Uses of the Law
Thursday After the Baptism of our Lord
17 January 2019
The law functions both spiritually and externally. Spiritually, the law accuses us of our sin and condemns those who depend on their works to become righteous before God. Externally, the law restrains evil and grants freedom in civil or political matters. Both are good and godly uses of the law. We Lutherans do not believe that because we are justified by faith we are freed from the necessity of external obedience to the law, as our opponents sometimes accuse us. Justification by faith doesn't breed social anarchy. Unrestrained human wickedness does.
God's prescription for restraining that wickedness is the law and its use by the various estates within society, such as family and government. However, the law does not merely restrain human wickedness, it also restrains and gives boundaries to the use of the law within those estates. Lutherans certainly confesses that political leaders, judges, and other governmental authorities must respect the law and do not have unrestricted authority over the lives and freedoms that God gives and guarantees. Government officials are ultimately restrained by God's guarantees of human freedom within the civil realm. When those guarantees are wiped out by those who deny the existence of God, civil rights and human freedoms are no longer guaranteed on a transcendent basis, but by men and governments, which have never had a good track record of respecting freedoms and rights. The law's political function is both coercive, restraining evil, and positive, conferring rights and freedoms.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Martin Luther
"Paul calls only those righteous who are justified without the law, through the promise or through faith in the promise. Keeping the law, therefore, is something fictitious or a fictitious term, which means nothing apart from faith. Those who rely on works of the law and want to give the appearance of keeping the law do not keep it; for he draws the universal conclusion that all who rely on works of the law are under a curse, under which they would not be if they kept the law. It is indeed true that he who does these things shall live by them, that is, shall be blessed (Gal 3:12). But where is this man? Nowhere. That is why I have said that this passage from Moses is to be understood in two ways, politically and theologically.
"For the law was given for two uses. The first is to restrain those who are uncivilized and wicked. In this sense the statement, 'He who does these things shall live by them,' is a political statement. It means: If a man obeys the magistrate outwardly and in the civil realm, he will avoid punishment and death. The civil magistrate has no right to impose punishments upon him or to execute him but permits him to live with liberty. This is the civil use of the law, which is valid for the restraint of the uncivilized. But Paul is not pressing that use here, but he is discussing this passage theologically. He says: 'If a man does these things, etc.' It is as though he were saying: 'If men could keep the law, they would be blessed. But where are they? Therefore, they are not doers of the law unless they are first justified before and without the law, through faith.'
"Therefore, it must be carefully noted that Paul is not speaking here about those who are justified by faith; he is cursing and condemning those who rely on works of the law."

 Martin Luther, 
Lectures on Galatians,
Galatians 3:10-14

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them." Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for "The righteous shall live by faith." But the law is not of faith, rather "The one who does them shall live by them." Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us-for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree"- so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. (ESV)
Dear heavenly Father, thank you for the gifts of the law, which restrains evil and guarantees genuine human rights in the world. Grant that I might never abuse those rights but serve my community within the freedoms you grant. Amen.
For the pastors of Memorial Lutheran Church, that they would be upheld in the ministry of the Word
For all those who will partake of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ at divine services, that they would receive the sacrament in faith for the forgiveness of their sins
For safe travel for the members of the Board of Regents of Concordia Theological Seminary for a meeting, that the holy angels would guard their ways
Art: RENI, Guido  Baptism of Jesus  (c. 1623)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2019
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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