Thursday, May 18, 2006

Elert on "the question of the law's third function" --

(taken from Law & Gospel, pp. 38-39, - thanks Jady Koch!)

Is there such a thing as a "third use" or "third function" of the law in addition to the usus theologicus, elenchticus, or paedagogicus and the usus politicus? Melanchthon, the Formula of Concord, and Calvin as well, answered this question in the affirmative, but in different ways and for different reasons. Luther also is said to have "clearly espoused" the usus triplex legis (threefold function of the law), hence also a third function, at the conclusion of his Second Disputation Against the Antinomians held on January 13, 1538. Here in fact, at the conclusion, one finds the following sentences: "Why should the law be taught? the law is to be taufht for the sake of discipline ... that by this pedagogy men might come to Christ. Secondly, the law is to be taught in order to expose sin. Thirdly, the law is to be retained so that the saints may know which works God requires." One could hardly state the usus triplex more clearly. These sentences, however, represent a forgery.


colton said...

Give me more! Who forged those sentences, and when, and why?

And would someone please explain the first use of the law? It's the one no one spends too much time discussing, and I'm not totally clear on what it is-- isn't it for preserving order and organizing peaceful nation-states or something like that?

mike burton said...


Basically to ensure and orderly and just society.


Ethanasius said...

Scripturally speaking, where do we get the idea of the first use of the law?

JDK said...

the "uses" are simply categories used to distinguish the different ways the Law works. .

the "first use" is simply the goodness of the Law in its entirety. . it is good not to committ adultery, lie, covet, have false gods. . etc. . .

So, scripturally, the best defense of the "first use" is the simple proclamation of it's clear universal benifits. .

now keeping it, that's another matter entirely!:). .

Ethanasius said...

Thanks, Jady. I should have known that, though I should know a lot of things!

Anonymous said...

UHH...I thought the only first, second and third use of the law was awareness that we, in and of ourselves, cannot follow such.

Anonymous said...

we can't?

Thomas said...

Then why all the fuss?

Is there not a future use of the law as well? Won't the law be used to condem those who did not follow it, or at least those who are not in Christ, to an eternal spiritual death completely seperated from the devine?

For me, this begs the question, “What if we are wrong about the totality of justification by faith?” While it does seem to be the only game in town, judging by my own experience, Antinomianism is not entirely out either, in fact I see it all the time in my own life. Should I not then use the law for the second discipline function?

Does such effort not nullify justification by faith by mixing works in as well?

John Zahl said...

Yes Thomas, I'm coming from the place where basically 2nd Use remains relevant for the Christian as the only game in town, just that we never get past that place and the primacy of 2nd Use.

rka said...

Justification is what changes one to a free and willing, because beloved, servant of Christ. The law condemns every day, there are many ways to respond but it still condemns, and antinomianism is not freedom.

Thomas said...

I agree, Antinomianism is not freedom, but neither is the second use of the law. How then can one be free and yet still within the law? How can one “run the race” towards Christ, be free in Christ, find use of the law, walk in the spirit, and not have any of it come from one’s self but rather from the Lord? This confuses me.

Where is the freedom in the Lord if the law works for i) discipline; ii) exposure of sin, and iii) knowledge of the works God requires? I see tensions in all three in light of justification by faith.

The second function exposes sin, but is the Holy Spirit not enough to equip the Saints for good works, and to stay away from sin? The first use of self discipline contradicts my experience, considering the nature of the sinner as “a slave to sin”. How can we have self discipline if we are not actually in control of our own wills (as Luther put it)? Is the Holy Spirit supposed to control this in our lives? Or are we just never changed, slaves to sin, and saved in Christ awaiting our new bodies while we sit in these? Is it always: sin, repentance, forgiveness, and then sin again? If so, then what of all the talk Paul puts forth concerning specific sins and those who will not enter the kingdom?

Finally, if we are to use the 3rd use of the law for the knowledge of the works God requires, are we not then thrown back into Judaism all over again?

rka said...

I think that one can be both free and within the law when one is so full of love that one doesn’t need to think about the precepts of the law, nor about self discipline, one just reacts wholeheartedly and joyfully to being known and loved.

But here’s the thing: the subconscious is very deep; we who have heard and believe the Gospel, who belong to Christ, nevertheless have vast areas within ourselves that continue to rebel. These areas cause us to do the very thing we didn’t want to do, and so on. Sometimes even we want to do it anyway, so there. God owns the house that is ourselves, but there are a lot of locked secret rooms that he is very gentle about opening up. No amount of law is going to force those doors open, but the Holy Spirit has a way of walking with us into the hidden places, and is there with us as we cry for the shame of what’s in there, and cry for joy at His light and life finally coming in. But there are a lot of rooms in all of us, and in his mercy he does not come in with the makeover crew, not yet.

So yes, it is sin, repentance, forgiveness, and sin, not in a cycle so much as all of the above. But every moment of repentance and forgiveness brings me into a deeper relationship with Jesus himself, and my love for him, and awareness of his love for me, grows and grows.

I do not believe that the law has any function for discipline. It is God who disciplines us, we know “the Lord chastens whom he loves”. The law is first, the expression of God’s will for his people, holy and true. And second, it takes us to the point of despair of our own efforts, it kills our self esteem. Just as Paul’s talk about specific sins, all the warnings in the Bible, all versions of law are there to bring us to the point of being able to say “I give up, I can’t do it.” Jeremiah saw that his beloved people Israel were never going to get it right, and said on their behalf, and his own, and we say it as well: “he has made my teeth grind on gravel”. But in the presence of the Holy Spirit, by confidence in the blood of Christ, we can say then with Jeremiah, “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end, they are new every morning, great is thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will hope in him.”

Thomas said...

I see the part about being both free and within the law as a condition of overflowing love, this sounds like “walking in the Spirit”. I can see that in my life and others, but there are examples of this in the life of a Muslim, Buddhist, or even devout secular humanists dedicated to charity. Of course, they are not walking in the Spirit but rather just obeying a law. But I can’t seem, as a Christian, to be able to live up to the example of many Buddhists (“Where’s the Beef?”). Oh, antinomianism! Paul would scold me with his pen!

I appreciate the house metaphor, with careful sweeping before working on the outside painting. Maybe there is more going on inside than I see. Sometimes I wonder, is the sin coming out that it’s depth may be exposed? Is it coming out that I may see my inability to control it? But I yearn see the fruits of our completeness in the Lord. Instead of seeing it, I feel more like the devil’s punching bag at times. It looks like extramarital sex, drug use, lying, cheating, and the worst of them all: feeling my faith start to weaken. Very serious sins indeed, and yet I am supposed to be walking in the Spirit. Well, it is most certainly a fleshly looking walk to me.

Perhaps my house is being cleaned, but instead it feels more like the demon has returned with well-armed commiserates. My willingness to repent has fallen by the wayside as well. Once again, Paul would scold me, but how much more harshly will the Lord treat those who are lukewarm, who have turned his grace into an excuse to sin, who love the world more than him?

Even as I write this I see that the Lord’s grace is sufficient, but I deeply want to be free of the bondage of sin, and while I know in my heart that I am saved, I still cannot believe the behavior I am exhibiting lately. “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom 7)

Okay, so Paul understands me, Jesus understands me, but I don’t understand me. If Jesus has rescued me from this body of death, what about our “obligation … not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God”. My misdeeds are not being put to death, they are back, they are in full force, and it is crushing. I am living by the sinful nature!

I don’t see how the law works, or how the Spirit works either. I want to believe that the Spirit will work in my life. I think I have just been relying on my own stubborn will to avoid these obvious sins (sex, drugs, ect.) and now I am finding out that I can’t do it on my own. But I want to walk in the Spirit and not the flesh. Perhaps writing this out has been a help. Perhaps the specter of antinomianism has been exercised through this reflection that is starting to look like repentance. But, I want the sin to be gone, I want fruit in its stead.

I wonder how is it that “his mercies never come to an end”. Its Jesus, I know. There’s the gospel all over again.

But what about his power to save us from our actions? What is this Walking in the Spirit, and the idea of fruit all about? I’m not seeing it here on the ground.

rka said...

Dear Thomas,
I appreciate you taking this discussion from the abstract to the concrete and personal. I can only add one thing to all you wrote so beautifully, and that is to say that Jesus loves you right now, right where you are, in the very sin that you are so caught by. And he will keep on loving you, no matter what. There REALLY is NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. And know that you are, for so clearly you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead. (Rom. 10:9). He is working in your life even as you speak, or write. You are answering your questions as you write them, that is the Holy Spirit speaking. You are in a dark night of the soul and Christ will give you light, a way forward, but no matter how long the night lasts the truth is that he loves you as you are.

As for your fears about your faith, remember also that “a bruised reed he will not break; a dimly burning wick he will not quench”. This notion that our healing depends on the quality of our faith is a trick, it’s the deceiver taking the gift of faith and turning it into a hoop to jump through. You belong to Christ and whatever he takes you through, he will not let you go and he will never love you any less nor any more than he perfectly loves you now.

That’s really all I can say, others can say more, but at the end of the day it comes to this, that Jesus died for the ungodly, which is us.

bpzahl said...

robin, you are soooo awesome :)

AMvL said...