Wednesday, September 25, 2013

How Lutherans View the Mosaic Law

Today's program was an eclectic one. I answered listener questions on a variety of topics. First, I answered a question regarding divine monergism and Luther's work The Bondage of the Will. I then spent the majority of the program discussing the validity of the Mosaic Law for Christians today. I discussed the threefold distinction of the Law and the connection between natural law and the Ten Commandments. Finally I got into a discussion about soteriology in the church fathers, dealing specifically with penance and legalism in the North African Church.

Here is the program


Steve Martin said...

"The Law was our tutor until Christ came."

"Christ is the end of the law for all those who have faith."

Some of us Lutherans still actually believe that.

Nicholas said...

@Steve Martin

Did you listen to the podcast before commenting?

Anonymous said...


I have benefited from your Podcast and I plan to support you with the monthly donation system as soon as I put some more money on my WMM card and sign up for PayPal.

What you said about St. John Chrysostom in the latest episode sounds like what I've read in his works. In one of his homilies on Ephesians and in his commentary on Galatians I've seen what looks like Justification by Faith Alone. His Ephesians homily about election is quite interesting. He seems to believe in a form of conditional election that is ultimately unconditional.


What exactly do you mean by "Some of us Lutherans still actually believe that"?

Jordan Cooper said...

Thanks for the support!

Tom Cotton said...

What do most Lutherans think about Luther's sermon on how Christians should regard Moses? Right on or pushing the envelope?

Steve Martin said...


No, I didn't...not yet.


I know that many Lutherans have an affinity for trying to use the law for betterment (the "3rd use of the law"). A leftover from Melancthon's misguided humanistic ideas.

But the "3rd use" just lets the fox back into the henhouse and opens the door to legalism.

I mean, we already know what to do. "The law is written upon our hearts." Trouble is, we just flat out refuse to do it.

J. Dean said...

"But the "3rd use" just lets the fox back into the henhouse and opens the door to legalism."

You realize, Steve, that in saying this, you're accusing Paul of legalism whenever he brings up good works at the end of his epistles like Romans and Ephesians, right?

The third use of the law CAN become legalism, if it's not properly used. But that does not mean the third use is inherently bad.

Anonymous said...


The third use of the law does not open the door to legalism. Orthodox Lutherans, i.e., those who subscribe to all of the Lutheran confessions, use the law as a guide for the Christian life and they know it's not for justification but because they are justified. And if the law is already written on your heart and you know what to do then by your own logic you will open the door to legalism.

Steve Martin said...


The Lutheran Confessions are great.../but they are NOT Holy Scripture.

"Christ is the #rd use of the law...for all those who have faith."

Sounds ridiculous, because it is.

"Christ is the END OF THE LAW...for all those who have faith."

There's nothing wrong with Christian encouragement, as St. Paul did (does) it...but using the law to become better Christians is bogus.

We preach the same to the unsaved and saved alike.

That's Lutheran.

Mike Baker said...

The Christian, in his state of simul justus et peccator, always hears both the second and third use of the law when God's word is delivered to him... and both uses require the Gospel. The second use works towards the Gospel as it drives the sinner to repentance and faith in salvation on account of Christ where the third use works FROM the Gospel where the Christian is freed from the threat of death and grows in love and holiness.

In his sinful condition according to the flesh, all law slays man and convicts him because from the law comes the knowledge of sin.

...but to stop there is to present an incomplete picture of sanctification that is not in accord with Scripture or Lutheran doctrine. From the Gospel, the law is where the Holy Spirit works in the new creation by faith to create truly God-pleading good works... the fruit of living faith. These are the works that God created for his people to do by faith.

This is not a backdoor legalism but harmonized the teachings of Romans and Galatians with that of James.

It is from the third use alone, that the new man can say what the Psalmist recorded by faith: "Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts." the danger is not how the Holy Spirit uses the law (second or third) in the heart of the Christian because both are necessary and good. The danger is the application of the law for any reason that is delivered or received apart from the life-giving gospel. That is legalism... not the law's use, but the quest for righteousness apart from faith.

Anonymous said...


"The Lutheran Confessions are great.../but they are NOT Holy Scripture."

Nobody here stated that the Confessions are the same as Scripture. If you are a Lutheran you would agree that what is written in the Confessions represents correctly what is written in Scripture.

"Christ is the END OF THE LAW...for all those who have faith."

Have you even bothered to know the context of that statement? You get it from Romans 10:4 and what you should do is read verses 1, 2, and 3 with it. St. Paul was clearly talking about justification. He was not teaching antinomianism.

"There's nothing wrong with Christian encouragement, as St. Paul did (does) it...but using the law to become better Christians is bogus."

I take it you have thrown out Luther's Catechisms by now.

- Clint

Mike Baker said...

Steve does draw attention to an important concern that is not properly understood or diligantly guarded against in many Lutheran churches that I have visited. He diagnoses an important problem, but misses the proper remedy.

The law in itself does not make the Christian righteous. In that he is correct. His quote of Romans 10:4 is important because Christ is the end of the law for righeousness . That last part of the scriptural point is important. The law is not our righteousness... Christ is.

Teaching the law to a Christian in a vacuum and calling it "third use" is not a correct handling of scripture. It is not the third use at all. It is a misuse of the law entirely. THAT is backdoor legalism and plagues the entire church... Lutherans included.

This is why the third use, properly understood and taught, must come from the Gospel. The two cannot ever be seperated. None of the apostles seperated it and we should not either. My hand always goes up in Bible class whenever this happens because so often the Gospel, and the work of the Spirit in us and through us, in sanctification is constantly left unsaid. This is wrong.

Read all of Romans in context in one sitting and don't stop at chapter 10. Follow it at least through chapter 13 in the way that the author intended his teaching to be understood. There you will find the second use driving the reader to the cross... and then around chapter 11 the third use comes out and shows us how to live out our life of faith from our justification by Christ into our own working of the law in our own lives. This is not our work apart from grace, but is the Holy Spirit working in us as we live the law in the Spirit.

That is the law properly delivered and applied... always with soverign grace close at hand.

J. Dean said...


That is EXACTLY what I am getting at with the third use. It does not save, does not earn merit-but neither is it to be ignored. Paul regularly uses the third use in his epistles, and yes, it is law IN LIGHT of gospel. Nobody disputes that.

And again, there is no denying that the third use can become legalistic; as an ex-evangelical I can completely sympathize with this apprehension. I would be the first to rebuke anybody taking the law and browbeating people into holiness with it.

But that does not mean the law is ignored. Even if you want to view the third use as "encouragement" as Steve says (and I have no problem with putting it in those terms), it's still the third use.

Steve Martin said...

The law has two uses...1) the civil use, what 'we do' to get along in this world...and 2) to expose us, to condemn us and drive us to Christ.

The so-called "third use" has already taken place in the first two. it is superfluous, and is dangerous because it actually leads some people to believe that they can tame the law.

In short, the "3rd use" is not necessary and can cause a lot of harm.

Bruce Zittlow said...

"For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith." Paul here does not want a righteousness that comes from a first, second, or third use of the law. He wants the kind that comes through faith.

Someone tossed out the word antinomianism. Keep in mind that antinomianism is a form of legalism, since it requires a law to be against. "But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code." There's too much here for a blog comment section, but we must at least acknowledge the deliverance from and death to the law that Paul acknowledges here. Deliverance from the law as Paul describes it in both Phillipians and Romans precludes antinomianism, which can be the worst form of legalism.

David Gray said...

Steve has, in the past, said he rejects portions of the confessions and scriptures which teach the third use of the law. I don't see any point in arguing with a man who will say that.

Mike Baker said...

"The so-called "third use" has already taken place in the first two. it is superfluous, and is dangerous because it actually leads some people to believe that they can tame the law.", then we should throw out the first and second use too because that's what sinners do to those as well. The argument for removal based only on abuse is not valid.

Anonymous said...


If he does not accept portions of Scripture then there is no point in arguing anything with him. I do not understand why some Confessional bloggers link to his blog..

- Clint

Steve Martin said...

Come on, David.

The Scriptures refute "3rd use".

"Christ is the end of the law..."

You choose. Holy Scripture...a some less than stellar doctrines influenced by the humanist Melancthon.

David Gray said...


You have in past postings here explicitly said you didn't accept those portions o the scripture which teach the third use of the law. That's why I don't have much more to say to you.