[In Case You Missed It...][6]

Bible Study
Bo Giertz
Book Reviews
C.F.W. Walther
Current Events
Daniel Preus
Dog Days
Dr. John Kleinig
Evangelizing Evangelicals
Facebook Theology
False Teachers
Friedrich Carl Wyneken
Germans Like Latin
Herman Sasse
Holy Sacraments
Luther's Commentaries
Lutheran Doctrine
Lutheran Podcasts
Lutherandom Musings
Lutheranism 101
Martin Chemnitz
Martin Luther
Matthew C. Harrison
Office of the Holy Ministry
Pop Culture
Prayer Requests
Propitiation Posts
Rock N Blogroll
Salomon Deyling
Seeking Seminary
Twitter Patter Five
What Luther Says

Whose Side Are You On? The 'Pronomians' Or The 'Antinomians'? (Why I'm Quickly Becoming Anti 'Antinomian Debates')

We've all seen them.

It seems like for several weeks now, the Christian blogosphere and social media services like Facebook and Twitter (at least, the distinctly Lutheran ones that is) have been talking incessantly about something called "Antinomianism" or a fancy-schmancy theological word that means "anti-Law"/"against the Law" or "anti-works" even.

Then, I learned that there's also a version of Antinomianism called "Soft Antinomianism" (I don't think there exists "Hard Antinomianism" but stayed tuned).

In addition, "Legalism" and "Pietism" can sometimes come up in these conversations and so they made a guest appearance too.

All of them might also live in a cave that no one wants to enter called "Radical Lutheranism" too (but I'm not entirely sure about that so please don't take my word for it yet).

Yes, it's enough to make this Newtheran's head spin! Worse is the fact that these debates that have been popping up all over the place online are taking place between Lutheran Pastors.

I say that it's "worse" only because I have witnessed these debates, disagreements, and divisions occurring quite publicly (and often with some rather "extreme" and "questionable" responses and a tone that is unbecoming of these men).

These debates, disagreements, and divisions are taking place between certain men of God who I have come to greatly admire and respect, or those who I have learned so much from about "the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3) that it's confusing the heck out of me!

I was torn at first, because I could see Biblical support for both sides, but we all know that the Word of God does not contradict itself, and so any apparent contradictions are merely perceived on my end due to my ignorance and limited knowledge of the subject.

The more I read and studied, the more the good Lord granted me the grace and wisdom to better understand what all the fuss was about. No, I still don't understand it all, and probably couldn't explain it all that easily to a family member or a friend, but I'm still trying since I believe it's that important.

I will say that the more time I've spent with the topic, the more I'm starting to come around to seeing that one side is much more accurate and faithful to the Scriptures and our Confessions than the other side is. Furthermore, those protesting the loudest "doth protest too much" in my humble opinion and they give themselves away.

I know that Pastors are sinners just like we are, and that they need our forgiveness, mercy, and prayers too, but it's been shocking to see certain individuals respond they way they have.

It's not like this debate is anything new though. It's been going on since...forever! Still, I've been seeing it come up a lot lately, and I guess I just assumed that we were all in agreement even on the finer doctrinal points of preaching Law and Gospel (a.k.a. Antinomianism), and so I trusted that these preachers and teachers, who I have grown accustomed to listening to and reading to help me deprogram and learn "the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27) from a Lutheran perspective, were all "on the same team" so-to-speak.

However, I've recently learned that it's like they belong in the upcoming blockbusters "Captain America: Civil War" (where each superhero has to choose a side and then fight against other superheroes) or "Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice" even.

Please don't misunderstand me either.

I'm not suggesting that such unnamed Pastors have somehow reached a cult-like, superhero status in my mind (1 Corinthians 3), but up until now, I did sort of view each and every one of them as though they were all part of the same superhero group of faithful Lutheran Pastors like the Avengers or something.

To see such fierce disagreement over something that seems so cut-and-dry to me is concerning. I guess it's just because this is the first time since I've become a Confessional Lutheran that I've seen a division like this among those who I never would've guessed could be divided over anything doctrinal.

Speaking of doctrine, aren't we supposed to be united in doctrine, especially when it comes to a proper distinction of Law and Gospel? Look, I may be new to all of this, but I thought that was one of the hallmarks of being a Lutheran.

To quote John T. Pless from his book Handling The Word of Truth...

Only where the Law has crushed sinners does the Gospel do its gracious work of healing the broken-hearted. The Law must kill the old Adam if the Gospel is to resurrect a new man to walk before God in righteousness and holiness. The Law cannot be reasoned away be theological sleight of hand. That is why Gerhard Forde calls antinomianism a “fake theology.” It is a fake theology, “for if you want to remove the law, it is necessary to remove sin and death,” says Luther. Only Christ can to [sic] that! When antinomians ancient or modern try to make the Law go away by theological quackery, they only succeed in relocating the Law. They end up inserting it into the Gospel. That makes for a legalized Gospel, which is no comfort to sinners. It only encourages them to live in the fantasy that sin is not so lethal after all. 
*- John T. Pless, Handling The Word of Truth: Law and Gospel in the Church Today, (St. Louis: CPH, 2004) 44-45.

Ok, but what's the truth of the matter then?

Simply put, think of it this way -- Antinomianism ("no Law"); "Soft Antinomianism" ("no preaching about 'new obedience'/'good works'")Legalism ("all Law); Pietism ("I'm better/holier than you because of my 'good works' that earn me more approval/merit from God").

I hope I have all of that right. If not, please correct me in the Comments Section below.

To clarify though...

"Lutheranism is Biblically better, because it is just that, Biblical. We neither dismiss the Law nor do we try to be more religious than Jesus. We are about the proper distinction between Law and Gospel. The Law condemns and the Gospel saves. You cannot have one without the other and remain Biblical. The distinction between Law and Gospel is paramount to a Biblical theology, because it is the only way one can properly understand justification -- how we are made right with God." 
*- Rev. Dustin L. Anderson

Seems like it should be simple enough, shouldn't it? So what am I missing here? Why has this been an issue in recent weeks? Why is it an issue at all within contemporary Lutheran circles?

Anyway, I'm not really sure what the point of this piece is today. It's certainly not to call out and criticize these called and ordained ministers of God's Word and servants of His Holy Sacraments.

Maybe it's to simply communicate to anyone else out there who's like me and who's new to the Lutheran church that this sort of thing -- though discouraging and surprising at times -- is not that unexpected. After all, as previously mentioned, even Pastors struggle with sin just like we do.

Perhaps another intention with writing and publishing a piece like this is to express to those Pastors who have willingly engaged in the conversation and discussion about Antinomianism that they should keep on keepin' on. That is to say that I appreciate the debate and the desire to want to get this right, especially given my Evangelical background (so thank you for that).

Then again, maybe I merely want to try and help settle the debate in your mind by providing you with the very same resources that were used to help settle it in mine.

That being said, here's a quick primer on Antinomianism, the things often associated with it, and the main reasons behind the debate, disagreement, and discussion for your prayerful consideration.

Silent No More: Luther Lays Down The Law On How To Preach The Law (200 Proof Version)

Four Things Lutherans Believe About The Law That Are False ... And True 

Characteristics of Lutheran Antinomianism

The Error of Legalism And Antinomianism

The Ditches of Legalism And Antinomianism

I Am An Antinomian

What Is Soft Antinomianism?

The Elephant In The Room -- Presuppositions of Soft Antinomianism

The Question That Should End All Debate About The Third Use of The Law

Why Every Christian Should Be Tempted By "Radical Lutheranism"

Would Paul Want Pastors To Preach And Teach About Good Works?

What Does Biblical Exhortation And Admonition Mean For Lutheran Preaching?

A Plea To Reformation Christians: Don’t Let Your “Simul” Become The One Ring To Rule Them All

Further Clarifications On Sanctification

"Sanctification"? The Issues In Question And Some Final Thoughts

"Dazed And Confused In Law And Gospel"

We Are All Antinomians Now (Except The Babies)

"The Gospel Frees Us To Fulfill The Law" Is A Thoroughly Christian Statement

Various And Sundry Bits From Luther's Works On The Law, Antinomianism, Etc.

AUDIO: Issues Etc. -- The Theology of Radical Lutheranism With Pr. Christopher Jackson

Matthew Johnson wrote a phenomenal commentary on this topic (in response to the recent back-and-forth) and I cannot emphasize enough how similar his own experience was to my own as I've escaped American Evangelicalism to become a Confessional Lutheran.

It's really remarkable that he captured it so perfectly and then communicated it so clearly, eloquently, and succinctly. Do check it out to help put the exclamation point on today's entry.

So, what did you think? Whose side are you on? The "Pronomians" or the "Antinomians"? If this all sounds like "inside baseball" type of stuff right from the first pitch, then that's because it kinda is to most of us laymen. It reminded me of something another fellow layman, Tim Wood, wrote for Steadfast Lutherans back in March 2015...

Anecdotal evidence indicates that the average LCMS pew-dweller has a superficial grasp of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, mixed with a distaste for Synodical machinations. What happens to this half of the Synod membership when they are confused by the careless “cooperation in externals” by LCMS entities? 
This is not a call to play to the lowest common denominator (our seminaries, synodocrats, and pastors have a duty to fix the catechism problem). It is a plea to take greater care lest we weaken or destroy the faith of others by ‘disappearing’ what is essential for repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Unfortunately, our leadership and institutions can be too casual in dismissing objections to their activities as the wailings of fragile pietists, or pharisaism, or a lack of education and sophistication, or the old favorite -- breaking the Eighth Commandment. 
It is attractive to dwell on “Christian unity” where it focuses on areas of agreement whilst sweeping disagreements under the rug. The problem is that the disagreements invariably reduce to blaming doctrine, and the people who desire to uphold pure doctrine, as divisive. Pure doctrine becomes the problem rather than the solution it is. 
*- "What Does The LCMS Reap By Sowing Confusion Among Its Members?"

To reiterate, that's why I don't mind seeing our Pastors debating this issue even if I am quickly becoming anti "Antinomian Debates" myself personally, because we all know that doctrine matters.

I guess it's just frustrating to see us continue to argue about a doctrine that was supposedly settled according to our Confessions, which accurately confess the truth already found in God's Word.

The Gospel must be protected as carefully against legalism as against antinomianism. An active pride is as dangerous for faith as the laziness that shirks every task. The merit-seeking efforts of a penitential suppression of the desires of the flesh can harden the heart as effectively as the desires of the flesh that are unrestrained. The battle against dead works is just as important as that against dead faith. If justification is continually exposed to the misunderstandings and dangers of quietism, so sanctification is endangered by the abyss of self-righteousness. A super-ethical, predestinarian monergism is as questionable as the moralizing of the Christian religion by Kant and Ritschl. A transformation of the world through sanctification, that would become a boundless union with general culture, is just as much to be avoided as a separation through justification that would lead to a world flight. Daily renewal of the baptismal covenant is indispensable for a life of faith, but the following devotion to the performance of God’s will is no less necessary. Justification robs all conduct of its appearance of holiness, sanctification guards men against sinning against grace. The promise of forgiveness gives the basis of action, direction and power to all conduct; the Christianity of action prevents “pure doctrine” from becoming mere talk. Each statement is only true in its antithesis, in the answer given by the other. 
*- Adolf Köberle, The Quest for Holiness: A Biblical, Historical, and Systematic Investigation, Trans. John C. Mattes (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2004) 254.

Still confused? That's ok. See, the problem is that there's an argument going on in the Lutheran church today about whether or not a Pastor should or shouldn't exhort the sheep and give sermons that preach about "new obedience" and doing "good works" in their lives.

As I understand it, this is where things can get really tricky, because then you start hearing things about the proper "Third Use of the Law" and stuff.

A good way to think of it is to prayerfully consider what I found from 2012 by Rev. Eric J. Brown on this topic (who himself seems to dislike any mention of "new obedience" and/or "exhortation" unto "good works" in sermons from what I could tell from the comments I've read from him in response to several posts on this subject over the years, but I could be wrong about that).

From his perspective (and those like him), the thinking goes something like this...

Bakers Or Cake Decorators 
I do find it entertaining that I am often called an antinomian, that I am looked down upon and told that I don't encourage enough works in my sermons, that I don't preach enough sanctification (sigh: as though you "preach" sanctification... you proclaim God's Word, both Law and Gospel, and the Holy Spirit will use it as He wills). 
I have come to realize the complaint isn't really that I don't encourage works. Or even good works. Or that I don't exhort. It's that I'm a baker who gets yelled at by cake decorators. 
Think about a wedding cake -- everyone will ooh and aah at the frosting, the decoration - the stuff that everyone sees. But you know what makes up the cake... the cake. The stuff you bake. The things that are hidden that no one sees, but when you eat the cake, that's the main thing. 
You know what I exhort folks towards. Loving their neighbor. When no one can see. To be the wonderful treat that gives life and joy and "body" to the lives of your neighbor. Too many folks want frosting preachers, preachers who will add the nice finishing touch the decorations, who will make a pretty flower or add a lovely splash of color. 
My wife likes cake decorating. I got her a kit for her birthday -- it came with a practice pad, a silicon sheet where you could work on your designs. That's what I find many of these rabble rousers to be... nicely decorated, but no cake. And empty piece of plastic with sugar on it to appeal to the world. Piety but no compassion, appearances that are well kept but lacking love, fingers more apt to wag than to be about making peace. Patience and kindness are absent, but there is a covering of self-righteousness for all to see and praise. Gentleness and goodness are not even thought of, unless it is the neighbor's lack of goodness. 
Like Whitewashed tombs. 
It is simple. We are sinners. We are forgiven. The Holy Spirit stirs up in us good works. He will point us that way through the Law. And you know what -- those works are directed at your neighbor. Anything else... well, show me your frosting and I'll show you my cake.

A reader then commented, "I don't think antinomianism has anything to do with preaching or not preaching good works" to which Rev. Brown replied, "But don't you know, Phillip, if I don't exhort people every week and list out things that they are to do, I'm a vile antinomian =o/ But you are spot on."

The problem appears to stem from some Pastors having issues with their fellow brothers for not preaching properly (or in the way they believe a sermon should be constructed and delivered). I think I have that right.

It's almost as if there's one side that says each and every sermon should only ever be "Law-Gospel" to the point where you hear the Law first and you hear the Gospel last and so you never want to end a sermon with even the slightest mention of anything that sounds like the Law.

Then it's almost as if there's another side that says each and every sermon should only ever be "Law-Gospel-Law" to the point where you hear the Law first, you hear the Gospel next, and they you always end a sermon with just a slight mention of a command, encouragement, and/or exhortation or something.

Naturally, those like me who have come to the Lutheran church from other Law-based and "Works Righteousness" confessions and denominations are definitely hesitant and suspicious of that sort of preaching (and naturally so).

Due to that reality, maybe it's not so much supposed to be a "Law-Gospel-Law" type of sermon we hear (where the "first" Law we hear exposes and convicts us of our sins), but a "Law-Gospel-law" type of sermon instead (where the "second" Law we hear doesn't expose and convict, but actually encourages and exhorts us instead).

Maybe it's a capital "L" for the first Law we hear and a lowercase "l" for the second Law we hear if that makes any sense whatsoever.

Bottom line? I'm not a Pastor so go talk to yours about this delicate though serious subject. In the meantime, that doesn't mean that this is something we cannot grasp and understand or shouldn't study ourselves as laymen.

Whose side are you on? I hope and pray it's the side that seems to parrot Sola Scriptura beautifully and better than the other.

Great Stuff -- Are You An Antinomian? 
Does God promise both temporal and eternal rewards to our good works? What! Are you kidding? I mean, if you believed that, you’d be a Gospel denying Romanist or a Fundy TV evangelist, right? Law driven! Bad! Or, then again, if you believed that maybe you’d be the greatest Lutheran theologian ever.

This teaching is set forth in our churches plainly and distinctly from the Word of God, namely, that the expiation of sins, or the propitiation for sins, must not be attributed to the merits of our works. For these things are part of the office which belongs to Christ the Mediator alone. Thus the remission of sins, reconciliation with God, adoption, salvation, and eternal life do not depend on our merits but are granted freely for the sake of the merit and obedience of the Son of God and are accepted by faith. Afterward, however, the good works in the reconciled, since they are acceptable through faith for the sake of the Mediator, have spiritual and bodily rewards in this life and after this life; they have these rewards through the gratuitous divine promise; not that God owes this because of the perfection and worthiness of our works, but because He, out of fatherly mercy and liberality, for the sake of Christ, has promised that He would honor with rewards the obedience of His children in this life, even though it is only begun and is weak, imperfect, and unclean. These promises should arouse in the regenerate a zeal for doing good works. For from this we understand how pleasing to the heavenly Father is that obedience of His children which they begin under the leading of the Holy Spirit in this life, while they are under this corruptible burden of the flesh, that He wants to adorn it out of grace and mercy for His Son’s sake with spiritual and temporal rewards which it does not merit by its own worthiness. And in this sense also our own people do not shrink back from the word “merit,” as it was used also by the fathers. For the rewards are promised by grace and mercy; nevertheless, they are not given to the idle or to those who do evil but to those who labor in the vineyard of the Lord.And so the word “merit” is used in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the Wuerttemberg Confession, and in other writings of our men. In this way and in this sense, we set forth the statements of Scripture in our churches about the rewards of good works. 1 Tim. 4:8: “Godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” Luke 14:14: “You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” Matt. 5:12: “Your reward is great in heaven.” Matt. 10:42: “He shall not lose his reward.” Gal. 6:9: “Let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart.” Eph. 6:8: “Knowing that whatever good any one does, he will receive the same again from the Lord.” Heb. 6:10: “God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love which you showed for His sake in serving the saints.” 2 Thess. 1:6–7: “Since indeed God deems it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you and to grant rest with us to you who are afflicted, etc.” Scripture is full of such promises of spiritual and bodily rewards.

That’s Chemnitz, the Examen, vol 1, page 653ff. 
That’s what Lutherans believe. If you don’t, you are an Antinomian.

That's good enough for me where I'm sitting and standing at the moment in my faith.

What about you? Still unsure? This might help...

The proper distinction of Law and Gospel has been recognized as a key theological insight by which the Gospel came clear in the Reformation. The role of the Law in convicting sinners and bringing them to repentance in preparation for the Gospel has become an axiomatic truth in the Lutheran Church. 
In the same way, Article VI of the Formula of Concord left no doubt that the Law must be spoken to Christians. It was confessed there that the Law was given for three reasons:

The law has been given to people for three reasons: first, that through it external discipline may be maintained against the unruly and the disobedient; second, that people may be led through it to a recognition of their sins; third, after they have been reborn—since nevertheless the flesh still clings to them—that precisely because of the flesh they may have a sure guide, according to which they can orient and conduct their entire life. 
(FC Ep VI.1)

The Formula of Concord also stated clearly that in speaking the Law to Christians, the Lutherans admonished the people about living in godly ways and doing good works. As they affirmed in Epitome article IV:

For particularly in these last times it is no less necessary to admonish the people to Christian discipline and good works and to remind them how necessary it is that they practice good works as a demonstration of their faith and their gratitude to God than it is to admonish them that works not be mingled with the article on justification. For people can be damned by an Epicurean delusion about faith just as much as by the papistic, Pharisaic trust in their own works and merit. (FC Ep VI.18).

In light of this background, one would expect that antinomianism would never be a problem in Lutheranism again.

Friends, that is precisely why I currently agree with the position that says there should be some "exhortation" given, and why I agree that Antinomianism does exist to varying degrees within the Lutheran church today.

Sure, we need to be collectively careful about how casually and often we throw that accusation around at Pastors, but we shouldn't ignore this reality and act like Antinomianism no longer exists, or that we can't succumb to an Antinomian way of thinking ourselves, because it quite clearly does, and we most certainly can.

My goodness, I sat in the pews of one LCMS church week-after-week for nearly three years where there was no Gospel, no grace, and only Law, Law, Law. I'd be a hypocrite if I was so vocal about the absence of one thing that should be present in preaching, but silent about the absence of another that should also be present.

Besides, we need to acknowledge that Scripture and our Confessions consistently speak the same language, and therefore, we would be wise to speak the same language today.

In closing, this resonated with me today...

The Formula of Concord does not consider the third use to be a hypothetical possibility, but rather something that the Spirit does. And so in turn it presumes that preachers will employ admonition and exhortation. 
Practice that reflects the theology of the FC VI will use language that says what Scripture says. Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions teach us to address Christians with admonishment and exhortation to new obedience, for in this way the law serves to lead the Christian, who is old man and new man at the same time, to live in godly ways. The Gospel is the source of Christian living and the new man led by the Spirit freely engages in new obedience. Yet Paul’s language and the text of FC VI make clear that because of the continuing presence of the old man, preachers will also need to employ admonition and exhortation in order enable this new obedience to be carried out by Christians. 
*- Pastor Mark Surburg

In a Lutheran layman's terms, while I completely recognize the value of talking about this issue to ensure we all get it right (James 3:1; Proverbs 27:17), I'm quickly becoming anti "Antinomian Debates," but only because I think this so-called "controversy" has already been settled by the Bible, our church fathers, and our Confessions a long time ago.

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. I haven't read this whole post yet, but I suffer from the same confusion as you. Before I get to that, a comment on this section:

    "maybe it's not so much supposed to be a "Law-Gospel-Law" type of sermon we hear (where the "first" Law we hear exposes and convicts us of our sins), but a "Law-Gospel-law" type of sermon instead (where the "second" Law we hear doesn't expose and convict, but actually encourages and exhorts us instead)."

    I was told by a pastor that one CANNOT preach the third use, as the Holy Spirit, acting on the hearer, will apply the one, single law in the way it pleases. So, to one hearer, it will sound like "guide," but to another hearer, it will sound like crushing law. And so if you preach Law-Gospel-Law, you run a great risk of leaving sinners in despair by "qualifying" the Gospel.

    For example, you preach about lust/adultery, using Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount to condemn the hearer as a guilty sinner. Then you pronounce forgiveness in Jesus' name, and the balm of the Gospel takes effect. But neither of these is definite in the hearers, so someone might not be condemned, and someone else might not feel forgiven. Alas! Add to that the fact that you then preach how Christians are to live and "behave," and it becomes a jumbled mess. The forgiven sinner, the one who has felt crushed and then forgiven, will hear one of two things:

    1. Oh, yes, I love the forgiveness, mercy, and grace lavished upon me. I wish to do my best to live as God would like me to, empowered by the Spirit (this is good, but rare in my opinion...all too often, we think we will gain some extra credit/merit for "living right" or being more "Christlike," or we don't feel 100% forgiven, so we feel like we must improve to merit forgiveness)
    2. Wait, I thought I was forgiven for all sins. So why this exhortation to do these things/live this way? Is grace free to me or not? (As someone who struggles with sin, most exhortations leave me feeling this way).

  2. On to my main point:

    I've been all over the blogs listed above (see comments by Jason or JWSkud) trying to gain insight/wisdom into this issue. You are 100% CORRECT that we have competing viewpoints on this issue, which leaves the average layman confused! Here is how I've broken the issue down:

    Camp 1 - the folks who rail against "antinomians." As a Christian, am I to struggle and apply myself to works, as exhorted from the pulpit and the reading of God's word? Am I to struggle to cast off lust, greed, sloth, etc.? Is becoming a "holier, more obedient me" what sanctification is all about? And if so, how am I to view my "successes" and "failures"? If I brand a certain level of "progress" as a success, surely pride has won the day? If I look on my repeated failures as evidence that the Holy Spirit, working within me, is not enabling this improved behavior, how can I do anything but despair?

    Camp 2: truly good, sanctified works are those we perform in faith naturally, spontaneously, without exhortation. Running to your crying baby. Stooping to help pick up books someone has dropped. Etc. Paraphrasing Forde (who was quoting from Luther's preface to Romans): the true Christian is one who completes a good work before even asking the question if the work should be done. Moreover, Forde makes the point that, secure in our salvation through Christ, not having to do anything to earn/keep it, we ask ourselves, "What am I going to do, now that I don't have to do anything?" From that perspective, I think even Forde would fit nicely into Camp 1, albeit in a more honest fashion.

    I see scriptural evidence for both sides, as well as in Luther's writings. I have no solution to this issue. Sanctification/3rd Use battles have sprung up everywhere. My personal solution is to apply myself to good works, to struggle against sin, as much as possible (Camp 1), but not to worry about it. Success here earns nothing from God; failure here costs me nothing from God. Simultaneously, I rely upon my spontaneous good works (Camp 2) as a "purer" form of sanctification (Phil 2:13 territory).

    I personally feel more at home in Camp 2 - it is a much more freeing message of love and grace (to me).

    Finally, in closing this overly long comment, let me just add one last complication: "covert antinomianism." Forde explains it in a footnote in his book "Justification by Faith: A Matter of Death and Life") - cover antinomians are those who exhort to "good" works by removing the perfect standards of the law, who remove the teeth from the law. They say, "Be a better Christian! Stop watching porn!" Which is a good thing. But is that the standard God's perfect, holy law demands of us? By no means! What about googling some actress's name and ogling pictures of her? What about clicking a link to a risque article/ad that pops up while checking the news? What about that second glance you gave the woman you work with? What about your THOUGHTS and DESIRES? You still think about porn? Uh oh. You still desire to watch porn? Double uh oh! You've certainly made progress by not watching 100% legit porn (again, a good thing!), but don't lose sight of how far you are from God's standard! otherwise, you are a covert antinomian.


  3. I could go on and on. This subject has consumed me for years. And as you state, there is no clear consensus on what scripture teaches.

    A few other notes:

    Forde (same book mentioned above, an excellent, albeit difficult, read!) theorizes (radically) that the writers of the FC "chickened out" on the 3rd use articles. In defending themselves from the charge of antinomianism, they swung the pendulum too far the other way, and tried to pick out precise language, but missed the mark. In doing so, they killed the "explosion" of the Reformation: 100% free grace. Not 99.99%, but 100%.

    Luther always said a true faith would and must result in good works, for it is a living, active thing. But does this fall into Camp 1 or Camp 2? Matthew 6:3?

    When Jesus said, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect," was he exhorting me to "become a better me" or was he destroying all self-righteousness and pride and self-justification? I think the latter (here and throughout the Sermon on the Mount, thus Luther's "repentance view" on the SOTM). Does that mean I shouldn't try, in thankful response, to live a Godly life? No. But neither does it merit me any additional love, favor, etc...

  4. Ultimately, here's the deal. I heard Tullian (still my non-Lutheran man, even after his fall!) talk about a conversation he had once with his daughter. He preaches hyper/radical grace, and she lives with him. So he asks her one night - how do you think God feels about you? Without missing a beat, she said, "Disappointed."

    How sad. And yet, who doesn't feel that way? We DO NOT understand/fully comprehend full forgiveness and grace! We always, in our sin, think we need to "keep up our end of the bargain," which is why evangelicals are always giving lists for being a better husband or man or father or 12 steps to a better marriage. Certainly, once we've been granted grace, it's up to us to live properly, yes? And I would say, is the Gospel good news of forgiveness only for those new to the faith? Or even for the Christian?

    We need to always remember that God poured out 100% of his anger, wrath, disappointment, and frustration upon Jesus on the cross. There is NONE left. None. Ever. For those who believe, tetelestai - it is finished. There is no more work to be done. Nothing to "keep" us in God's good graces. We're already there.

    And so we can say, "We work BECAUSE of the reward we ALREADY have." Or in Forde-speak, "What are you going to do, now that you don't have to do anything?" I will serve God by serving and loving my neighbor, and please, fellow believers, when I mess up, don't heap coals on my head!

  5. Finally, as I believe Robert Capon once said (paraphrasing):

    If you don't preach grace is such a manner that people accuse you of being an antinomian, then you haven't preached grace correctly.

    That is gold.

    Last point? The one effect exhortation can and does have on us is that it gets us focusing on ourselves. We lose sight of Christ, as Peter did when he walked on the Sea of Galilee. We become "spiritual navel gazers" who are so obsessed with becoming better Christians that we stop looking at the cross. Nothing worse than that.

    So while I respect the opinions of Surburg and the FC writers, I still take greater solace in the free-grace camp, because when I start looking at myself, I see failure and sin. An outward observer would see "progress" in my sanctification (my wife has said as much), but I see sinner, needing grace more every day, not less.

  6. "Afterward, however, the good works in the reconciled, since they are acceptable through faith for the sake of the Mediator" - Chemnitz

    This is the crux of the matter. Works THROUGH faith. So many who cry foul/antinomian are mis-characterizing the other side. Folks like Forde and Tullian aren't denying the 3rd use, but rather what works are truly good, and how are they motivated and achieved? Are they the things we do to work on our own, personal "holiness," like not cursing? Or are they spontaneous acts of love for our neighbor which spring forth from the Gospel? Does exhortation to good works actually produce good works? Does screaming at your kid for the 500th time to clean their room make them want to clean their room? Or do they just do it to get you to shut up? Same with us - do we stop cursing because the law tells us to stop cursing? Maybe. But the motivation is fear, guilt, shame, obligation, etc., not love for God.

    I just can't get around the strong arguments made by Forde and Tullian. Those yelling foul/antinomian are preaching cheap law and covert antinomianism and causing us to take our eyes off the finished work of Christ. I strongly recommend checking out some Forde!

    And I should add that I vacillate between the 2 groups constantly. Just when I think Forde/Tullian are 100% right, someone points out scripture that casts doubt upon their teachings. Then, when I find myself firmly planted on the other side, I see scripture that supports their viewpoint.

    If pastors in our churches, and profs and theologians, who study this stuff all day, can't decide what's true, how can we? As a friend at church said to me once, "I don't think God meant for this all to be so hard to understand."

  7. Sorry, back again. There's just so much to be said on this issue. I could literally write for days, that's how much time I've spent studying it...

    Thinking about Paul - he certainly exhorts to good works! But we must ask ourselves how, and why?

    How (the imperatives in the NT): Paul always hits the Gospel first and hard. This is his base. Only after he drowns us in Gospel grace does he share an exhortation, but is is always bridged with a "therefore" or "since" or "because." In other words, as Tullian pointed out to me, he exhorts IN the Gospel, not BY the law. Big difference. Only love begets love, not a string of orders and commands. He is trying to penetrate our hearts with the Gospel (after crushing with the law). Tullian never denied the 3rd use, he just pointed out that the Law doesn't motivate or create the change needed, only the Gospel does it.

    Why (the imperatives in the NT): well, there's certainly room for argument here. I recently read something that asked why the New Testament is so full of imperatives. Is grace free or not? The writer said the Bible, and specifically NT, is full of imperatives because we DON"T do the things we should. And not because we don't try, but because we don't want to. So you could argue that Paul is exhorting, from the Gospel, in order to compel to good works based on God's grace and the indwelling Spirit. He's trying to motivate the heart and love, not just following "orders."

    Finally, at least for today(!), let me just reiterate my position: I'm not some radical/hyper grace guy in my own life. I struggle daily with sin. I gave up porn years ago...but I still desire it daily. I gave up cursing years ago...but there are still slip-ups, and even using the Lord's name in vain on occasion. I commit myself to 3+ Bible studies weekly, and listen to lots of sermons...but oftentimes I'd rather just watch TV. I volunteer at church...but I get personal enjoyment from teaching and helping. And so you see how the motives are impure. Does that prevent these "good works" from being good?

    My chief concern in ALL of this: the instruction manual (aka Bible) isn't 100% clear on the issue (forgive me for saying it, God!). Like paedobaptism vs. credobaptism - it depends on how you read it and what you believe (for the record, I'm a strong supporter of infant baptism!). I can see both sides of the issue. And so my concern: I don't want to get to heaven and have Jesus tell me, "Boy, I'll let you in, but you didn't do much with the talent(s) I gave you, did you?" I don't want to displease my savior. I don't want to lay more sin upon him than I already have, if I can help it. I want to be told, "Well done, good and faithful servant." And so I ask the Christian community - how do I achieve this? Focusing on self and improvement and seeking out works, or resting in Christ and allowing the Spirit to guide me to them spontaneously???

  8. jwskud/Jason,

    I can't thank you enough for taking the time to not only work your way through this L-E-N-G-T-H-Y post of mine, but to then be willing to sit down and put together a detailed and thoughtful series of comments in response to it. It means a lot. More importantly, it is helpful too.

    "I could go on and on. This subject has consumed me for years." Yeah, that's sort of my expectation -- that I may never truly settle this to any kind of satisfaction on my end, but I do want to keep trying at least, because I do think it's possible.

    If I had to condense everything I referenced and wrote down to one manageable piece, then I would simply suggest that people read that Matthew Johnson commentary I highlighted since that's EXACTLY where my own personal struggle has been since becoming a Lutheran and so it "makes perfect sense" to me right now and, as a result, places me squarely in the "Pronomian" camp slightly more than the "Antinomian" camp if you will.

    Of course, I could be wrong, but that's where I find myself right now and these sorts of studies (and resulting discussions) always help though. Plus, I always think that so much of the current confusion may be attributed to the fact that we're all trying to say the same things, but since we're each employing different words/phrases to do it, that's where the expected confusion and disagreement comes in.

    In any event, thanks again for reading and writing! Oh, and if we're not already connected on Facebook/Twitter, then please feel free to reach out to me there as well.

    Grace And Peace,

  9. Thanks for the kind words. I apologize for submitting so many comments in so jumbled a fashion. This is the issue I feel I could write an entire book on, if not a series of books. I'm currently reading Senkbeil's "Sanctification" book - hoping that will help, then on to Koberle.

    I was once where you currently are, and where Matthew Johnson is. I went to a Bible study one morning and we were talking about Luther, and I said, "Well, Luther got it half right." I had been reading through one of his house postil volumes, and I was shocked to see so very little, if any, exhortation within. Virtually nothing on sanctification. And so I saw error. A guy in our group, a "radical grace" guy, challenged me on that, and my perspective started to change.

    The radical grace guy kept citing Augustus Toplady (pastor/hymnwriter), who once estimated that, by age 50, every man had committed, on average, 1.5 billion sins. Regardless of how accurate an estimate that may be, if I recall the math I did, that's a sin every 2-3 seconds of your life. Sins of omission and comission. Sins of thought, word, and deed. And any single sin is enough to damn you to hell.

    So the radical grace guy was like, "Oh, so in your 'sanctification walk,' how many sins have you managed to clean up? Are you down to 1 sin every 5 seconds?" That put things in perspective. I don't think most of us have that perspective on our own sins...we just don't see ourselves as "that bad."

    Consequently, I later managed to locate a Luther sermon wherein he freely admits he is weak on "3rd use," on purpose. He said he'd rather preach grace 1000-fold than sanctification. Partly because his hearers, under Rome for so long, needed that freedom. I would argue that those of us in the modern evangelical American church, with its constant emphasis on works and law, need the same message. I know I do. Luther (and I could argue Tullian and Forde) knew the depravity of his soul. He felt his sin. And he believed that only grace, not exhortation by law, would lead to the heart-change God desires.

    So I've been where you guys are, but my view has been flipped 180 degrees in recent years by radical grace proponents. But that doesn't mean I'm not constantly fearing I have this wrong, and I continue to seek truth.

  10. Thanks for the big citation within this thorough post!

    My qualm ends up being this -- the problem comes in when we think *we* as preachers control what use of the law is being preached. While there is nuance we *intend* - that may not be what the Holy Spirit brings up in the hearer.

    If I say, "Go do Good Work X" - I might be trying to encourage X, one hearer might hear that and be curbed from doing Y, or another might think, "I have failed, for I haven't done X", or another might say, "Hey, X is a great thing to do! I hadn't thought of that."

    What I think is encouraging about my actions might very well be used by the Spirit to utterly crush someone.

    Now - the Gospel, speaking and declaring what Christ has done -- that's a different kettle of fish. Which is why I'd contend that the Gospel must predominate - that the rhetorical weight - in any sermon. Christ never fails me, and that is simply good news.

    (I'd also say some of this strikes to a question of fear -- what does a preacher "fear" - is he afraid his people won't behave enough, or is he afraid that his people won't know and see the forgiveness Christ has one for them? What scares your preacher more... for me it's the latter.)

  11. Rev. Brown,

    I am humbled that you took the time to visit, read, and then share your additional thoughts here so thank you very much for that!

    You wrote: "What I think is encouraging about my actions might very well be used by the Spirit to utterly crush someone." That's tweetable b/c it's so spot on accurate, IMHO.

    In any event, I think your final words hit the nail on the head (or reminded us of the nails that were driven through Christ's hands and feet b/c of our sins) -- the Gospel and the forgiveness of sins b/c of Christ MUST be predominant!

    Thanks again and thank you for your faithfulness to His Word and His sheep.

    Grace And Peace,


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!

Start typing and press Enter to search