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What Luther Says

What Are The Three Uses of God's Law?

Earlier today, we looked at the Two Tables of The Law and briefly discussed their importance.

Now, let's take a quick look at what we call the "Three Uses of God's Law" as properly understood and taught by the Lutheran Church.

Sadly, just like the Two Tables of the Law, I had never heard of this before becoming a Confessional Lutheran. Even when I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" for a couple of years, this phrase never crossed the lips of any Pastor I was listening to, and therefore, never entered my heart and mind by way of my ears for me to prayerfully consider.

God gives us the Law in the Ten Commandments and throughout the Bible. But what is it's purpose? In the Lutheran tradition, we recognize that there are Three Uses of God's Law -- to Curb, Mirror, and Guide.


1ST USE OF THE LAW -- "Curb"

Just knowing there is a God (a Divine Judge of The Universe), the "curb" is about order

2ND USE OF THE LAW -- "Mirror"
The only way to know God (to know that Divine Judge of The Universe) is through His Son, Jesus Christ (an awareness and identification of our sins being paid by Christ through daily contrition and repentance)

3RD USE OF THE LAW -- "Guide"
What we believe, teach, and confess (set forth a picture of what holy, sanctified living looks like -- VOCATIONALLY)

That seems much too basic (and incomplete) though so perhaps this will help...

The Civil Use of The Law (1st Use of The Law): God’s laws serve all humanity by restraining sin, setting moral and ethical boundaries for humans in society. This use of the law allows humans to enjoy a limited measure of order and justice in this life.
The Pedagogical Use of The Law (2nd Use of The Law): God’s laws show the perfection of God’s character and thus reveal people’s sinfulness in contrast to his righteousness. By so doing, it enables us to realize our need for mercy and grace from outside ourselves. It gives the lie to all efforts at self-justification.

The Normative Use of The Law (3rd Use of The Law): Though God’s laws cannot justify us, grant us forgiveness of sins, or bring us new life, for the Christian God’s laws serve as a guide to show us how to live. The Law sets before us a norm of conduct and instructs those who have been saved by grace through faith regarding the good works that should follow salvation. The Christian, therefore, is called to love God’s laws and obey them.

Do get your hands on a copy of the Book of Concord though.

In Martin Luther's Small Catechism, we are given examples of the Second and Third Use of The Law for each Commandment in his explanation that are very helpful in better understanding all of this.

You can listen to the recent edition of Concord Matters if you'd like to learn more about the Two Tables of the Law and the Three Uses of God's Law and how we are to properly (Biblically) understand them.

In a Lutheran Layman's terms, the Law is natural to us sinners, and the Gospel is foreign, which is why we need to hear a proper distinction between Law and Gospel on a regular basis.

[NOTE: As you know, I am a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is not consistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray. Finally, you might discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote on this blog definitely fall into that category since I was a Lutheran-In-Name-Only at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a "Book of Concord" containing our Confessions even existed. I decided to leave those published posts up only because we now have this disclaimer and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life. Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time and help. Grace and peace to you and yours!]


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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