Pristine Grace

Luther and the Law!
Part 1
by Eileen Beckett
Luther and the Law!

There are, of course, differing opinions in Christendom as to the place of the law in a believers’ life. In various ways we have all been instructed that we must pursue the law and its works as a means of being more holy, we must. It is called the ‘third use of the law’ and it is to be the rule of our life. I have heard that statement many times over and I never understood nor accepted it as true, instead I struggled in my thinking that I was somehow less of a Christian, I wasn’t holy like the others and on and on my thoughts went. I wondered how the Law could be our rule of life when the Scripture teaches us that the Law brings condemnation and as redeemed sinners we are dead to it.

“Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.” Romans 7:4

I was, however, exactly where the Law would have me, under condemnation. I remained there until the Lord brought the Gospel to my heart, the Gospel of God’s Grace. The Gospel that tells me that Christ alone is my righteousness, my sanctification, my wisdom and my redemption and His perfect obedience to the Law is imputed to me. Christ and His Gospel is my rule of life. 

I am not alone in my belief that the law isn’t the believer’s rule of life, nor out on some strange limb. There are a host of godly believer’s who believe the same truth, knowing the Gospel transcends the Law, the Spirit transcends the Letter. And the accusations fly now just as they always have. In particular the accusation that those who don’t hold to the ‘third use of the Law’ are antinomian, not only in thought but in action as well and just want to run out and sin, sin, sin. Yet we know the cry of a true believer is always the same as Paul’s:

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” Romans 6:1-2

“For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! Romans 6:14-15  

Martin Luther’s commentary on Galatians:

It is no small matter then to understand rightly what the law is, and what is the true use and office thereof... we reject not the law and works, as our adversaries do falsely accuse us... we say that the law is good and profitable, but in his own proper use: which is first to bridle civil transgressions, and then to reveal and to increase spiritual transgressions. Wherefore the law is also a light, which sheweth and revealeth, not the grace of God, not righteousness and life; but sin, death, the wrath and judgement of God... the law, when it is in his true sense, doth nothing else but reveal sin, engender wrath, accuse and terrify men, so that it bringeth them to the very brink of desperation. This is the proper use of the law, and here it hath an end, and it ought to go no further. 

We may ask the question why the Law then, what is the purpose of the Law? It is as Martin Luther states above, the Law exposes man’s guilt and sin before God and shuts him up to faith in Christ alone for salvation. The Law is just and holy and good but it was never intended as a rule of life for believer’s nor the means of justification or sanctification. 

“Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed (Christ) would come to whom the promise had been made” Galatians 3:19

“Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” Galatians 3: 25-26

“Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless” 1 Ti 1:9a

We serve, not in outward observance, which is the letter of the Law but we serve in newness of Spirit. We are not under a ministry of condemnation instead we are under the ministry of a New Covenant. This New Covenant makes known to us, not our own deeds/works but what God has already done by giving His Son for our sin and that we are now reconciled to Him. The Holy Spirit is poured out into our hearts and our minds are renewed in the power of the Gospel.

‘The love of Christ constraineth us” and it is this love that becomes the effectual motive in our obedience, our devotion to Him. It is this love, not the Law that produces the fruit of the Spirit in the elect, patience, kindness, honesty, generosity and faithfulness, of which there is no law against.  

“We love Him, because He first loved us” 1 John 4:19