak both of God’s law and His gospel – so the “gospel” doesn’t get “used up” as law so that it can’t serve as real good news.

[ii] Romans 1-3 is constructed specifically with the intent to condemn us by God’s law and “shut us up.” See in particular Romans 3:19-20.

[iii] See all of the passages about perfection/completion referred to in the first footnote of this post.

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Posted by on May 8, 2019 in Uncategorized


And Now… A Message for Today’s LC-MS Mainstream

Coming soon to an LC-MS church near you. Or already here?


Sermon follows. First, prefatory material to set the stage…

C.F.W. Walther was a giant.

He was the key founder of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LC-MS), and a man of incredible passion for God and His people. In his Pastoral Theology, which was the textbook for all the pastors trained in the Missouri Synod, he offered the following heartfelt plea:

…all true Christians are of such a nature that one can accomplish all kinds of things in them through urgent exhortation. So many preachers accomplish so little in bringing Christians to good works or bringing them away from sinful living because they do not exhort, but rather demand, command, threaten and rebuke. They do not suspect what a powerful weapon they have but do not use. Upright Christians, even if burdened with various weaknesses, do not want to reject God’s word. They want to live for Him Who died for them. They no longer want to serve sin, the world, and the devil. They want to be completely renewed according to the image of God. If they hear in the exhorting preacher the voice of their gracious God, they neither can nor want to oppose it…

Maybe that worked well for Walther, right? Like Jesus said about speaking with authority!

Walther certainly had it in spades…

Years later, however, in the mid-twentieth century, some who followed Walther in church leadership would abandon their post, leaving his fiercely-held convictions far, far behind… Even while creating the impression they were his rightful theological heirs.

These men no doubt appreciated Walther’s zeal, focus on Christ’s love, and palpable pastoral warmth—and they claimed him as their own. Nevertheless they left behind his positions on issues like Biblical inerrancy, the law of God, the Christians’ sanctification, and church fellowship.

Even though we have no reason to think that what we now recognize as Walther’s classic work, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, was not graciously and warmly received by his contemporaries, these men begin to make noise about the lack of overall appreciation for Walther’s insights – and to use it as a wedge to push their own views, particularly about the Bible and God’s law (see Edward Schroeder’s candid admissions).

Eventually they threw the Missouri Synod into utter turmoil, illustrated most clearly in the events of the 1960s and 1970s, culminating with “Seminex” and the “Battle for the Bible.”

“The greatest ‘danger’ to the Gospel is the Law.” – Edward Schroeder, summing up Werner Elert as he understood him.

Exactly what happened? The Germanic captivity of the Lutheran church.

In 1948 and 1949, professors from the LC-MS begin to regularly meet with the “best and brightest” German Lutheran theologians in Bad Bol, Gemany. While F.E. Mayer gave the impression that “we went, we talked, we held our own,” (Paul Strawn, here) what really happened was that they were overwhelmed with awe. They found themselves bowing before their world-savvy theological Alphas.

The Germanic heritage of Kant, Schliermacher, Hegel, von Hoffman, Ritschl, Harnack, Heidegger and Elert was just too much….

My pastor, Paul Strawn, give his take on the situation:

The more I study, the more it seems that much of this has to do simply with pride.

Academics are so for they are not only intellectuals, but wish to be seen by the world as intellectuals–especially by other intellectuals! That being so, they must acquiesce academically to the most intellectual in their field. That is, after all, the heart of the endeavor of the scientific community: Who has come up with the latest theory? How right is it? And how must I personally change my point of view to be in continuity with it? This idea holds as true for the field of theology as it does for any other field of academic endeavor.

The end result is that true Christian theology is sacrificed on the altar of academic conceit.

Folks, the ghost of Bad Bol is still with us. And, believe me, the subtle undercutting of God’s law, and the Scriptures, has not gone away.

Don’t kiss any rings.

“After all, the fathers didn’t have the benefits of Kant’s and Hegel’s great revelations; they don’t ‘follow the world’s agenda’; they don’t ‘answer the questions “everybody” is asking nowadays,’ etc.! — Horace Hummel, appropriately pummeling intellectual conceit

If they can’t or won’t answer your honest questions…

if they don’t take kindly to being challenged about potential areas they have compromised…

if they get irritated when you try – deeply aware of your own sin — to gently help and guide others as best you can as you seek to live in the truth of God’s word… (remember I Tim. 4:12)

Then continue to love them and pray for them (and you). But be smart too, you know?

“[O]ne’s confidence is scarcely strengthened in certain would-be leaders and ‘pioneers’ who gleefully chase after almost every new theological miniskirt that chances along…” — Hummel


My friend Matthew Garnett is really smart. He has produced a couple of rousing messages in the past couple weeks, attempting to call large quarters of the LC-MS back to itself. First, on the Messed Up Church site, he gave us “A Warning about Popular Lutheran Teaching,”

And now, expanding on his comment there that “we aren’t Gollum,” he is subjecting contemporary Lutheran conceptions of “the Simul” to necessary scrutiny in his piece at my own blog, “The Disassociated Christian”.

Check these pieces out — if you think you are up for the rollicking ride He provides…

And now, as promised above, it’s my turn…

The following was written as a part of a homiletics class I recently took. Even as I wrote it, I pictured it as a message most appropriate not for the typical Christian congregation, but for a conference of pastors, theologically-inclined laypersons, or even a gathering of professors. I hope it challenges and edifies you.


….the Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations—as it is today. 16 Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer….” — Deuteronomy 10:15

(Eighteenth S. after Trinity. Texts: Deut. 10:12–21 Psalm 34:8–22 1 Cor. 1:(1–3) 4–9 Matt. 22:34–46)

In the Name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Brethren, as Paul says “I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge…”

And in our Old Testament text for this day from the book of Deuteronomy, we see a similar word about God’s gracious choice of His people. And we also see another consistency: He has always called on us to be dependent on Him – to submit to Him and obey Him because He has our good in mind:

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?

And as Martin Luther put it regarding this passage, it is only “the power of the first commandment,” which is faith, that “may rule and govern all commandments and works”. This certainly isn’t just some external thing we do… outward behaviors…but is rooted in this: for “I am the Lord your God who has delivered you!”

So “Circumsise your hearts!”

Faith begets love which begets this obedience. And today, God hasn’t now–and He didn’t then–give anyone laws which are bad.

Then, as now, following those commandments perfectly, in true faith, would have been the best thing for us and everyone else. Really, not just for the good of God’s people but for the good of all the nations… With the finest law in the land – nay the earth – at that time, Israel was to be a showcase for the nations. Here, in our text, Luther even sees in God’s words “delightful promises of God”: God is not partial! God take no bribe! He executes judgement for the fatherless, the widow! He gives food and clothing to the sojourner!

Brethren in the Lord, not much has changed. Our great God—who chose us—still reigns over all heavens, all other gods, all nations.

He is still the one who regards the least of these, and those not much in this world – you and me. And He still calls us from a life of idolatry to one of complete loyalty to Himself.

So come to the feast and circumcise your hearts!

But wait… wait…. Of course things are a little different now, you might say. With Jesus, parts of God’s law were abrogated after all–and He Himself is the end of the law! We have the insights of Dr. Luther and great men like C.F.W. Walther, who have given us even clearer guidance on what it means to really understand God’s Law and Gospel!

We know that God’s law condemns us and the Gospel frees us! We know that while the law is a force which keeps us in bondage, the Spirit, through the Word of grace, gives us life! We know that even if God’s law might be called sweet, we, being and remaining sinners can never see it that way, and should never fool ourselves into thinking we can see it that way: “there is no sweetness in the law [for us!]” we might dourly think.

Brethen, may it never be!

Jesus is not the end of the law per se, but He is the end of the law for righteousness. Now as then, this is not about our worthiness — let Him who boasts boast in the Lord! Any who seeks Divine Things but find themselves zealous in the wrong way, seeking to be justified by God’s law or even their own Law or Measure, must, if they really will be saved, find their end in Him – the end of their old and empty way of life which is passing away….

They must hear that word which produces faith, that word which gives us the only One who truly lived the life of love God intended, the only One who truly fulfilled the law.

For what do our other texts for the day show us?

In the Gospel lesson, for example, Jesus through His Holy Spirit, not only reveals Himself as the One who teaches with authority the goal, or point of all the commandments – citing His summary of them in loving God and neighbor–but, through His piercing question to the Pharisees, reveals Himself as the Divine Son of David, who, of course, will perfectly fulfill that Law of God.

So in this passage from the Gospel, the Holy Spirit is convicting the world of sin and exalting Christ, David’s Son whom he calls Lord, the One who fulfilled all the commandments of God on our behalf and for our sake by living the life of love God desires. By His tender mercies, He now calls us to fulfill his law as well.

We are commanded to believe in the Lord Jesus, the One who is vindicated by God and proves the world and its worldliness, with its own laws and its own interpretations of His laws, to be wrong. How? Because as Jesus says He – not you, not me, not them — is going to the Father… [ascending to the Father…] where you can see Him no longer….

The Psalmist tells us too, no doubt thinking about the “great and awesome wonders” of God mentioned in the Deuteronomy text, to “Taste and see that the Lord is good and take refuge in Him!”

And really, how can we not? To whom, after all, shall we go? For we who have been exposed to Him cannot help but see in this Psalm a clear picture of the Lord Jesus, who is indeed the “righteous person [who has] many troubles,” whom the Lord nevertheless “delivers….from them all…” not only “protecting his bones from being broken” but much, much more.

Resurrection. Victory. Ascension.

Listen to Him!

So, with this said, let’s revisit some of the statements I made earlier to which I replied “may it never be!”

I said: “We have the insights of Dr. Luther and great men like C.F.W. Walther, who have given us even clearer guidance on what it means to really understand God’s Law and Gospel.”

Luther indeed said the distinction between Law and Gospel was an exceptionally glorious light and that without it Scripture remained a closed book. This said, none of this means that the Law and Gospel regulate the Scriptures, but the opposite is true – we learn about, we see, law and gospel from the Scriptures. And Luther, of course, was not the first to see this great light—even if he perhaps saw it most vividly—and neither were those claiming His spiritual lineage the first to corrupt it.

Look at our epistle reading, for example. Paul comforts the Corinthians in it, and us today as well, that the Lord desires for us to be kept blameless on the last day. He will provide the means for just this!

For they, as the Apostle says, are called — together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ — to be his holy people. As He goes on to say in this letter, they, through the power of God’s Spirit, do not need to be like the Israelites who fell to idolatry, to grumbling, and to sexual immorality in the desert. No. God instructs them now and promises to provide a way out – this “[Holy] Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given by God” (I Cor. 2:12)

The whole of the book of I Corinthians, introduced to us by Paul in our other text, is an urging, on the basis of who they are in Christ, to not be stubborn but to “circumcise [their] hearts,” and renew their faith and trust in Him, the crucified giver of the Holy Spirit.

As Luther puts it: “[Christ]….wants to indicate that because of all the temptations and hindrances we face, nothing is more necessary in Christendom than continued and unceasing prayer that God would give us His grace and Spirit” (on Matt. 7:11)

What about this one I mentioned?: “We know that God’s law condemns us and the Gospel frees us! We know that while the law is a force which keeps us in bondage, the Spirit, through the Word of grace, gives us life!”

Do not be stiff-necked brethren. Remember, the Lord set his affection on your spiritual ancestors and loved them, blessing them with the true teaching of the Lord Jesus and His apostles – and he chose you, their spiritual descendants, above all the nations of this world—as it is today. You are God’s holy nation, His holy people, and you know that from the beginning, God meant all His commands for our good. Even in Eden, God did not mean for His commandment to be some eternal principal or force which would always coerce us and keep us in bondage. Be the law Yin to the Gospel Yang.

No – our ancestors failed as we fail to fear, love, and trust in God above all things! To grow in the “very goodness” of creation – the truly spiritual life that God had blessed us with. If we dare to call God’s law a “negative force” it is because we have become negative in our sins, in sin, corrupting ourselves, corrupting our nature, and with it our views of God’s law, which is always fulfilled in love.

What about that last phrase I mentioned? “We know that even if God’s law might be called sweet, we, being and remaining sinners can never see it that way, and should never fool ourselves into thinking we can see it that way: “there is no sweetness in the law [for us!]” we might dourly think”

This, my friends, is a lie from the Accuser who uses the law to our condemnation and not for our good. It is true, of course, insofar as we take breath in this earthly life we will not be free from sin, and therefore the law cannot but haunt and accuse us. We will do nothing from a truly pure heart like we ought. We will learn nothing of the goodness of His law without tainting it with our own sinful perceptions, desires, motivations. We will fulfill no action with the heart of Christ for our neighbor who also embodies Christ for us.

Nevertheless, there is sweetness in the law and we new creatures know it! For in Christ, the Law’s guilt and accusation are taken away! As Luther notes, when we know Christ and bear His easy yoke “everything within is sweet and pleasant…[we willingly do and suffer everything…” For we are redeemed in the blood of the Lamb and so this is the truth.

We can see that God’s law is fulfilled in love, and offers a picture not only of what we are not, but of what we should be, and, through faith, will be!

We can see that the fear, love, and trust in God above all things – and the love of neighbor as one’s self (especially with the family of God!) – should be at the center of everything, not bringing worldly health and wealth, but nevertheless beginning to bring real harmony and shalom, peace, to this world.

Back to our Psalm for the day:

Come, my children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord….

 The Lord will rescue his servants;
no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.

Come Lord Jesus, our only Refuge and our only Strength.


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Posted by on May 4, 2019 in Uncategorized


The Dissociative Christian: Approaches to Simul Justus Et Peccator and Romans Seven That Fragment the Christian

“Here, it is argued, that the Christian is made up of two personalities: the “old man in Adam” and the “new man in Christ”. — Matthew Garnett


By Matthew J. Garnett

[editorial comment: the bold are mine, Nathan’s, not Matthew’s. Also, hope you will tune in tomorrow as I talk about the the Germanic captivity of the Lutheran Church and a Message for the Confessional Lutheran Mainstream]

Gollum: Too risky, Too risky. Thieves! They stole It from us. Kill them, kill them, kill them both! Shhh! Quiet! Mustn’t wake them! Mustn’t ruin it now!

Sméagol: But they knows! They knows! They suspects us!

Gollum: What’s it saying, my precious, my love? Is Sméagol losing his nerve?

Sméagol: No! Not! Never! Sméagol hates nasty hobbitses! Sméagol wants to see them… dead!

Gollum: And we will. Sméagol did it once. He can do it again.

Sméagol: It’s ours! Ours! We must get the Precious! We must get It back!

The Lord of the Rings:  Return of the King (2003 Film)

In her latest book, Shameless, Nadia Bolz-Weber discusses a woman in her congregation she calls “Cindy”. Cindy is a lesbian who was reared in a fundamentalist Pentecostal setting. She was often told how aberrant sexual behavior was offensive to God and was often the result of some form of demon possession. According to Weber’s account, Cindy wanted to be a good Christian and follow God’s commands, but she had a problem. She had strong, romantic feelings for another girl. These feelings felt good and right to Cindy. Juxtaposed with the seemingly arbitrary teachings of her Fundamentalist church, such feelings of being “offensive to God” and “demonic” caused a major rift in her personality. Cindy could not reconcile her strong feelings with the notion that those feelings were wrong simply “because God said so”.

Weber, in this account, maintains that the problem is not Cindy’s desire to engage in sexual relations with someone of the same sex. She is right to pursue these desires. The problem is the teaching. Weber is half right. The problem is the teaching and the problem is two-fold.

The primary error in this kind of “Law” teaching is that it places arbitrary rules on individuals without connecting it to reality. In many of these cases, like Cindy’s, the Christian is never taught why, say homosexuality, is offensive to God and demonic. Indeed, traditional Christians have a very difficult time it seems in describing not only the real dangers of sin, but the benefits of obedience in a reasonable and coherent fashion. Put simply, Cindy was not given a good reason as to why her feelings of homosexuality would, if pursued, lead to a destructive place for her and for all her relationships. Equally, she was not well taught on the joys and benefits of being single or of pursuing motherhood and family life. Instead, she was taught that homosexuality as sin is nothing more than a religious taboo.

The second error in this teaching is that Law is taught without recourse to the Gospel.

They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. Matthew 23

This perhaps is the most fatal error. Cindy feared being found out. She knew that if her secret feelings were uncovered, the best she might hope for was a terrifying exorcism ceremony or at worst ostracism from her community. Cindy dare not share these feelings because she knew the last thing she would receive was absolution of her sins in the Gospel.

This kind of false teaching leads to a rift in the personality of the Christian believer because it forces her to hide sin instead of confess and confront the sin. At the same time the answer cannot be to embrace the sin as Weber suggests and deny that something like homosexuality is a sin. The results are the same in both cases: a fractured Christian. On the one hand, the Christian is forced to conceal sin. On the other, she is forced into a schema where the sinful behavior is somehow permissible.

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil, who put darkness for light, and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Isaiah 5

Unfortunately, there is yet another approach among popular Christian teachers that results in this sort of “dissociative Christian”. That angle in teaching is to insist that the Law does not have a positive use. Often this is couched in “speech-act” language that maintains that since God’s word is efficacious, the Law must necessarily “do something”. Since it is clear that the Law cannot empower behavior or affect salvation, it must only act to condemn and convict.

From this presupposition, the argument proceeds from the doctrine of simul justus et peccator largely founded in Romans chapter seven. Here, it is argued, that the Christian is made up of two personalities: the “old man in Adam” and the “new man in Christ”. The Law can only have one effect on the “old man”. This part of the personality cannot and in fact will not learn anything from the preaching of the Law. All “he” can do is be “killed”, that is convicted of “his” sin by the Law. The “new man”, it is argued, since “he” has “the mind of Christ” is in no need of the Law at all.

It is a clever philosophical construct to be sure, but it again leaves the Christian fragmented. The argument places the Christian in the unenviable position of “Cindy”. In reality, she is forced by this teaching to simply live with the sin because a reformation of life is impossible. Her “old man” refuses to change and her “new man” requires no change. Thus, in all three cases – where sin is hidden and the Gospel withheld (Fundamentalism), sin is reinterpreted as good (Weber), or where the Christian is helpless to be freed from the reality of sin – being a Christian means living some version of a dual life.

Most tragically in all of this, the Christian never fully receives the true comfort of the Gospel. Real relief from the pangs of sin cannot be found in concealing it. Comfort cannot be found in redefining sin as something integral to our identity and thus understood to be good.  Similarly, genuine refuge is not found in defining the Christian as having no hope and really no need of a reformed life.

This last error is particularly pernicious. A person might feel relieved from the news that they are suffering from a particular mental disorder and that many of his life’s struggles were due to a congenital chemical imbalance. However, that relief will be short lived if it is later learned that the condition is untreatable. To teach the Christian that his sins are forgiven before God in heaven, but that nothing can be or should be done to change that condition here and now is unsustainable. The notion that he is “just a poor, miserable sinner and nothing else” is a false comfort and false gospel. 

Furthermore, this teaching is particularly problematic for pastoral care. If the “old man” refuses to learn and the “new man” does not need to learn, then any teaching on morals, ethics, and care for one’s neighbor makes very little sense. The question of, “Pastor, now that I know my sins before God are forgiven, what do I do with my life?” becomes a major challenge. The Pastor cannot walk his parishioner through the Decalogue and its meanings to answer this. According to his theory of “the simul”, this is an exercise in futility. At best, the pastor can only refer the person to their life’s experiences and feelings for guidance. Finding ways to specifically love God and one’s neighbor becomes a mystical, hit and miss experiment.

To summarize, the Christian life is not something akin to Tolkien’s “Gollum” character in his Lord of the Rings trilogy. The struggle with sin as described by St. Paul in Romans chapter seven and the doctrine of simul justus et peccator is not a description of a fragmented Christian who conceals sin, embraces sin, or is helpless under the power of sin. Those descriptions are in fact perversions of St. Paul’s teachings and simul justus et peccator. 

To be sure, it is understandable why the Fundamentalist culture has trained their parishioners to conceal their sin. They do want Christians to live a life pleasing to God. Nadia Bolz-Weber has great  compassion for those struggling with sexuality and wants to help. Those who bifurcate the Christian into the “old man” and “new man” are fearful that any slip into working toward a reformed life will devolve into legalism and self-justification. While these goals are good and godly, these approaches have severe deficiencies. The Christian life is not only about Sanctification. The Christian life is not only about Justification. The Christian life encompasses both doctrines. When Sanctification is absolutized as with the Fundamentalists or when Justification is absolutized as with Weber and with a distorted teaching on “the simul”, the result is the dissociative Christian.

The Christian need not despair that his personality has been fractured by the Gospel. It has not. Indeed, the Gospel gives the Christian hope and courage to face his sin for the first time without fear and without some dissociative scheme in place. The Gospel empowers him to make real strides away from a self-centered existence toward a Christ-oriented life, which means that others in his life are genuinely placed as the priority above his own interests. At last, a genuine reformation of one’s life seems at hand in the Gospel. Certainly, the struggle against sin sometimes seems insurmountable and he is tempted to retreat to the dissociative disorders noted here. However, St. Paul is sure to remind us of the hope we have.

Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!  Romans 7






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Posted by on May 3, 2019 in Uncategorized