Tag Archives: Antinomianism

The Insecure Anchor of Christ Hold Fast

What does this mean?




If you pay attention to the ministries like Christ Hold Fast, Chad Bird’s website, and the 1517 Legacy Project (these are all affiliated with one another), please pay attention to the article-length post below from Cody Edds.

When I read Cody’s article, here is the question that crossed my mind: “Is it really Jesus Christ who is holding fast in Christ Hold Fast?”

I am not going to insist that He isn’t or won’t, but the core question here is this: who among us is not tempted to massage our picture of Jesus? Because of the temptations of any age, the Lord gave us, through His Apostle, words like those in II Corinthians 11:4 to warn and guide us.

I contend that anyone who is immersed in the Scriptures — knowing passages like this one above — cannot help but begin to doubt that Jesus Christ is at the center of these ministries as claimed. And while doubt is undeniably a part of our Christian lives until the very end, when it comes to the salvation that Christ has won for us, doubt is always something from which we flee.

Cody’s words must be taken seriously, for Jesus Christ came not only for those who call themselves “sinners” but for those who recognize their need for the third use of the law and for striving in their sanctification — even as they simultaneously see their failures here!

I can also say this: if observed and experienced patterns are any reliable indicator, I can already tell you how many of the most devoted adherents of these ministries will respond. They will not respond with words from the Bible or theology, but simply say something along these lines:

Cody is not a Lutheran but is mostly affected by Calvinist influences. Therefore, of course he is not going to like what true adherents of Luther have to say! (maybe the fact that Cody finds some common ground with you should have you worried about your own Lutheranism!)

Cody, however, has done his homework, having sat at Dr. Luther’s feet and other Lutheran greats a fair deal. I urge you to give him a hearing, and to maybe even read his article more than once.

His experience of falling into antinomianism through ministries like these is not unique, but I think the article that he writes is unique in its thoroughness, theological acumen, and, importantly, its accessibility.

I’m very, very pleased to be able to publish this piece on my blog.



Guest post by Cody Edds


“Christ Hold Fast has a much larger reach than you know… [T]hey are… fooling evangelicals into believing that Luther was something he is not.”


My name is Cody Edds. I was born into a Southern Baptist culture of legalism and man-based religion. Christ was barely mentioned but if only to draw one’s attention to the altar call. It wasn’t until I found Luther’s commentary on Galatians that my world, and my understanding of Christianity, was completely changed. Soon after falling in love with Martin Luther, I found myself in an antinomian church that based its entire theology off of the likes of Gerhard Forde and Robert Capon. Within a year I was an antinomian myself, leading a website ministry of antinomian articles and a podcast just the same. My last year of that environment was spent as a youth minister teaching others the heresy of antinomianism. Below is not only my story of how I went from evangelical antinomianism to radical Lutheranism to confessional reformed theology, but what follows is also my critique of those who fostered my faulty view of Luther. Namely, the leaders and ministry of Christ Hold Fast (

Since leaving radical Lutheranism and the antinomianism that undergirds it, I have joined a Reformed Baptist congregation and have embraced the theology of confessional Reformed Baptists in the school of the 1689 London Baptist Confession. I am not a paid theologian or pastor; I am not a well-known voice within either Lutheran or Reformed circles. Although I’m currently getting my Bachelors in Theology, I am merely a layman of the global church who walked through the mud of radical Lutheranism. I have seen and experienced firsthand what ministries like Christ Hold Fast really bring about within evangelical and Lutheran circles. Though there are many differences between Lutheran and Reformed (or particular) Baptists, this article is simply to highlight the erroneous theology of a website ministry/organization that is leading many astray within evangelicalism and Lutheranism just the same. Though some may doubt my knowledge and credibility to be critiquing a Lutheran organization, I hope that what follows will prove those people mislead.

To my Lutheran brothers and sisters: Christ Hold Fast has a much larger reach than you know. They are not ‘winning’ people over from evangelicalism to Lutheranism; they are instead fooling evangelicals into believing that Luther was something he is not. For the sake of Luther’s name, Confessional Lutheranism, and the love for your brothers and sisters in Christ, it is time to speak out against such harmful organizations. To my Evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ: Christ Hold Fast is not just some fringe Lutheran website that has no influence within your world of the church. The ideas propagated by them are ideas that have ravaged the evangelical church for centuries. Christ Hold Fast is a small step away from the liberalism that has characterized much of the downfall within our own denominations. It is this reason we should speak openly about their influence. The work of Christ Hold Fast to bring evangelicals into their liberal-slanted Lutheranism is a work that must be opposed by both Confessional Lutherans and evangelicals.


“Tullian himself was fond of my website on which I published many antinomian articles, since I was an antinomian myself.”


My History with Radical Lutheranism

As someone who was once a youth minister in a church built upon the theology of Forde, I am well-equipped to speak to Christ Hold Fast’s theology. I was made to study Forde and his works in my antinomian church. I’ve read more than a few of his works including On Being a Theologian of the Cross, The Law-Gospel Debate, and his essays on Sanctification and Christian Spirituality and Radical Lutheranism. I’ve also studied extensively his work on Luther “Where God Meets Man” in which Forde rejects the orthodox view of the atonement and challenges the inerrancy of Scripture. I’ve also read most of Luther’s published sermons, Bondage of the Will, Freedom of a Christian, Against the Antinomians, his commentaries on Galatians and Romans as well as his Small and Large Catechism, Two Kinds of Righteousness, The Smalcald Articles, Table Talk, To the Christian Nobility, On the Babylonian Captivity, A Treatise on Good Works, and obviously The Heidelberg Disputation. I’ve also read a lot of Melanchthon, Chemnitz, the Book of Concord, and Pieper. As well as Walther’s Law and Gospel and his sermons. I not only have done extensive studies on Forde (whom Christ Hold Fast bases a lot of their theology on), but I have lead ministries (within the local church and online) that were a huge part in the grace movement. Tullian Tchividjian’s son went to my church, and Tullian himself was fond of my website on which I published many antinomian articles, since I was an antinomian myself. While publishing these antinomian articles I had many of the current writers for Christ Hold Fast write articles for my ministry. Though they did so out of love and support for my antinomian ministry, a lot of their posts were antinomian as well. During this antinomian phase of mine, the leaders of Christ Hold Fast kept quiet (for the most part; more on this later) UNTIL I came out of it. They refused to rebuke me, and they allowed me to continue using Luther to support my antinomianism. Though I was very close with Dan Price and others at CHF none of them said a word of rebuke until after I came out of antinomianism. Though they tried to persuade me into radical Lutheranism, I heard no words of antinomianism thrown at me. I say all of this to say: I have spent years in the same circles that the writers of CHF run in, and I have lead ministries as an antinomian formulating much, if not all, of my theology off of what I was reading on their website, and Forde in particular. With that said, Christ Hold Fast’s antinomian leanings are very worrisome as is their support of Forde.


“You can’t say the gospel is of first importance (as those at CHF say) while celebrating someone who rejected the very heart of the gospel (vicarious penal substitutionary atonement).”


Their Support of Forde

First off, given that Forde denies Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA) and strongly challenges the inerrancy of Scripture, I am lead to believe that nothing of Forde should be supported. There is a very big difference between blatant denial of PSA and supporting another theory of the atonement (Like Christus Victor, for instance). I would suggest the reader to Forde’s works “Where God Meets Man” and “Caught in the Act.” There Forde blatantly rejects penal substitutionary atonement, mockingly asking questions like: “Could God be so childish as to be appeased by the death of one man?” (Paraphrase); and openly stating that God could not possible be “bought off” as PSA theories (in Forde’s mind) state. Forde goes on to say, “Christ was not doing anything else in his death but dying” (direct quote). It is common knowledge within Lutheranism that Forde not only rejected penal substitutionary atonement but most other Anselmian and patristic theories (Christus Victor for one). For Forde, God is not a God “constrained” by some demand of justice, but a hidden God revealed in Christ. Therefore the cross is not a means by which His justice is satisfied but simply a means by which God reveals Himself as a God of love rather than a God of Wrath. Compare what you read of Forde’s works on the atonement to Chemnitz and especially Pieper.

My main issue here is simply this: a blatant rejection of Anselmian/Patristic/Lutheran vicarious penal substitutionary atonement will affect your theology. Especially your theology of sanctification and the law. You can’t possible reject the confessional view of the cross and that not have negative implications for your view of sanctification and the law. You can’t say the gospel is of first importance (as those at CHF say) while celebrating someone who rejected the very heart of the gospel (vicarious penal substitutionary atonement). Anyone who rejects substitutionary atonement can’t be trusted with other doctrines especially those so closely related to the cross and justification (i.e. the Christian’s resurrected life, sanctification, good works, and the law). Are there things to be gleaned from other atonement theories? Yeah! Should we be gleaning anything from a man who blatantly rejects penal substitutionary atonement? No. It’s not like Forde is the only Lutheran theologian who wrote about sanctification. Glean your doctrine of sanctification from others who actually strongly hold to PSA and inerrancy.

Where Christ Hold Fast comes in with all of this is simply this: anyone who celebrates the theology of a man who rejected the heart of the gospel should not be held very high in theological circles. Period. CHF has formulated their view of sanctification and the law off of Forde’s theology AS IF Forde’s denial of PSA wouldn’t affect his theology of sanctification and the law. But it does. It affects everything. Christ Hold Fast shouldn’t be a ministry not simply because of Chad Bird and Dan Price’s affairs, not simply because they like some theologian that I don’t like, but because they propagate and spread the false and harmful doctrines of Forde regarding sanctification and the law. Doctrines that are directly tied to Forde’s denial of Penal Substitutionary Atonement.


“…most heresies are not taught by what is said, but by what is left unsaid.”


The Law’s Third Use Is Necessary

Secondly, and this follows my first point, CHF’s own writings are worrisome. It has been said, and I believe it to be true, that most heresies are not taught by what is said, but by what is left unsaid. Their emphasis on grace, God’s love, and Christ are to be commended as we should be emphasizing those things! But to emphasize them at the expense of other doctrines such as sanctification, man’s work in sanctification, and the law’s necessary use of guiding the Christian in obedience, is a problem. This leads to antinomianism. If this doesn’t make CHF antinomian then it sure does produces antinomians. I was one of them, so I should know. I’ve spoken with MANY antinomians who blatantly reject third use, regeneration, and man’s work in sanctification, and they all say the same thing: “Well, Christ Hold Fast…” Now you might say, well it’s not the writers at CHF’s responsibility how people receive his message. Yes it is. If you’re teaching with an emphasis on works but you never or very little speak of the gospel that will inevitably lead to legalism. The same is true with antinomianism. As Chad Bird and others have taken it upon themselves to place themselves in public ministry with a website and books, it is their job to ensure that they are not causing their brothers and sisters in Christ to stumble.

An example of their emphasis on the gospel to the exclusion of the law and good works can be seen in Chad Bird’s post “How to Make Grace Unamazing.” In this post Chad says, “Jesus didn’t say, “Screw up again, boy, and I’ll have your brothers dig up your old stinking sin and slap you in the face with it.” He said, “I have removed your sins as far as the east is from the west. I will remember them no more.”” Yes and amen! But in a post regarding so strongly the topic of grace in relation to works, for him, a trained theologian, to leave out that Christ also said “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11) is a purposed fault that leads others down the road of antinomianism. He should know better. Any theologian who writes extensively on the gospel’s relation to works and ONLY tackles the law’s second use while comparing that to its relation with the gospel is doing a great disservice to his readers. And I have to assume with Bird’s education, he knows exactly what he’s doing. If he doesn’t realize that writing and teaching on the gospel’s relation to good works in this way, with this emphasis on gospel to the exclusion  of the law’s third use–if he doesn’t realize that this leads to antinomianism then he has no business writing and teaching in the first place regardless of his harmful theology.

As a quick note: contrary to what Christ Hold Fast would have you believe, you actually can use the law. 1 Timothy 1:8 for example tells us that “the law is good, if one uses it lawfully.” A quick look at 6.1 in the Epitome of the Formula of Concord leads us to clearly see that after men are regenerate, the law is a guide and a “fixed rule according to which they [that is regenerate men, not God] are to regulate and direct their whole life.” In Luther’s Lectures on First Timothy he states that we must “use the law as you wish. Read it. Only keep this use away from it, that you credit it with the remission of sins and righteousness.” Finally, in Luther’s commentary on Galatians—a work that modern antinomians praise—Luther clearly states, “see to it that you know how to use the law correctly.” Christ Hold Fast constantly make the argument that you can’t use the law. But Scripture, Luther, the Book of Concord, and general experience tells us otherwise. This is merely an excuse to curtail their refusal to preach third use. If you write 1000 articles on how Christians can’t measure up to the law’s demands then you have used the law 1000 times to show that the Christian can’t measure up to its demands (accusative use).

Another supportive work of Chad’s is his post “Grace is Not Dead.” Nowhere in this post does he define what a Christian is, what repentance is, that grace should lead to good works, that if good works are absent then so is Christ, etc. Yet he ends it with, “Grace reigns triumphant in the scarred but resurrected body of Jesus Christ. That grace is yours. And you are Christ’s. And he, the love of God incarnate, will hold you fast.” Who is the person he is referring to here? Blanket statements of God’s love spoken to someone who may or may not be a Christian is the bedrock of my former antinomian church and ways. This is what it looks like to preach gospel without law. You give ANYONE the assurance that they are in Christ even if they aren’t. And they therefore remain in their sin. The gospel should never be qualified or conditioned, but it shouldn’t be preached carrying blanket statements that don’t qualify the fruit and type of person the gospel produces.


“You give ANYONE the assurance that they are in Christ even if they aren’t. And they therefore remain in their sin.”


Good Works Evidence Faith

Elsewhere Chad writes, “Thus, to answer, “Are you a Christian?” by looking inside ourselves, or by looking to our deeds or love of the neighbor, is to drink the poison of doubt. In fact, the more Christians look at themselves to see whether they are Christians, the more they will become convinced that they are not Christians” (How Do I Know I’m a Christian, CHF). This statement is harmful and is based upon the theology of Forde. But this sounds nothing like Luther who said, “Works assure us and bear witness before men and the brethren and even before our own selves that we truly believe and that we are sons of God in hope and heirs of eternal life,” and who also said, “Works are a certain sign, like a seal on a letter, which makes me certain that my faith is genuine.” Chad Bird and others at CHF continuously teaches that good works do not evidence faith (see Zack James Cole’s post The Gift of Righteousness). This doctrine is not found in Luther or Scripture. We know that James tells us, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” The answer to that question is: no. And to say that good works don’t evidence faith is to answer that question differently. If James is right that faith without works is dead, then along with Luther, we must agree that works show forth your faith. In fact Peter calls us to “be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election” by our works (2 Peter 1:10). Luther himself comments on this verse, “We are commanded to make our calling certain by good works.” This doctrine of CHF’s leads directly to antinomianism. As a former antinomian, I would say then, “Since good works don’t evidence your faith, you can do whatever you want and God will still love you in Christ. Your faith is not tied at all to your works and therefore if you are a Christian you can and should do whatever you like!” This I said because men like Dan Price and Chad Bird taught me that good works and faith are separate things, only related in a causal effect: one leads to the other. Rather than a causal and evidencing effect: one evidences the existence of the other.


“…the law has some place in making us equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).”


The Law Doesn’t Only Accuse

The idea that the law only accuses sounds Lutheran but it’s not. Take Ryan Couch’s post “Sanctified by Faith” for instance. Here he states, “Sanctification is not a work of the law it is the result of God’s promise to us in Christ, the gospel.” But if “all Scripture [that includes the law] is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” then the law has some place in making us equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). I believe the author would agree with my statement but that he would clarify by saying “the law that is used in sanctification is a crushing law that drives us to the gospel.” For this author, and for CHF as a whole, any talk of our duty in sanctification, “relegates law to a manageable list of “to dos” instead of what it is, God’s word of condemnation that puts us to death.” But God’s word of law isn’t just a word of condemnation. In fact, it is a list of “to dos” is it not? More so, God’s law is an entire worldview and system. It’s more than anything this author has suggested. The law of God is primarily covenant words to God’s covenant people. These words do many things, and condemning us to death is only one. He goes on to further say, “The law, which serves to magnify our sin (Rom. 3:20) does not aid us in our sanctification, it simply reveals our need for it.” Is that all the law does? In a post that states such dramatic statements about the law, but never clarifies that the law has a separate use, it is easy to assume the author doesn’t believe the law is anything besides accusative. Does the law always accuse? Yes. Does it only accuse? No. Not only do we never see Christ himself say that his followers shouldn’t read the law as a guide, but we see him countless times exhorting his followers with the law. Some might say he only exhorted to show them their need for him, which is sometimes true (Matthew 5:48). But to say that every time Jesus exhorted his followers to good works he was doing so to crush them with the law not only makes Christ very cruel, but also reads a lot into the Scriptures that isn’t there.

The author’s notion that the law only leads to more sin is also false. As a former antinomian I would often use Romans 7:5 to highlight that the law leads to sin: “For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.” But this is not the norm for the Christian since “we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (v. 6). The old way mentioned here is obviously not that we don’t serve God according to the law, but we don’t serve God by using the law to merit our salvation. To say otherwise is to make the entire law obsolete.

We should also note that if the law is only supposed to be used for crushing the sinner or condemning the old man, as a mirror to show the sinner’s wretchedness, then we must ignore Romans 12:1, or else our theology fails us. In my antinomian days, I did all I could to ignore such passages as Romans 12:1. Romans 12:1 begins with, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God.” Here Paul is appealing to the regenerate Christian “by the mercies of God,” and in doing so, is recalling the very gospel to the Christian’s mind. In essence, Paul is saying, “What I am about to say is in light of the gospel I have preached in the previous chapters.” After recalling the gospel and mercy of God to the Christian’s mind, Paul goes on, “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” My question for those who claim the law shouldn’t be used to guide, but only used for the purpose of showing the sinner his sinfulness, is this: Why would Paul, after presenting the gospel of God’s grace, crush the sinner with God’s law? In short, why follow the gospel of freedom in Christ with “look how sinful you are?” Has he not set them free in Christ? Christ Hold Fast holds to the law/gospel distinction of Lutheran theology. Holding to this, they would agree that it is improper to crush the sinner with God’s law after you have already set them free in the gospel. To make the sinner realize his sinfulness after preaching to him of the gospel that forgives all of his sins is not only improper, but harmful. So, what is Paul doing here if not exhorting—using the law as a guide? These are the kinds of questions that haunted me as an antinomian.


“Take it from someone who has been there. Antinomians exist; I was one of them. The theology of CHF and Forde leads to antinomianism….”


Regeneration is Real

Another post that shows the harmful theology of Christ Hold Fast is “Yes, But…” by Kelsi Klembara. In that post she states, “If you never did anything good again, but you believe Christ died for you, would the Gospel still be true? It would.” To which Luther simply replies no, “For Christian holiness, or the holiness common to Christendom, is found where the Holy Spirit gives people faith in Christ and thus sanctifies them.” She asks rhetorically elsewhere, “What would actually happen if we simply stopped after hearing the Yes of the Gospel?” Sin. Sin is what happens according to Luther: “It will not do to think and say: Well, it is sufficient to have the doctrine, and if we have the Spirit and faith, then fruits and good works will follow of their own accord.” The underlying notion here must be that regeneration is not believed by the author. If that’s not what she means to communicate it sure is what she’s communicating to the antinomians I speak with. But Romans 6 tells us otherwise. In fact, Romans 6 tell us that just as Christ died to the curse of sin, so too has the Christian died to the power of sin. This obviously doesn’t mean we can be perfect, but it does mean that if a Christian isn’t growing in obedience to God then they probably aren’t a Christian.

Romans 6:9-11 tells us that we must “consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” The word consider here is the same word for “counted” in Romans 4:5—that God has counted us righteous in Christ. So God is telling us that the same certainty we have that God has counted us righteous in Christ is the same means by which we should consider ourselves dead to sin in Christ. But as a radical Lutheran, and antinomian, I didn’t agree with this at all. In fact, my way of twisting Scripture—as is the prevalent way with antinomians and other radical Lutherans—was to assume that every instance regarding “dead to sin” in Romans 6 was speaking of my death to its condemnation rather than its power. Regeneration is best defined as “that act of God by which the principle of the new life is implanted in man, and the governing disposition of the soul is made holy” (Berkhof, Systematic Theology). But I didn’t believe that, and neither do antinomians. I used to say things like, “The Christian is incapable of good; that’s why Christ is our only goodness before God.” But this isn’t true.

Radical Lutherans teach that we aren’t even capable of keeping the commands of God in part or even a little. They don’t believe we are united to Christ’s death to sin’s power unless it’s sin’s condemnation. What I mean here is that when we died to sin through the death/resurrection of Christ we died to the condemnation of sin not its reign. In short, they believe we are still totally depraved—unable to do any good. Though they won’t say this out-right, they teach it often and with vigor. Dan Price’s post “I Am Not Ashamed of the Law” comes to mind. Here Dan says the easiest way to de-shame the gospel is to tame the law, to make it achievable.” What does he mean by achievable? Can we do enough of the law to merit salvation? No. Can we actually do the law? Yes. Though our works can never be perfect or without sin, they can still be good, and we are capable of this good. Acts 9:36 states that Dorcas was “full of good works,” Ephesians 2:10 states that we are created “in Christ Jesus for good works,” 2 Timothy 3:17 teaches that the man of God can be “complete, equipped for every good work,” and Titus 2:14 says that Christians are to be “zealous for good works.” So just because we can’t be perfect doesn’t mean we can’t do good. Price goes on to say I love the law. Not because I can do it. Not because it can save me. I love it because the law shows me my need for a Savior.” Notice that in this context there is no notion of a third use, guiding principle. This leads others to believe there is no third use. Regardless, the idea that Dan can’t do the law is unfounded once again. Galatians 5:14 doesn’t only tell us we can do God’s law but that in some sense we can fulfill it: “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” And again, Romans 13:8-13 tells us that the one who loves another has “fulfilled the law.” My former antinomian self would say, “But who has truly loved another? Christ! He has fulfilled it on our behalf.” The problem with that interpretation is that it’s actually not an interpretation of the text. Nothing in the immediate context of Romans 13 allows us to read imputed righteousness into “fulfilled the law.” To someone who would say that I would simply ask, “Where, in that text, do you see imputed righteousness?”

To say the “disposition of the soul is made holy” is to say the very opposite of everything Christ Hold Fast believes. Radical Lutherans would have you believe that to “consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” means to consider yourself dead to the penalty of sin. But Paul in Romans 6 isn’t addressing justification or forgiveness—he’s addressed that already in Romans 5. Here, Paul is addressing the justified sinner who asks, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1). Neither the question nor Paul’s answer addresses the penalty of sin. Paul addresses the power of sin in the Christian’s life: “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing [Katargeō – to render powerless], so that we would no longer be enslaved [douleuō – to be enslaved to] to sin” (Romans 6:6). As an antinomian, I used to say that sin’s enslaving power was its power to condemn and therefore we are simply released from sin’s power to change our standing before God. Though I agree that we are saved from sin’s penalty, neither the question nor Paul’s answer addresses our standing before God. Romans 6 is in regards to our regeneration and sanctification. I would also read Romans 6:17 that “you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart,” but would dismiss this as something else. We can’t possibly be obedient from the heart! Our heart is wretched! I would dismiss this as a passage regarding justification rather than regeneration and sanctification. This is a twisting of Scripture. And if it’s not the twisting that underlies the theology of Christ Hold Fast in posts like above then it is what is communicated. Again, I should know. It’s posts like this that lead me to antinomian radical Lutheranism.

In summary I don’t think Christ Hold Fast is defined at all by Pieper’s words here: “In urging members of their churches to become ‘rich in good works,’ pastors should not be deterred from doing this boldly and resolutely, without any fear or faltering, by the thought that this insistence on good works might crowd out its central position on the doctrine of justification without works. Only if one does not know the Scriptural doctrine of justification by faith will he be timid in asking for a multitude of good works.” If you do not see this quote and the Lutheran confessions as well as Luther himself as being in great opposition to the general tone and content of CHF then you are poorly mistaken. Take it from someone who has been there. Antinomians exist; I was one of them. The theology of CHF and Forde leads to antinomianism; I was one of them.


“I might have believed [the third use] existed, but I never used it and thought those that did were legalists.”


What Their Theology Leads To

Let me state here that I am completely and fully responsible for my own sin of antinomianism. In fact, I was antinomian before Christ Hold Fast came on the scene. That cannot be stated weakly and must be made abundantly clear. I have confessed that sin and have repented of it, sought pardon and have received it in full from Christ. With that said, that does not negate the responsibility and guilt of those who caused me to stumble into that sin. Chad Bird, Dan Price, and some others at CHF saw and knew that I had fallen into antinomianism. Not only are they guilty of leading me into that trap but they are guilty for quietly allowing me to remain there while I taught others such nonsense.

I once had a discussion with Dan Price via webcam regarding the third use of the law. During this discussion he attempted to persuade me from being an evangelical antinomian openly denying third use of the law to a Radical Lutheran antinomian who believes there is a third use but who never uses it. He persuaded me to stop reading Tullian and other antinomians and just start reading him and Forde who SOUND like antinomians but “I assure you, we aren’t.”

After conversing with Dan and others at CHF I wasn’t convinced. While telling me there was a third use of the law, I watched Dan and others refuse to use it, emphasizing the gospel over the law to its exclusion, and writing entire blog posts with statements about the law’s accusative use without qualifying that there are other uses (as seen above). A late night webcam discussion wherein Dan tried to convince me that he believed in third use of the law only leads to a functional antinomianism. I might have believed it existed, but I never used it and thought those that did were legalists. It’s not enough to have webcam chats while blogging on a daily basis a system of theology that is full of accusative-only-law. That evening I thanked Dan for all the clarification he offered me, but it wasn’t long until I realized, “This guy might think there’s a third use, but he hardly ever uses it.” Just because someone says they believe in a third use doesn’t mean they aren’t antinomian nor does it mean that they don’t teach in a way that leads to antinomianism. Believing there’s a third use and actually teaching WITH the third use are two different things. And a ministry aimed at evangelicals leaving legalism which focuses on grace to the exclusion or downplaying of the third use of the law leads only to one thing: Antinomian evangelicalism (what I was before speaking to Dan), or antinomian Lutheranism (Radical Lutheranism; what I was after speaking to Dan). Again, did CHF and Dan Price try to persuade me out of antinomianism? No. They persuaded me into their version of it.

They lead me into that sin by teaching an emphasis on grace with the exclusion of a proper emphasis on good works. I believe that I, along with most others who are deceived by CHF, was very vulnerable to the heresy of antinomianism since, like most others, I was coming out of man-centered legalistic evangelicalism. Chad and Dan should know better, given their theological education and knowledge. They should know that those of us coming out of legalism are susceptible to the heresy of antinomianism, and therefore, instead of pandering to our weakness (a weakness seeking to hear only the gospel and nothing of good works), they should rather submit their teachings and writings to God and seek to bring weaker brothers and sisters in Christ to a better understanding of all of God’s word (law and gospel). The weakness and sin of wanting to ignore God’s word (His law) for the sake of only hearing God’s gospel should not be pandered to.

I will state this as simple as I can: to fight a wrong view of God’s law (legalism) one should not emphasize the gospel to the exclusion of the law. Rather, one should rightly emphasize the gospel while preaching a proper view of the law in all its uses. To combat legalism with merely preaching a heavy handed gospel shows ignorance and theological flippancy. And yet, most of those at CHF do just that. This leads many, including my former self, into antinomianism. Where else would it lead but there? As theologians we should be trained to care for those under our teaching, whether online or in the local church. When writing primarily for an audience coming out of legalism we should teach them not just the radical implications of the gospel, but also the loving kindness of God in giving us a necessary law to guide us into obedience. When writing primarily to an audience coming out of legalism, we should understand that they are susceptible to antinomianism and therefore should counter that weakness with a strong stance on the law’s third use. Anything less only serves to do harm. In short, as theologians we should know better. Chad Bird and Dan Price should know better. The mere fact that CHF is writing to such an audience with such a harmful exclusion of the law’s third use proves that Christ Hold Fast as a website ministry shouldn’t be teaching anything. It shows that, though they may have theological knowledge of doctrines, they are ignorant of the implications of their emphasis towards their audience. And that’s the best case scenario! If they do understand what they are doing, and yet they remain, then they aren’t as ignorant as we thought. Rather, they are divisive and purposefully harmful for the sake of pride and self-praise. I don’t know which is the case with CHF and its leaders. In fact, I suspect the former. But given my overall lack of knowledge regarding their intent, I cannot make any statements regarding which one they are: whether ignorant or purposefully harmful. In either case, they are harmful, guilty of leading others into antinomianism, and should quietly recede from the internet and the minds of all those who read to their harmful theology.


“Reading the Book of Concord and Luther’s sermons brought about a realization that my view of the law and good works was not the view of Luther.”


The Book of Concord, My Help

Reading the Book of Concord and Luther’s sermons brought about a realization that my view of the law and good works was not the view of Luther. And conversely, the confessional Lutheran view of the law and good works is not the view taught by those at Christ Hold Fast. When Article 6.2 of the Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord stated, “The one side taught and maintained that the regenerate do not learn the new obedience, or in what good works they ought to walk, from the Law, and that this teaching [concerning good works] is not to be urged thence [from the law], because they have been made free by the Son of God, have become the temples of His Spirit, and therefore 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,” I thought “Not only does that describe me, but that describes what I’m interpreting from Christ Hold Fast!” Yet I did my best to hold true to what I believed. As a youth minister and a leader of a website ‘ministry’ there was too much to lose if I were to give up on my lack of third use preaching. Sure, I could believe that it existed, but to preach it as often as Luther says we should, that’s another thing! But again, 6.6-9 spoke a whole different world to me: “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…However, believers are not renewed in this life perfectly or completely…Therefore, because of these lusts of the flesh the truly believing, elect, and regenerate children of God need in this life not only the daily instruction and admonition, warning, and threatening of the Law, but also frequently punishments, that they may be roused.”

So there is a guide? So what of those who deny a third use? In fact, what of those who say they believe it but refuse to urge this use of the law upon Christians? Article 6.20 answered, “Accordingly, we reject and condemn as an error pernicious and detrimental to Christian discipline, as also to true godliness, the teaching that the Law, in the above-mentioned way and degree, should not be urged upon Christians and the true believers, but only upon the unbelieving, unchristians, and impenitent.” As Article 6.3 of the Epitome of the Formula of Concord told me that the law should be urged upon believers “with diligence” I saw nobody, including myself, doing such things. In fact, the strongest of statements is found in the above quote of 6.20. The truth is that a lack of diligent third use preaching is harmful and “detrimental to Christian discipline, as also to true godliness.” Some might say, “Of course we urge the law with diligence, just the law in its accusative use!” To that, the Formula of Concord would state that the law in need of being diligently urged upon the believer is the law in all of its uses and functions. Included, but not limited to, the use of that law as exhortation and guide: “We believe, teach, and confess that, although men truly believing [in Christ] and truly converted to God have been freed and exempted from the curse and coercion of the Law, they nevertheless are not on this account without Law, but have been redeemed by the Son of God in order that they should exercise themselves in it day and night, that they should meditate upon God’s Law day and night, and constantly exercise themselves in its observance” (The Epitome of the FOC 6.2).

Luther himself stated that antinomians not only refused to exhort but they simply refused to do so diligently and often: “Many now talk only about the forgiveness of sins and say little or nothing about repentance. There neither is forgiveness of sins without repentance nor can forgiveness of sins be understood without repentance. It follows that if we preach the forgiveness of sins without repentance that the people imagine that they have already obtained the forgiveness of sins, becoming thereby secure and without compunction of conscience” (Martin Luther, Visitation Articles, found in LW 40:274).


“…faithful preachers must exert themselves as much in urging a love that is unfeigned or in urging truly good works as in teaching true faith…” — Martin Luther


Luther’s Sermons, My Help

Finally, it was Luther’s sermons that brought me out of Radical Lutheranism, along with the Book of Concord. I can’t express how thankful I am for Luther’s sermons. The whole notion that radical Lutherans rail against “law-gospel-law” preaching was crushed by Luther’s sermons. He’s all over the place. Law here, gospel there, law again, law again, gospel, some commentary on the church, law, gospel. I will here simply show two sermons as examples of Luther’s commentary on radical Lutheranism and antinomianism in today’s church. In The Church Postil on the epistle for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity, Luther states:

“Here again is an admonition for Christians to follow up their faith by good works and a new life, for though they have forgiveness of sins through baptism, the old Adam still adheres to their flesh and makes himself felt in tendencies and desires to vices physical and mental. The result is that unless Christians offer resistance, they will lose their faith and the remission of sins and will in the end be worse than they were at first; for they will begin to despise and persecute the Word of God when corrected by it. Yea, even those who gladly hear the Word of God, who highly prize it and aim to follow it, have daily need of admonition and encouragement, so strong and tough is that old hide of our sinful flesh. And so powerful and wily is our old evil foe that wherever he can gain enough of an opening to insert one of his claws, he thrusts in his whole self and will not desist until he has again sunk man into his former condemnable unbelief and his old way of despising and disobeying God.

Therefore, the Gospel ministry is necessary in the Church, not only for instruction of the ignorant – such as the simple, unlettered people and the children – but also for the purpose of awakening those who know very well what they are to believe and how they are to live, and admonishing them to be on their guard daily and not to become indolent, disheartened or tired in the war they must wage on this earth with the devil, with their own flesh and with all manner of evil.

For this reason Paul is so persistent in his admonitions that he actually seems to be overdoing it. He proceeds as if the Christians were either too dull to comprehend or so inattentive and forgetful that they must be reminded and driven. The apostle well knows that though they have made a beginning in faith and are in that state which should show the fruits of faith, such result is not so easily forthcoming. It will not do to think and say: Well, it is sufficient to have the doctrine, and if we have the Spirit and faith, then fruits and good works will follow of their own accord. For although the Spirit truly is present and, as Christ says, willing and effective in those that believe, on the other hand the flesh is weak and sluggish. Besides, the devil is not idle, but seeks to seduce our weak nature by temptations and allurements.

So we must not permit the people to go on in their way, neglecting to urge and admonish them, through God’s Word, to lead a godly life. Indeed, you dare not be negligent and backward in this duty; for, as it is, our flesh is all too sluggish to heed the Spirit and all too able to resist it. Paul says (Galatians 5:17): “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh … that ye may not do the things that ye would.” Therefore, God is constrained to do as a good and diligent householder or ruler, who, having a slothful man-servant or maid-servant, or careless officers, who otherwise are neither wicked nor faithless, will not consider it sufficient once or twice to direct, but will constantly be supervising and directing.”

Secondly in Luther’s sermon on John 15:10-12:

“Wherever faith is not preached and is not given primary importance, wherever we do not begin by learning how we are united with Christ and become branches in Him, all the world concentrates only on its works. On the other hand, wherever faith alone is taught, this leads to false Christians, who boast of their faith, are baptized, and are counted among the Christians but give no evidence of fruit and strength. This makes it difficult to preach to people. No matter how one preaches, things go wrong; the people always hedge. If one does not preach on faith, nothing but hypocritical works result. But if one confines one’s preaching to faith, no works ensue. In brief, the outcome is either works without faith or faith without works. Therefore the sermon must address itself to those who accept and apprehend both faith and works; the others, who do not want to follow, remain behind.”

Here Luther showed me that not only was the third use of the law, the law as a guide, necessary, but he showed me that without the law’s guiding principle sanctification will not take place. It was here in studying the Book of Concord and Luther’s sermons that I found my escape from radical Lutheranism and its partner of evangelical antinomianism. The strong stance that Lutheran’s took in the past along with their confession and Luther himself were a world of difference for me. In fact, C.F.W. Walther’s Law and Gospel Lecture Thirty tells us that preachers must tell their congregants that “as God lives, they will be damned if they live in this or that sin. If you only tell them that Christians remain sinners until they die, you will frequently be misunderstood.  Some will lull themselves to sleep with the reflection that they are poor and frail human beings, but that they have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ – however, a lip faith.” To which Luther would add, “This is why faithful preachers must exert themselves as much in urging a love that is unfeigned or in urging truly good works as in teaching true faith,” (Luther, Galatians).


“I see that Scripture shows me I’m preaching wrong… but I won’t preach like that.”


Two Examples to Show Their Theology and Its Result

Aside from my own experience with Christ Hold Fast, I hope the following will serve to show forth their damaging theology.

I spoke to a man who used to write for my ministry, who was a very close friend of mine, and who is currently a writer for CHF. This was over a year ago, and though I hope he has changed his stance I don’t believe he has. But due to my lack of knowledge here regarding his current position I will leave his identity anonymous. Though upon reading his recent material it doesn’t seem he has changed, at least not as strongly as he needs to. During my discussion with him over a year ago I proved to him from Scripture that not only was the third use Biblical, but to not preach the law as a guide OFTEN is not only harmful but sinful and unbiblical. I proved that Scripture opposes those who preach an emphasis on the gospel to the exclusion and lessening of the preaching of the law as guide. At the end of our discussion this man said to me, “I see that Scripture makes clear that I am preaching wrongly. But if I do start preaching third use like that then people and myself will become prideful in their works. Therefore I can’t preach like that.” For those reading, this man currently writes for CHF. Again, to repeat his words, “I see that Scripture shows me I’m preaching wrong…but I won’t preach like that.”

Secondly, I spoke only months ago with a self-professing antinomian who blatantly denies that the law is to be used as a guide for the Christian life. During our discussion he constantly sourced Christ Hold Fast, Chad Bird, and others. He constantly spoke of the law as “a lion that can’t be tamed” and therefore a “word of God that can ONLY accuse but never guide.” After 3 nights of discussions and over 13 hours of walking him through Luther sermons, Walther, Pieper, the BOC, Scripture, and the like, he recanted. But though he would agree that the law is to be used as a guide, he remained in his support of CHF for the sake of not allowing a preaching of the law to usurp the gospel. Coming out of legalism this man is very vulnerable and susceptible to antinomianism. Though God convinced him of his theological antinomianism, he remained a functional antinomian simply because “Chad Bird can’t possibly be wrong.”

These two examples serve not only to show that there is truly an antinomian presence within CHF (or rather, there was if that man has repented), and that their teachings are leading vulnerable Christian brothers and sisters into sin and misguided heresies.

It is my hope that this will be read and shared, and that what has been stated above will be taken to heart. Please understand, though Christ Hold Fast might or might not be antinomian, their teachings lead to it. I’m an example, and I know many others who are currently deceived and openly antinomian due to what they read at Christ Hold Fast. Please be advised and avoid this website at all costs.



Thanks for writing this Cody.

My last comment, which Cody appreciated the other day:


Update:  For those who want to go deeper.




Posted by on May 8, 2018 in Uncategorized


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Completely Impartial Book Review of Pastor Jordan Cooper’s Lex Aeterna

What does this mean?


Yes, its not impartial. : )

Anyway, as I said in a recent post, about the new book on Law and Gospel now being released by CPH….(see above):

If someone in the Confessional Lutheran house spoke about the “so-called doctrine of justification,” you could bet that every head would turn.

But say “so-called 3rd use of the law” – using the church’s publishing house meant to provide the most excellent Christian doctrine to the laypersons – and many will yawn, talk about the variety of definitions of “so-called,” yada, yada…

Why don’t people with some real clout fight? Do some housecleaning? Say anything?

[this is the cue to unveil my new book review of Jordan Cooper’s Lex Aeterna…]

And for a less intense review of Pastor Cooper’s last book, see here.


[Because] they are afraid. The ideas of Gerhard Forde have infiltrated confessional Lutheran seminaries and colleges in many a local. Dissent may cost you — perhaps not your job, but relationships to be sure. If you criticize at all, make sure you are exceedingly generous with praise as well – and don’t appear like you want any boats rocked.

Jordan Cooper, however, doesn’t belong. He is a convert to Lutheranism who came to the faith largely by reading not 20th century Lutheran theologians, but everyone before that time. As his podcasts show time and again for any with ears to hear – and either the knowledge or research skills to verify – Cooper knows his stuff.

And he knows Gerhard Forde’s theology is trouble. He sees what so many do not want to see. No one in their right mind would deny that Gerhard Forde was a stand-out human being. The trouble, however, is that he is one of the primary forces responsible for letting lose a virus that has given strength, aid, and comfort to Fake Lutheranism everywhere in its most sophisticated forms.

But this is a book by Jordan Cooper, who, in spite of some of what you may have heard, is not only a very loyal confessional Lutheran we are blessed to have on our side, but a warmhearted and ecumenical theologian extraordinaire. If you are looking for fiery and rhetorical-loaded polemics lacking critical nuance, you will be very disappointed with this book.

Cooper does a very nice job of dealing with this topic and breaking it down in a simple way. I never had noticed all the connections he makes, namely how for Gerhard Forde defining absolutely everything by *doing* and not *being* is the rule: “being is defined by act. Everything is defined by what it does, rather than an essence that has independent existence behind that action” (Cooper, 82).

Like the 3rd use of the law? You are with Erasmus. — Forde


In this sense, Forde is completely in line with the pragmatic postmodernist existentialist Hegelian currents which dominate academia and elite circles today. Don’t worry! This doesn’t need to be complicated at all – that is what Forde and those who follow him have done. Cooper will methodically unveil that to you, reducing things to essentials. Like a good butcher, he carves up things where the joints are.

A sample of his getting to the meat:

“[Forde] purports that if the gospel contains specific doctrines about Christ’s life and death as a substitutionary act then it simply becomes another kind of law which one must accept in order to be saved…. Forde argues that theology which concerns itself with propositions, or with things as they are in their essence, is a theology of glory, or a theology ‘about the cross,’ rather than a theology of the cross….

Forde is even bold enough to say that Christ ‘was not doing anything else in his death but dying’” (92).

Yes, you read that right (and there is more where that came from, including Forde’s contention that Adam and Eve’s being “very good” [i.e. “original righteousness”] prior to their fall has no real relevance for theology).

Well, confessional Lutheran – don’t complain that you live in uninteresting times! You live in an age where, in your house, the thoughts of someone like Cooper seems threatening and foreign while many in our academic circles snuggle up closely with Forde.


In spite of the gravity of the threat, I must say that Cooper’s usual irenicism and willingness to assume the best in those he so effectively counters — while giving them an escape hatch for their mistakes — come through. All would not be so generous in the covering of faults, for our ignorance often carries with it great culpability as well.

Don’t believe the bad reviews. They are one-sided views at best, and, I believe, hit sloppy hit pieces at worst. Today, on Pastor Cooper’s Just and Sinner blog, I am putting up this review as well as a short evaluation of what Jack Kilcrease says above.

Get the book for yourself and check it out.

[end review, which will be found at under the title “It Takes an Outsider like Cooper to Really Begin this Sacred Cow Slaying”]

And now, as a bonus, here is an evaluation of Jack Kilcrease’s complaints about Pastor Cooper’s book, also on, simply by using the quotes from Pastor Cooper’s book:

Kilcrease: “First, when I affirm the eternity of the law in my writing, I do not do so only insofar as God eternally wills to punish sin.”

Cooper: “Instead, God’s eternal will is to punish sin, and thus, the law is both eternal and condemnatory.”

Kilcrease: “I affirm that the law that God revealed in nature and Scripture represents an eternal good that in time God wills for his people, irrespective of whether or not it condemns them under sin”

Cooper: “Kilcrease draws upon a distinction made by Theodosius Harnack between the essence and the office of the law … the office of the law differs before and after the fall, as well as in the present and eschatological ages. Forde rejects this distinction by defining the essence of the law by its condemning office.”

Kilcrease: “I do indeed affirm (in accordance with the early Wittenberg Reformation) that habituation to virtue is valid. Nevertheless, my criticism of Biermann is that this does not apply to sanctification, but only to civil righteousness. Sanctification is not something someone develops by repeated practice- that is the position of Thomas Aquinas and not Luther.”

Cooper: “While Bierman argues that Luther only rejected the ideas of habituation and virtue in the context of justification, Kilcrease purports that the Reformer rejected these concepts altogether. To adopt a frame work of virtue ethics is to argue that God gives man some kind of potentiality which he can then use in a process of self-creation or self-actualization.”

Kilcrease: “Thirdly, Cooper suggests that I believe that the law possesses a purely negative role in the Christian life. This is utterly false and slanderous. In the article cited by Cooper, I very clearly state that the law is a necessary channel for human gratitude for the salvation given in Christ. That being said, in our fallen state, the Formula of Concord and the Apology (which I quote!) state that it is impossible to disentangle this use of the law from the law’s condemning and coercive effect. This is simply a byproduct of the simul of Christian existence.”

Cooper: “He approaches the third use of the law in almost exclusively negative terms.”

Kilcrease: ” Lastly, Cooper seems to suggest that Forde and my view of the Christian life is one in which there is no genuine renewal. According to Cooper, I agree with Forde that “sanctification is getting used to justification.” Although I never use this slogan, I would actually agree with its content. That being said, what Cooper and many of his followers imply is that what this means is that one can simply live a life mired in sin and rely on justifying grace as a free pass. This is not merely a caricature of Forde’s (and my) position, it is flatly slanderous.”

Cooper: “While distancing himself from Forde in a number of ways, Kilcrease does not significantly depart from Forde’s perspective on the Christian life. Like Forde, views the Christian life as a process of getting used to the fact that one is wholly justified by faith.”

In sum, the point of controversy seems to be what the proper standard of conduct for the reborn is: Is it their relatedness to Christ or is it the unchanging will of God, the Ten Commandments? From Kilcrease’s own words in the review, it seems that he sides with Forde against the Formula by preferring the former (“relatedness”) over the latter (“law”). (update posted 7/10/2019: Jack’s own response to me about this is was as follows: “There’s no difference between ‘getting used’ to one’s new relationship with God in Christ and obeying the Ten Commandments. Being a new being in Christ means to fulfill the original purpose of creation, which is to live in accordance with the Ten Commandments.”)

“If you’re more Lutheran that Luther and the Confessions, there’s a problem.” — Christopher Jackson


Here, I point to the introduction to the article on the third use of the Law in the Epitome of the Formula of Concord:

Since the Law was given to men for three reasons: first, that thereby outward discipline might be maintained against wild, disobedient men [and that wild and intractable men might be restrained, as though by certain bars]; secondly, that men thereby may be led to the knowledge of their sins; thirdly, that after they are regenerate and [much of] the flesh notwithstanding cleaves to them, they might on this account have a fixed rule according to which they are to regulate and direct their whole life, a dissension has occurred between some few theologians concerning the third use of the Law, namely, whether it is to be urged or not upon regenerate Christians. The one side has said, Yea; the other, Nay.

I don’t know — its just a guess, but I don’t think that the writers of the Formula of Concord were concerned that the Holy Spirit might not want to urge the law on Christians these ways!

“Yea” — in spades.



Posted by on September 12, 2017 in Uncategorized


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Luther’s Antinomian Disputations for Dummies 5 (of 5): Welcome “Mr. Sin” Boldly!

Chapter 5 of 5: Sin Boldly or Welcome “Mr. Sin” Boldly? (Luther’s “Thomas Christian”)


Chapter 1: Natural Law in Martin Luther’s Antinomian Disputations

Chapter 2: Does the Christian Cease to be Under the Law of God?

Chapter 3: If the Law is Abrogated in Jesus Christ How Can the Ten Commandments be Eternal?

Chapter 4: Should the Preacher Reduce the Force of God’s Law?


“Sin boldly” means in no way boldly to sin. But enough about that. Let’s talk about those baptized into Christ welcoming “Mr. Sin” boldly. 

“we have… Christ, through whom we are pure & unleavened. And nonetheless [Paul] commands us to cast out the old leaven.” – Luther, SDEA 103

You see, it’s not just about what some call “the simul”. Many are familiar with Martin Luther’s point that Christians are simultaneously saint and sinner, which correlates with the idea of the new man and the old man, the spirit and the flesh, or sinful nature.

As one stands before God, one always must remain totally a sinner and totally a saint (100% each). The Christian’s primary identify is saint, and yet in order to be a saint one must, on earth, be willing to see one’s self as a sinner.

On earth, after all, the healthy, or righteous, do not need the doctor (or so they think!). They do not need the friend of sinners (or so they think!). If these do claim Christ as their own, they then have a false Christ. Only those who are Christians are those who are sinners and saints at the same time.


“[W]hat exercise of faith will be left….when the battle between spirit and flesh will be taken away?….” (SDEA, 261)

But few know that Martin Luther also thought that another idea was needed to really explicate the Christian’s day-by-day experience. This concept, the “Thomist Thomas or twin,” describes how the Christian is also triumphant and militant at the same time.

So what does this all mean? Luther explains in his response to the third argument of the fifth Antinomian Disputation.

First, the triumphant aspect:

“Insofar as he is triumphant, and dwells under the shadow of the wings of his Lord (cf. Psa. 36:7), as it is said (Psa. 32:1-2), “Blessed are those whose sins are covered and whom the Lord did not impute their sins” so far there is nothing about law. Here let Moses depart, let him go away to the ravens with his stuttering tongue, here I do not hear anything, neither heaven nor earth….  Insofar as the Christian is a Christian, leave him in peace and unconfused. For being accused and convicted, and being—or be­ing regarded—righteous, cannot stand at the same time. Yet the Christian is righteous by faith in Christ. In himself, however, he still has inherent sin” (ODE 150, 151).

Again, the justifiied say “Silent law!”: “He died for us, bore the curses and punishments of the law, and gave us his innocent righteousness… where I shall have Christ by faith, there I have what the law requires and demands from me. (SDEA 63, 189)


This seems a lot like the “saint” part of the sinner-saint formulation. But now, with the militant aspect of the Thomas Christian, things get really interesting – and colorful, as is Luther’s custom:

“…now I come to another area, which is widely different from that above, to the militant Christian, who still lives in the flesh, and I come to me and my person. Alas, how much wretchedness I see here! Here I, and you, insofar as we as such, would do all shameful acts in our power, if only they could be done secretly, without the knowledge of people, so that we daily and truly ought to experience how true it is, what Paul says about himself (Rom. 7:23): “I see another law in my members” etc. Yet as soon as these things take place, and as soon as this law or this carnal nature infected by the venom of Satan in Paradise rears its head and incites the poor Christian to lust, to greed, to despair, or to hatred of God, there, I say, the Christian stirs himself up and says, as if in wonder: “Look! And you are still here! Welcome, Mr. Sin. Where were you? Where did you spend your time so long? Are you still alive now? From where do you come to us? Away with you to the cross! It will absolutely not be so! I will protect my virgin and will do what is just, even against your will. And the more you torture me, even challenge and incite me to dishonor, lust, despair, the more I will laugh at you with a spirit that is both confident and strong! Trusting in the help of my Christ I will scorn you and crush your head (cf. Gen. 3:15). What do I have to do with you? I have another Lord in whose camp I am now a soldier. Here I will stay, here I will die.” This one is that glorious soldier and strong George who makes a great massacre in the army of the devil and wins gloriously, as Paul says (Rom. 8:37): “In all these things we overcome through Jesus Christ,” and he does not permit sin to devour in his flesh.

Indeed we, each in his age and situation, cannot but encounter a great number of sins and evil desires. But with God’s help, we will nevertheless not permit them to rule. I witness my flesh having a taste for the same things as the Turk, the pope, and the entire world, but don’t assent! Let him not allow the lice to build nests in the coat. Thus Paul has sin, but conquered and faint. The impious have living, ruling, triumphant sin” (SDEA 275, 277; ODE, 151, 152, italics and bold mine).[i]

Look at these passages again, paying close attention!

When it comes to the sinner-saint aspect of our Christian life, the saint identity is the primary one. So what identity do we think is primary here? Is it, as we might think, the victorious Christian aspect?

“[I]s it then here really appropriate for us; I wonder, to sleep or to be secure, to be inattentive or to snore giving the raging of an utterly vigilant and violent enemy?” (SDEA, 261)

Not in the context that Luther is here concerned with! He is clear:

“…we do not hope for peace, since we are under the Lords of Hosts, under Sabaoth, not of sleepers and snorers, but of the fighters under the Lord, who is Christ Jesus. This is why the Church living in this life is called militant, not trium­phant. Certainly, after this life, when all our enemies will be destroyed and when also death, our last enemy, will be subdued and destroyed, then we will triumph.” (SDEA, 263 ; ODE, 145)

And he is not shy about how ugly and difficult it is to “obey[] the Spirit, [and] avert[] by prayer[ii] the evil [we] feel[]… (SDEA, 271). Speaking of Christians, the pious, he goes so far as to say that disgrace and punishment may well be primary motivators for us (SDEA, 269): “…I, and you… would do all shameful acts in our power if only they could be done secretly, without the knowledge of people….” (SDEA 275, ODE 151). Again, “the law is still given to the holy and righteous Paul, not insofar as he is righteous and holy, but insofar as he is flesh, and he ought to be convicted by the law… (SDEA, 269).

Unless we watch extremely carefully in prayer—[the devil, the world, and our flesh] finally overthrow us at some time, and we will not be able to escape without huge and extremely great danger.” – Luther, SDEA 297

Note what is not being said here.

First, Luther is not denying, but is rather upholding, the distinction between venial and mortal sins. Simply put, venial sins are done vs. the renewed will of the Christian, while mortal sins are done with his full consent and pleasure (and yes, venial sins become mortal when considered insignificant — if you are confused by this, see this short post which makes things more concrete).

Second, Luther is not saying that there is nothing in the Christian that wants to conform to God’s law. He said as much earlier in the disputations, when he, for instance, states: “…insofar as there is Spirit in us, so far is there also delight in the law” (SDEA, 47, 61, 63). The point is simply that sometimes fear of punishment and disgrace is – and until death must continue to be! – a part of the Christian’s complex of motivations, which are never fully pure, but which can certainly be more or less so.[iii]

Third, while Luther is saying that motivations like this might play a part in the believer’s behavior, he is not saying that preachers, for instance, necessarily need to encourage this kind of behavior, this kind of ongoing repentance, through threats of punishment. There may be occasions where this is what they do, but at the same time, as we saw in the last post, there is also a kind of admonishment without the intention of threat that is based on appealing to believers “by the mercies of God….”

In sum, it is not difficult to imagine Luther making appeals, based on Christ’s mercy, like “stir yourself up!”, “protect your virgin!”, “Laugh at Mr. Sin!”, and the like.

One only needs to look at his sermons to see that this is the case. To see the similarities he shares with the Apostle Paul.

“Get behind me, Satan (cf. Mat. 16:23)! Shut up! No, don’t rule, flesh! Be completely silent!….These and such words are not man’s, but Christ’s and the Holy Spirit’s…” (SDEA 271)


And he has a very definite judgment about the antinomians of his day:

“Our Antinomians are so blind that they cannot recognize the doctrine of the law in Paul, e.g., in these obvious words (Phil. 4:8): “Whatever things are chaste, just, etc., these pursue.” Yet they do all things for that reason that they might render us secure and that the window might be opened for the devil in order to overthrow us unexpectedly” (ODE 156, SDEA 287, italics mine).

No patience:

“Yet Christ,” they say, “has removed your sin. Why are you sad?” This is why they continue to do what they do in an utterly secure manner. They translate the merit of the passion of Christ and of the remission of sins into luxuriousness….

Christ fulfilled the law, but it needs to be added: “Later see to it that you lead a holy, pious, and irreproachable life, as it is fit­ting for a Christian. This is what you have heard so far: Be forgiven. But lest you complain that you are utterly forsaken, I will give you my Holy Spirit, who makes you a soldier; he will even produce mighty and unspeakable cries against sin in your heart, so that you thus finally do what you wish.” But am I not unable? “Pray that I may hear you, and I will make you able…” (SDEA 303, 305, italics mine)

And if that gives you pause, remember also that this is the man who highlighted the doctrine of justification in the Church’s time of need – when it was needed the most! He, and those who follow in his train, are more than eager to give you, the penitent, absolution in Christ.

One more:

“[I]t is necessary to admonish, to stir up, and to call as if to battle, so that they may remember in what danger they live. Don’t sleep, don’t sleep and don’t snore! Awake!” (SDEA, 263)

“I walk in danger all the way…” (Hymn # 716)


We Christians can boldly face Mr. Sin because our old nature, our old Adam, is being put to death in Christ. It’s not that we were baptized, for we currently belong to him (it’s not I was married, but I am).

We are baptized. There is no condemnation for we who are found in Him.

Those who let God be God, cling to Him, and have no other hope.


The law does not want you to despair of God…it wills that you despair of yourself, but expect good from God…” — Luther (ODE, 195)





[i] Other passages that leap out to me in the Antinomian Disputations (SDEA page numbers):

To be dead and to die to sin is a Pauline phrase for battling against sin and not allowing it to rule in us. And this happens not only in one member, but in all, so that now the heart, eyes, hands, tongue, and feet do something else than before, and serve Christ the Lord, not sin, and thus become from day to the next constantly holier and better. But because this nature is totally infected by the devil, we do not hope to be fully free from sins before the body is covered by the ground and is consumed by worms. There is therefore a twofold death in Paul: To die to sin or world, and to die to nature. The impious also dies to nature, no matter how great he is. But the pious dies also in this life to sins, that is, to the world with all its evil lusts, which Paul calls elsewhere mortifying and crucifying his flesh, as he says to the Ephesians (4:28): “Who was stealing, let him steal no more.“

But such death of Christians is not seen. For it is hidden in Christ, where there is neither male nor female (cf. Gal. 3:28). But meanwhile, as long as this life lasts, we must constantly fight against the sins that remain in the flesh, which, since they cannot be totally taken away, needs to retain the law that keeps the flesh in service. (335)


Truly saints, pure, and righteous, just as even Gabriel himself in heaven, by faith; and we are truly set in the heavens with Christ (cf. Eph. 2:6). But as for myself and my flesh, I am a sinner. Yet as I there become lord of all things now and in the kingdom with Christ, over law, death, and devil, so I here become a servant of all things and a soldier of Christ against sin and all evil lusts,(i) as Christ says (John 5:14): Go, sin no more, lest something worse happen to you. (337)


Insofar as they are Christians they are rightly called righteous and are not under the law, since no law is given to the righteous (1 Tim. 1:9), insofar as he is righteous. And the greatest care needs to be taken lest Groom and bride disagree. For the forgiveness of sins ought to rule preeminently the conscience with Christ, and it ought not to be allowed that it be vexed by the law. For this bed is narrower than that it could further receive or allow the law or any tradition. Here the Groom alone lies down with the bride, after all onlookers are thrown out.

It is true, because we still carry around with us the flesh and the body of sin, the law must be added and urged; the yoke must be added, lest we begin to be lascivious, because the flesh is usually the largest part. One ought to place its feed higher and restrain it, lest it advance beyond its limits. And for the unbridled the law needs to be emphasized more than the Gospel preached. To the others I respond: Insofar as they are right, they are called righteous and not under law, since for the righteous there is no law given. (361)

[ii] See theses 17-30 from the 3rd set of theses in ODE 126-127 (SDEA 231). Here, Luther talks about the Lord’s prayer as a prayer of repentance, a powerful weapon of the Holy Spirit. “If you are a saint, why do you cry? Because I feel the sin clinging to me, and this is why I pray: “Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come.” “O Lord, be merciful to me.” But you are a saint. But you are a saint? In this way, insofar as I am a Christian, because to that extent I am righteous, pious and belonging to Christ, but insofar as I look at me and my sin, I am wretched and a very great sinner. Thus, in Christ there is no sin, and in our flesh there is no peace and quiet, but perpetual battle as long as this old Adam and this corrupt nature last. They are destroyed only by death itself” (ODE 153, SDEA 281).

[iii] Note what Luther says in this sermon excerpt. While it might initially seem to contradict the sentence this footnote is attached to, note and reflect on the words in italics:

What will your repentance profit you, if you fail to do it gladly or willingly, but are constrained by the commandment or by fear of shame, otherwise you would rather not do it? But what is the reason? Because it is a repentance in the devil’s name or in your own name. Hence you go on and do worse things, and wish there were no confession and sacrament, so that you might not be constrained to attend them. This is repentance in our own name, and proceeds from our own strength.

But when I begin to believe in Christ, lay hold of the Gospel, and do not doubt that he has taken away my sin and blotted it out, and comforts me with his resurrection; my heart is filled with such gladness that I myself take hold willingly, not through persuasion, nor of necessity, I gladly do what I ought and say: Because my Lord has done this for me, I will also do his will in this, that I may amend my ways and repent out of love to him and to his glory. In this way, a true reformation begins that proceeds from the innermost heart, and that is brought forth by the joy that flows from faith, when I apprehend the greatness of the love Christ has bestowed upon me.


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Posted by on August 16, 2017 in Uncategorized


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Luther’s Antinomian Disputations for Dummies 4 (of 5): Preaching the Law not to Condemn?

Chapter 4 of 5: Should the Preacher Reduce the Force of God’s Law?


Chapter 1: Natural Law in Martin Luther’s Antinomian Disputations

Chapter 2: Does the Christian Cease to be Under the Law of God?

Chapter 3: If the Law is Abrogated in Jesus Christ How Can the Ten Commandments be Eternal?


Lutherans, as anyone who knows about Martin Luther might expect, are famous for talking about how the law of God even accuses the most mature of Christian believers: lex semper accusat.

“Augustine [says]: ‘Since you were a fugitive from the heart.’ The law is revealed to me because of original sin; it is also to be taught. For we always sleep, given the opportunity. Therefore we are to be woken up by the law which shows us our sins” (SDEA, 383).


And it is right that we do. As Luther said of pious believers, perhaps to the surprise of some (SDEA 289),

“[they]… still have sin left in their flesh,”… [they should be] “admonished and convicted, lest they become secure and complacent; so that they can be stirred up for a battle and military service against remaining sins and temptations… the law is to be taught and inculcated… lest we become idle and sluggish, lest we perish” (SDEA, 269, 283)[i]

At the same time, there is a danger here that such a focus, if we are not sufficiently aware, might contribute to us to missing the bigger picture. In the Garden of Eden, when God gave law in the form of the command to not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, this command did not accuse, but simply informed. And in this sense, of course, it warned of danger.

As Luther put it in his Genesis commentary (AE:1), regarding the passage “On whatever day you eat from this tree, you will die by death”:

“..if they should transgress His command, God announces the punishment… as though He said: ‘Adam and Eve, now you are living without fear; death you have not experienced, nor have you seen it. This is My image, by which you are living, just as God lives. But if you sin, you will lose this image, and you will die’” (AE:1, 62).

In spite of this, we might think, fearful warning[ii], one thing that immediately stands out about Luther’s commentary is that Luther gives the impression that man, created in the image of God[iii], was perfectly at ease with his Creator.[iv]

For example, Luther writes that prior to the fall, man’s “intellect was clearest, his memory was the best, and his will was the most straightforward – all in the beautiful tranquility of mind, without any fear of death and without any anxiety” (AE:1, 62), and also asks “who [now] could understand what it means to be in a life free from fear, without terrors and dangers, and to be wise, upright, good, and free from all disasters, spiritual as well as physical?” (AE:1, 65, italics mine).[v]

“God does not command man impossible things. But man himself, by sin, falls into impossible things… God is forced to give us the law and show or reveal ourselves to us…” – Luther, SDEA 291


Luther says more about Adam and Eve’s original state:

“You can remain in the life for which I have created you. And yet you will not be immortal in the same way as the angels. Your life is, as it were, placed in the middle: you can remain in it and afterwards be carried to an immortality that cannot be lost; contrariwise, if you do not obey, you will become a victim of death and lose your immortality…[this is] the deathless life in which there would be no further opportunity of sinning” (AE:1, 111).[vi]

With the Fall however, everything changes. As Luther points out, the new situation demands a new word from the Lord: “[W]e have a different Word, which Adam did not have when his nature was perfect…”[vii] “The Law given to the unrighteous is not the same Law that was given to righteous Adam” (AE:1, 109).

God’s commands – His Law – begins to accuse us. And rightly so. Even now, for we who have begun to know the amazing grace found in Jesus Christ.

Elsewhere in the Antinomian Disputations, Luther makes this abundantly clear:

“[The Antinomians] cast aside [this terrifying and convicting use of the law] when they damn as sacrilege the terrifying of the pious by the law…. The law is still given to the holy and righteous Paul, not insofar as he is righteous and holy, but insofar as he is flesh, and he ought to be convicted of the law.” (SDEA, 265, 269)

At this point we are very far from the intent of the original command in the Garden! No one can doubt that Luther believes that the pious should, in some sense, remain terrified by the law of God. This was also seen from the quotations from the Antinomian Disputations in the second chapter of our series (Does the Law cease for the Christian) …. Lutherans would typically associate this kind of thing with the “second use of the law,” (the law as mirror, given to convict) and not see this as qualifying as a separate “third use” (the law as a guide to what pleases the Lord).

At the same time, when it comes to this convicting function of the law, there are concerns thoughtful Christians should have.

Lutheran saint Kurt Marquart: to not preach the third use of the law is break the bruised reed and snuff out the smoldering wick


For example, after one of the greatest Lutheran theologians of the 20th century had given a talk defending the 3rd use of the law, (I speak about this presentation more briefly in this post) he was questioned by another popular teacher and seminary professor in the following way (this text is at the end of the linked post):

Questioner 3: Thank you. The Gospel cannot be preached without preaching the Law—

Dr. Marquart: Yes.

Questioner 3: —calling to repentance, God working contrition. Does not the Law that brings about contrition and repentance also serve the function of admonishing the Christians to what is good? Or [does] the Law need to be separated in its application in terms of second and third use? In other words, if the Law has been preached to work repentance, does it then need to be repeated again in some sort of way that—different sense, after the Gospel has been proclaimed and comforts and is the means by which the Holy Spirit quickens?

Dr. Marquart: There’s a very important question, and in answer I should like to say that we should beware of all legalisms that want to confine preaching to some particular formula, like this “goal, malady, means,” which is pure manipulation. Rather, the Christian preacher ought to present that in freedom, so that his sermons are basically unpredictable. People should not be able to see—look at their watch and say, “OK, he’s had ten minutes of Law, now he must be going to say—the next ten minutes, Gospel.” That’s too predictable, too mechanical. Rather, Law and Gospel ought to be intertwined. They ought to be in dialogue constantly. And the second use of the Law basically will concentrate on our evil and our sins. But the third use of the Law should concentrate on the good things which are pleasing to God. So that’s how these ought to be handled differently. But, of course, the Holy Spirit will, in the preaching of the Law, will do both things at the same time. But yes, pastors ought deliberately to have in mind to support the new creation in its struggles against the world, the devil, and the flesh. But there’s no particular formula, in other words, and, for example, some say, “Never end with an admonition.” Why not? What’s wrong with, after a rich Gospel sermon, saying, “And so the Lord gave us these riches; let us go and do likewise.” Nothing wrong with that. So—

Questioner 3: So, just to clarify, the Law is doing both when it is proclaimed—second or third use—

Dr. Marquart: It can.

Questioner 3: —first, second, third—

Dr. Marquart: It can do both.

Questioner 3: But the “uses” are more descriptions of how the Law functions—

Dr. Marquart: Right.

Questioner 3: —as opposed to being able to be—

Dr. Marquart: But the preacher needs to make the distinction, because otherwise, the recipient will feel that he is just an unconverted sinner and needs converting every Sunday.

Note the last line. What is fascinating about this exchange between Dr. Marquart and this other theologian is that Martin Luther shows a similar sensitivity when it comes to the law’s condemning function and the person who is already a Christian.

“You are a saint and pray because of sin. You make sense of it” – Luther, SDEA 291


In the quotation which follows, take note of what Luther says — presumably to someone who was sympathetic to the Antinomians — during the twenty-first question in the second of the Antinomian Disputations. Also, please take note that this is not even a concession that Luther makes to the Antinomians, but simply a concise re-stating of themes that he had already sounded earlier:

The law is already mitigated greatly by the justification which we have because of Christ; and it thus ought not to terrify the justified. Yet meanwhile Satan himself comes along and makes it often overly harsh among the justified. This is why it happens that those are often terrified who ought not to be, by the fault of the devil.

Yet the law is nonetheless not to be removed from the temples; and it is indeed to be taught, since even the saints have sin left in their flesh which is to be purged by the law, until it is utterly driven out. For this wrestling match remains for the saints as long as they live here. Here they fight by day and night. There they finally overcome through Christ.

Before justification the law ruled and terrified all whom it touched. But 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. For I ought not to say or preach: You are not under the remission of sins. Likewise: You will be condemned; God hates you etc. For these sayings do not pertain to those who have received Christ, but address the ruthless and wild. The law then is to be attenuated for them and is to be taught them by way of exhortation: Once you were gentiles; now, however, you are sprinkled and washed by the blood of Christ (cf. Eph. 2:11, 13; 1 Cor. 6:11). Therefore now offer you bodies to obey righteousness, putting away the desires of the flesh, lest you become like this world (cf. Rom. 12:1-2; 6:13; Eph. 4:22). Be imitators of the righteousness of good works (cf. Tit. 2:14) and do not be unrighteous, condemned like Cain etc.; you have Christ” (ODE 116, SDEA 211, 212, italics mine)

“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.” Here, in the Antinomian Disputations we see Luther talking about what the later Lutherans would recognize as and call the “third use of the law,” even if he himself did not call it this. While Christians, unlike Christ, cannot receive the law completely without threat, they nevertheless do begin to delight in it (see SDEA 61). This, of course, would help explain why the Apostle Paul preaches differently in Romans 1-3 and Romans 12ff, for example.

Yes, but not in the way described by Luther himself?


To re-iterate once again, because of the fall this use of the law is not the primary or “proper one” — for our great sin must be exposed – continually – that we might continually see our need for our great Savior. With this proper use of the law established as foundational in our minds, this “third” use of the law can then help us to remember and recall the purpose of the original laws and commands given to Adam and Eve.

In other words, these are things given not to accuse (even as, insofar as we are sinners, we will be), but again, to keep us safe, to guide and invite.

To be encouraged by and to delight in… because of the mercies of God! (check out Romans, chapter 12)

“The law does not want you to despair of God…it wills that you despair of yourself, but expect good from God…” — Luther (ODE, 195)





[i] Here, Luther warns of the possibility of losing faith. Elsewhere though, he is very positive about this fight of faith, essentially speaking about how losing faith should never happen. The Lord “can lead into battle, but he himself wants to console the conscience, having given for this purpose the Holy Spirit who sufficiently arms those who are his” (SDEA 267, italics mine). Referring to Micah 6:8, “Walk attentively with your God,” he says “…the Christians indeed are taught the law, but with a certain prerogative, because they triumph in these matters and do not succumb, neither to sins – even if they are sometimes opposed – nor to the law” (SDEA 287).

[ii] Luther’s translation of God’s warning is a far cry from even St. Augustine’s: “I will kill you.” See AE 1: 62-65, 111. Luther appears to steer away from this kind of Augustinian interpretation.

[iii] Related to this concept, Luther forthrightly lays out the teleological-related truths one may gather from divine revelation, stating that “man is a unique creature and that he [alone] is suited to be a partaker of divinity and immortality” (AE 1: 115).[iii] Related to this goal, Luther elsewhere says the following:

“It is revealed in the Word of God, which alone, as I said, imparts true information about the two main causes, the effective and the final; knowledge of these, if available, is considered to be of the greatest importance also in matters pertaining to nature. What advantage is there in knowing how beautiful a creature is man if you are unaware of his purpose, namely, that he was created to worship God and to live eternally with God?” (131)

He goes on to say:

“The main goal, then, to which Scripture points is that man is created according to the likeness of God; in eternity, therefore, he is to live with God, and while he is here on earth, he is to preach God, thank Him, and patiently obey His Word. In this life we lay hold of this goal in ever so weak a manner; but in the future life we shall attain it fully. This the philosophers do not know. Therefore the world with its greatest wisdom is most ignorant when it does not take advantage of Holy Scripture or of theology. Human beings know neither their beginning nor their end when they are without the Word. I say nothing about the remaining creatures” (131).

[iv] “[This tree] was forbidden; and… in this respect they should obey so gracious a Creator… In this way Adam and Eve, resplendent with innocence and original righteousness, and abounding in peace of mind because of their trust in God, who was so kind, walked about naked while they discoursed on the Word and command of God and praised God, just as should be done on the Sabbath. But the, alas, Satan interfered and within a few hours ruined all this, as we shall hear” (AE 1: 144, italics mine).

One is reminded of what Luther writes in his Small Catechism, about the first article of the Apostle’s Creed: “… and all this out of pure, fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me; for all which I owe it to Him to thank, praise, serve, and obey Him. This is most certainly true. (SC II.1)”

[v] Of course, by way of contrast, in Reformed theology, there is the notion of a covenant of works, whereby man was to earn his final salvation through his deeds, but in Luther’s Genesis commentary, one looks in vain for such a concept. See Pastor Jordan Cooper’s blog post on the topic here:

[vi] Elsewhere he writes: “It is not our business to determine or to investigate too inquisitively why God wanted to create man in this middle condition, or why man was so created that all people are brought into being from one through procreation [unlike the angels]…” (AE: 1, 112).

[vii] What he goes on to say connects all of this with the need even Adam and Eve had to actively and consciously fight temptation, consenting to the work of God’s Spirit, through His word, within them:

“….this tree in the middle of the garden would have been like a temple in which this Word would be preached: that all the other trees were wholesome, but that this one was destructive. Therefore they should have learned to obey God and to render Him the service of refraining from eating of it, since God had forbidden it.

In this way uncorrupted nature, which had the true knowledge of God, nevertheless had a Word of command which was beyond Adam’s understanding and had to be believed. Moreover, this command was given to Adam’s innocent nature that he might have a directive or form for worshipping God, for giving thanks to God, and for instructing his children. Since the devil sees this and knows that this command is beyond the understanding of the human being he tempts Eve so that she herself may not proceed to ponder whether this is God’s command and will or not. This is the beginning and the main part of every temptation, when reason tries to reach a decision about the Word and God on its own without the Word” (AE:1, 154).

Luther also explains elsewhere that the tree had this “death-dealing” power because of the Word of God coupled with it, much like the serpent that was raised up in the wilderness had “life-giving” power to save. (AE:1, 227)


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Posted by on August 14, 2017 in Uncategorized


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Luther’s Antinomian Disputations for Dummies 3 (of 5): the Law Abrogated?

Chapter 3 of 5: If the Law is Abrogated in Jesus Christ How Can the Ten Commandments be Eternal?


Chapter 1: Natural Law in Martin Luther’s Antinomian Disputations

Chapter 2: Does the Christian Cease to be Under the Law of God?


Is the law abrogated[i] in Jesus Christ, and if so, how can the Ten Commandments be eternal? This post addresses this question in some detail.

In the twelfth argument in the first disputation of the Antinomian Disputations of 1537, a student asks:

“Isn’t the New Testament called “new” because it differs from the Old?…. The Old Testament is removed and the New is chosen as a substitute instead. The law pertains to the Old Testament. Therefore the law is not to be taught….”


Luther responds:

We have talked earlier about the abrogation of the law [note: see below!] The law and the prophets last till Christ. When he is present, they cease, since he fulfills the law. And then, since the law condemned him as an innocent, he removed the entire power of the law, which consists in requiring, accusing, and terrifying. This requiring ceased in Christ, but only through the forgiveness of sins and divine imputation; for it is God’s will to consider the law fulfilled as long as we believe in the Fulfiller of the law. Additionally, he gives the Holy Spirit so that we begin to fulfill it here. In the future life we will be like the Fulfiller, Christ (I John 3:2)

Therefore, to the extent the law is fulfilled, it is removed. In Christ it is fulfilled perfectly. In us, it is not, because we do not believe this with a firm faith” (SDEA 71, 73, italics mine).

The really significant word above for our purposes in this chapter is “requiring”. The Law makes specific requirements, and backs them up with the threat of punishment from God. When Christ comes however, this “requiring” ceases in Him.

And evidently, some Christians, presumably those with a “firm faith,” are not going to feel the accusation and terror of the law as much as others. Not necessarily because sin has decreased so much in them in particular – though this may certainly have some impact on their disposition as well – but, above all, because they really do firmly believe in and bank on God’s grace and mercy in the Lord Jesus Christ. “Lord, I am not worthy… but only say the word and I will be healed.”

In other words, before God, they know they are in His “good graces” and at peace with Him! Therefore, when they reflect and meditate on the law, the “requirement” aspect fades… it is, in a very real sense, now largely about looking forward to the righteousness found in, with, and through Jesus Christ that will be fully theirs’ in heaven and which is only experience piecemeal in this life…[ii]

Still, one might wonder if this means that the law will be no more in heaven – when we are perfect in Him? Are the Ten Commandments, the Decalogue, perhaps not eternal after all?

Luther’s Antinomian opponent, Agricola. Luther: “These true disciples of Satan seem to think that the law is something temporal that has ceased under Christ, like circumcision” (SDEA 141, italics mine).


Here, it is helpful to see what Luther wrote in response to an earlier argument, the seventh one, on that same day. To a student who said….:

Whatever is annulled is not effective. The law is annulled. Therefore, it is not to be taught. Paul proves to the Romans, that it is annulled, 6(:14): “you are not under law but under grace.” The sermons of Peter, Paul, Barnabas, and others in Acts prove the same thing.”

Luther responded with one of the most theologically rich passages in the First Disputation which is worth quoting in full:

Circumcision and other ceremonies were meant for a certain people and time; after its completion, they ceased. Yet the Decalogue still dwells in the conscience. For if God had never given the law by Moses, the human mind nonetheless by nature would have had the idea that God is to be worshiped and the neighbor is to be loved. The Decalogue also has its predetermined time; that is to say, when Christ appeared in the flesh and submitted himself to the law, he took away its right and restrained its sen­tence, so that it may not be able to drive into despair and condemn.

In the future life, however, it will be totally removed. In heaven it will not be necessary to admonish to love God. But then we will truly and perfectly do what Christ did here. At that time you will not say: “I should love the Father,” but: “I love the Father,” and “as he has given me command, thus I do.”

Under Christ, therefore, the law is in the state of being done, not in that of having been done. Here believers need to be admonished by the law. In heaven there will be no debt or any demand, but the finished work of the law and the highest love. Thus, the demand of the law is sad, burdensome, and impossible for those who are outside of Christ. Contrariwise, among those who are under Christ, it begins to be done as something enjoyable, possible in the first fruits, albeit not in the tithes.[iii] And therefore it must necessarily be taught among Christians. Not, to be sure, because of faith which has the spirit subject to the law, but because of the flesh which resists the spirit in the saints, Gal. 5(:17). To the extent it (the flesh) lives, the law is not abrogated; but it (the flesh) does not rule, but is forced to be subject to the spirit in servitude.

The law, therefore, is necessary, first, for the ruthless and the foolish who need to be coerced; second, for the faithful who are still dealing with the remainders of sin. For as sin and death never rest, but repeatedly perturb and sadden the pious as long as they live, so the law repeatedly returns to the consciences of the pious and utterly terrifies them. Yet when we are raised, it will simply be abolished; it will neither teach us nor exact anything from us.

Thus it is the office of Christ also in this life to reinstate the human race in that lost innocence and joyful obedience to the law, which existed in Paradise in the positive. This he did when he died for us, bore the curses and punishments of the law, and gave us his innocent righteousness. In this way the law obedience becomes joyful to us in some other way; we will render it in the superlative in heaven.[iv] . Since, therefore, most are hardened and impenitent, and since the saints in this life do not entirely leave the old man and feel the law in their members rebelling against the law of their mind and bringing it into captivity (cf. Rom. 7:23), the law must not be removed from the Church, but must be retained and faithfully driven home (SDEA 61, 63, italics mine).[v]

“But watch meanwhile, lest you make Christ into some lawgiver like Mo­hamed, because this is not his proper office. But rather that you look at him and accept him as much as Mediator and as Savior who came to fulfill the law, but not to remove it….” (SDEA 315).


Some core things to notice.

First, here we again see that the “requirement,” or “exacting” aspect of the law fades… “[Christ] took away [the law’s] right and restrained its sentence, so that it may not be able to drive into despair and condemn.”

Second, right after saying this, Luther notes that in the future life “[the Decalogue] will be totally removed.” Does He mean to say that everything that might pertain to the Ten Commandments will be totally removed? This might seem to be the case, because he says, for example, that in heaven “it will not be necessary to admonish to love God,” and “when we are raised, [the law] will simply be abolished; it will neither teach us nor exact anything from us.” Elsewhere in the disputations, he says “The believer…is dead to the law and does not serve the law, insofar as he is such a one in the bosom of grace and in divine consideration” (SDEA 301)

On the other hand, might the phrase “it will be totally be removed” be zeroing in on “its right” and “its sentence,” meaning it’s just accusation and punishment? In other words the “requirement,” or “exact[ing]” aspect of the law noted above will be no more? Put another way, that the thing which treats us like slaves who must be forced to do good, bringing with it the looming threat of punishment, will be no more? After all, right after talking about how the believer does not “serve the law,” in one sense, he goes right on to quote the Apostle Paul: “With the mind, I serve the law of God, but with the flesh I serve the law of sin” (Rom. 7:25)! (SDEA 301)

The word “admonish,” as SDEA translator Holger Sonntag points out, is not necessarily the law preached with the specific intent to kill and condemn but can also be used in contexts where the concern is to rather to guide the Christian on earth (as will be seen in a future post in this series). Even so though, while on earth sin remains with us which means the “teeth” of the law, with its “requirement” aspect, also remains.

“The world is evil and daily becomes worse, and it does not let itself be taught and admonished, as you will also experience in the future when we[, the reformers,] are dead” (SDEA 319).


But not so in heaven! For “Old Adam” will be no more and there will be no one to accuse!

So this brings us to these final, more specific, questions: if there is a sense in which the law “will totally be removed,” what will be the law, if anything, in heaven? Will it simply cease to exist entirely? Can we then say that it is not eternal in any sense? Does this mean that the word “law” is now a completely “empty” term, having no content at all?

Not at all. Elsewhere in the Antinomian Disputations, when one disputant says the law is an “abolished word,” therefore not to be taught, Luther says it is abolished in that it does not condemn – and that faith confirms the law (SDEA, 385). Indeed, he also contrasts the law “taken simply” with the law that accuses us: for the angels and saints in heaven, “[t]he law is empty speech, because they do with joy the things of the law” (SDEA, 161). To say that Luther can say these things while not saying that the law has a form or way of life in mind that conforms to God’s will now and forever is simply not credible. Note also what Luther says about the life to come in the longer quote above: “At that time you will not say: ‘I should love the Father, but: ‘I love the Father,’ and ‘as he has given me command thus I do.’” (61, italics mine).

Here we see a hint of what the commandments of God are (see Rom. 7, for the explicit connecting of the Decalogue’s commands and the law), and were meant to be. From the beginning, God’s commandments were never meant to accuse, but to protect (warning us!), guide, and invite. Minus its accusation, the law simply gives us another picture of the eternal will of God for man on earth and in heaven. This, of course – the fact that reality is ultimately, as I like to philosophically put it, “an ontology of harmony for eternity” – is seen most clearly in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“[Christ came] to liberate all who believed in him from the curse of the law… its [terrifying and condemning] yoke is to be removed from the necks of the believers… and Christ’s yoke is to be imposed on them” (SDEA 73).


Or again, as my pastor put it (see chapter 2):

“….when we speak of the law being fulfilled in eternity, it is not that it is like a bucket that has now been filled and we can move on to something else, but a stream that continues to flow throughout eternity, for love and the fulfilling of the law, i.e. the Decalogue, are in effect, the exact same thing” (italics mine).[vi]

In sum, the will of God – which includes Jesus Christ as the law’s end, goal, or telos – is not devoid of commands[vii], even as, because of His perfect life and innocent death for us, these commands have no power to accuse. They only, from a place of total peace with God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, reveal to us all we were made to gladly be and do.

And to gladly be and do without any hesitation we indeed will – in the life to come. And now, it is not that love can only be present where the law is absent.[viii] After all, Paul invites us – admonishes us – to “[o]we no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” And as Luther reminds us, “under Christ, it begins to be done as something enjoyable” (SDEA 47, 61, 63). Looking even further ahead to the future life, the real key is revealed: “in heaven there will be no debt or any demand, but the finished work of the law and the highest love” (SDEA 61).

The law fulfilled in love to the highest degree, in all glad willingness! And in full accordance with the commands of the Decalogue, the eternal will of God.

Luther sums up matters beautifully in the thirteenth argument of this same disputation:

Peter explains in Acts 15 how it is to be understood that neither the ceremonial law—with which he deals there chiefly—nor the moral law, is to be imposed on the neck of the brethren; ob­viously because Christ has come in order to fulfill the law, which neither the fathers nor their offspring were able to bear; and to liberate all who believed in him from the curse of the law. Since, therefore, its office is to terrify and condemn, its yoke is to be removed from the necks of the believers, Gentiles as well as Jews, and Christ’s yoke is to be imposed on them, so that they may live under him in peace who rendered the owed obedience required by the law and gave it to those who believe in him. It is nonetheless to be fulfilled by the pious also, to mortify the works of the flesh by the Spirit, in order to purge out the old leaven (Rom. 8:13; 1 Cor. 5:7). Thus, the law remains, but its burden or yoke does not weigh down the necks of those upon whom Christ’s burden is imposed, because it is easy and light (Matt. 11:30)” (SDEA 73)


The law does not want you to despair of God…it wills that you despair of yourself, but expect good from God…” — Luther (ODE, 195)




[i] As regards what happens to the law in the Christian life, there are other words besides “abrogate” that are used throughout the Antinomian Disputations, and it is interesting to see how Luther uses them. To the statement, “An abolished word is not to be taught. The law is an abolished word. Therefore it is not to be taught,” Luther responds very briefly: “The law is abolished for the Christians, so that it does not con­demn, but it is confirmed nonetheless, as Paul says: We do not destroy the law by faith, but we confirm it (Rom. 3:31). For after I have accepted righteous­ness the law thinks like me and affirms that I have true righteousness” (SDEA 385, italics mine). Note the “so that is does not condemn,” as elsewhere Luther states, for example, that “Christ did not abolish the law, but because of Pharisaical delusions explained the law perfectly and spiritually” (SDEA 187). To the statement, “We are not under the law. Therefore it does not condemn,” Luther responds: “It is a good argument. We are not under the law, but with the law. The law does not condemn us but nonetheless the law is needed for the remainders of sin” (SDEA 383). See the previous post as well.

[ii] In the 18th argument of the First Disputation, Luther says the following:

“[W]e die to sin through Christ who was made a sacrifice to sin and thereby killed sin, so that it is no longer able to dominate us. Therefore, to the extent we have died to law and sin by faith in Christ and are buried with him, to that extent sins are dead to us, that is, they are unable to rage and exercise their tyranny against us. This is not a pernicious but a salutary death.

Yet it does not follow from this that the law is removed or is to be removed, or that sin is removed in such a way that it is no longer felt by the pious. Rather, because of Christ, the law’s Fulfiller, the believers are not driven into despair by the accusation and terror of the law, but are lifted up by his word. Then, because of this Christ, the Victor over sin, they are as dead to sin as sin is to them. To the extent they have flesh, however, to that extent the law and sin rule in them” (p. 93).

[iii] Footnote from SDEA: “Before you can give the tithe, there is the firstfruits. However, Eze. 20:40, according to the Vulgate, says this: “In monte sancto meo in monte excelso Israhel ait Dominus Deus ibi serviet mihi omnis domus Israhel omnes inquam in terra in qua placebunt mihi et ibi quaeram primitias vestras et initium decimarum vestrarum in omnibus sanctificationibus vestris.” That is: “On my holy mountain, on the exalted mountain of Israel, says the Lord God, there the whole house of Israel will serve me, all of them, I say, in the land in which they will please me; and there I will seek your firstfruits and the beginning of your tithes in all your sanctifications (sacrifices).”

[iv] Footnote from SDEA: “In Paradise, man’s obedience was joyful in the lowest, the positive degree of comparison. In heaven, there will be most joyful obedience—joyful obedience in the highest, the su­perlative degree of comparison.”

[v] There is another point in the Antinomian Disputations where Luther talks about the law’s abrogation in some colorful detail and in the context of the Christian’s struggle vs. sin:

“But isn’t the law abrogated? Well said, insofar as the mercy is concerned that overshadows you and considers you righteous. But show me one person who does not still feel in his flesh his very many afflictions and evils. Show me the adolescent who, when he is alone with a beautiful girl, would not say: “O my beloved! Here, when we are by ourselves, we ought to pray, I think, lest we fall into temptation” (cf. Mat. 6:13; 26:41). Yes, I think, they ought to pray, that it lasts over a year.

These and such things the pious person feels and battles against as much as he can, believes in Christ who fulfilled the law for him; and later on, he battles sin and may not be so idle and secure as if he were already sailing in the harbor. And I do not believe at all that these Antinomians are so holy that I would dare to give them my wife Katy or my daughter. I will not do that. I do not fight the Antinomians out of hatred or envy, but out of the greatest necessity, because I see what will come and what will one day follow out of their teachings, namely, those last times, concerning which Christ and the divine Peter lament” (305).

[vi] Paul Strawn, email correspondence, Aug. 2, 2017.

[vii] In his response to the second argument in the first disputation, Luther says “After sin has been taken away, the law has no right to accuse us, so that he now ‘is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes’” (Rom. 10:4). It is critical to note here the way that Christ is the end of the law – namely that now, in Him, it “has no right to accuse us.”

Elsewhere, as regards Christ as the law’s end, he writes: “Christ fulfilled the whole law. For he is the end of the law (Rom. 10:4), not only of the ceremonial laws or the judicial laws, but also of the Decalogue itself; in this life through the remission of sins which the Gospel offers to all who believe in him; in the life eternal, however, also formally. Yet the end of the Mosaic law is in that text, Deuteronomy 18(:18-19): ‘I will raise up for them a Prophet from among the brethren etc. Whoever will not listen to him, whose avenger I will become.” There he demotes Moses, since he says: “You, O Israel, have heard this Moses and have done well in doing so. But at some time he will come to an end, and I will send you another one whose avenger I will be if you do not listen to him’” (SDEA 187).

[viii] Elsewhere in the Antinomian Disputations, when one disputant says believers are not under the law, and therefore its condemnation, Luther replies by saying that the Christian is not under the law but with the law (SDEA 383). Insofar as we are sinners, we are still under this law.  See the previous post as well.


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Posted by on August 11, 2017 in Uncategorized


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Luther’s Antinomian Disputations for Dummies 2 (of 5): Under the Law?

Chapter 2 of 5: Does the Christian Cease to be Under the Law of God?



Chapter 1: Natural Law in Martin Luther’s Antinomian Disputations


While we would never say that the Christian ceases to be subservient to the will of God, does the Christian cease to be under the law of God?

Some today would say that this is the case, full stop. What should we say to such theologians?

The following passage from Martin Luther’s Antinomian Disputations is a very helpful place to start, summing up lots of important content. Here it is (SDEA, 165; ODE 93-94):

We are not under the law, that is, the one that accuses us. It is improperly said that the angels, who in all respects satisfy the law willingly because their nature leads them to this and not because the law demands it, are under the law. Therefore the law also cannot accuse an angel. We too are not under the law, but in a different way, and the law cannot accuse us either, because it is already fulfilled by an alien righteousness, that is, Christ’s, and all this is in our name. Therefore, since this head of mine, that is, Christ, is constantly with me, I do not care much about the uproarious law.

Next, I also respond secondly: We are not under the law that accuses us. For after receiving the Holy Spirit we begin to detest sin, and hate it, and we purge it with the help of the Holy Spirit, not consenting to sin but driving it back. Since we, therefore, have sin in such a way—not that it rules, but that it is forced to serve us for our good—what is it that we fear or mourn? We have the certain testimony of the Holy Spirit in our hearts that since Christ gave us his fulfillment of the law, on account of Christ, our sins certainly are forgiven us. Furthermore, even though I have the occasion, place, and time to fornicate, commit adultery, steal, etc. without any disgrace or punishment, I still do not do it. Here I experience truly and in myself that the Holy Spirit dwells in my heart and is efficacious. (italics mine)

A few pages later Luther says the same thing using more theological terms. Regarding the first paragraph above, it describes the believer ceasing to be under the law that accuses us “in an imputative manner” by faith in Christ. In like fashion, the second paragraph describes the Christian ceasing to be under the law that accuses us “in a formal way as well”.

Lutherans in particular are pretty familiar with the first thing Luther talks about here, the matter of divine imputation…

The justifiied say “Silent law!”: “He died for us, bore the curses and punishments of the law, and gave us his innocent righteousness… where I shall have Christ by faith, there I have what the law requires and demands from me. (SDEA 63, 189)


This means that we are justified by grace through faith for Christ’s sake. We call this the doctrine of justification, which is distinct, but goes hand in hand with what we might call passive sanctification. Here, in order to comfort the terrified conscience and silence the accusations of the law, Luther will go so far as to use language like the following:

  • “…the demand and the accusation of the law, because of what it demands, ends among the pious when Christ is present who says: “Look at me who do for them what you demand—so stop it!” (SDEA 217)
  • “The damning and accusing law will not apply to those anymore who, by John’s showing, have accepted Christ.” (SDEA 365)
  • “For the Christian who abides under the wings of his hen (cf. Mat. 23:37) is free from all laws” (SDEA 277).

Again, in a context like this, Luther even goes so far to say things like the following “the law is neither useful nor necessary for justification or for good works, let alone any salvation” (SDEA 239).[i] On the other hand, Luther also says very interesting things like this: “When death and sin are removed (as Christ did), then the law is profit­ably eliminated, indeed, it is established, Rom. 3(:31)” (SDEA, 249, italics mine).

This brings us to the way the Christian ceases to be under the law that accuses us in a formal manner. This kind of thing has to do with the fact that the Christian, in line with the law of God, continues to confess before God, who is “faithful and righteous to forgive our sins,” the “unbelief, untruthfulness, fear and doubt toward God, despair, likewise anger, concupiscence, hatred, enmity, etc.” – the sin! – which remains in them. When Luther elsewhere says “I purge and mortify more and more the sin that still remains in my flesh…” (SDEA, 159) he first of all means that the Spirit-led believer, by faith, not only passively but actively participates in this act of “continual justification”.

Luther: “Christ is really present in faith itself.” (a focus of this imperfect book). And…”When [Christ] is present the law loses its power. It cannot administer wrath because Christ has freed us from it.” (SDEA 59)

One author commenting on what Luther says in the initial quote above however, puts matters in this peculiar way: “The Christian is successful vs. sin because the Christian and Holy Spirit are not law” (Nicholas Hopman, Luther’s Antinomian Disputations and lex aeterna, footnote 122).

Is that really the way we should be putting things? Is this really what Luther wants us to take away from passages like this? And even if it were true – something I don’t believe should be conceded – would this be the whole story we should know?

Not at all! For while on earth the Holy Spirit always uses God’s law with us and acts in accordance with it! Would that we be most wary of giving the opposite impression!

First of all, even though it might sound in these passages above that the Christian is not under the law of God at all, just a few pages later, Luther puts it this way: “the saints are under the law and without the law” (SDEA 161)! Indeed, insofar as “old Adam” remains in us, we are indeed under the law.[ii]

Second, just a little while later in the Antinomian Disputations, Luther talks about “a very appropriate and very joyous definition of the law” (SDEA 171), namely, how the law – certainly wielded by the Spirit (see SDEA 37) – terrifies consciences in an “evangelical” way by instructing toward Christ: “True fear [of God] with love, or from the law, does call me to love in an evangelical way, so that I, humbled, come to know myself for whom I am, namely, that I do not have love” (SDEA 169, see SDEA 153 as well).[iii]

Third, and perhaps most importantly, while Luther in one place defines the law[iv] as that which reveals sin (“whatever shows sin, wrath, and death”) (SDEA 137), in another place he states that “’law’ in Paul simply and properly means the law which is not yet fulfilled but which is to be fulfilled” (SDEA 283, italics mine), indicating that the law has a very specific form of life in mind not only now but in the future, which in turn means that the reason the law reveals sin and accuses us as sinners is because of its specific content. And the specific descriptions of what “should” and “should not” be as regards us are first and foremost the Ten Commandments.[v]

“Who will eliminate that living law inscribed in the hearts (cf. Rom. 2:15) and the handwriting of requirement (cf. Col. 2:14) that stands against us, which is identical with the Law of Moses?” (SDEA 233). Christ will not eliminate it, but establish it in us for eternity.


In short, true eternal life is found in the Holy Spirit who works in us in love, where “love is the fulfilling of the law…[i.e. the Decalogue]” for “the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13). This certainly will only fully describe our reality in the life to come. As my pastor put it:

“….when we speak of the law being fulfilled in eternity, it is not that it is like a bucket that has now been filled and we can move on to something else, but a stream that continues to flow throughout eternity, for love and the fulfilling of the law, i.e. the Decalogue, are in effect, the exact same thing” (italics mine).[vi]

This is a critical point that forces us to consider not only the “imputative manner” by which we, being “hid in Christ,” cease to be under the law. And it also forces us to move beyond the “formal manner” by which the Christian, by faith, actively obtains “continual justification” by continuing to run to Jesus Christ who perpetually pardons. Luther points out that the Christian’s purging sin also implies the pursuit of the good works God has prepared in advance for us to do. As he puts it elsewhere in the Antinomian Disputations:

After receiving him, I begin to wholeheartedly hate everything that offends his name and become a pursuer of good works. What is left in me of sin, this I purge until I become totally pure, and this in the same Spirit who is given on Christ’s account” (SDEA 163, italics mine).[vii]

Relatedly, as he says in response to the fifth argument of the second disputation, “faith…ought to be so great that love is kindled in us and fear is cast out more and more from day to day, until finally, after all fear and trembling is entirely conquered and cast out, love rules utterly in us” (SDEA, 169).

Luther sees this point as being absolutely critical to the Christian life. In his response to the previous argument that day, he discusses I Jn. 4:18 which states that “He who fears is not perfect in love,” explaining that if one fears they do not yet have love or have “laid hold of the gospel concerning Christ”.

“…when the law comes, security ceases, and it leads us to know ourselves.” (SDEA 311)


On the other hand, Luther speaks differently when he speaks about the “constant struggle of holy believers” to love perfectly. If there is a love which is “genuine and not fake,” he says the law which is administered rightly (see SDEA, 173) cannot be so great that it will cast love out of one’s heart because it will “compel me to take refuge in Christ” (SDEA 169).

Therefore, the fear and even terror that the believers experience from the law is not a “fear without love” – for the law does not teach thisbut one with love: it “call[s] me to love in an evangelical way, so that I, humbled, come to know myself for whom I am, namely, that I do not have love”. With this distinctly “evangelical love” in mind, the Christian can therefore “break though these monsters [of fear and fright] to love and not stop until it, not fear, rules within you…” (SDEA 169)

Again, “holy believers” will not be filled with fear and fright – for them, the terrors of the law cannot be so great that it will cast love out of one’s heart because it will “compel me to take refuge in Christ.” No doubt, on earth the “law of the Spirit” in the Christian may well be indistinguishable from the unbeliever who appears, externally, to fulfill God’s Law. The true believer who strives for holiness, however, knows God’s comfort comes in a variety of forms: “The law does not want you to despair of God…it wills that you despair of yourself, but expect good from God…” (SDEA 367, 369).

“[U]nless repentance is preached in Christ’s name, the repentance of Cain and Judas happens.” (SDEA 227)

Always. For Luther states that

“…the ruling spirit is required, as Paul says (cf. Rom. 7:15ff.): ‘Very well, I do feel sin, despair. I feel death. Does a person really have to remain here? By no means! But one has to strive with hands and feet to hurry to this (Ex. 33:11; 2 Sam. 12:13): ‘I do not will the death of the sinner.’ ‘You will not die’” (SDEA 169).

This is evangelical love indeed!

Because of these things mentioned above, sin decreases in the Christian and the accusations of the law – indeed, what Luther calls its proper office on earth – are increasingly stilled in them. The fulfillment of the law, on the other hand, increases in the Christian, as “’they do by their nature what the law requires’ (cf. Rom. 2:14)” (SDEA, 163).

In heaven, there will be no sin and the law will be completely fulfilled. Therefore, it “ought simply to cease”. As Luther puts it as regards the angels (and, as he mentions elsewhere, the saints in heaven): “The law ‘Yield fruit!’ is empty to the fertile and fruit-bearing tree, since it yields fruit by its own nature.”

In sum, the law’s primary or proper purpose on earth was limited, working primarily to accuse, and, importantly, in the pre-fall context of Eden, to warn of danger (more on this later in the series). Therefore, the law certainly should not only be thought of as accusation.[viii]

The next post, dealing with the question of the abrogation of the law, will make this case even more strongly from Luther’s Antinomian Disputations.


The law does not want you to despair of God…it wills that you despair of yourself, but expect good from God…” — Luther (ODE, 195)




[i] See first the explanation offered regarding this passage in the previous post in this series (link above): Luther is making clear that only the Gospel begins to make our intent pure. Going along with this, this thesis is taken from the fourth set of theses in the Antinomian Disputations (SDEA 235-239), which deals in part with the problems of the Roman Catholic doctrine of repentance (“those terrified and those who have begun to repent are forced to fall into the final impenitence”) as well as the doctrines of the antinomians, who Luther believed, like “the Papists,” did not understand the seriousness of sin, not realizing that that the law, while we on earth, primarily shows us why we die, as well as “what Christ is or did by fulfilling the law for us” (SDEA 247).

[ii] Elsewhere he writes that

“’In Christ we finally break forth,’ and thus we begin to become saints, Christians and lords of law and death. ‘But where is such a one?’ you ask. ‘Show me one!’ Response: They are hidden. Dead…he is still under the law and under sin. This is because he is still in this life, and ardently feels and ardently desires daily to wage against his flesh, and he lives in this too much, as also the divine Paul complains in Romans 7(:25,23): ‘In the flesh I live for the law of sin;’ likewise: ‘I see another law in m members, opposing the law of my mind.’ Thus the Christian is dead and alive, yet in different regards.

….we are thus holy and free, but in the spirit, not in the flesh, that is, while dwelling under the shadow of the wings of our hen in the bosom of grace. But the feet still need to be washed (cf. John 13:10), which, since they are unclean, are to be bitten and driven about by Satan while they are being cleansed. For you have to pull the foot under the cloak as well, otherwise you have no peace.” (SDEA 297, 299, italics mine).

And in another part of the Antinomian Disputations, Luther also says the following: “We are not under the law, but with the law. The law does not condemn us but nonetheless the law is needed for the remainders of sin” (383).

[iii] More of the quote:

“…fear is twofold: Fear without love and fear with love. Fear without love calls away from love and is satanic and evil. This the law does not teach. True fear with love, or from the law, does call me to love in an evangelical way, so that I, humbled, come to know myself for whom I am, namely, that I do not have love. For this reason, where this has been shown by the law, it ought to cease. It has already discharged its office. It ought not to terrify diabolically and carnally, that is, drive simply into despair, but, after pointing out the evil, compel me to take refuge in Christ. This calling away and mortification is salutary, pertains to the gospel, and is useful, because it calls us away from ourselves, but neither from grace or the remission of sins nor from Christ.

Therefore learn to distinguish well between them. The devil drives and terrifies so that you might perish, that you might die. Contrariwise, the gospel and God do not will that you perish, but rather that you are saved and live (cf. Ez. 33:11). It is enough that you are utterly terrified and mortified, now believe in the Son and you shall live” (SDEA 169, 171).

[iv] “….or to be the effect and power of the law in the most proper sense…” (SDEA 137, italics mine)

[v] See also the first post in this series (link above), which shows how Luther correlates the revealed law, the Decalogue, with the law written in our hearts by nature. An excerpt:

after the fall and before the new heavens and earth, the law, sin, and death are inextricably connected (SDEA 137, 241). Therefore a “law that does not condemn is a fake and counterfeit law, like a chimera or a goat stag” (SDEA 375). Hence, it also makes sense that on earth Luther somewhat conflates the law’s “essence” with it condemning “office” (see SDEA 137).

And yet, Luther writes that “the Decalogue…is greater and better [than things like circumcision and even baptism] because it is written in the heart and minds of all and will remain with us even in the coming life….only the Decalogue is eternal – as such, that is, not as law – because in the coming life things will be like what the Decalogue has been demanding here.” (SDEA 127, 129). Later he notes that it is really Christians, who, “’do by their nature what the law requires’ (cf. Rom. 2:14)” (SDEA, 163). In this life imperfectly, and in the life to come, perfectly.[v]

Both thoughts are connected in thesis 24 of the second set of theses, where Luther writes that “it is impossible that there be sin or that sin be understood without the law, be it written or inscribed (cf.. Rom. 2:14-15).” (SDEA 137, italics mine)

There seems to be only one logical way to read this: insofar as this inscribed law accuses the conscience in either the nonbeliever or the believer, it does so precisely because the content of the law written on our hearts can also be articulated into language that we can comprehend. In other words, it condemns because specific “shoulds” and “should nots” can be recognized and described by human beings.

[vi] Paul Strawn, email correspondence, Aug. 2, 2017.

[vii] Here, Luther talks about how the believer purges until he becomes totally pure. He says roughly the same thing in SDEA, p. 59. On p. 125, he states “…the law remains, also mortification, since our flesh is always rebellious. Therefore the Holy Spirit or faith always impresses the law on its flesh so that it may cease, lest sin would be permitted to rule, lest it would accomplish what it wills (Rom. 6:12).” On p. 103 he states that “remnants [of sin] committed by the flesh are put to death by the Spirit.” Clearly, Luther talks in a variety of ways about the actors involved in this process.

[viii] It is certainly easy to get this impression since Luther says elsewhere “you always ought to remain in the chief definition of the law, that it works wrath and hatred and despair, not joy, salvation, or mercy” (SDEA 177). He also says “whatever shows sin, wrath, and death exercise the office of the law” and “to reveal sin is nothing else – nor can it be anything else – that to be law or to be the effect and power of the law in the most proper sense. The law and the showing of sin or revelation of the wrath, are synonymous terms” (SDEA, 137). On the other hand, as noted above, Luther also speaks about “a very appropriate and very joyous definition of the law” (SDEA, 171), namely, how the law – certainly wielded by the Spirit (see SDEA, 37) – terrifies consciences in an “evangelical” way (!) by instructing toward Christ. This naturally brings this passage to mind: “Christ took our place and supplied what we lack, and erased with his blood the handwriting of the decree which was against us, until the law was finally satisfied by one in the stead of all of us. This is what we mean by law.” (SDEA, 163). In other words, the accusation exists because the law points to the way that reality is for God – namely an ontology of harmony of eternity – which is revealed for us most fully in human flesh in Christ’s perfect fulfillment of the Law of God, exemplified in the Decalogue, the moral law, etc.

Again, per the previous post in this series, when it comes to what the law tells us about living in the world, it is certainly not opposed to the moral law within us (see SDEA, pp. 35, 49, 136-137) which, as Luther consistently reminds us, conforms with the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments (even if, due to the fact that this law within became dull in humanity and still does, the Ten Commandments needed to be published and given).


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Luther’s Antinomian Disputations for Dummies 1 (of 5): Natural Law

Chapter 1 of 5: Natural Law in Martin Luther’s Antinomian Disputations


Welcome to the LADFD series: Luther’s Antinomian Disputations for Dummies. Regarding the title of this series — and the photo above, which I had a lot fun generating — I hope you interpret it as I intend: me trying to bring a little humor to a serious issue.

I hope you find the following post — admittedly a lot of work to read all the way through! — informative, worthwhile, and done in good faith – and that you will consider checking out other parts of the series.

First, some preliminaries:

  • This is chapter 1, with proceeding chapterss coming every two days (three days over weekends). I will be posting chapters 2-4 on my own blog, and chapter 5 here as well.
  • Note that all quotations in this series are not taken from the version of the Antinomian Disputations shown at the end of this post (Only the Decalogue is Eternal, or ODE), but from the version that contains the original Latin as well (Latin learners take note!), Solus Decalogus est Aeternus, (or SDEA).


In recent years, there has been an increased interest in the topic of natural law/religion/theology in the writings of Martin Luther. The following three books pictured below are just a sampling of some of the more recent work that deals, either indirectly or more directly, with these issues:



To my knowledge, however, not much if any work has been done addressing the issue of natural law and theology in Martin Luther’s Antinomian Disputations. These disputations occurred during the years 1537-1540, six years before Martin Luther’s death, and in them much is said about the topic. Luther’s thoughts on this topic are somewhat complicated, but here I will attempt to systematically provide as clear a snapshot as possible of what he thinks — given the parameters of a reasonably short blog post.

For those of you already familiar with this content in the Antinomian Disputations, I invite you to scroll right to the bottom of this post to read my short concluding thoughts. Here, I try and sum up the big picture, and to relate it to contemporary theological challenges (i.e., things like the “Hypergrace” movement, and “Radical Lutheranism”).


20th c. theologian Karl Barth to natural law: Nein! (No!) 16th c. theologian Martin Luther: Ja! (Yes!) (and with appropriate nuance!…)


There is one section of the Disputations where I believe Luther brings several of his most developed thoughts together in a short two paragraphs. He responds to this argument:

It is redundant to teach the things that are known by nature. The law is known by nature. Therefore it is redundant to teach the law.

Luther’s response:

Each proposition is false, since we teach and learn the things we know. Since memory is instable even in the masterminds trained best, it is necessary that the most learned have recourse to the books themselves and learn. Indeed, they learn more than everybody else and they do so constantly, as can be seen in the greatest talents who never rest. Furthermore, the law is not known in such a way that it is not necessary to teach or admonish with it, otherwise it would not have been necessary to give the law and send Mo­ses; and we also do not know as much about the law as God wills. For who is there who ever knew how great and what an enormous evil sin itself is? Likewise, disobedience, hatred, wrath, greed, fornication, let alone the sins of the First Table? For we are so corrupted by original sin that we cannot see the magnitude of sin.

For there is our flesh, the devil, and the world who suggest differently and who obscure the law of God written in our heart. This is why it is always nec­essary here to be admonished lest we forget the mandate of God, especially since the law of God is the highest wisdom and the infinite fountain and source and spring of all virtues and disciplines towards God and men, because sin is infinite. So far no theologian or jurist has been found who could say or fully express, what great an evil lust and greed is. If there are those who truly feel sin, as David, those are truly in hell and dwell by the gates of death, as the Psalm says (18:5): “The terrors of hell found me.” (SDEA 333, italics mine)

In what follows, I offer short summary points from the two paragraphs above (note the italicized portions) and also supplement them with content from other parts of the Antinomian Disputations:

  1. Luther fully identifies the natural law, or the law that we find in the creation, with the law given in the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments, to Moses.
  • God shared the Ten Commandments, given in history specifically to the Israelites, because they help us remember, “who we were before and who we will be in the future” (SDEA 321).
  • On the other hand, knowledge from the ceremonial practices and civil laws[i] given to the Israelites was not universal, but particular (SDEA 321).[ii]
  • In spite of his not having the law given at Sinai, Luther says that Abraham practiced the “love of righteousness[, which] is the highest degree of the law.” (SDEA 405)
  • “The Decalogue… is greater and better [than circumcision] because it is written in the hearts and minds of all and will remain with us even in the coming life.” (SDEA 127, 129, see also 49, italics mine)
  • Jeremiah’s “new covenant” (see Jer. 31:31,34) does not apply to the Decalogue passing away but to circumcision and other “ceremonial and judicial laws” (SDEA 215, 217).[iii]
  • “Natural law” or the “law of nature” is intrinsic to us and is objectively good, even as it may be more or less strong (see below)


“The law shows that we are not such either as the law requires or as we were before the fall.” – Luther (SDEA, 293)


  1. The law of God is written in the hearts of all, even as it is obscured by our flesh (or sinful nature), the devil, and the world.
  • We can know God’s law and not do it. In fact, we do know God’s law but don’t do it. We can also know God’s law but suppress that knowledge. Knowledge of the law is stronger in some than others.
  • In the Antinomian Disputations, Luther indicates that even though the law of God is “natural”, the suppression of this knowledge (no doubt accompanied by a real searing of the conscience), can be rather brutal, even resulting in a kind of knowledge that is often not perceived or experienced as knowledge (SDEA 115).
  • Luther even appears to suggest that human beings having the natural law is not necessarily true like “all men are mortal” is true. He mentions, for example, some men being “utterly unnatural” (SDEA 321).
  • In sum, what these first two points show is that the actual existential situation for any particular person or people are bounded by [fallen] human nature.
  • On the other hand, it is also influenced to a very large degree by the particular human activities a person or people have experienced on the ground. This leads us into our next three points.
  1. Luther does not pit the law in nature vs. our need/charge to teach, preach, and learn it.
  • Again, the written law “only was given to [the Israelites] and the law of Moses pertains to that people only.” The rest, however, have the same law written on their hearts (SDEA 217).[iv]
  • Because of original sin introduced in the Fall however, we live in sin and our corrupt and blind nature neither “sees not feels the magnitude of sin”. Man’s knowledge of the law is “very weak and obscured” and hence we need teaching.[v]
  • In fact, prior to the giving of the Ten Commandments, the law “was almost totally fallen into oblivion and obscured,” which is why it “was renewed and indeed written and handed over to a certain people insofar as it is written, but not insofar as it is spoken, since this knowledge was common to all nations, as experience itself proves” (SDEA 321).[vi]
  • Again, “[t]he law is common to all, but not all feel its force and effect. Nonetheless, whether people are converted or not, the law is still to be taught” (SDEA 111, italics mine, see SDEA 225 also).
  • He says that when the law is taught to us in words, it is rendered “better known, more conspicuous, and clearer, so that it, even by its appearance, might lash and agitate the mind” (SDEA 343).
  • The Holy Spirit is – and therefore the Church should be – relentless in using the Law in an “evangelical way,” to continue to make persons more and more fearful with the goal of them seeing their need and receiving Jesus Christ (SDEA 169-173)


“I distinguish the law. Grammatically and in a civil sense it certainly pertains to all, but understood theologically and spiritually it does not pertain to all because it terrifies very few.” – Luther (SDEA 225) (quote not from pictured book)


  1. Believers also have knowledge of the law of God that we suppress and are therefore culpable of, even as, without the preached law, the seriousness of human sin – especially as this regards our own sin – escapes us.
  • Paul’s (Saul’s!) pre-Christian conversion knowledge of the law was evidently a “surface knowledge” of sorts: he “did not know anything concerning the law, even though he was wholly in the law, taught he law, but did not know it, as it says in Romans 2 (7:9)….”
  • As a Pharisee, he was “teaching the law and yet did not know it,” in the sense of not “feel[ing] the force of the law” (SDEA 113). He thought “the law can be satisfied by works” (SDEA 355).
  • On the road to Damascus however, he is “first touched by the law and perceives the force and power of the law…” (SDEA 115, 117)
  • In like fashion, Luther asserted in his day that the church in Rome “imagined that sin is that which is against [unbiblical] human traditions, only rarely that which is against the moral law” (SDEA 355).[vii]
  • Again, “the law certainly belongs to all,” he states, “but not all have the perception of the law” (SDEA 115).
  • By preaching God’s law, “[the] veil is removed and I am shown that I sin”. We all are convicted, “not because the Decalogue was handed down and written for us, but so that we know even the laws which we brought with us into this world” (SDEA 321, italics mine).
  • To some degree, this kind of disability characterizes even pious believers in God: “It is impossible that there is a man who ever saw how great a sin it is not to fear God, not to believe in God, not to love God, to scorn the word, and not to call on God” (SDEA 343)
  • When Luther goes so far to say that “the law is neither useful or necessary for any good works” (SDEA 239), one must keep in mind that for him, it is only always the free Gospel of promise, not the coercive law, which creates the good intentions — and power — for a fear, love, and trust in God that begins to be truly righteous and holy (not one which, having a false god, is only tainted and selfish).
  • More: “Through [the law] God is efficacious and acts powerfully wherever and whenever he wills. And what is that to you, if he is efficacious?” (SDEA 115)
  1. The commands of the first table of the Decalogue are also to some degree contained in natural law.
  • Showing that empirical evidence from historical circumstances played into his thought, Luther, for example, states that “no nation was ever so cruel or barbarian or inhuman that they did not understand that God is to be worshipped… even if they erred in the way and means of worshipping God…”[viii]
  • Again, in spite of its capability of becoming greatly obscured in man, “natural law” or the “law of nature” is objectively in all “by nature” and is objectively good. All at some level know the good but do not do it (see SDEA 33 for “the good”).
  • Sin – which inevitably works itself out in everyone’s concrete thoughts, words, and deeds – is now objectively in all “by nature” due to particular historical circumstances involving our first parents.[ix] (SDEA 277)
  • Luther says that both the law and gospel, “belong to all” (SDEA 115).
  • That said, not all have the “perception” of these. Both must be continually taught (SDEA 115).
  • The Gospel must be taught or “traditioned,” i.e. “passed down”: “[E]ver since the beginning of the world has been [culpable] unbelief and ignorance of Christ, since the promise concerning the Seed of the woman was given right after the fall of Adam” (SDEA 111).[x]
  • The same holds true for the law, even as, it also remains in human beings by nature such that they are culpable of sin due to whatever knowledge they have.
  • Again, for Luther, “Divine revelation” – such as the Gen. 3:15 promise concerning the Seed of the woman who defeats the serpent and his work – is given in particular circumstances but is for all and hence should be in all through the activity of believers in history.


“…even if you were to remove these letters: L-A-W, which can be very easily deleted, the handwriting etched into our hearts, which condemns and drives us, nonetheless remains.” — Luther (SDEA 193).


That message of the Seed of the woman, by the way, is the Gospel which answers the law’s accusations against us (read Rom. 1-4, see Rom. 16:20 as well).

Finally, we are ready to sum up matters, with even more additional content from the Antinomian Disputations, in light of contemporary concerns:

Prior to the fall, man obeyed God’s commandment perfectly (SDEA 49) as he was without sin in the garden (SDEA 83) and the law was “not only….possible, but even something enjoyable” (SDEA 47). However, with the fall of Adam and Eve everything changed.

Luther argues that now, in its present state, the order in the creation is that death and sin come before life and righteousness (SDEA 37).[xi] “[I]nfected by the venom of Satan” (SDEA 277) man by his own powers – i.e. without the Gospel by which his conscience “may intend the good” – “cannot intend good” (SDEA 33).

Hence, after the fall and before the new heavens and earth, the law, sin, and death are inextricably connected (SDEA 137, 241). Therefore a “law that does not condemn is a fake and counterfeit law, like a chimera or a goat stag” (SDEA 375). Hence, it also makes sense that on earth Luther somewhat conflates the law’s “essence” with it condemning “office” (see SDEA 137).

And yet, Luther writes that “the Decalogue…is greater and better [than things like circumcision and even baptism] because it is written in the heart and minds of all and will remain with us even in the coming life….only the Decalogue is eternal – as such, that is, not as law – because in the coming life things will be like what the Decalogue has been demanding here.” (SDEA 127, 129). Later he notes that it is really Christians, who, “’do by their nature what the law requires’ (cf. Rom. 2:14)” (SDEA, 163). In this life imperfectly, and in the life to come, perfectly.[xii]

Both thoughts are connected in thesis 24 of the second set of theses, where Luther writes that “it is impossible that there be sin or that sin be understood without the law, be it written or inscribed (cf.. Rom. 2:14-15).” (SDEA 137, italics mine)

There seems to be only one logical way to read this: insofar as this inscribed law accuses the conscience in either the nonbeliever or the believer, it does so precisely because the content of the law written on our hearts can also be articulated into language that we can comprehend. In other words, it condemns because specific “shoulds” and “should nots” can be recognized and described by human beings.

Of course, as Luther said, “[To them]…who serve the law in order to be justified…it also becomes a poison and plague concerning justification” (SDEA 135). And while justification by grace through faith has always been at the heart of Lutheran theology, there are those in the church today who have built systematic theologies that give the impression of being even more so!

The problem however, is that this only appears to be the case. This is because systematic theologies like those offered by men like Gerhard Forde, for example, may give the impression that God’s law – since it is only temporalis not written into human nature such that it continues in the life to come – or even today (is this perhaps what is happening when even a very socially and theologically liberal Lutheran pastor can read someone like the Forde disciple Steve Paulson, for example, and tell me that he really likes him?).[xiii]


What does this mean?


Therefore, certain persons attracted to such theologies may be tempted by a reductionistic view of the topic of Law and Gospel (like the one Forde puts forth) to justify the proposition that understandings of God’s law should evolve. This leads, of course, to the idea that we must respect the “bound consciences” of those who both claim allegiance to Jesus Christ while simultaneously putting forward novel understandings of morality.[xiv]

And then, without sin being rightly identified, is the doctrine of justification still the doctrine of justification?

With an eye towards current debates – those in the confessional Lutheran church and beyond –  I will, over the next several days be doing four more posts unpacking content from Martin Luther’s Antinomian Disputations. The next one, God willing, will be at my blog theology like a child on Monday.

I hope you have found this worthwhile and will join me again!


The law does not want you to despair of God…it wills that you despair of yourself, but expect good from God…” — Luther (ODE, 195)



Images in public domain ; Dummies picture by generator here.

[update: I discovered a point in this post where I believe I was insufficiently charitable, and hence have changed what I had in the original post somewhat]


[i] Luther says that when Paul calls the law a shadow, he “chiefly talks about the ceremonial and judicial laws” (SDEA 117).

[ii] Otherwise, we would readily talk about the offerings of bulls, circumcision, and the Sabbath as we do “sins and iniquities…like disobedience, contempt of God, thefts, adulteries, impurities” (see Rom. 2:15) (SDEA 321).

[iii] Luther argues that Jeremiah’s prophetic promise of a new covenant, or agreement (Jer. 31:31,34) “is properly understood as speaking about the ceremonial and judicial law of Moses, similarly about circumcision….” The Decalogue is not included here because “The Decalogue does not belong to the law of Moses….but pertains to the entire world, [as] it is written in etched in the minds of all people from the beginning of the world” (SDEA 217).

He, very interestingly, goes on to say the following:

“Besides, if you understand it as simply referring to the Decalogue, I respond here that it is again rightly said that the law is not to be preached to the righteous, that is, the law as something to be fulfilled or not fulfilled already. For one ought not to impose or preach the law to the righteous as to be fulfilled but as fulfilled, for the righteous already have that which the law requires, namely, in Christ; this is how Paul solves this argument: “The law is not given the righteous” (1 Tim. 1:9). Likewise: “Now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ” (Rom. 8:1); likewise: “Christ is the end of the law” (Rom. 10:4). Thus the demand and the accusation of the law, because of what it demands, ends among the pious when Christ is present who says: “Look at me who do for them what you demand—so stop it!”

Yet this is much more serious, that it says that there will be no further ministry in the Church. What do we say to this? I answer: Christ solves this in John (6:45), when he says: “And they will all be taught by God.” The Jews had many laws, in addition to the customs of all men, which were countless already in Shiloh (1 Sam. 1:3ff.), Jerusalem and Gibeon (cf. 2 Chron. 1:3). Thus, one was sent here, the other there, running up and down, all crying, “Know the Lord! Know the Lord!” This was no different than the way it was done under the pope: the one taught that salvation was to be sought with this saint; the other taught that it was to be sought with that saint, as you know. Now Christ says: “It shall not be thus in the future, but all will know me from the smallest to the greatest.” That is to say: “I will give you such a doctrine, the one which, forsaking all other doctrines, my people follows and, however many believers there will be in the whole world, they will teach one and the same thing. For they will all be taught by God; that should work; I myself will make disciples and give the Holy Spirit, but through the Word.“

In this way he wills to be and to be established as teacher, and indeed as the only teacher in his Church. Through the Holy Spirit in the Word we will all have one and the same Christ whom we will teach one another. And there will be no more “Know the Lord, know the Lord,” because from the smallest to the greatest all will know him. However, when Christ is absent, then everybody says that the Lord is to be known differently, and so one is sent to St. James, another to Rome, another to St. Anne; everyone has his one path (cf. Is. 56:11).” (SDEA 217, 218)

[iv] “Moses was merely something like an interpreter or illustrator of the laws written in the mind of all men wherever they might be under the sun in the world.” (189 SDEA)

[v] “…for humankind, because we are not only conceived and born in sin and live in it, but the corruption and blindness of human nature is also so great that it neither sees nor feels the magnitude of sin. To be sure, all men by nature have some knowledge of the law, yet it is very weak and obscured. Therefore it was, and always is, necessary to teach men this knowledge of the law, that they might recognize the greatness of their sin, of God’s wrath, etc.” (SDEA 43)

[vi] He goes on to say:

“…For if this were not the case, we would now disregard it, if the law said: “You do not believe in God; you do not fear God; you abuse his name,” just as we already disregard it, if it is said sometimes: “You are not circumcised, you do no bring a bull, a calf, sheep.” For when I hear these, I am not moved and am not horrified and consider them to be a play and joke. But when it says: “You disbelieve God, you do not believe God, you do not fear God, you are a fornicator, adulterer, disobedi­ent,” and whatever is such, here I am at once horrified and fear and feel in the heart that I certainly owe this to God; not because the Decalogue was handed down and written for us, but so that we know even the laws which we brought with us into this world. And by this preaching at once the veil is removed and I am shown that I sin.

For even though the Decalogue was given in a unique way and place and with ostentation, all nations confess impiety, disobedience, contempt of God, thefts, adulteries, impurities to be sins and iniquities, as Paul writes in Romans 2(:15): “Excusing and accusing one another.” They are therefore natural laws, not political or Mosaic ones, otherwise we would immediately talk about these like those about offering of bulls, circumcision, and Sabbath. But God does not want us to do this. But when the precept, “You shall not steal,” is heard, we right away become silent, and we might be much more silent than fish.”

Importantly, he says elsewhere:

“These most destructive beasts, security and presumption, are so great that they cannot be sufficiently upset and crushed; whatever you do against them, you nonetheless accomplish hardly anything. To such a degree our entire nature is corrupted and immersed in original sin, just as if a good and faithful doctor should have a harsh and violent patient who, even though he lies in a grave illness, nonetheless despises and ridicules every medicine, and even throws it at the doctor’s head. Here I ask: What else should the good doctor do than to debilitate him with medicines, so that finally not even his hands or feet are able to do anything? So God the Father—when he saw that we are held captive by the devil in this way—so that we would not later forget also those laws which he had before written in our hearts by his finger, was forced to give a certain Moses, who also by written laws would shake up our mind and senses, so that we, touched by the feeling and power of the law, finally might learn to beg for help and aid” (151).


“But later, since men finally arrived at a point where they cared neither for God nor for men, God was forced to renew those laws through Moses and, written by his own finger on tablets, to place them before our eyes so that we might be reminded of what we were before Adam’s fall and of what we shall be in Christ one day. Thus, Moses was merely something like an interpreter or illustrator of the laws written in the mind of all men wherever they might be under the sun in the world.” (SDEA 189)

[vii] More: “the hypocrites look upon the veiled face of Moses, since they do not see that the law is spiritual and think that the law can be satisfied by works, as Paul also held before his conversion, as did the people of Gomorrah who killed prophets and never had a sense of the law or a true no­tion thereof” (SDEA 355).

[viii] Fuller quote:

“For no nation under the sun was ever so cruel or barbarian and inhuman that they did not understand that God is to be worshiped, loved, and that praises should be give to his name—even if they erred in the way and means of worshiping God. The same is true concerning the honor and obedience toward parents and superiors. Likewise, vices have been shunned, as it can be seen in the first chapter to the Romans.” (SDEA 187, 189)

Elsewhere, he even goes so far to say: “For if God had never given the law by Moses, the human mind nonetheless by nature would have had the idea that God is to be worshiped and the neighbor is to be loved” (SDEA 61).

The 20th century, of course, at least suggests otherwise. Luther may have underestimated the degree to which sinful men can suppress their knowledge of the law, not being able to recognize their sin (Psalm 36:2), calling good evil and evil good (Isaiah 5:20), having no fear of God (Psalm 36:1), asserting there is no God (Psalm 11).

[ix] “To be sure, the law had not been given or written down at [the time of Abraham]. He nonetheless had the law of nature written in his heart, as all men have (Rom. 2:15). It is therefore not to be doubted concerning the patriarchs that they taught that which is contained in the Decalogue, before the law was revealed from heaven on Sinai, and that that teaching flowed to their posterity. They diligently impressed on their families the impiety and malice of those who existed before the Flood and later became extinct because of them, and dissuaded them from idolatry and other sins lest they too might perish. This is why they were not without teaching, even if it was only put in their hearts by nature. Later, after the law had been given, the public ministry was instituted to teach it” (109, italics mine).

[x] He also states on the same page: “this sin of unbelief and ignorance of Christ has been made known throughout the entire world by the public ministry, which during the earlier times of the fathers hid itself in small corners and among their posterity….ever since the beginning of the world has been unbelief and ignorance of Christ, since the promise concerning the Seed of the woman was given right after the fall of Adam” (SDEA 111).

[xi] “…sin, death, and God’s wrath, is inborn and known to us on account of our first parents. The other, namely, grace, forgiveness of sins, righteousness, and life, to be sure, is begun in us through the good work of Christ, but it is not completed. Yet it will be completed manifestly when we will be raised on that day, when the body will be utterly cleansed from all sins and will be like the glorious body of Christ our Head” (SDEA 43, italics mine).

[xii] In the forward of these disputations translated by Pastor Holger Sonntag, Pastor Paul Strawn (my pastor) notes that the phrase “only the Decalogue is eternal” “casts light on the eschatological validity of the moral law frequently emphasized by Luther in the disputations at hand” (SDEA 7)

[xiii] Please note that this is not an argument or an accusation, but a statement made, like my last post, to prompt reflection and introspection. Should we not ask why charismatic and rhetorically gifted theologians are often able to win praise from more liberal and more conservative quarters while wonderful, brilliant, and godly men like Kurt Marquart, for example, might only be read by an ELCA theologian after the LC-MS theocracy has been established (just kidding!)? For his part, Paulson — who, to the best of my knowledge, does not talk about many of the points in this post — spoke at the LC-MS theological seminary in Fort Wayne and received a standing ovation for a speech talking about some of the themes from his book about Lutheranism. As a friend put it “For a guy with such heterodox understandings, he’s really got Confessional Lutherans’ number.” See here for a piercing theological critique of Steve Paulson’s book from Dr. Eric Phillips.

[xiv] Note that never in these disputations (or anywhere else) does Luther give any indication that this moral law or our understanding of it should change, adapt, or evolve, on earth or in heaven. There is no indication whatsoever that we should alter “the good” man knows.



Posted by on August 4, 2017 in Uncategorized


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Where Did the Antinomianism in Today’s Christianity Come From?

Pastor Jordan Cooper’s new book, just patiently chipping away at a small part of the larger problem.

What is an “antinomian,” a term which appears to have been in invented by the 16th century church reformer Martin Luther? According to Merriam-Webster, an antinomian is someone “who holds that under the gospel dispensation of grace the moral law is of no use or obligation because faith alone is necessary to salvation.”

Modern Christianity is full of such antinomians. These days, for example, it is not difficult to find people who identify as evangelical or non-denominational Christians but also think that:

  • Differences between men and woman are basically insignificant — perhaps not universal and stable at all — and there are no significant issues, for example, with woman being pastors.
  • Divorce can and perhaps should take place when one of the participants in a marriage does not feel happy or fulfilled.
  • Christians should not tell members of other religions that, when it comes to the significance of Jesus Christ, “there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
  • Homosexual behavior is acceptable so long as it takes place within “committed” relationships (even as “committed” is getting re-defined…)
  • All nations that want to identify with Christianity in some way must allow within their own borders all who claim refugee status because “Jesus was a refugee.”
  • Being sexually involved with another prior to marriage, previously derided as “living in sin,” and “shacking up,” is to be expected.
  • “’You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian,’… a fancy way of saying ‘I follow Christ except for where He goes.’” – Hans Fiene

Yeah, yeah, I know. Some of you think I am a total jerk (to say the least – that is being nice!). Being as civil as you can be, you want to respond with something like the following, which was said in a tweet by a couple pastors considered by many to be quite conservative:

“You may use your conscience to guide your behavior. You may not use your conscience to guide my behavior.”*

Huh. I guess some pastors need continuing education credits, but to whom shall they go?

Let’s be clear: by rejecting God’s law, today’s antinomians do not want to embrace the God, who, through the work of Christ, would once again recreate man in His image. And how did we get to this point? In one sense, the answer is quite simple: we have flat-out rejected God and his Word given to us, the Bible. In short, we really do not find Him—at least as we find Him in that book!—all that impressive or attractive anymore.

Evidently much more attractive to evangelicals of the “thoughtful” variety!

If that answer seems overly simplistic to you—or, yes, just something that an asshat like me would say–I urge you to read the paper on the issue that my pastor, Paul Strawn, recently presented at a theological conference.

According to him, it is completely understandable that antinomianism is running wild today. After all, among our elites, not only is the Christian faith unreasonable, but the notion that history itself can be known is unreasonable! He write that because of “the best of reason accepted today, history cannot truly be known, and the texts of history can only be a record of what was understood to have happened within history…” As such “God working in history through Jesus Christ, and the record of that working, i.e. the Bible, cease to be sources for our knowledge of God”. This means that modern Christian antinomians:

  • Have a god whose “existence certainly can be deduced from the human experience in one form or another, but he simply can never be known.”
  • Must exclude “the God who takes on definitive shape and form in nature, in history, in Jesus Christ.”
  • Ultimately reject the “law understood to be given by God within any context, and thus, of God defining human life and existence.”
  • Must reject “Christ fulfilling the law, and the crucifixion of Christ satisfying the demands of the law for mankind.”

So, unbelief in the Word of God—taking along with it the possibility of knowing human history!—is to blame, with figures like Caspar Schwenkfeld (16th c.), Immanuel Kant (18th c.), Friedrich Schleiermacher (19th c.) and Karl Barth (20th c.) all helping things along.

“…you don’t necessarily have the Word of God itself, but the fallible “witness” of man to God’s word” – Paul Strawn, on Karl Barth’s (pictured) view of the Bible

Some of you who know your church history might be thinking: “This is pure Gnosticism!” Indeed. As the Apostle John warned us years ago:

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. – I John 4:1-3

Today’s Gnostic Antinomians do not need to insist that Jesus has “not come in the flesh” – they simply say it doesn’t really matter whether he did or not. As I pointed out in a recent post on my own blog, even contemporary figures who speak well of the Bible and are largely embraced by “conservatives” in the West are clearly flirting with such Gnosticism.

But again, the roots of this monster, born from a Christian cradle, are ultimately to be found in a lack of faith in God’s word, pure and simple.  

“The law and gospel cannot coexist. They are mutually exclusive.” — Paul Strawn (pictured with a Nigerian theology student) on the view of contemporary Lutheran gnostic antimomianism

A few more quick words about my pastor and this paper of his. As a pastor in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, his paper (here is the link again) gives a very short historical account of how this modern antinomian spirit, present in less overt forms since the days of the Reformation (no Roman Catholics – Luther himself is not to blame here!), has been embraced by many today who claim the Lutheran mantel. You will learn more about:

  • Martin Luther’s and the early Lutherans’ battles vs. their antinomian opponents.
  • How Werner Elert’s work was strategically used in the LC-MS by men like Ed Schroeder, Richard Baepler, and Robert Schultz to counter the doctrine of the Bible’s verbal inspiration (Jaroslav Pelikan recommended it be used for this reason!) and the third use of the law.
  • How C.F.W. Walther’s brilliant book on Law and Gospel was also hijacked and used as a relatively Barth-friendly wedge to counter Francis Peiper’s Christian Dogmatics and Walther’s own work on pastoral theology!
  • David Yeago’s 1993 paper in the journal Pro Ecclesia: Gnosticism, Antinomianism, and Reformation Theology: Reflections on the Costs of a Construal,” where he, among other things, says some teach that “The law oppresses because of the kind of word it is, not because of the situation in which we encounter it.”
  • The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s (ELCA) rejection of Yeago’s warning and full embrace of antinomianism at their 2009 convention via Timothy Wengert’s completely novel “bound conscience” doctrine (echoing the conscience quote from the Lutheran pastors quoted above).
  • interesting facts about the battle in the LC-MS from the last 15 or so years (including the burying of Kurt Marquart’s paper on the 3rd use of the law by Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne).

In short, Strawn speaks of a “gradual, almost imperceptible, adaptation of the usage of the law/gospel distinction” as a “foundational dialectic epistemology” in the LC-MS where there is a “rejection of the law — of God working through creation, even shaping and molding creation[,… this being] a fundamental epistemological assumption”. He even notes that more conservative ELCA folks located the origins of some of their own problems as coming from the LC-MS (i.e. Concordia Theological Seminary in St. Louis and “Seminex” in the 1970s)! Don’t let terminology like “foundational dialectic epistemology” frighten you away. My pastor takes the time to unpack it more in the paper.

Thankfully, a lot of LC-MS Lutherans have not embraced this “hard antinomianism.” At the same time, I have heard another relatively conservative Lutheran pastor tell me that he taught his young children to cover their ears and scream whenever they heard a pastor try to tell them what they should be doing after hearing the message that Jesus had put away their sins.

In that case folks, I guess you might as well close your Bibles as well. Do you think that kind of thinking might just possibly be related to the problems described above?

A popularized summation of Martin Luther’s Antinomian Theses, from Lutheran Press



*For a more nuanced critique of that quote, see here.


Posted by on May 31, 2017 in Uncategorized


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The Confession of a Bad Boy Christian

confessionforrestNo, this post is not about me – I’m not what we call a “bad boy” today, though I am, like the Apostle Paul, a person who does find himself thinking, saying and doing evil things (more on that kind of thing here).  The reason for the title of this post will become clear by the end.  Stay with me.

Recently, I have been studying the issue of confession and absolution in the church. One of the interesting books I have taken a look at is “Confession: Doorway to Forgiveness” by Jim Forest (Orbis Books, 2002). Forest is a convert to the Eastern Orthodox Church and so his account is a nice introduction to the topic for those of us who may only be familiar with the Western forms of the tradition.

The last chapter of the book is titled “True Confessions”, and is made up of a number of shorts stories about confession. Most of these stories, anonymous in the book, were solicited by Forest from his friends, and come from several lay people, nuns, monks and priests.

As someone who is eager to uphold and promote the practice of private confession and absolution in the church (literally a matter of life and death, as this short clip from the old TV show “ER” shows), it was heartening to read these accounts, even if occasionally some of the theology they contained made me wince a bit. Here is an excerpt from a rather self-reflective story that I found to be refreshing and worth noting:

“I must admit there is a feeling of companionship somehow, even as we sit separately in the darkened chapel. There is not a lot of contact or talk as we wait. And when glances do meet on occasion, usually the slight smile of acknowledgment fades as your eyes fall to the floor. I sit in my chair, hands folded nervously on my lap. There was only one time I just couldn’t face the process and left. It had been raining and as I sat watching I tried to talk myself out of staying because if I missed my bus, I’d miss my subway train, and on and on, until I got up and walked out the door. But as I walked in the rain to the corner, I realized it wasn’t the commute I dreaded but confession.

I have problems with trying to know what to say. It’s not that I don’t recognize that I’m a sinner, but I seem to accept sin as part of human nature or personality, which makes it something that is not going to really change very much or go away. Thinking like this kind of normalizes relations with sin while at the same time ignoring the darkest consequences or source of sin. It’s like favored nation trading status with a dictatorship. We want all the benefits of trade but overlook the violations of human rights and integrity.

There are a lot of problems with this, I realize, but in some ways I’ve used sin to define myself and not necessarily in a negative light. I’ve noticed that when my old friends and I get together and talk we spend hours laughing and retelling stories about our wild youth. It seems, however, that those stories are in many ways stories about how much we enjoyed committing sins. Maybe that’s where the expression “sins of youth” comes from. Sin is expected in the young. Of course we’re not talking about major crimes against people, but when I stop to think about it, they may be crimes against God and certainly the teachings of the Church.

I still have a tendency to see the wild side as freer than the temperate, and to see rebellion as much more positive than negative and a way to distance oneself from the banality and mediocrity of mass society.

My impatience and temper, my sarcasm, my so-called “biting wit” are ways I define “me as me” in the world. Of course, those somehow become translated and calculated in a vast personal algebra of character and predisposition.

Unfortunately, I have a tendency to reduce those traits into a continuum of understandable explanations and excuses for my personal behavior and relations to others and the world. I weave stories and reasons into a systematic construction that leads me to conclude that what I have done is generally acceptable given the circumstances of my life. I reduce my sins to a group of personality traits.

As I sit waiting for our priest to complete hearing the confession of the person before me, I consider what I will say. I think about my actions during the period since my last confession and sort out what a sin is from what is not. It’s not hard to recall my anger or sharp words. It’s not hard to recall my foul mouth and quick temper. It’s not hard to recall too many vodkas. I count and measure, divide by time and guilt, and usually come up with a list of behaviors I’m not proud of. I guess being ashamed about something is a pretty good sign that some definition or variable of sin may be involved. A guilty conscience was the first compass I had in learning how to recognize sin.

Though I don’t like doing it, and I don’t do it well, there is a great respect and intimacy in the act of making confession and that seems understood and respected by everyone in the church. There is a quietness in waiting that surrounds us in our quandary and distress.”

As a Lutheran, I am eager to not only talk about confession, but the issue of absolution (our churches do not require private absolution, even as it is encouraged – see Luther’s Small Catechism on the topic and  here for more). As pertains to confession, there are surely times, when, reflecting on the ten commandments, we will be very aware of our specific sins.  And at the same time, there will surely be times we may wonder whether or not a particular action that we did – even if the action itself is unobjectionable* – showed a lack of true love (“Should I have spent time with the kids helping them with their latest project instead of the ‘me time’ I took yesterday?”). And of course, it is no surprise that Martin Luther, always eager to point out that sin touches all of our actions, takes us deeper into the meaning of confession. Here is one of his key writings on the topic (the Smalcald Articles), where he also highlights for us the importance of the absolution, or Gospel, as well:

This, then, is what it means to begin true repentance; and here man must hear such a sentence as this: You are all of no account, whether you be manifest sinners or saints [in your own opinion]; you all must become different and do otherwise than you now are and are doing [no matter what sort of people you are], whether you are as great, wise, powerful, and holy as you may. Here no one is [righteous, holy], godly, etc.

Here Luther, eager to share the biblical themes of deep sin and deep grace, is putting forward something like this provocative and well-intentioned blog post – but without the real measure of offense which that post contains. He goes on:

But to this office the New Testament immediately adds the consolatory promise of grace through the Gospel, which must be believed, as Christ declares, Mark 1:15: Repent and believe the Gospel, i.e., become different and do otherwise, and believe My promise. And John, preceding Him, is called a preacher of repentance, however, for the remission of sins, i.e., John was to accuse all, and convict them of being sinners, that they might know what they were before God, and might acknowledge that they were lost men, and might thus be prepared for the Lord, to receive grace, and to expect and accept from Him the remission of sins. Thus also Christ Himself says, Repentance and remission of sins must be preached in My name among all nations.

But whenever the Law alone, without the Gospel being added exercises this its office there is [nothing else than] death and hell, and man must despair, like Saul and Judas; as St. Paul, Rom. 7:10, says: Through sin the Law killeth. On the other hand, the Gospel brings consolation and remission not only in one way, but through the word and Sacraments, and the like, as we shall hear afterward in order that [thus] there is with the Lord plenteous redemption, as Ps. 130:7 says against the dreadful captivity of sin.

Read more of this from Luther here.



*The author of this account discusses the actual sins and sinful habits (activities that are objectively evil) that he feels guilty about. Luther also makes some comments about confessing actual sins in the Smalcald Articles as well:

“And in Christians this repentance continues until death, because, through the entire life it contends with sin remaining in the flesh, as Paul, Rom. 7:14-25, [shows] testifies that he wars with the law in his members, etc.; and that, not by his own powers, but by the gift of the Holy Ghost that follows the remission of sins. This gift daily cleanses and sweeps out the remaining sins, and works so as to render man truly pure and holy…

It is, accordingly, necessary to know and to teach that when holy men, still having and feeling original sin, also daily repenting of and striving with it, happen to fall into manifest sins, as David into adultery, murder, and blasphemy, that then faith and the Holy Ghost has departed from them [they cast out faith and the Holy Ghost]. For the Holy Ghost does not permit sin to have dominion, to gain the upper hand so as to be accomplished, but represses and restrains it so that it must not do what it wishes. But if it does what it wishes, the Holy Ghost and faith are [certainly] not present. For St. John says, 1 John 3:9: Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin, … and he cannot sin. And yet it is also the truth when the same St. John says, 1:8: If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

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Posted by on November 13, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Is “You May Not Use Your Conscience to Guide My Behavior” a Christian Way of Speaking?

A popularized summation of Martin Luther's Antinomian Theses, also from Lutheran Press

A popularized summation of Martin Luther’s Antinomian Theses, from Lutheran Press

“The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” — I Timothy 1:5

Recently, I read the following quotation from a conservative Lutheran pastor: “You may use your conscience to guide your behavior. You may not use your conscience to guide my behavior.”

Needless to say, I found the quote rather jarring. It reminded me of a statement from another like-minded Lutheran pastor (though this one a [relatively] conservative one in the ELCA). This man had explained to me that he had taught his young children to cover their ears and scream whenever they heard a pastor try to tell them what they should be doing after hearing the message that Jesus had put away their sins.

In other words he had, using this memorable language, taught his children to reject what Christians in the Reformation tradition call “the third use of the law” (note that, for example, there are certainly differences as to how Calvinists, vis a vis Lutherans, would view this use of the law).

(to quickly review: the first use of the law acts as curb on the sin of general society, the second use reveals our sin like a mirror [we use mirrors to help us see our flaws], and the third use of the law helps guide the Christian in his behavior)

All of this reminded me of the book cover pictured above, which certainly caught my interest when I saw it. This excellent book, put out by Lutheran Press (full disclosure: my pastor is its co-founder) is a popularized version of Martin Luther’s “antinomian theses” (antinomian means “against the law [of God]”)

Needless to say, I find these kinds of statements to puzzling and intellectually incoherent in all kinds of ways, for example:

-in the first statement I quoted above, does this not all depend on whether the conscience is aligned with God’s word? For example, if it is not, one should not even use it to guide one’s own behavior.

-the first statement appeared right around the time of the recent “gay marriage” decision by SCOTUS. In this case, perhaps it is simply saying “keep the government out of our, that is Christian’s, consciences!” Still, insofar as the government is upholding the law of God, should we not want them in our consciences? (I wrote more on this topic in a post titled, “Please Mr. CTCR – [do your part to] get the Word of God into our consciences”)

-if the statement is only saying that non-government officials should not try to force another human being (who is not our child, for example) to behave in a certain way – unlikely as this may be – the point is taken. And for the church, it is good and right to practice “forbearance” and to eschew all physical force.

-in the case of the pastor’s guidance (irony noted!) for his children, would not one also need to cover one’s ears during readings of Romans 12 ff., for example, where Paul attempts to urge Christians how to live as Christians “by the mercies of God”?

those who reject the third use of the law nevertheless often claim that the law does indirectly guide Christians and all persons through the first and second uses.

if Christians have children – particularly young children – they certainly try to guide them in their behavior, and at times may seek to do so (as they get older) by reminding them that they are Christians and called to reflect Christ.

Antinomianism made appealing for our age.

Antinomianism made appealing for our age.

So where did this kind of thinking come from?  In truth, this is what was taught by “Lutheranism’s brightest lights” in the 1970’s and 80’s as the Lutheran ethic. It is also the argument used by someone like ELCA professor Timothy Wengert to justify homosexual activity among Christians. His position, in sum, is the following: if a Christian’s conscience does not condemn him or her for what he or she is doing, we also cannot do so, for that would then be violating their conscience (for my critical review of Wengert’s recent book, Reading the Bible with Martin Luther, see here)

These days, such thinking is often said to be critical to the church’s mission as well. For example, I her book, Pastrix: the Cranky and Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint, Nadia Bolz-Weber writes:

“…I continually need the stranger, the foreigner, the “other” to show me water in the desert. I need to hear, “here is water in the desert, so what is to keep me, the eunuch, from being baptized?” Or me the queer or me the intersex or me the illiterate or me the neurotic or me the overeducated or me the founder of Focus on the Family.

Until I face the difficulty of that question and come up, as Philip did, with no good answer…. Until then, I can only look at the seemingly limited space under the tent and think either that it’s my job to change people so they fit or it’s my job to extend the roof so that they fit. Either way, it’s misguided because it’s not my tent. It’s God’s tent.” … (p. 94)

It is very clear to me that one may appreciate Bolz-Weber’s desire to be hospitable without embracing what amounts to her purported refusal to judge others by guiding their consciences (again, see my review of Wengert’s book)

So is the first statement about conscience (leading off this article) always totally wrong?  Well, no.  First of all, when there is a definite conflict, we must always obey God rather than men. Second, as I noted in a footnote in my own post about the deeper meaning of the SCOTUS decision, a principle like this might have some relevance when we talk about “adiaphora”, that is “disputable” and “indifferent” matters. Such things are found and described, for example, in Romans 14 and 15. That said, we should note that even hard feelings emerging over indifferent matters – often because love does not bridle freedom for the sake of the neighbor – can lead persons further apart! (think of what happens in divorce, or in the church, “schism”)

The deeper meaning, however, is that the law of God is the law of God whether or not our conscience functions according to it. In like fashion, the gospel of God is the gospel of God whether or not one’s conscience is soothed (correctly) by it. Preaching itself involves setting the conscience of the Christian “straight” concerning both law and gospel, and this is presumably the work of the Holy Spirit! (see John 16, for example)

Martin Luther: "This, then, is the thunderbolt of God by which He strikes in a heap [hurls to the ground] both manifest sinners and false saints [hypocrites], and suffers no one to be in the right [declares no one righteous], but drives them all together to terror and despair. This is the hammer..."

Martin Luther: “This, then, is the thunderbolt of God by which He strikes in a heap [hurls to the ground] both manifest sinners and false saints [hypocrites], and suffers no one to be in the right [declares no one righteous], but drives them all together to terror and despair. This is the hammer…”

As my pastor put it to me:

“Thus when the Christian, his conscience properly functioning according to the law and gospel, that is “with the mind of Christ,” judges a fellow Christian, or consoles a fellow Christian, it is not merely a function of his conscience as some sort of individualistic expression of what is perceived to be Christian piety. It is in fact the Holy Spirit using the “rock smashing” Word of God to crumble into pieces, then refine, then forge, then shape the conscience of the fellow Christian so it once again functions as it should.

It is, in other words, not the case of a (perhaps erring) Christian conscience trying to control the behavior of another Christian. It is the case of the Word of God being proclaimed to a fellow Christian and the Holy Spirit taking it from there…

None of this is to say that doing this kind of work – “in step with God’s Spirit” – is easy. As Luther noted, it’s the most difficult and important work there is!  When I think about the consequences of mis-diagnosing someone and wrongly applying law and gospel I am reminded of the Eastern Orthodox prayer: “God… do not let them perish through me, a sinner….” (note that this was/is the critical matter of the Reformation).

But we must – and will – act. After all, truth be told, there is no such thing as an independent Christian or independent Christian church.

And, as I noted in my SCOTUS post,

“…the problem… is that all of us will inevitably use our conscience to not only determine how we should act, but how we should help others to act as well. Every human being has a certain range of acceptable behavior that they will accept and those who say otherwise are deluding themselves. We all have something to say, in one form or another, about how we think others should live.”

In other words, Christians – simply by virtue of being human beings! – cannot avoid this. Therefore, it is only sensible that they urge one another to live in accordance with the word of God. How can we who have been bought with the blood of Jesus Christ – giving us peace with God – do otherwise?

This involves using the law of God in all three of its traditional Reformation uses. As Pastor Mark Surburg recently tweeted: “Paul couldn’t control how the Spirit used the law. That didn’t stop him from exhorting/admonishing Christians to live in a godly way.”


(For more on the third use of the law and its relation to “the simul”, see my post: “A Plea to Reformation Christians: Don’t Let Your “Simul” Become the One Ring to Rule Them All”)


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Posted by on July 7, 2015 in Uncategorized


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