Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Law


For Luther, God’s law establishes our responsibility toward our neighbor(what we should do) and, along with the gospel, establishes our identity in relation to
God(who we are). What we should do is love our neighbor; who we are is sinners
for whom Christ died and who, for Christ’s sake, God declares righteous.

The reason for this post today is that I have been following a few blogs who are in a law/grace debate and I think that this is debate that brings a huge gulf to the Christian community. Of course, there are many on the law side that would say those who are on the grace side are not Christians and that is a whole other issue that we will deal with on a different day. Today, I want to look at law / grace and how we should preach / teach and interact with those outside of Christ?

The central question underlying this debate is simple:

Does the law have any place in preaching once the gospel has been proclaimed? That is, can committed law-gospel preachers address issues of social justice, public and private morality, and the Christian life in any way other than as indicating our failure to live according to God’s will without lapsing into legalism? Conversely, can they avoid doing so without having their preaching devolve into a quietism and irrelevance that betrays God’s work to sustain and care for the whole creation?

Law Gospel Preaching

Hence, the phrase “law-gospel preaching” names God’s two activities of accusing and comforting that work together to create faith in the believer.

Luther View on Law-Gospel Preaching

It is important to note, however, that Luther prizes this way of speaking about God’s activity not simply because it provides a compelling homiletical strategy or even an incisive exegetical key to the Scriptures but rather because it discloses God’s dominant mode of self-revelation, apparent most transparently in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In the cross of Christ we recognize our penchant always to reject God’s overtures
to us and are compelled to admit our absolute inability to save ourselves, and
in that recognition we who would always be in control of our destiny die. In the
resurrection we perceive that God’s grace is stronger than our sinfulness and so can
rest confident that God has acted to save us and all the world, and in hearing this
word of grace we come alive again and anew in Christ. Thus, to speak of preaching
law and gospel is ultimately to describe God’s dynamic work through the proclaimed
word to put sinners to death and raise believers to new life in Christ.

I am going to learn with you at the present time and give you some insight from Luther and his views of scripture and his thought process. I think that this understanding can help individuals grapple with the issue at hand and hopefully, this will not look too much like we are chasing a rabbit down a rabbit trail.

Semper simul

Whereas most theologians emphasize the progressive nature of God’s work through law and gospel first to terrify, then to comfort and convert, and finally to guide the believer, Luther stresses the ongoing and simultaneous quality of God’s work to put to death sinful persons and raise to life new persons in Christ. From the moment Christians come to faith, Luther contends, they live as people who are simultaneously sinful by nature and righteous by God’s declaration and deed.

Luther’s depiction of the Christian as semper simul (that is, always, as well as
simultaneously, justified and sinful) also clarifies why he confines both functions of the law to the sinner. Simply because the law’s role is always to contend with
sin—restraining it to promote civility in its first use, and exposing it and putting
persons to death through it in its second—it has no place in the life of the righteous believer.

Coram Deo, coram hominibus

In the first relationship, which can be described as our life coram hominibus—
before, or in the presence of, humanity—the law functions in its first use to
prevent us from using or neglecting others to accomplish our own ends. In the second
relationship, coram Deo—before God—the law in its second use unmasks our deviations from God’s will, reasserts our inherent creatureliness, and therefore makes apparent our ultimate dependence on God’s grace alone for our justification; in this sense, once again, it serves as prelude to the gospel’s announcement of God’s decisive action freely to regard us as righteous for Christ’s sake.

Because the law has a specific function in the Christian’s relationships with
both humanity and God, it continues to play a critical part in the believer’s life.
Each use of the law, however, executes its part differently. In its second use pertaining to our relationship with God—the law always plays an anticipatory role by
preparing people to hear the gospel and, in fact, reaches its climax and fulfills its
purpose once it has done so. The preaching of the law, in sum, is always the penultimate word; hence, the movement from law to gospel.

Responsibility and Identity

One way to make more concrete Luther’s sense of the law’s function in these two distinct relationships is to describe its driving concern in each. In our lives coram hominibus, the law in its first use is concerned primarily with our responsibility toward our neighbors; it deals, that is, with what we should do.

Desiring us to live at peace with each other, God gives us the law—summed up chiefly in the Ten Commandments—and through it restrains and punishes us when we seek to gratify our needs and wants at the expense of others. Whereas the law in the first relationship is concerned primarily with our responsibility toward others, in the second relationship it deals with our identity; that is, with who we are.14 Here, it works always in conjunction with the gospel to announce that we are those sinners for whom Christ died and who, for Christ’s sake, God declares righteous. As we have seen before, in this role the law executes an entirely anticipatory function, undercutting any attempt to ground our relationship with God on our own efforts or merits and in this way preparing us to receive our identity as God’s beloved children solely as a gift.

In terms of our identity, the law’s essential role is, in the language of the
court, “to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” about our human condition. At times, Luther describes this truth-telling of the law as acting like a hammer that destroys human pride; at others, he describes it more like the quiet rustling of the leaves that signaled the Lord’s presence in Eden and aroused the conscience of fallen Adam and Eve. Whichever metaphor one chooses, the law
functions remarkably like a mirror whose reflection pierces through all of our pretense and rationalizations to portray unflinchingly persons in desperate need of
God’s forgiveness, acceptance, and love.

Preaching Culminates in Gospel

Most of Luther’s (and Lutheran) preaching culminates in the gospel because
we believe and confess that the new persons in Christ created through the proclamation of the gospel fulfill the law spontaneously, even unconsciously. (Just
as you don’t need to exhort or teach someone in love to attend to the needs of the
beloved, so also you don’t need to tell those who have been justified for Christ’s
sake to live in conformity to the life of their Lord.) Further, we believe that while
the law may command a modicum of obedience, it is only the gospel that transforms.

What Does This Mean ??

To me, it means that ...

You come to your conclusions. There are many ways to look at this debate and there are many ways to look at law and grace and "the gospel". I think that most of the time, we look and focus on one area too much.

I also have come to the realization that in blogs and in forums that we rarely do not want to hear or listen to other views, we just want to hear ourselves. To me, that is B-O-R-I-N-G

We need to learn and grow from one another and we need to tune into other voices. We may never know when and where we will hear the voice of God.

I Am Out !


Anonymous said...

Jeff you are right about it being B-O-R-I-N-G. However I might fit into this catagory. Most people write blogs of this nature because they think they are right. By it's very nature it is defensive.

Jeff Greathouse said...

I want to hear the other voices though and gain insight on how they arrive at their position.

I have been working on something. I will see how it play's out.

Wonder Woman said...

'Their position.'

'I Am Out!'

I can't help but wonder when you'll be in... and which position do you hold?

No, don't answer. I'm creative enough :)

So provokative your post ;-P

Roland said...

Good post.
But those who cannot tolerate solid food, and can only drink milk will not understand.
As a matter of fact, they might throw a fit.
Reminds me of something.... ;)

Anonymous said...

Not saying it is right at all. And I do want to hear other opinions, but ...

Jeff Greathouse said...


Your comment threw me at first.


I know what you were saying. I see a few of us (including me) have been deleted.

To All:

This post / response was just showing other angles and thoughts. I was not trying to force a thought on anyone.