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...
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?)
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!