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:
This is the most commonly used purpose of the law in American evangelicalism today. While I am not going to mince words here (I think at this point, you all know I love you enough to say what needs to be said), I don’t want to harp too hard on this one, not out of a desire of minimizing sin, but because I know that at different points in our lives, we will need the law and others we will need the gospel. Being an admin in this group, we get to see many posts that we don’t push through and we also get sent many anonymous posts that we end up privately counseling group members in because we are not sure that the group would be an edifying place for their concerns. If you follow the group pretty closely, you probably see a lot of posts from ladies who really struggle with assurance and really truly see the magnitude of their sin as an offense to God. As I said in yesterday’s post, I am largely writing to ladies like you. And when this is the condition of your heart, you need to be reminded of the gospel because you have such a high view of the law.
That said, as I was thinking about today’s post, I started thinking about Ray Comfort’s evangelism tactics. I have definitely sung his praises in this group often and this is going to be no different. He is such a great evangelist and I am so thankful for his ministry. But the reason I was thinking of him is how well he lays out all 3 uses of the law and ties it back to the gospel in his evangelism. So, I think he can also be a really good model for us as we go out and share our faith with others. We obviously don’t have to follow it to the T and I think we can adapt it based on the interactions we have with each other, but notice that he never leaves this as “you don’t deserve salvation, the end.” Evangelism is always going to be incomplete if it doesn’t include the second part of Romans 6:23.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
So what is the first use of the Law?
The Mirror. God is holy. I think this is one of the attributes that we will never truly be able to appreciate on this side of heaven. We tend to reduce God’s holiness to hymns, things we can celebrate and enjoy. But as my pastor preached this past Sunday, when people in the Bible encounter God’s holiness, they know that there is something “other” about him and they are often afraid of God. This is even evident in the interactions people have with Jesus. My pastor preached on Mark 4:35-5:43 this Sunday and reiterated that in each encounter people had with Jesus, their interaction was awe and bewilderment. “Who is this man that can calm the seas and the storm?” He is beyond any capacity we have for goodness.
One of the ways God reveals these things about himself to us is through the Law. When the 10 commandments were given to the people of Israel, he starts the giving of the law by reminding Israel of the covenantal relationship he has with them:
And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord (YHWH) your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Exodus 20:1-2)
So we see this, this is who God is. He is holy and he gave us his standard of Holiness. In Same Old Song’s episode called “You Can’t Handle the Law,” Aaron points out that people often think that the 10 Commandments and the moral law are actually something attainable, but God takes it beyond the letter of the law and gets into the spirit of the law, to our intentions. This is why I originally brought up Ray Comfort. If you’ve seen any of his videos, you kind of get used to him talking about sin. “So what you’re saying is, you’re a liar, a thief, a blasphemer, a murderer, and an adulterer at heart and you have to face God on Judgement Day. If he judges you by the 10 commandments, are you going to be innocent or guilty?” Man, does that pack a punch. Sin is serious to God. It is not something we should take lightly or be comfortable with. When held up to that perfect standard, we all fall short. Romans 3:23 says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We cannot escape that part of our nature. But the good news is that God is just and his justice was satisfied. In the words of “Before the Throne of God Above”:
When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free
For God the Just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me
The Reformed Catechisms & Confessions address the Law here:
- The Section of the Heidelberg Catechism on “Guilt” falls under Q&A 1-11
- Savoy Declaration 19, section 6
- WCF Ch 19, section 6
- WLC Q&A 149 & 152
- 1689 LBCF 19, section 6
Resources on the Law:
Good morning! This is a post that came as a response to a group member asking about Calvinism & Arminianism and I realized that while we’ve talked about Calvinism a lot and Arminianism some, we haven’t really addressed soteriology extensively. This is not as extensive as it could be, but I hope that it is a helpful primer for you to dive deeper into studying these things.
What is Soteriology?
Soteriology is the study of how you are saved. During reformation month in 2020 and 2021, I addressed Calvinism/reformed soteriology, so I am not going to go too deep into that perspective; however, I am going to address many of the other soteriological perspectives and where they come from as briefly as I can!
Because I address Arminianism a bit in the TULIP series, this is going to be a little bit more brief than it could be. There is a bit of a difference between contemporary Arminianism, what Jacobus Arminius taught, and what the Remonstrance taught. Arminius was a former Calvinist and a bit of his views were closer to Calvinism than what the Remonstrance taught. During my reformation month posts last year, I talked about the history of the 3 Forms of Unity, specifically the Canons of Dort, which were written as a response to the 5 points of the Remonstrance.
The teachings of Arminianism are usually supported by verses like 1 Timothy 2:3-6 (that God wants all people to be saved), John 3:16 (for God so loved the world), 2 Peter 3:9 (God doesn’t want any to perish), and the many places in scripture that indicate people have a free choice in their decision making regarding their salvation or morality.
Arminianism is a very pervasive teaching throughout evangelicalism today for a few reasons. The first is that as humans, we can very clearly identify that we do make decisions and it is hard to mentally understand that those decisions were ordained by God. Truthfully, this is something I know to be true, but I cannot understand how it works. There’s a degree that we can’t fully understand how God works because of the limited capacity of humanity. But I know that what scripture says about God’s sovereignty is true, so I just accept my limitations to the best of my ability.
The second reason is because there’s often the thought that if God is sovereign even over our own decision making, that must make God the author of evil. I cover refuting that in the TULIP series above, but I do want to reiterate that no self respecting Calvinist believes that God is the instigator of evil. Our “free will” is on full display when we sin. It’s God’s goodness that brings us to repentance and faith.
The third reason is that we like the feeling of being in control to an extent. Even Arminians acknowledge that God has a level of sovereignty, but his sovereignty is so far downplayed that it’s almost as if God does what we want for us. Please don’t take this as me disrespecting or denigrating Arminianism because I definitely do not want to do that, but I’ll leave some examples from Arminian apologists below so you can see what I’m saying.
This was a view taught by a Spanish Jesuit priest named Luis de Molina. Molina argued that God knows all possible scenarios that could lead to your salvation and chose to make the one you became a Christian happen. It’s sort of a multiverse view within Christianity. The scriptures used to support this view were really an interpretation of verses like Matthew 11:23:
And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.
Here, “would have” indicates an additional potential outcome that God knew about, but it didn’t come to fruition. Ligonier has a more thorough overview of Molinism linked below, so I will just keep it here for space!
While Methodists are a subset of Arminians, historically Wesleyan Methodist soteriology includes the idea that it is possible for people to be completely sanctified while on earth and marked that sanctification as part of their justification (basically you can’t be saved unless you become completely saved by achieving sinless perfectionism). This was taught by John Wesley and is also called Wesleyanism. It is highly pietistic and legalistic because they focus so heavily on works based justification.
Lutheranism is probably one of the closest ideologically to Calvinism, but Lutherans differ in that they believe in unlimited atonement (that Jesus did in fact die for all of the sins of every individual person in the world), that you can lose your salvation, and that you can resist faith/regeneration.
Amyraldianism is a teaching made prominent by Moyses Amyraldus and an attempt to reconcile Lutheranism and Calvinism. It’s basically 4 point Calvinism with the “God looked down the corridors of time to see who would choose him” bent, but Amyraldianism does recognize that no one would choose God without God initiating it.
The Eastern Orthodox Church has a very very long way of explaining their soteriology. It is similar to Roman Catholicism functionally, but they have different nuanced reasons for why they think the way that they do. They believe that you are justified by faith alone, but that the faith is shown through works, heavily leaning on passages like in James 2:14 (faith without works is dead). Here’s a helpful quote I found from an EO resource responding to Calvinism:
But we regard works not as witnesses certifying our calling, but as being fruits in themselves, through which faith becomes efficacious, and as in themselves meriting, through the Divine promises that each of the Faithful may receive what is done through his own body, whether it’s good or bad.
Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t include this one, though they obviously differ with us significantly in that the RCC teaches that we are saved by faith + works. When you do sin, you need to confess your sin and pay penance. If you do not sufficiently pay penance in this life, when you die, you will be sent to purgatory to continue to pay penance until your moral debt has been expunged. I’ve written extensively against various points of Catholic theology in the group, as well. You can learn more fully about Catholic soteriology by reading about the Council of Trent.
Of course, there’s definitely more positions out there than what I’ve outlined and I’d be happy to discuss more of it if you guys have questions!
On this week’s episode of Theology Gals we play a sermon by Pastor Todd Bordow on The Mystery of Godliness.
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