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What Luther Says

The Law. The Law. THE LAW!

Seems my "Pronomian"/"Antinomian" piece from the other day stirred up some good discussion in the Comments Section and beyond (Proverbs 27:17 "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another").

As I've continued to study this subject on my own with mutual respect paid to both sides of the debate, I keep coming across all these compelling commentaries that get me bouncing back-and-forth from one side to the other!

Here's one of them from Worldview Everlasting...

I Fought The Law And... 
Q: Pr. Fisk pointed out that pastors are to rightly divide Law and Gospel, but to not pick and choose what sort of Law to preach (1st, 2nd, 3rd uses). The Holy Spirit moves the listener to hear what he/she should hear and needs to hear. This makes a lot of sense, and helps clear up some difficulties I had re: preaching just the 1st use of the Law, accusations of "Antinomianism" from our Reformed brothers, etc. However, how could a pastor ever practically preach the Law neutrally, short of just reading Scripture? How in a sermon could he word any preaching of the Law in a way that keeps the hearer from hearing more 1 than 3, or any combination? Maybe I’m making this more difficult/complicated than it should be; maybe a link to an example of a good sermon with Law that is “neutral” would help. I read Walther’s Law and Gospel quite a while ago, but don’t remember him writing about this topic. Am I wrong? If so, where can I find more on this topic? (In Law and Gospel or elsewhere?) 
Dear K, 
What a perceptive question! 
Pr. Fisk is drawing from all the time that the WE Team spent at the Seminary hashing out this sort of thing. Part of the confusion is with the word “use.” What he’s saying is: The Law is the Law. The sinner in us hears the Law and hates it. The saint in us hears the Law and thinks, “Hey, that’s a good idea.” The Law does not need to be changed. There may be ways of presenting the Law that make it seem easy to do or ways of presenting the Law that make it really reveal a sin, but the Law is not really any different in either case. 
The Law is God’s revealed will, and because we are sinners, we cannot hear God’s Law as being good, right, holy, just, and so on (by nature). When the Holy Spirit works faith in us, we will find ourselves wanting to do God’s will. Wanting to know what God’s will is, we will turn to the place where it has been revealed: in the Law. Knowing that God’s Law is good, right, holy, just, and so on, we will also know that referring to it in the making of laws for external conduct is also good, right just, and so on. Hence, the three “uses” of the Law. 
Although it needs to be understood within the context of the wider teaching on the Law, I like to respond to questions about the uses of the Law by saying, “Use the Law? Ha! The Law uses us more than we use the Law.” This is not meant to inspire Antinomian (anti-law) ideas, but to point to the dynamic that you so perceptively noted: You cannot compartmentalize “usage” of the Law. It will convict us even when someone hopes that it will merely encourage us. The best that we can do is recognize this, and be gentle with the hatred that the Law inspires against the ‘preacher,’ remembering that there are times when we hate the Law too. We’re all in the same boat when it comes to the sinner/saint dynamic. 
The problem that happens in a lot of American churches is that “Law that you can do” or “the Law said with a big smile” is mistaken for the Gospel. The forgiveness won for us in Jesus become a means to an end: holiness. So, rather than having Christ be the end of the Law, the Law is the end of Christ. We contend that this is backwards. The goal of Christianity is not morality. 
Morality, properly understood, is the fruit of a Christian life, not the purpose. I’ll never forget a man who came up to me in a coffee shop in NY (I was wearing a collar) and said, “Isn’t being a good person the purpose of religion? Don’t all religions help you achieve that?” The answer to the first question is, “No.” This makes question two irrelevant. This man was raised as a Christian, and this idea is in people’s minds because even Christians have made the mistake of thinking that “being a good person” is the purpose. 
Life with Christ is the purpose. In Christ you have been made alive. 
*- Rev Robert Riebau Pastor, Zion Lutheran Church, Accident, MD

Ugh. Just when I thought I had made up my mind, I read something like this that forces me to prayerfully reconsider things!

How can I not? I mean, it MAKES SENSE and, most importantly, it SOUNDS BIBLICAL too.

Are we all trying to say the same thing except we're all using different words/phrases to say it? Is that where this persistent confusion and debate comes in?

Boy, there's gotta be something we're all missing, because it can't be this difficult, can it? I mean, how can a case be made for both sides if Scripture interprets Scripture. Again, what are we all missing here?

All of this due to the Law and how a Pastor is expected to preach it in His sermons, huh?

Ugh! As a Christian, I certainly hate the Law, but I also love the Law too.

I fought the Law and the Law won...but so did Christ Jesus!

In a Lutheran layman's terms, something tells me I may be here unpacking this topic awhile.

NOTE: Please understand that I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or just a regular Christian, Candy-Making, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this disclaimer/note, please understand that I'm also a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism almost 2 years ago now. 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 inconsistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and repeatedly point us back to over and over again) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Also, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote for this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that "Old Evangelical Adam" category since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). This knowledge of the Lutheran basics was completely foreign to me even though I was baptized, confirmed, and married in an LCMS church! So, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by those old beliefs of mine. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because they are not blasphemous/heretical, because we now have this disclaimer, and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I defer to what other Lutheran Pastors both past and present have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries (this disclaimer/note is a perfect example of what I mean! haha!). I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a "Christian Dude's Diary" in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm experiencing and/or studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Feel free to comment/email me at any time. Grace and peace to you and yours!


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.


  1. Yes, please keep on this topic! Great post. This stuff is hard. Super hard. I've been vacillating on this, literally, for about 5 years now.

    I will continue to operate as I have for several years now - to apply myself to improvement, to holiness, to walking in God's will, according to the law. To deprive myself of God-displeasing things. To strive to help others through volunteering and voluntary giving of money.

    I will also continue to be honest about ALL of it. What are my motives? Am I seeking more favor from God? Am I motivated by fear that Christ will judge me (not with regards to salvation, mind you) harshly as a waster of talent(s)? Am I trying to score "straight-A's" out of love for God, or some sort of self-righteous competitiveness, especially when comparing myself to other (evangelical) Christians?

    And so, at the end of my life, I will simply lay everything at the cross. What I've done and what I've neglected to do. My motivations, good and bad. I will go "full-on Forde" and yell out, "I haven't been the Christian I believe Christ wanted me to be! Have mercy on me, Lord!"

    That's really the only way I can reconcile the two sides. Keep writing and studying this topic, even if it just gives me an outlet to vent my fears and frustrations on this issue.

    As an aside, you'll notice strong proponents on both sides of this issue. Sites like "Just and Sinner" and "Pseudepigrapha" (which I just found yesterday) are firm in the law-exhorting camp. Sites like "Christ Hold Fast" and "Therefore Now" (great sites!) are firm in the "radical grace" camp. I visit all of them daily. Perhaps that's my problem!!

  2. I must bring a few articles to your attention:

    Here, Pastor Surburg talks about how Luther expects pastors to exhort to good works:

    Aha! Luther was in the exhortation camp!

    But wait - what TYPES of works does Luther view as sanctified?

    Oh, so they are the works which I go about doing faithfully in my calling/vocation? Oh, I just do those naturally...

    Aha! Evidence of the "spontaneous works" camp!

    This stuff is mind-boggling. I have an entire electronic folder full of articles on this topic, and a printed binder at home full of it.

    I would add that Luther, taking his sin and faith very seriously, never considered a need to exhort Christians to "behave" morally. He couldn't see how a true Christian would behave like a heathen. And yet, if I'm honest, I do!

  3. Here's a segment of Walther (my favorite Lutheran pastor - I find him easier to understand than Luther). I'll highlight this bit:

    "...but sanctification consists in this, that the justified person becomes an entirely different person." This was, in fact, exactly Forde's point in his "Justification by Faith: A Matter of Death and Life." We are raised anew and work from faith and justification. BUT! The Old Adam clings for dear life, refusing to be put down. Thus the struggle. And I would say the point is this (at least how I understand Forde): the Christian doesn't identify by their "moral progress," but rather by their despair at the LACK of moral progress, which in turn drives the Christian evermore deeply into the arms of Christ. This cycle of trying, failing, repenting, and being 100% loved and forgiven drives us ever onward in our pursuit of holiness this side of the grave.

    Here is how faithful pastors preach and teach about justification and sanctification and how proper Biblical parenesis is a part of their sermons.

    “The question is not whether we are already perfect, for that is impossible in this life; the question is only whether we are among those who actually pursue the goal of sanctification, or whether we still are secure and dead in sins. If we are among those running the spiritual race, if we pursue this treasure, how happy we are! That is a sign that we are made alive through grace.”

    “Justification is instantly complete because everyone immediately receives complete forgiveness of his sins, the entire righteousness of Christ, and each becomes a child of God as well as apostles Peter, Paul, and all the great saints. Sanctification, on the other hand, comes after justification. At first it begins weakly and though it must grow until death, it never becomes perfect.”

    “The subject matter of sanctification is not how a person becomes righteous, but how a person who has already become righteous lives from day to day. It is is not about asking what the tax collector had to do to go home justified, but how the tax collector lived in his home after he returned justified.”

    “Sanctification does not consist in this, that a person no longer curses, commits adultery or lives in the gross works of uncleanness, gets drunk, or openly deceives and lies. Even the heathen can abstain from such out and out vice; but sanctification consists in this, that the justified person becomes an entirely different person. … Even if he is busy at his earthly calling, he does it with a mind directed to God. He also begins to watch over his thoughts and desires; no longer can he indifferently let evil thoughts go through his mind and if they do arise, he prays against them. He hates sin; he no longer fosters sin with great care. He does not let them rule over his will, but battles against sin, even his pet sins. If out of weakness he heedlessly falls into sin, he does not continue in it but is ashamed of himself, and confesses it to god with heartfelt humility and prays for forgiveness. He lets his fall serve as a warning, becoming only more humble and watchful over himself.”

    “Dear friends, you who are even now engaged in this struggle, continue courageously in it. Do not spare yourself. Do not fight in your own power, though; daily draw from the fount of divine grace in Christ Jesus and you will not fall fatally injured but will finally carry the field and obtain the victory. Amen.”

    Pastor C.F.W. Walther
    Gospel Sermons, Volume 2.
    CPH: 2013
    Sermon on Mark 7:31-37

  4. An excellent article on this issue:

    Note: Jim McNeely is not a Lutheran, and he is a powerful grace proponent! I go to his site after reading sites like Just and Sinner and Surburg so I don't feel so down and depressed!


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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