Tuesday, December 06, 2005

"Do this"

In his Heidelberg Disputation of 1518 Luther offers the following thesis:
The law says "Do this", and it is never done. Grace says, "believe this" and everything is already done.
I wonder where this leaves us in terms of obedience to the command of Christ. When Luther says, "everything is already done" is he referring to the finished work of Christ on the cross, or is he saying that when grace creates faith all that is necessary for obedience to Christ is done?

Elsewhere (in his preface to Romans), Luther describes faith as follows
Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn't stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without ceasing. Anyone who does not do good works in this manner is an unbeliever.
It is quite commonly claimed that Luther himself didn't teach the Third Use of the Law. I've argued elsewhere that the Third Use is really just a special case of the First Use. If all we're accomplishing is doing things that look right, then this is no different from maintaining civil order. Consequently, I've tended to disregard the Third Use of the Law. But now I think I've been wrong about that.

As I said in the comments on my previous entry, I think Lutheranism (and Christianity more generally) needs a fresh exposition of the Third Use of the Law. Karl Barth talks about "grace in the form of a command." I understand this as being something like, "God said, 'Let there be light' and there was light." Likewise, Christ says, "Follow me," and Matthew follows.

"The Law says, 'Do this', and it is never done." But once Christ and faith are in the picture do we not have the possibility of a scenario where Christ says "Do this" and it is done?

2 comments:

Eric Evers said...

You write: "is he referring to the finished work of Christ on the cross, or is he saying that when grace creates faith all that is necessary for obedience to Christ is done?"

I'd answer a different way: he's saying that insofar as we believe in God's promises in Christ, we will do all that is necessary to love God & neighbor.

If we are not doing those things which God commands us to do (which we ought to be doing earnestly and every moment), then we do not need to be "educated" by a third use of the law. We need our sorry sinful selves smacked to the ground, so that the old Adam can die and a new creation can come forth.

Faith is living and active; it DOES things. It is never separated from works, although it is distinct from works. We can only do the works which God commands (whether in the written law or in the words of Christ), in the way God desires (willingly and joyfully) when the Holy Spirit has stirred up living and active faith in us.

So is there a case when Christ says "do this" and it is done? Yes. When we believe in him.

Peace!

Andy said...

Right, exactly. We don't need to be 'educated' by a third use of the law, which is precisely the sense in which I was saying the third use becomes just a special case of the first use (and a pretty paltry one at that).

Gerhard Forde was among those who took the view you are espousing that once we have faith we just do things (and Luther seems to be saying that too in the quote I included). And again, that advocates for doing away with the third use altogether.

The only problem is that it doesn't entirely square with reality. I've got some more thoughts on this that I've been working on since you commented before on my sheep and goats post. Hopefully I get that organized enough to blog it in the next couple of days.

(There's an unlikely and paradoxical phrase: "organized enough to blog it." :-))