02 September 2007

Progression in Sanctification

I got to hear Dr. Steve Hein give a presentation on the Lutheran take on sanctification. I appreciated much of what he laid out. But I think there's more to the story. I've been mulling this around in my mind and thought I'd throw it out for any thoughts you all might have.

Dr. Hein correctly points out that the Old Adam does not need renovation but execution. Similarly, the new self does not need progress because it possesses in Christ perfection. So far, so good.

And yet the Formula of Concord can speak of "healing" of our nature:

"Furthermore, human nature, which is perverted and corrupted by original sin, must and can be healed only by the regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. However this healing is only begun in this life. It will not be perfect until the life to come." FC SD I:14

Now, if the Old Adam is irreformable, and the new self is perfect in Christ, wherein is there room for healing of our nature?

I would propose that the human nature is thus something distinct from the old Adam (which is the corruption of the nature) and the New self (which is the perfection of the nature). This thing that is distinct is human nature in the process of being healed by God's grace - a healing that will not be perfect in this life. That means that we HAVE to live under God's forgiving grace for the whole of our earthly pilgrimage since when we stand before His judgment seat none of us will have inherent in us the perfection that the Law of God demands. As St. Augustine wrote so perceptively "We must remain under God's pardon until the end, lest we attribute too much to ourselves." But it is the process of healing that I would like to reflect on a bit, and throw out some thoughts for reaction:

1. The healing work of God in our lives is precisely the activity of the Holy Spirit. Luther's grace and the gift in grace. Grace being the pardoning verdict of God and the inseparable gift of the Holy Spirit who comes with that pardon to begin the work of healing.

2. The healing work of God in our lives does indeed produce a progress in sanctification. Again, from the Symbols: "The longer we live [i.e., in Baptism] the more we become gentle, patient, meek, and ever turn away from unbelief, greed, hatred, envy, and arrogance." LC IV:67

3. Because our natural sinful condition is to be "bent in on one's self" - the work of healing is a work of unbending, shifting the focus from looking at myself to looking toward God in faith and the neighbor in love. "The Christian lives outside himself" as the good Dr. Luther once put it.

4. The healing work of God in our lives is not ours to measure. Why? A) Because lex semper accusat. The Law of God doesn't deal in fractions. It deals with the whole and shows that the whole of our lives stand under the verdict of condemnation for not being 100% love. B) Because the nearer one draws in faith to the Holy One, the bigger one's sin appears. It is the one who is in danger of falling from the faith who sees sin as being not a big problem in his/her life. It is the one who SEES the sin in their life as huge and cries out for mercy and pardon, who is in fact drawing near to God. Basic Isaiah 6.

5. Because the Christian's life by definition is the overlap between the constitutive centers of the human race in Adam (hence, sin and death) and in Christ (hence, righteousness and life), the Christian by definition is a conflicted person. Romans 7 describes the actual experience of the person who is a Christian.

6. The conflicted person who has sin and death at work in them from Adam and yet righteousness and life at work in them through our Lord Jesus Christ, experiences the struggle as learning to live from the one constitutive center (Christ) rather than from the other (Adam), hence, we beg God, as did in today's collect, for "an increase of faith, hope, and charity."

7. Progress in healing, genuine transformation, comes not as the result of moral effort, but moral effort is the result of the healing and genuine transformation whose source is the Spirit's imparting to us of the life of the Son of God. "And we all with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit." 2 Cor. 3:18 Thus, "since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to perfection in the fear of God." 2 Cor. 7:1

8. Thus, Schmemann hit the nail on the head when he could speak like this:

""And the holiness of the Church is not our holiness, but Christ's, who loved the Church and gave Himself for her 'that He might sanctify her...that she might be holy and without blemish' (Eph 5:25-27). Likewise the holiness of the saints as well is but the revelation and the realization of that sanctification, that holiness that each of us received on the day of baptism, and in which we are called to increase. But we could not grow in it, if we did not already possess it as a gift of God, as his presence in us through the Holy Spirit." (Eucharist, pp. 23, 24)

9. The "healing" involves the will, so that we use our new will to desire the good things our God wants. "Even in this life the regenerate advance to the point that they want to do what is good and love it; and even do good and grow in it." Yet being regenerate, they freely confess: "this is not OF our will and ability, but OF the Holy Spirit." It is still true, though, that the baptized have a freed will and that their nature is healed as they use that will "not only to hear the Word, but to agree with it and accept it, although in great weakness." So then, the healing of our natural will is accomplished as we "in the daily exercise of repentance" "cooperate in all the Holy Spirit's works that He does in and through us."

10. God heals human nature so that it is able to enjoy the life that He has prepared for it; without that healing the unregenerate "even in the land of uprightness deals corruptly; he does not see the majesty of the Lord." Is 26:10 - think of the dwarfs in *The Last Battle* who had not the faculties to enjoy the Paradise in which they were and who imagined themselves to be in the dark stable.

Okay, too long. But any thoughts?


Christopher Gillespie said...

Earlier this year, Pr. Petersen gave a sermon on campus of CTS on the Tower of Siloam incident. He ruffled quite a few feathers with the sermon. namely, God does act in wrath in this world. His sermon got me thinking about this "now and not yet" dilemna (which is no real dilemna with an understanding as you outlined it.)

Ever since I have struggled with fellow seminarians to describe the picture of Biblical trial by fire, so to speak. They say "God does not act in wrath toward the Christian." To say this assumes the Old Adam is dead within us. Your distinction between Old Adam, New man, and human nature and a life of daily repentance and Baptism would help to explain the presence of evil (and perhaps wrath) in the life of the Christian...

Just thinking out loud and in circles....

Susan said...

Wow. Lots of big words and big thoughts. I am a bear of very little brain. It seems to me that the Old Adam is, at one and the same time, both ME and yet (in a sense) distinct from me -- the enemy that attacks me. Likewise, the New Man is both ME and yet something new and different and created afresh in me.

>>Now, if the Old Adam is irreformable, and the new self is perfect in Christ, wherein is there room for healing of our nature?<<

Probably the analogy is sadly lacking, but would it help to think of the healing of a bone or the healing of torn skin? Progress is made, but not because of anything the bone or the skin does. The damaged bone cells and the damaged skin cells and the scabbing ARE part of the body. The newly created healthy cells are part of the body too. They are fighting for control of the tissue, and progress is being made by one side or the other.

William Weedon said...


I think it does help explain the frustrating experience of the Christian's struggle, so I appreciate your words.


Good analogy with the bone or the skin - I like it! And you are ANYTHING but a bear of a little brain.

Pax Christi!

Past Elder said...

Does God act in wrath toward the Christian? The presence of evil in the life of a Christian?

I got married in 1993 at age 43 and professed the Lutheran faith in 1996, a few months after the baptism of our first child. It seemed like after a lifetime of stumbling around my life had finally come to-gether with regard to God and Man.

Not quite a year later, this had been ripped apart. My wife died of an aggressive cancer the night before Thanksgiving and my first anniversary as a Lutheran I was a widower with two infants.

Let me tell you, I know exactly how the Old Man in me would have responded, because I was that Old Man for quite some time. Namely, that this is the largest and last insult I will take from all this pie in the sky about a loving God from people who reject this life and invent another one.

That didn't happen. I was amazed. I've had crises of faith over less than this! What's different?

Here's what's different. Along the way, I had the Gospel rightly preached and the Sacraments properly administered to me. Put another way, confessional Lutheranism was presented to me and the grace of God enabled me to believe it.

God didn't design Creation or the world to be this way or intend for a lot of what happens to happen. He didn't want a world where some kids grow up without their mother, or mothers die just when their lives seem to have come to-gether. We did that. That's sin. Creation is fallen. Not just me, all creation. Which means that, in this life, I exist amid ruins, things that don't run like they were meant to, and I'm just going to bump into the consequences of that. My sins are forgiven, but I still live in a world broken by sin, including me, and that will continue until the Last Day. Simul peccator simul justus. That's me. A sinner justified by Christ. Is that not what proves God's love for us, that while we were still in our sins he died for us? When I understand that that's me, and that's you too, and that's our whole world, it's different.

That's why the pastor could conclude Nancy's funeral sermon this way: most of us just celebrated a Thanksgiving that lasted one day, but Nancy has begun one that lasts an eternity. You could not leave the church that day not having heard the message that the only dead people there are not in the casket but those not alive in Christ.

This is entirely the work of the Holy Spirit. The real wonder is not what happened to me, but given the reality of sin and what it has wrought to humanity and the world, that it doesn't happen more often. What happened to me is a sign of the mercy of God -- it's not about me. Like the question of what about those guys killed when the pillar fell on them, the answer isn't what about them, it's that all of us ought to have a pillar fall on us. And eventually will apart from the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

Or as the great theologian Clint Eastwood said in his canonical work Unforgiven, We all got it coming, kid. But the "movie" or story of the Christian is Forgiven, not Unforgiven. Why do bad things happen to good people? Wrong question. Therefore wrong answer whatever the answer may be.

How the hell do we know what is good and bad in people or things? We don't, except insofar as we decide to live beyond good and evil, deciding for ourselves what those are or dispensing with them altogether. Adam and Eve. Just what blew the whole thing. A loving God? How do we know what that is, apart from some deification of our own best sentiments? The fact is, we don't even know what love is -- apart from this, that while we were still in our sins, he died for us.

That's what's different. One time, this all cam to a head for me. I was in the backyard playing with the boys, when the younger one came upon a dead garter snake. He held it up and said Look Dad! I said Put it down, being one who regards snakes as part of God's creation but a part of which I am not fond. But the older one stared at it and finally said Mom died.

Right there and then, the Old Man and the New Man had it out. The Old Man said, this is pure crap, life isn't supposed to be like this, it's supposed to be Mom and Dad out playing with the kids, then going in to have family dinner, winding down for the day, putting the kids to bed, watching them sleep and then, well, maybe doing what Moms and Dads do after the kids go to bed. It sure as hell ain't supposed to be a forty something guy explaining to his preschooler kid the difference between a dead snake and a dead mom.

That's me. Pure me. Semper peccator. But by the grace of God, that's also not me. I'm not semper peccator, but simul peccator et justus. So the grace of God could move to say, OK Mr Lutheran Elder (I wasn't "past" then), you can make this all about you and get all mad at God, or you can make this about someone else, right now a little kid having trouble with the difference between a dead snake and his dead mom. And by the grace of God that's what I did. And then we went in, had dinner, wound down, I put the kids to bed, watched some TV (I wasn't blogging then or I'd probably have ranted in some combox) and went to bed. And I rather think Nancy was a part of that, though we are still in this life it went down according to the life she has in full now. Not exactly what I planned, but where in "forgiven" does it say my plans are God's plans, where does it say it's all about me?

It doesn't. This stuff our confessional preachers say is no pie in the sky, it's hard core truth and reality that reaches even to dead snakes and confused little kids -- and their parents. It's right there in the dirt and grime with you, even when you hear the last breath go and coldness descend on the body of someone you've loved and built a life with that you thought had passed you by and now is leaving anyway.

But you have to get out of the way with all the wrong questions and irrelevant answers and deifications of your own ideas. The Word doesn't answer any of that except to say if there are no good answers it's because your questions arise from the foolishness of Man, and the wisdom of God has not only the answer but the question too.

We all got it coming. It's a fallen world! The tragedy and the question isn't whether the pillar fell on you or not, it's to still be Unforgiven rather than Forgiven. So haec dies quam fecit Domini, exultemur et laetemur in ea! This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

These things have to be kept in proper balance, and the solution is most certainly to avoid talking to Christians about the works in which they are to be walking and progressing! I truly believe that the problem is that there is, among some of our friends, a functional denial of the third use of the law. While it is conceded on paper, it has no functional value in preaching and teaching. I regard this as a sad legacy of the Seminex era.

There are some who believe that when they condemn sins and point out where people are failing to live in perfect accord with God's Law they are thereby also covering the topic of good works.

This is simply not the pattern of Biblical or Confessionally Lutheran preaching.

Things have become so skewed on this point that I have been told by a pious Christian woman that she can never read her Bible, read about a virtue commended, and say to herself, "I am, by God's grace, going to try to do this." She said that in saying that she would be taking her eyes of Christ.

In the Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel Church Order, in the doctrinal statement (corpus doctrinae) that accompanies it, Martin Chemnitz makes these points about how properly to teach good works:

"Luther used to present this doctrine in a fine way in three points:

First, good works should be done for the sake of God's will, because to do them is his command and will (John 15); because He is our Father, that we show ourselves to be as obedient children toward Him, 1 Pet. 1; 1 Jn 3, that we be God's disciples, Eph. 5; 1 Pet. 2; 1 Jn 2, as he loves us and has forgiven us, Col. 3; 1 John 4, because Christ has given himself to us, in order that we not serve sin, but walk in the new life, Rom. 6; Titus 2; 1 Peter 1 and 2; Eph. 2; 2 Cor. 5, and in summary, that God be praised through our good works, Mat. 5; PHil. 1, 1 Pet.

Second, we are to do good works for the sake of our neighbor that he thereby be helped and served in his need, 1 John 3, that we give no one offense, 2 Cor. 6; Phil. 2, and the doctrine not be ridiculed, 1 Tim. 6; Titus 2, rather the mouth of the gainsayers be stopped, 1 Pet. 2 and 3, Titus 2, and that others may be won through our good conduct, Mat. 5; 1 Peter 3.

Third, we are to do good works, for the sake of our own need, so that through them we may have a certain testimony that our faith is true, and that we are truly righteous and saved by faith, 1 John 4; 2 Pet. 1; Gal. 5; Phil. 1;, that we not perchance deceive ourselves with a false and dead faith, 1 John 2 and 3; 1 Tim. 5; 2 Pet. 1; Js. 2, so that faith, the Holy Spirit, righteousness and salvation not again be lost, if we live according to the flesh, 1 Tim. 1; ;5 and 6; 1 Pet. 2; 2 Pet. 1 and 2; Rom. 8; Col. 3; Eph. 4; 1 Thess. 4, rather that faith be exercised and the calling made sure, Gal. 5; 2 Pet. 1, also for this reason, because God threatens severe punishment temporally and eternally for sin against conscience and promises forgiveness of sins and blessedness, they do otherwise, however, really have rich and glorious reward in this and in the future life, not on account of the worthiness of the works, but rather on account of grace, 1 Tim. 4; Galat. 6; Ephes. 6; 2 Tim. 4, Mat. 5; 6; 10; 25; Mark 10; Luke 14, etc."

The Church Order of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel
by Martin Chemnitz
Printed in Wolfenbüttel by Conrad Horn, 1569
Translated by M. Harrison and A. Smith, 2006

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Important correction to the comment above:

and the solution is most certainly to avoid talking to Christians

Should read:

and the solution is most certainly NOT to avoid talking to Christians...

William Weedon said...

Walther also chimes in in today's reading from *God Grant It!* - p. 689

"Where is the person who leads such a life in love? There is no one. Only Christ lived, suffered, and died in this manner, not for Himself, but because of His love for sinners. True Christians, in whom Jesus lives, make a beginning of such love, but they never bring it to perfection. It is, therefore, evil delusion when a person things he is able to justify himself before God and make himself holy by the fulfillment of the commandment to love the neighbor."

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Walther is, of course, absolutely correct. But the frustrating thing is that some of our friends believe the only way, and the best way, to make sure we always make Walther's point here clear is simply to avoid talking about the good works that Christians are to be doing in any other context other than, "You are a miserable sinner who can not save yourself. You can't do anything. You have failed. You are sinful." And that's it.

Walther elsewhere in the same book you quote is very careful to talk about the nature of the Christian life in terms of the good works we can do and that we should so.

I'm growing convinced that what is actually happening is a development of a functional antinomianism and a functional denial of the third use of the law.

Past Elder said...

I agree with that. And I think, if we are concerned about numbers, either in loss of attendance and membership or in increasing them, we should consider that the reason people leave and/or don't come has nothing to do with whether there's a rock band or non liturgical worship, but whether they hear something about the third use of the law.

Whether they know the phrase or not, people instinctively and intuitively seek guidance in what we call the third use of the law, and they know it when they don't get it. So they go where they do. The sad part is, in those places so often that's all they get, even to the point of another version of works righteousness.

We Lutherans have it all, and one part of it is not served or enhanced by leaving out another part of it, and when we do that people go elsewhere and find only parts, not the whole that they could have found with us but didn't because we didn't offer it.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Rev. Weedon,

This is a most interesting blog entry. I am having lots to chew on. In my infant Lutheransim, I am certainly no expert and have not ( yet…) read neither the entire Book of Concord or delved into the all there is to understand about the Lutheran heritage, but I think that sinking into functional antinomianism or a disregard for the third use of the Law as Rev. McCain describes it, would be hard to pull of unless one is willing to ignore some rather clear statements about the baptized in places like the Large Catechism. Either that or – which would be a very sad state of affairs -- one is altogether ignorant of some pretty elemental teachings in the Book of Concord about the matter of Christian walk.
While I was still pondering whether to make a turn from a more Calvinistic evangelicalism and once again considering Roman Catholicism to confessional Lutheranism, one of the things I would be a bit concerned about was the possibility of a sort of “pessimistic Lutheranism” - - one where sanctification was not really clear or looked on with some contempt for fear of taking the eyes of the believer off Christ. Reading and understanding the following passages in the Large Catechism was a very important step for me:

“Therefore the old man goes unrestrained in his nature if he is not checked and suppressed by the power of Baptism. On the other hand, where men have become Christians, he daily decreases until he finally perishes. That is truly to be buried in Baptism, and daily to come forth again.” LC IV:71

“For this reason let every one esteem his Baptism as a daily dress in which he is to walk constantly, that he may ever be found in the faith and its fruits, that he suppress the old man and grow up in the new. For if we would be Christians, we must practise the work whereby we are Christians” LC IV:84-85

Still learning…


Schütz said...

Thanks for the correction, Pastor McCain--you had me really worried there for a minute!

I think Susan was close to the mark when she commented

"It seems to me that the Old Adam is, at one and the same time, both ME and yet (in a sense) distinct from me -- the enemy that attacks me. Likewise, the New Man is both ME and yet something new and different and created afresh in me."

The Old Adam/New Man image is a little problematic--because although it speaks to one angle of the experience of sin and grace, it doesn't do justice to the whole Truth. More about this in the near future on my own blog.

William Weedon said...


I look forward to your thoughts on this. I think the Old Adam/New Adam schemata is very helpful, but I agree that it does not tell the whole of the story, which is what I was attempting to get at in the original post.

William Weedon said...


Indeed, there is no way to maintain an antinomian (against third use specifically) and remain faithful to the teaching of salvation as contained in the Lutheran Symbols. The passages you cite from the LC are key, as also the "healing" language used in the FC.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

I think what is growing increasingly troubled is the "don't ask, don't tell" attitude toward good works that some Lutherans have adopted.

Cwirla's latest sermon post, by the way, is a healthy antidote.

Anonymous said...

Preach the Law in all its severity. Preach the Gospel in all its sweetness. In public preaching, never leave the Law unanswered by the Gospel.

Leave the "uses" to the only one truly qualified to apply them rightly, the Holy Spirit.

The real problem in Lutheran preaching is a vague (or non-existent) Law, period.

The solution is NOT vague Law, vague Gospel, specific Third Use of the Law preaching. That's just as bad. Unfortunately, it IS apparently the latest fashion.


William Weedon said...


Was that in response to the original posting? I'm not sure I follow how it addresses the question of progress in our sanctification.

Yes, the Law needs to be let loose to do its killing job without a muzzle.

Yes, the Gospel needs to be let loose to do its resurrecting job in its full joy and light.

Yes, the use of the Law remains the Spirit's and not ours.

However, the life that is lived in union with Christ is HIS life - and that is being reached us as gift. St. Paul corrects the Ephesians not by saying: "You did not so learn the Law!" He says: "But that is not the way you learned CHRIST!" He then exhorts them to put off the former self - corrupt through deceitful desires - and to be made new in the spirit of their minds - and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. He then fleshes out for them what it looks like to live from the constitutive center of Christ and not from the constitutive center of Adam: adios to falsehood, speaking truth to the neighbor as members of each other, letting the sun cap off our anger so that we don't give the devil a toe-hold, not stealing but working honestly to be a blessing to those in need, not empty speech but words that build up the hearers, not grieving the Holy Spirit who sealed us for the day of redemption, losing all bitterness, malice, and being kind and forgiving toward one another.

I don't think it would be right to simply say: "He's telling you to go do this now." Rather, he's saying: "That's who you ARE now in Christ Jesus! That's the life that God is reaching you to live in union with His Son! It's the life of beloved children walking in love."

Is the exhortation to grow into that life that has been reached you in Christ law? It doesn't come across as law, I don't think, but precisely as gift: gift of the death of the old self and gift of a new life to grow into all the days of your pilgrimage so that "Christ is formed in you" as St. Paul would say to the Galatians.


Susan said...

>>Is the exhortation to grow into that life that has been reached you in Christ law? It doesn't come across as law, I don't think, but precisely as gift:<<

The hearers can tell what's behind the preacher's words -- whether he's laying law on them or whether he's speaking of it as "gift" as you are. The naked words on paper could be either damning law or gracious gift. But in the context of everything the preacher says in the classroom, in the pulpit, in the confessional, it becomes clear which it is.

William Weedon said...

I think context does play a huge role. I also remembered that once Dr. Nagel threw out the idea that maybe instead of a third use of the law, we ought to have spoken of the Gospel's use of the law. Can the Gospel take over law and hand it back as sheer gift? And in the way of descriptor of what God is forming and shaping in the Christian as they find their life in Christ? Then the fact that the Ten Commandments are grammatically indicatives and not imperatives comes into play. A description of what God is up to in His work in us: "You shall have no other gods - i.e., HE'LL be the only one we trust!" etc. Dr. Nagel was just throwing the idea out for our discussion, I think. Speculation, but I remember that it was a most intriguing notion.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Pressing On

I do not find in historic Lutheran preaching only a preaching of how we have sinned against the Law and how the Gospel saves us. I have found numerous examples of very pointed and clear preaching/teaching about the life of Christian sanctification, set in a very healthy balance of, and proper distinction between, Law/Gospel. Here are a couple examples of a Lutheran preacher doing this well, in my opinion.

"In the battle of flesh and spirit, in which true Christians stand, they not only overcome sins, they carry off all kinds of precious virtues as their loot of their combat. The longer they battle, the more universal, comforting, and untiring their love becomes. Their joy becomes purer, their peace becomes firmer, their patience becomes stronger, their kindness becomes more sincere, their goodness becomes richer, their faith and faithfulness become more constant, their gentleness becomes more unconquerable and their self-control becomes more immaculate. In short, the end of the true battle of the flesh and spirit is an advance in sanctification. This resulting sanctification is as far from perfect as the victory of the spirit over the flesh is complete. Indeed, every Christian must confess, with Paul, "Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect" (Phil. 3:12). Nevertheless, where that battle truly exists, a fighter must be able to add truthfully, as Paul does, "I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own" (Phil. 3:12). Oh may God grant that we all become and remain true fighters against the flesh and sin. May Jesus Christ, our eternal Prince of victory, help us all for the sake of His battle with death."

CFW Walther
God Grant It
p. 717

"There is time when a person's body ceases to grow. This is not so in spiritual things. If a person has become a Christian, a new spiritual being (or, as our text says, a new "inner being" - Eph. 3:13-17), is created in him by faith and the growth of this being never ceases until death. In Christianity, there is no standing still. Whoever does not go forward, goes backward. The life of a Christian is not marked by being, but by growing. The goal toward which he strives is so high that he can never say he has reached it and can rest from his efforts. Even Saint Paul says, "Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own" (Phi. 3:12). Of what does the strengthening "in your inner being," the spiritual growth of the Christian consist? Paul shows us in today's text when he says, "That Christ may dwell in your heart through faith" (Eph. 3:17). An ever growing and stronger faith, through which Christ dwells in our hearts, is above all else, necessary for the strengthening of the inner being. A person becomes a Christian through faith. Once he vividly recognizes that he is a sinner, it is obvious to him that he cannot stand before God with his own righteousness and cannot atone for his sins himself. . . . Paul says he often prayed to God that He would make the Ephesians stronger. By this he meant that Christ might dwell in their hearts by faith and that they might be "rooted and grounded in love" (Eph. 3:17). We see here that, through love, Christianity becomes akin to a firmly rooted tree and a house on a solid foundation. Should this really be attributed to love? According to Holy Scripture, isn't it faith alone that makes one just? Isn't it faith alone that gives life, light, comfort and power? Isn't it, then, faith alone that rightly roots and grounds the Christian? This is of course true, but Scriptures says that faith without works is dead, a mere empty picture of faith. True, living faith is active through love. Therefore, as there is warmth and light in the presence of fire, there are love and good works in the person whose heart has been warmed by the sun of faith. As the tree is recognized by its fruit, faith is recognized in love. The person who is weak or lacking in love cannot be a strong firm Christian. He may call himself a Christian, but where is the proof that he stands firm in the faith? Therefore, in the hour of death, woe to the Christian who boasts of faith but did not show any love. It will probably be difficult for him to show that he comforted himself with Christ and id not doubt because, although faith alone avails before God, we owe love to our neighbor and need love ourselves so we are strong. The individual who wants to become inwardly strong must always become more zealous in love. He must also extend the scope of his love. . . A Christian must also become purer and more unselfish in his love. He must not ask, "What's in it for me?" He must not do good for the sake of the thanks he hopes to receive, the reward he expects, or the praise that might result. His left hand must not know what his right hand is doing. He must learn to endure ingratitude and not allow his love to grow cold on account of it. He must keep a heart full of love toward those who offend and provoke him-even those who have done flagrant wrong to him, hated him, and persecuted him. He must always become more tender, holy, and godly in his love. He must have patience with his neighbor's weakness, sins and defects. He must also not be ashamed of the greatest sinner, but have mercy on him. . . . He must, finally, arrive at the point where he strives to let his entire life be a life of service to his neighbor, being ready to give up his possessions and even his life for his brothers. Oh, it is well for such Christians! They have become "through faith, rooted and grounded in love."

CFW Walther
God Grant It
pp. 745ff

Anonymous said...


The point of my comment was that the functional antinomianism in confessional Lutheran preaching today is primarily in the area of the so-called 2nd use, not the so-called 3rd use.

I listen to, and read a lot of Lutheran sermons. Especially with confessional Lutheran preaching, I often get the impression that I've walked in late and missed the first half of the sermon. I hear beautiful Gospel --which answers no particular accusation of the Law.

I call it "The Law Assumed."

I'm wondering if it isn't as dangerous as "The Gospel assumed."