Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Third Use of the Law is Not and Must Never Be Backdoor Legalism

The law of God has three uses:

The first use:  The curb given to man to inhibit sinful behavior and keep sin in check.

The second use:  The mirror which exposes our sin and drives us to repentance and faith in the gospel on account of the atonement of our sins by Christ on the cross.

The third use:  The guide which is for the Christian alone and instructs us on right living as we grow in holiness by faith.

The Christian, in his state of simul justus et peccator ("simultaneously justified and sinner"), always hears both the second and third use of the law when God's word is delivered to him... and both uses require the gospel. The second use works towards the gospel as it drives the sinner to repentance and faith in salvation on account of Christ where the third use works FROM the gospel where the Christian is freed from the threat of death by Christ's atonement and grows in love and holiness according to the Father's will by the power of the Holy Spirit.

In his sinful condition according to the flesh, all law slays man and convicts him because from the law comes the knowledge of sin (second use).

...but to stop there is to present an incomplete picture of sanctification that is not in accord with Scripture or Lutheran doctrine. From the gospel, the law is where the Holy Spirit works in the new creation by faith to create truly God-pleasing good works... the fruit of living faith (third use). These are the works that God created for his people to do by faith in the power of the Holy Spirit.

This is not a backdoor legalism but harmonizes the teachings of Romans and Galatians with that of James.

It is from the third use alone, that the new man can say what the Psalmist recorded by faith:

"Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts." the danger is not how the Holy Spirit chooses to use the law (second or third) in the heart of the Christian because both are necessary and good.  Both the mirror and the guide are God's righteous and gracious work in us. The danger is in man's application of the law for any reason that is delivered or received apart from the life-giving gospel.  That is not any proper application of the law, but a misapplication. That is what the error of legalism is... not the law's particular use per se, but any quest by man for righteousness apart from faith.

And so teaching the law for right living apart from the gospel and calling it "third use" is not correct.  The second use must drive us into the gospel and the third use must flow out of the gospel... every. single. time.  To ignore this is not any proper use of the law at all, but is a misuse of the law entirely.  Where the law is preached, taught, and received, the gospel must be always close at hand and the two must never be separated or confused.  The apostles did not separate or confuse them and neither should we.

The law that kills the old man according the flesh and the law that guides the new man according to the Spirit must be handled in the shadow of the cross with the work of the Spirit by faith in full and explicit view.  It is the greatest and most delicate task that any Christian will face and a skill that only the wisdom granted by the Holy Spirit can teach.  When this is not done, Christian consciences are seared and unrepentant sinners are confirmed in unrighteousness to their eternal peril.  This is not a fault or failure of God's law because the law in itself is a good and holy gift.  Instead the error is in our handling of God's gift to us... our sinful twisting and misuse of what God gives us for our own good that we pervert through carelessness or rebellion.

The solution is not to disregard the law entirely or ignore the biblical teachings regarding the law's role in our sanctification.  One does not take a gift of God and reject it simply because it is abused in the hands of sinful men and ignorant teachers.

The solution is to receive this good gift and meditate upon it daily as we handle God's word soberly and rightly so that Christ's disciples observe all that God has given to His church without confusion or error.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Unique Nature of Christian Suffering is Healed by Christ and His Church

What follows is based on my part of a private conversation about Christian suffering.  I thought that it would be good to share:


Years ago, I once asked "What deepens, sharpens, and improves prayer?"
Pr Paul McCain replied with a one word answer: "affliction." (Note:  This actually happened on this blog.  Here is the post.)  I have  probably never received an answer as true, deep, and simple as that. Here, at the end of this dark road of mine, I have grown to understand the stanza of "A Mighty Fortress" much better where Luther writes:

And take they our life, Goods, fame, child, and wife,
Let these all be gone, our vict'ry has been won;
The kingdom ours remaineth.

After all, what is this Kingdom of ours but Christ Himself reigning and giving His gifts just as He promised to give us through the power of the Spirit? What can anyone do to take the blessed salvation of God from us when it is given to us freely on account of Christ? They can take our temporal happiness, our possessions, our human dignity, our families, even our lives. While this is horrific to consider much less experience, the one thing that is needful is beyond man's reach. Indeed, let all the rest of it be gone for there can be no treasure or victory here on earth that compares to the priceless gifts our Lord mercifully bestows on each of us.

I have learned of this tentatio very intimately. I have come to know that all men suffer in varying degrees regardless of their belief. Persecution is not uniquely visited on God's elect. Personal experience and the outcry of the psalmist teach us that both good and evil fall upon the righteous and the unrighteous indiscriminately. Even among martyrs there are those who are persecuted even to death for false religions and temporal causes.

While all men certainly suffer, it is the Christian alone who uniquely suffers as Christ suffered: rejected, scorned, and afflicted. While it seems to be no greater or less than the suffering of others in a broad since, it is somehow distinctly different--even strange--to the sufferings that the rest of the world endures.

As we are sanctified and conformed to Christ, the new man is renewed and strengthened in the faith by the Spirit. Our desires change as we live and love God's law to the degree that we are enabled by faith while we daily put to death our old sinful flesh. By the Spirit we do not worry or dread about the things that once troubled us in the flesh and in its place a holy zeal, longing, and compassion grows in the heart of faith. It makes us strangers here in ways I had never really understood.

And so we suffer apart from the world in ways that the world cannot fully appreciate nor predict. Nor can the world truly fix our suffering. They do not understand it because the cause of our trials are spiritual discerned. They cannot really comfort us through their darkened thinking with their temporal pleasures and sinful catharsis. The know only of what St. Augustine called "The City of Man" which is centered in the love of self and the pride of life and know nothing of "The City of God" whose light and center is Christ. It is this bleak expanse of mankind as they live in their futility that brightens the light of Christ's church in my eyes when I compare the two cities contrast.

This embassy of God's heavenly city here on earth is where the only true rest for me resides... where the only comfort for the suffering Christian is freely given and shared: this Gospel of ours where we pitiful sinners stand redeemed before God by grace alone; this divine blessing, a bright and unending dawn, that dispels the long night of sin and death; this mystic sweet communion that we members of Christ's body share with one another which is our blessed consolation and joy as we bear one another's burdens and await the consummation of His kingdom on the Last Day.

Dear Christian, Christ and His church, by faith, will be enough to see me through all of the suffering of this evil age until the end of the age where we will both see the end of all our tears.