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

08 May

“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.

Leave a comment

Posted by on May 8, 2019 in Uncategorized


Leave a Reply

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

You are commenting using your 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 )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: