Saturday, August 22, 2015

Guest Post: "The New Antinomianism: Denying Thesis 18 of Law and Gospel” By Rev. Mark A. Preus

The New Antinomianism: Denying Thesis 18 of Law and Gospel
By Rev. Mark A. Preus

I know you’ll all want sources.  “Where have you seen this?”  “Who said this?”  I can’t give you any right now.  I’ve just seen it happen, and I think that if you’re reading this, you probably have too.   I’ve heard it preached.  I’ve read sermons, blogposts, Facebook statuses, etc.  It’s the belief that Christians are dead in sin, that their wills are bound as much as any unregenerate’s will is.  It’s been confessed in the ELCA for decades now.  The people say in the confession of sin, “We confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.” (Lutheran Book of Worship)    

Isn’t this the truth, though?  Don’t we believe in the bondage of the will?  Does Jesus say, “Whoever sins is a slave to sin?”  Doesn’t Paul say, “But I am carnal, sold under sin?” and “With my flesh I serve the law of sin?”  

I suppose it all has to do with the old Lutheran adage simul iustus et peccator – same time righteous and a sinner.  What role does sin play in the life of a believer?  We know that we are all still sinners.  Paul calls himself the chief of sinners in the present tense in 1 Timothy.  But we also confess that we are freed from sin.  “The Law of the Spirit of life has set me free from the Law of sin and death.” (Rom. 8:2)  “If the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed.”  (John 8:36)  “And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness…But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.” (Rom. 6:18,22)  So Christians are no longer bound by sin, though they still sin.  They are free, though they still feel sin’s bondage in their flesh.  As the communion hymn goes, “Lord, I confess my sins / And mourn their wretched bands; / A contrite heart is sure to find / Forgiveness at your hands.” 

C. F. W. Walther’s eighteenth thesis on Law and Gospel goes like this, “…[T]he Word of God is not rightly divided when the universal corruption of mankind is described in such a manner as to create the impression that even true believers are still under the spell of ruling sins and are sinning purposely.” (The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel, trans., W.H.T. Dau (St. Louis: CPH, 1986), 3)  

In explaining this, Walther says at the outset of his lecture on this thesis, “You will observe that I am speaking of the claim that the universal corruption of mankind embraces living in dominant and willful sins on the part of believers.  No one who is conversant with the pure doctrine will make the unqualified assertion that a Christian can be a fornicator or adulterer. Such a thought would not enter the mind of a true teacher of the Word of God.” (Law and Gospel, 318)

Walther says this mistake is often “made by zealous ministers and also by theological students.”  They don’t qualify their statement by saying “as we are by nature” or “as long as a person is still in the state of natural depravity and is unregenerate” (not born again).  Walther goes on, “When you speak of ‘abominable’ sinners, you must not refer to Christians, in whom we find, on the one hand, weaknesses, which are covered with the righteousness of Christ, and, on the other hand, good deeds, which God does through them and which are pleasing to Him.”  

Do you see what I mean?  How often do we say “I’m just as much a sinner as the unbelievers are?”  Maybe we are, according to our nature, but not insofar as we are Christians.  But what this leads to is more dangerous doctrine.  I once heard a theological professor say to a group of students, “We don’t act any different than the heathen.”  

Is that really so?  I think this might be confusing Luther’s doctrine of vocation, where he often speaks of the Christian’s good works not looking in any way different than the unbeliever’s so-called good works.  But Luther would never say, as Scripture doesn’t say, that Christians’ sins are the same as unbelievers’ sins.  On the contrary, “Sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under the Law, but under grace.”  Our sins are covered by the grace of God, and not only this, but God has begun to do good works in us, so that he suppresses the Old Adam so that he doesn’t gain the upper hand.  Those who are in Christ do not belong to sin or serve it.  They serve God.  

Luther explains it this way in our Confessions, “It is, accordingly, necessary to know and to teach that when holy men, still having and feeling original sin, also daily repenting of and striving with it, happen to fall into manifest sins, as David into adultery, murder, and blasphemy, that then faith and the Holy Ghost has departed from them [they cast out faith and the Holy Ghost]. For the Holy Ghost does not permit sin to have dominion, to gain the upper hand so as to be accomplished, but represses and restrains it so that it must not do what it wishes. But if it does what it wishes, the Holy Ghost and faith are [certainly] not present. For St. John says, 1 John 3:9: Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin, ... and he cannot sin. And yet it is also the truth when the same St. John says, 1:8: If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (SA III.III.43)  

What is at stake here is the truth of the Gospel!  The Gospel is only for beggars who truly know their sin.  When we find ourselves ruled by sins, we should be afraid, as David was, who after his return to Christ sang out, “And take not Your Holy Spirit from me!”  We should never simply view our sins as something that makes us miserable and feel bad, but as what calls God’s wrath upon us and separates us from him.  

But this error, that Christians can be called Christians properly while unrepentant and letting sin rule over them, has far-reaching consequences.  Look at the homosexual debate.  How many times have nominal Christians shouted out the Gospel that God forgives homosexuality without actually requiring repentance?  “All sins are the same,” they say, “and so the lust in your heart after a woman is the same as the sin of Sodom, therefore you can’t judge him; if you claim forgiveness, so can he.”  But must I not repent of the lust in my heart?  Is there no distinction between feeling my sins of weakness which by God’s grace I crucify and drown every day in my baptism and willful and deliberate sins about which a person has no remorse?  In our zeal to destroy the hypocrisy of the Pharisees have we embraced hypocrisy as something normal for Christians?  It seems the only way to deal with our hypocrisy is simply to say that we are ruled by sins just as much as the heathen are, and in so doing, we fall into greater hypocrisy, that of “having the form of godliness but denying its power.” 

What do we say to the Christian who struggles with transsexual thoughts?  Does it really matter whether he thinks his sin is a disease or a medical condition?  Does that make it any less sin to subvert the order of creation?  What do we say to the drunk who is addicted to booze or the druggy who is addicted to narcotics, or the glutton, who can’t control his eating?  Heap up all the scientists who monitor brain patterns and find biological or epigenetic or genetic “causes” for all these things, and does that change the face that these sins can’t rule over a Christian, that when one is ruled by them he has lost faith in the Gospel, lost the Holy Spirit, and needs to repent of and abhor his sin before he will actually receive the forgiveness of sins?  

What happens to the Gospel when it is received by those who don’t believe that the Gospel actually frees them from their sin?  They change it into a different gospel.  Even if what they hear is the pure, unvarnished truth of the atonement, in their minds the gospel is no longer the forgiveness of sins.  It becomes exactly what St. Peter describes it, “a cloak for vice.”  It is a different gospel, which, even if an angel from heaven were to preach it, we should call anathema.  

The Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.  Its goal is to bring us to heaven.  Its goal is to comfort the poor, miserable sinners who daily struggle and slip and fall.  It gives certainty when the Law gives only uncertainty.  It reveals the blood and righteousness of our God who is our brother and will never cast aside any sinner who hears his voice, repents and believes in him.  It is the power to save the homosexual from his sin so that even as his flesh desires to join with the heathen, his soul cries out not with a spirit of bondage, but with the Spirit of Christ, “Abba, Father.”  The Gospel is the power to comfort a man who wants to be a woman, as he can’t stop the thoughts from coming into his head, and the world and those who worship earthly happiness tell him to follow his heart’s desire that promises peace in giving in – then the Gospel comes again and again and shouts into the soul of this poor creature, “This man is mine.  He is my baptized son.  I claimed his sins as my own, and I have the right to forgive them as often as they happen because they all pierced me and lost their power to kill.”  

The New Antinomianism is anti-Gospel, just as the former antinomianism was.  In an effort to show mercy it shows no mercy by excusing sin and refusing to recognize its consequences.  If you have seen it, beware.  If you haven’t seen it, or don’t think it exists, then you probably haven’t been paying attention.  

Rev. Mark A. Preus is pastor of St. Andrew's Lutheran Church and Campus Center, Laramie, Wyoming. 


  1. This has been a frequent beef of mine. It was evident in some of my earlier sermons in the Ministry. If one was living in willful sin, then they would not be simul justus et peccator. They would be simply peccator.

  2. Repentance is the key. Where there is no repentance there is only condemnation. Where there is repentance, there is also forgiveness. Those who preach the simul without preaching repentance are indeed in error. But at the same time, those who preach that the third use of the law can be divorced from the law's primary use (the second or mirror use) are also in error. Especially when they promote a Law/Gospel/Law way of doing theology and preaching. I realize this is not what the article above is addressing. But it is part of the new or "soft" antinomian debate so alive on the internet right now. - Well done Pr. Preus.

  3. Pastor Preus, You have identified a key problem in the midst of American Lutheranism today. There are those who confess that a Christian receives regeneration by the work of the Holy Spirit. However, they don't really believe this makes any change in the individual and how they live. As you indicate, when this idea which contradicts Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions serves as a presupposition for theology, the results are a different gospel. Thank you for speaking out on this important matter.

  4. What is a "Law/Gospel/Law way of doing theology and preaching"? Like Paul's epistles which clearly follow that progression?

    I've heard this debated in regard to this argument. I've even heard guys admit that the Epistles clearly have a 2nd-use--->Gospel--->3rd-use progression...and then argue that our preaching should not be like that.

    In regard to the homiletic task I think it's clearly not a case of always and ever. The sermons of Luther should be enough to disabuse us of the notion that Lutheran preaching always follows the same outline and theological movement. If we fall into one pattern or another, the pattern becomes the only lens through which we view the Biblical story. Which, depending on the pattern chosen, could lead to soft antinomianism, soft legalism, soft doceticism, etc., etc.

    So perhaps part of the puzzle that is missing from contemporary homiletics is the notion of preaching the whole counsel of God over time. In other words, no one sermon can be a microcosm of all of the Word that needs to be preached to our people. If we try to make each sermon such a microcosm, we'll never get beyond A Simple Outline of the Faith.


  5. Of course. I wasn't speaking merely about sermon order when describing Law/Gospel/Law preaching (though sometimes the order reflects the theology), but rather the notion that one somehow moves beyond the Gospel to the Law again as the power for Christian life, denying thereby the crushing hammer of the 2nd use, and St. Paul's very clear words that the Law neither give life nor empower it. Of course the Law shows what life should look like. But it can't deliver that life. It can only reveal its absence or flaws. Only the Gospel itself can deliver the gift that those looking to the Law are hoping to gain.

  6. I've been following this debate, especially amongst Lutherans, for years. See recent posts on "Lutheran Layman" or "Surburg's Blog" or "Pseudipigrapha" for examples. Our own pastors cannot agree on this issue. There is scriptural support for both viewpoints, and Luther's writings support both, as well.

    Walther: "No one who is conversant with the pure doctrine will make the unqualified assertion that a Christian can be a fornicator or adulterer. Such a thought would not enter the mind of a true teacher of the Word of God.” (Law and Gospel, 318)
    and "When you speak of ‘abominable’ sinners, you must not refer to Christians"

    Too true. But take note of the language used. "Fornicator or adulterer." "Abominable." What does he mean by that? Personally, I think he's referring to the actual "in-the-flesh" fornicator or adulterer. The one who is actively committing these sins with his/her body. A Christian would not perform these sinful acts outright and unrepentantly; if he/she did, it would be accompanied by the shame of sin and repentance, else the faith is dead.

    But what of the adulterer/fornicator of the heart? Did Jesus not expose the necessity of pureness of thought, as well as act, in the Sermon on the Mount? Can a person be a Christian and still lust in his heart? Of course - we all are (anybody who denies that is a liar)! And is that sin as serious and wrath-inducing as the actual sinful act of the body? According to Christ, yes. Not as potentially dangerous to the body and relationships on earth, but every bit as damning in the eyes of God.

    I support the camp that is being labeled with the charge of "soft" antinomianism. And I think the classification is unfair. Because those who classify them as such are neglecting to acknowledge their own "covert" antinomianism. They exhort to good works and struggling against sin through the 3rd use. Oftentimes they completely fail to connect this exhortation to the Gospel (see Paul, who always links his exhortations to the Gospel with a 'therefore' or a 'because' or a 'since') and it is just law - something the saved Christian should/must be doing (or else what?). Moreover, it is covert antinomianism in that it removes the teeth from the law. It reduces the law from God's demands for perfection, in thought, word, and deed, at all times, and makes it a hurdle to jump over. It is a cheap, cheap law.

  7. Continued...

    Should exhortation to good works occur from the pulpit? Yes, I won't deny it (nor will FC VI, Luther, etc.). But pastors have got to do a better job explaining it. My own pastor does it well - he always phrases it as, "We get to." It's an honor and a privilege to love God by serving our neighbor and turning from sin. And my deacon made the statement, "We work because of the reward we already have." It is Gospel-driven, a thankful response, meriting no favor or additional love from God. We love because we were first loved. We must hear the 'therefore' and the 'because' and the 'since.' Or, as Forde would say, "What are you going to do, now that you don't have to do anything?" Is that an untrue statement? Is grace free or not? Is the Gospel only for unbelievers? Does Jesus' blood simply get us through the door, and then it's up to us to behave properly or else risk the bouncer throwing us out of heaven?

    For the record, I'm not personally living in unrepentant sin. I exhort myself and struggle against sin daily. I'm not just talking spit here, I'm walking the line as best I can. I see and feel my sin daily. And I think Lutheranism is doing believers a great disservice if it doesn't tell believers they can find rest in Christ. If you preach Law-Gospel-"3rd use", some of us leave church thinking, "Well, I'm not doing that, so I guess I'm not good enough. Something is wrong with me." You risk damaging the tender consciences in trying to exhort the lazy (and I won't exclude myself from that group much of the time!). Bonhoeffer (cheap grace) and Forde (cheap law) were preaching to 2 different audiences - please be aware that your audience is mixed. And faulting to the Gospel should always be the norm.

    In Christ.

  8. Great and well-written article that I plan to share on FB as well. Thesis XVIII brings the theology of the cross home in a fresh and uncompromising way. Yes, we Christians can and do fall into patterns of addiction, sexual sins and so forth (be it in thought, word or action). Yet, that's where the Law as mirror and instruction takes root, constantly convicting us. Then, an only then, does the Gospel--the power of God for our forgiveness, life and salvation--does its work. So, for us redeemed sinners, it's always back to Baptism, to Confession and Absolution (private and public ) where our Lord via His called and ordained servant of the Word, repents us to His remission. Those who feel sinful urges bombarding them or slithering into our lives cannot flee for refuge anywhere else but to Christ and His means of grace, lest we minimize, make light of or deny said sins altogether. Hence, soft antinomianism (especially preached) drives people through the theology of glory's rose garden with rose colored glasses to the morass of self-exceptionalism.

  9. Through many years watching and participating in these discussions and observing, in my opinion, it comes down simply to the question:

    Do we or can we use NT parenesis style rhetoric in our sermons or not?

    The weight of evidence supporting the answer "yes" to that question is undeniable and overwhelming, from Christ Himself, to the Apostles, to our own Lutheran orthodox fathers.

    The idea that a sermon can never "end with Law" has no basis in Scripture, the Confessions or our fathers. That the Gospel must predominate is certain, that sticking to some kind of rote pattern that in many cases I've seen goes out of its away to avoid the parenetic content of the text is quite another thing.

  10. While on the one hand, it is good to see the Lutherans wrestling with this topic in so many quarters online these days; what I lament, on the other hand, is that this article is part of a pattern in which this web site has fallen away from its more narrow focus on things liturgical.

    It is true, of course, that the argument can be made that this issue pertains to the content of preaching, and that preaching is an integral part of the liturgy. On the other hand, what theological topic isn't arguably connected to preaching?

    There really is no lack of liturgical material that could be discussed, as pertains to the life of the Confessional Lutheran movement in our time. I pray for a renewed commitment to that focus here at this venerable site. From my own experience, anyway, I can attest to the fact that this is what the average brewery worker longs for (at least I know of one such in the Milwaukee area).

  11. By the way, Kurt Marquart's little essay on "Aversion to Sanctification" nailed the issue, now a number of years ago and puts the matter in clear, easy to understand terms. Marquart remains spot-on.

    Here's a link to where you can read the article, after some of my own experiences that woke me up to the reality that "Houston we have a problem."

    Here's a portion of Marquart's remarks:

    "I really have no idea where the anti-sanctification bias comes from. Perhaps it is a knee-jerk over-reaction to "Evangelicalism": since they stress practical guidance for daily living, we should not! Should we not rather give even more and better practical guidance, just because we distinguish clearly between Law and Gospel? Especially given our anti-sacramental environment, it is of course highly necessary to stress the holy means of grace in our preaching. But we must beware of creating a kind of clericalist caricature that gives the impression that the whole point of the Christian life is to be constantly taking in preaching, absolution and Holy Communion-while ordinary daily life and callings are just humdrum time-fillers in between! That would be like saying that we live to eat, rather than eating to live. The real point of our constant feeding by faith, on the Bread of Life, is that we might gain an ever-firmer hold of Heaven-and meanwhile become ever more useful on earth! We have, after all, been "created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). Cars, too, are not made to be fueled and oiled forever at service-stations. Rather, they are serviced in order that they might yield useful mileage in getting us where we need to go. Real good works before God are not showy, sanctimonious pomp and circumstance, or liturgical falderal in church, but, for example, "when a poor servant girl takes care of a little child or faithfully does what she is told" (Large Catechism, Ten Commandments, par. 314, Kolb-Wengert, pg. 428)."

    1. Here I must say that I believe Pastor Marquart is in agreement with Forde. And Pastor Fisk agrees (see the 4:30 mark on this video):

      He clearly points out that the truly good work is the one we don't realize we have even done. Like a servant girl doing her duty. It is loving and helping the neighbor, not constant introspection and analysis of "how we're doing" or how much we've cleaned up our lives. It is the work that flows naturally from our calling/vocation.

      As I've heard it said (paraphrasing Luther), God doesn't need our good works, but our neighbor does.

      Thanks for the post.


  12. I will be grateful to anyone who can provide proof from Scripture for the assertion that faith and the Holy Spirit departed from David. If anyone can let me know who was the first to make this assertion, prior to Luther in the Smalcald Articles, I will also appreciate it.
    We do not always understand that the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the people of God differed in the New Testament from the Old Testament. In the Old Testament God was present in His temple. In the New Testament, there is no more temple in Jerusalem, and His presence is in every believer, 1 Cor. 3: 16, “Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?” Here are the words of our Lord, John 7: 37,”On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38 and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, "Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water.”’ 39 Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” So that we can be sure that this is not a superficial distinction, or an argument about words, in the evening before His death, our Lord told the Apostles, John 14: 16, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” Therefore, even if the Holy Spirit indeed left David, it is not the same as the Holy Spirit leaving a member of the New Covenant.
    We know that we receive the Holy Spirit in Baptism. When the Holy Spirit leaves us, do we have to be baptized again in order to receive Him? As I recall, there was a controversy in the early Church on this subject, and the decision was against re-baptizing. Can we conclude from that that the Church Fathers understood that the Holy Spirit had never left the apostates? How was David able to “return to Christ”, inasmuch as “I cannot by my own reason or strength …?”
    Disregarding the case of David for a moment, can anyone point out any occasion noted in Scripture when the Holy Spirit left someone and then returned?
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

    1. AC 12:7, "Our churches condemn the Anabaptists, who deny that those who have once been justified can lose the Holy Spirit."

    2. Thank you Rev. Beane. And we are right to do so. Not because Melanchthon pulled this assertion out of thin air, but because Melanchthon and we know the words of our Lord, Mark 3:28 "Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin." (Also in Matthew and Luke) We also know Hebrews 6:4, “It is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, since on their own they are crucifying again the Son of God and are holding Him up to contempt.”
      I have nowhere asserted that we cannot lose the Holy Spirit. My concern is twofold:
      1. Where does Scripture say that anyone can lose the Holy Spirit and then have Him return?
      2. What happens to people who think they may have committed a “manifest” sin, and have therefore lost faith and the Holy Spirit, and think that they are now outside of the Kingdom of God? We are coming close to the practice of the Pharisees, when we make very fine rules that can only be understood by highly trained theologians, and thereby cause God’s people to despair.
      Peace and Joy!
      George A. Marquart

  13. Another thought:

    If all you we can ever say about any Biblical text that describes the life of the Christian is, "You can't do these works, for you are sinful, in fact, if you even think about doing good works you are being proud and that is a sin" then something has gone terribly wrong.

    I just finished reading through a month or so worth of devotional reflections and only one out of the entire bunch contained anything resembling parenesis and nearly any of the devotions could have been written for any text under discussion.

    Formulaic. Rote. Boring. Depriving people of the whole counsel of God.

    The proper distinction between Law and Gospel frees the preacher to proclaim and teach the Word of God faithfully, it is not a rhetorical straight jacket into which every single thing one says is to be shoehorned into a pattern that often amounts to saying little other than:

    Yes, you are a sinner. Don't worry God loves you anyway and forgives you.

  14. "He clearly points out that the truly good work is the one we don't realize we have even done. "

    That is not the case and has no basis in Scripture, the Confessions or any of our orthodox Lutheran fathers.

    One need only read Luther's conclusion to his commentary on the Large Catchism's discussion of the Ten Commandments to see that in fact we can and do know what those good works are we are to be going. No, we are not to regard them as meritorious before God, but yes, they are visible and known both to us and our fellow man, otherwise Christ's words about "let your light so shine before men that may see your good works" would make no sense.

    Here then is Luther:

    "Thus we have the Ten Commandments, a compend of divine doctrine, as to what we are to do in order that our whole life may be pleasing to God, and the true fountain and channel from and in which everything must arise and flow that is to be a good work, so that outside of the Ten Commandments no work or thing can be good or pleasing to God, however great or precious it be in the eyes of the world."

  15. I see what you're saying, and I'm not trying to be argumentative. Obviously, even if a work is to occur spontaneously and naturally, it must be informed by something. How would we know how to love if love were not shown us and held up as an example?

    And yet, there's Matthew 6:3: But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing...

    There's Mt 25:37: Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?"


    Thus, the way I reconcile this issue (striving to good works vs. trusting good works will spontaneously be worked through me by the Holy Spirit) is to cover both bases. I strive to do good for my neighbor, I try to do good works, I volunteer, etc. I struggle against my personal sins. I try to cooperate with the Holy Spirit. That's one base "covered," although I would add that my motivation here is often one of fear, pride, or obligation. I help others because I should. I struggle against sin because I fear judgment (not with regard to salvation, but with regard to talent(s), ala 1 Cor 3:11-15.

    To cover the other base, I trust that God will work good through me (Phil 2:13), despite of myself, and that if I have nothing else to present at judgment, God will have supplied me with spontaneous good works which glorify him.

    Or maybe I'm just completely screwed up, which is very likely. In any case, I'm not averse to exhortation because I'm not trying, but because I AM trying to walk the line, as it were...but I see failure and shortcoming, not increasing holiness.

    Does that make any sense? Sorry to ramble.

    1. FC SD 6:6-9:

      "If believers and the elect children of God were perfectly renewed in this life through the indwelling Spirit in such a way that in their nature and all its powers they would be totally free from sins, they would require no law, no driver. Of themselves and altogether spontaneously, without any instruction, admonition, exhortation, or driving by the law they would do what they are obligated to do according to the will of God, just as the sun, the moon, and all the stars of heaven regularly run their courses according to the order which God instituted for them once and for all, spontaneously and unhindered, without any admonition, exhortation, compulsion, coercion, or necessity, and as the holy angels render God a completely spontaneous obedience.

      But in this life Christians are not renewed perfectly and completely....

      Hence, because of the desires of the flesh the truly believing, elect, and reborn children of God require in this life not only the daily teaching and admonition, warning and threatening of the law, but frequently the punishment of the law as well, to egg them on so that they follow the Spirit of God.

    2. I would also add in response to JWS that works are spontaneous but they are also very often deliberate acts of the will of the Christian, and that is as it should be. There has set in a paranoid obsession with eschewing any such notion such as the Christian cooperating with the Spirit, but that is clearly the teaching of Scripture.

      The FC is correct, but not comprehensively so. In other words, it speaks to a particular situation and need, but at the same time, does not exhaust this subject.

      I fear that we have permitted ourselves to feel "restricted" so say nothing more than what the FC does on these issues, when in fact, Scripture is replete with rejoicing in the opportunity to do good works, and loving the Law and meditating on it day and night, and so forth precisely **because** we are created new in Christ.

      Our dogmatic distinctions are helpful, but not if they become a straightjacket forbidding us to speak as Scripture speaks.

      As Marquart put, again, this odd "aversion to sanctification" has no basis in Scripture, the Confessions or our Lutheran orthodox and confessional tradition.

    3. This Marquart totally agrees with Rev. McCain, and my heart goes out to jwskud. I suspect that jwskud is representative of many pious, believing Lutherans whom the Church has failed to assure of their safety in the Kingdom of God. It is said that when Luther was particularly tempted in this regard, He would say, “I am baptized!” In this way he acknowledged that his salvation was totally out of his hands, and totally assured by the life, suffering, sacrifice, and death of our Lord. The freedom of which our Lord spoke, is precisely that: we are totally free to sin and to do good works. Neither one affects our salvation. But He does give us the Holy Spirit, so that, in the words of St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 2:16, “But we have the mind of Christ.” That is why we want to do the will of God, and we repent when we do not, fully believing that, Romans 8:38-39, “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
      Just one word about “loving the Law and meditating on it day and night.” St. Paul calls the Law “the ministry of death” and the “ministry of condemnation” in 2 Corinthians 3. How can we love it then? The answer is that what we call “Law” is not always what the Bible calls “Law”. When the Psalmist exclaims, Psalm 1:2, “but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night,” the word he uses for “Law” is “Torah”, which, in its broadest meaning is “the mind or the will of God.” It does not mean what the FC defines as “Law”, The Solid Declaration, V. Law and Gospel, “ 12] Anything that preaches concerning our sins and God's wrath, let it be done how or when it will, that is all a preaching of the Law.” Therefore, when the Psalmist and we delight in the Law, we delight in “the will and mind of God”, because, 1 Corinthians 2:16, “… we have the mind of Christ.” Yes, it includes what we Lutherans call “Law”, but it also includes the Gospel. Therefore, we can even delight in the Law as we Lutherans define it, because we know that our Lord fulfilled it for us, and His righteousness is our inheritance from Him, assured not by our good deeds, but by His death and resurrection.
      Peace and Joy!

    4. George, we are not "totally free to sin" ... that is not the teaching Sacred Scripture, nor our Lutheran Confessions and your dear brother Kurt, would have recoiled in horror to read such a comment. Your comments are not very helpful here.

    5. I don't agree that "we are totally free to sin." No, we are freed *from* our sins. The Gospel is not license.

      That is a very different thing.

      This kind of cavalier attitude toward the death-bearing cancer of our sins is what has led Lutherans into multiple regrettable forays into Antinomianism.

      It also diminishes the magnificence of the Gospel and the magnanimity of the triune God.

      Our Lord did not tell the woman caught in adultery: "Go, you are totally free to sin."

    6. Dear Rev. Bean: Did I write that we should sin? But we are obviously free to, because we do it all the time. Neither did I write or imply that it is good to sin. The thing we often overlook is something Rev. Marquart pointed out in “The Church and Her Fellowship, Ministry, and Governance, p 176, “In this kingdom He does not rule by means of natural reason, law, and coercion. Rather, He gently (and therefore resistibly , Mt. 23:37!) “draws” (Jn. 6:44.65) and invites (Mt. 11:28) sinner into His kingdom, gathering and sustaining them there with forgiveness, life and salvation through His holy Gospel and sacraments (Mt.13; 22:1-14; Jn. 3; 6; 15; 20).”
      Therefore, “the magnificence of the Gospel and the magnanimity of the triune God” is in no way diminished when we agree that we should not sin, our Lord discourages us from sinning, but we are free to sin. That last clause makes no sense according to human reason, but it is at the heart of our relationship to God, Who long ago told us through the Prophet Isaiah, 55:8, “for My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” We have to be careful that we do not mistake the traditions of men for the magnificence of the Gospel.
      Peace and Joy!
      George A. Marquart

    7. I disagree that we are 'free to sin.' I would be terribly irresponsible to preach that from the pulpit. We are *forgiven* our sins.

      If I rack up a debt, and the one I owe cancels the debt, it means that the creditor is gracious and my debt is forgiven. It doesn't mean I'm free to rack up more debt.

      I think this is the difference between cheap grace and costly grace. Grace is free for me, but it cost our blessed Lord His lifeblood.

      I am not free to sin, but rather I am freed from sin. I think that is an important distinction.

    8. Dear Rev. Beane: I know we are allowed to disagree with Dr. Martin Luther, except for what he wrote in our confessions, but how do you feel about this:
      13.”If you are a preacher of Grace, then preach a true, not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly. For he is victorious over sin, death, and the world. As long as we are here we have to sin. This life in not the dwelling place of righteousness but, as Peter says, we look for a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. . . . Pray boldly-you too are a mighty sinner.” (Weimar ed. vol. 2, p. 371; Letters I, “Luther’s Works,” American Ed., Vol 48. p. 281- 282)
      Peace and Joy!
      George A. Marquart

    9. Paul, in legal terms, we distinguish between two kinds of reality: de facto and de jure. In this case, we are de facto free to sin, although we are not free to sin de jure. If we are not de facto free to sin, and we continue to sin, then it must take some effort to overcome whatever supposedly restricts our freedom to sin. Maybe you work very hard at sinning. I do not.

    10. Luther lived in an age when people feared God. He also layer had to write four papers against Antinomianism. He was often gob-smacked at how people held God's grace in contempt.

      In my own parish and culture, I would never tell my parishioners to "sin boldly."

      Preaching is art, not science, and it is not a one size fits all.

    11. George, there is no Biblical or Confessional support for the phrase, "We are totally free to sin."

      No, we are not.

      We are set free from slavery to sin.

      That is a horrible phrase you are proposing and has no place in the Church.

    12. Paul, there is also no Biblical or Confessional support for the phrase, “Do not push beans up your nose.” As you wrote to jwskud, the FC is not comprehensive and does not cover every possibility. I don’t know whether you really do not understand or do not want to understand what I wrote. As I have written before, here is what this phrase does not mean:
      It does not mean that we should sin.
      It does not mean that it is good to sin.
      It does not mean that sinning can somehow please God.
      Actually the statement does nothing more than to make the obvious clear that God has not put a mechanism in place that prevents us from sinning. As both Scripture and the Confessions clearly assert, even with the Holy Spirit dwelling in each believer, even with each believer undergoing sanctification, we still sin. You would not accuse the Scripture or the Confessions of teaching a horrible doctrine; why me?
      Peace and Joy!
      George A. Marquart

  16. Wow, great post, Unknown! Thanks for that.

    Just to clarify, I never doubt my salvation. If I did, the Lutheran church would be in very big trouble indeed!

    Rather, what I doubt is whether or not God is pleased with how I live my life as a Christian. I know I'll be at the wedding feast (because of Christ's finished work and the faith granted me to believe in it), I just don't know if I'll be walking in saying I've simply done my duty (Lk 17:10) or I'll be walking in with tears in my eyes, knowing I wasted God's talent(s) (Mt 25:14-30). I'd like to make God "proud," as stupid as that sounds!

    So to make God "proud" of how I've handled his gifts of faith and works, I just seek counsel on what works will please him. Those I strive to do, against my desires, like turning away from porn? Or those I do in love without any thought of self, like getting to work on time or playing with my kids? So I do the one on purpose and trust the other is getting done by the indwelling Spirit.

    Don't know if that makes any sense...

  17. JWS, yes, as you seek to live the life you have become in Christ, God is pleased. You are stressing out over unnecessary concerns. Of course you should do your best to avoid sin and temptation, as best you can, praying God will guide you and give you strength. When you fall, you return to Him for the mercy that He gives in Christ.

    You are focused too much on yourself, frankly, and I sense a good deal of excuse making at work if you are not careful.

  18. "You are focused too much on yourself, frankly, and I sense a good deal of excuse making at work if you are not careful."

    That's the whole issue in a nutshell. If I'm trying to "do" works for God, am I not focused on self? Are my eyes not taken off the cross, at least momentarily? Is this not what Forde and others are getting at when they talk about "truly" good works, those we are not even aware of?

    That's why I've always wondered if the "trying" is, in and of itself, less God-pleasing than the simple "resting" in Christ and allowing the Spirit to work through me in ways I don't even think about.

    I really don't want it to be about me. I just want to thank God for the gift he's given me by living a pleasing life, as much as I am able. And yes, I don't want to be told I wasted God's talent(s) at judgment, so at least as far as that's concerned, I am me-focused, but I think the motivation is proper.

    Thanks, peace.

  19. The Bible makes it very clear that the Christian is called to a life of struggle against sin and a striving to live the life to which they have been called. It think you are over-thinking all of this.

    Cling to Christ and strive to thank and praise, serve and obey Him, as He provides the opportunities.

  20. Excellent article! I have noticed that there is a problem with always preaching the law as something so impossible that we should despair of even trying to follow it. The Gospel then becomes a license to sin. It is, of course, impossible to follow God's law perfectly, but it also should be preached in a practical sense as the excellent "third use" instruction it is.

    1. Agreed. The classical Greek philosopher saw no dissonance existing between living the virtuous life, and being truly happy. In this our glittery and seductive age, however, while banking noticeably and heavily on the forgiveness afforded by Christ Crucified, we tend to distance ourselves from the behavioral repertoire expected of the "new creature" also afforded His Spirit.

      Leave it to those increasingly of the world, say like Lot's wife, to find being "born from above" as an existence somehow uncool, stodgy, and un-good.

  21. "Actually the statement [i.e., we are free to sin] does nothing more than to make the obvious clear that God has not put a mechanism in place that prevents us from sinning." -- George A. Marquart

    I beg to differ. The almighty and gracious God has set in place a mechanism which prevents us from sinning; indeed, quite effectively so, this side of heaven.

    It's called "Death."

    Your (unworthy) servant,
    Herr Doktor

  22. So... commit suicide when you are in danger of stumbling, or ask God to take your life?
    What are you suggesting, besides the ability to be sarcastic, it appears?


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