Now in full disclosure, my husband thinks that this use of the law should go after the gospel because this use of the law assumes the gospel. The more I thought of it, the more I agreed with him, but I wanted so badly to end the week with the gospel, so we’re just going to ignore that, but feel free to read these in opposite order, if you so choose.

Of course, a reminder of our verse for the week, Romans 6:23:

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

But I also want to give a reminder of a verse that we looked at in the beginning of the month, Ephesians 2:8-10:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

What is the Third use of the Law?

Today, I want to talk about the epistle of straw. That’s right, if you remember the post on Sola Fide, you know that Martin Luther called James the epistle of straw because it so heavily emphasized works in a role of our salvation. As I stated Saturday, I do believe that all scripture is God breathed, it is for our good and correction, and I would include the book of James in this scripture. But before I get super deep into it, I want to give yet another Bible verse to give a bit of a proper context for how we’re reading James and this is from the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

How is it that the same Moral Law that is used to show us how sinful we are can also be used by us to show how grateful we are to God? In John 14:15, Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” I think sometimes, we hear that and emotionally go to the place of the first use of the law instead of what it’s supposed to do, which is prompting us to show gratitude. 

James 2:18 says

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works and I will show you my faith by my works.

Now, the context of this verse has been talked about briefly in my Sola Fide post and I definitely recommend it.  But I also encourage reading the whole book of James and also 1 Corinthians 13, especially as we move towards the election on Tuesday. Jesus also said, “By this they will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.” This week’s Heidelberg reading was on the 9th commandment and I encourage especially paying attention to that in your interactions with others in the coming days. This should be an area where the Christian community is a model for the world and we have sadly been just as deep in the mud. That was a little bit more geared towards the first use, but I find it necessary right now and I just wanted to add that before I got back on topic.

Anywho, what I meant when I said, “we hear that and emotionally go to the place of the first use of the law,” is we often take “if you love me, you will obey my commands,” and “faith without works is dead” to make faith a work and therefore something we have to do. But obedience of the law as a way of salvation is a weight we cannot bear! In the life of the Christian, the third use of the law is for us to show gratitude to God for the atoning work of Jesus on the cross. We are not saved by our works, but we are known by our fruit.

In a sermon called The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, Anglican pastor, John Fonville notes this based on a book of the same name by Walter Marshall:

What you do is not instrumental to your salvation. I want you to listen to Walter Marshall as he explains it in his book. He says, “holiness is not a means to an end. Holiness is not the instrumental means by which you achieve salvation. Your good works do not save you. Rather, holiness is part of the end itself.” You are saved in order to do good works, which God prepared in advance so that you should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10. Good works do not achieve salvation. Good works are the fruit and result of saving faith. 


If God says what he desires for us is to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with him” (Micah 6:8), we should be happy to do that because Jesus has given us the ability to do that and because we love him and we want the world to know we love him. This is the maker of heaven and earth, who loved us so much that he sacrificed his only son to redeem us, justify us, and make us holy. Who would not be happy to love a God like that? But, I’m getting ahead of myself to tomorrow’s post.

That said, I do want to circle back to Matthew 11:28. As I said before, the weight of earning our salvation does not fall on us. His yolk is easy and his burden is light. As we move forward in our walks the process of sanctification will be going through us as we draw nearer to the Father and become more like the Son through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is good news, my friends. God loves us enough to save us as we are, but thank God that he doesn’t leave us there.

Related Unit Posts:


The Reformed Catechisms & Confessions address the Law here:

  • The Section of the Heidelberg Catechism on “Gratitude” falls under Q&A 86-129
  • Savoy Declaration 19, section 6-7
  • WCF Ch 19, section 6-7
  • 1689 LBCF 19, section 6-7


Resources on the Third Use of  The Law: