Monthly Archives: December 2016

Circumcision and Name of Jesus – Luke 2:21

Today’s Holy Gospel is one verse, but the verse demonstrates Saint Luke’s attention to detail. Up until this verse, he does not refer to Jesus by name. In Bethlehem’s manger he is simply a baby, a swaddled newborn with no name. When the shepherds visit, they don’t ask what most people ask when a child is born, “What’s his name?” He didn’t have a name a week ago, until today. Today He gets His name Jesus, and with His name He gets the mark of the covenant: circumcision.

While the rest of the world is nursing its new year’s hangover and wishing one another “Happy New Year!” and settling in for some college bowl games and parades, the Church sets aside January 1, the eighth day of Christmas, to celebrate the Name and the Circumcision of Jesus. And unless you are Jewish by background, this seems like a really weird thing to celebrate.

We’re not sure precisely when the naming custom came in, though clearly it was observed at the time of Jesus. The eighth day is prescribed in Levitical law. There was no notion of waiting until the child was old enough to decide for himself. There was no sense of an age of accountability. On the eighth day of every baby boy born in Israel, he received the sign of the covenant and became a son of the covenant, an Israelite. And with his identity, he now gets a name.

So it was with Jesus as it was with every baby boy born in Israel. He is given the name “Y’shua”, Jesus. The Lord is salvation, for He will save His people from their sins. How will He save His people from their sins? He is obedient to the Law, He is a son of the covenant, He is an Israelite, He will shed His blood under the Law to redeem those who were under the Law, those held captive by sin and death. This is precisely why the Son of God became Flesh and was born. He was born of a woman, born under Law, to redeem those under the Law. Here is His first act of obedience.

In order to understand this day and the significance of Jesus’ circumcision, you need to understand fully who Jesus is as the Incarnate Son. He is the second Adam. He’s all of humanity in one Person. He is the Stand-in for the entire human race, and He embodies all of humanity in His own body.

The apostle Paul works this out in Colossians chapter two: For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.

Saint Paul says here that in Jesus the fullness of divinity dwells bodily. That means that even that even as an eight day old baby boy, Jesus is fully God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God. He is fully divine and fully human. That union of divinity with humanity makes some things possible that otherwise would be impossible of a human being. It means that He is able to embrace others into Himself so that what happens to Him also happens to them in Him. It also means that He, though He may be a helpless Baby or a dying Man on a cross, is the Head of all rule and authority, and being the Head, He embodies the whole creation and all of humanity in Himself.

In Him, all of you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands in the circumcision of Christ. That includes boys and girls. It wasn’t done on you. It was done on Jesus, and being done on Jesus you were included. In other words, when Christ was circumcised and became a son of Israel, so did you in Him. And that’s why circumcision became a free thing in the New Testament, something completely free, optional, and religiously unnecessary. It’s because when Jesus was circumcised, the whole world became a Jew.

You also see what it represented – the putting off of the body of the flesh, the mortification of the old Adam. Adam has to die. Our old Adam flesh needs to be put off. Circumcision signified that. You were buried with Christ in Baptism. So not only did you become an Israelite in Christ, you were also joined to Him in His death and burial through Holy Baptism. And even more. You were raised with Him through faith. Paul says in Colossians chapter three that you are even exalted, seated and glorified at the right hand of God in Christ. Always in Christ. Don’t forget that. You are still in you, in this body of death, in this old Adam that needs to be threatened, punished, disciplined, and bribed to do the will and works of God. But you are you are in Christ are perfectly free, perfectly alive, justified, sanctified, and even glorified in Christ.

None of us knows what the New Year will bring in terms of health, wealth and love. The days and the seasons are the Lord’s, and everything we do always has if the Lord be willing written across it as James rightly says. We do know and have as our certainty in the midst of uncertainty one thing: Jesus’ obedience under the Law, His perfect righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. We also have His Name, the Name by which we are saved, for He will save His people from their sins.

With HIs Name comes the promise of His presence, that where two or three are gathered in His Name, there He is in their midst. With His Name comes the mandate to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins to the ends of the earth. With His Name is the promise of prayer, that whatever you ask in His Name, HIs Father and your Father in heaven will grant it. With His Name is the promise of forgiveness, of life, of salvation, of peace.

Two gifts, one action, and one name. All yours today as we turn the calendar to a new year, yet under the same name: Jesus. The Lord saves. He saves you.

Happy New Year.


Christmas Day – Titus 3:4-7

We heard last Sunday in the Introit, Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, rejoice! God wills that all are joyful, especially today. Consider the last stanza to the hymn, “If God Himself Be for Me”: “My heart with joy is springing; I am no longer sad. My soul is filled with singing; Your sunshine makes me glad. The sun that cheers my spirit Is Jesus Christ, my King; The heaven I shall inherit Makes me rejoice and sing.”

When and how long will the joy of Christmas remain with us? Christmas joy remains with us when we consider Saint Paul’s words to Saint Titus in today’s Epistle. Paul begins by saying when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us…according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. Paul says the Spirit is given not in response to any work of man, but for the sake of the Gospel. The Gospel brings Jesus, and Jesus brings the Holy Spirit – His Spirit. Everything that we do in Christ proclaims Christ. Our joy lasts longer than today. Our life in Christ makes all we do holy, from cleaning our house to changing diapers to saying hello to our neighbors.

Death and final judgment cannot terrify you in Christ. Jesus Christ, Who orders the Day of Judgment, stands there with all His glory, greatness, majesty, and might. He stands there for your sake. He alone controls that day. He alone will verify that your trust in Him was not in vain by declaring that He gave Himself for your sins. No one will accuse you. The Judge has destroyed the power of the accuser. Satan cannot stop Christ’s birth as much as he cannot stop Christ’s death and resurrection.

Today you have strong security for eternal life. Christ certainly will not waver, even though you will waver. That is why you stay close to Jesus in days of joy and in days of sorrow. Doing the right thing on a bad day won’t get you extra jewels in your heavenly crown. Today’s joy that God has come in the flesh to save you runs through the entire church year.

Advent prepares us for the coming of the King. Christmas delivers the Savior in the flesh. Epiphany manifests the fact that Jesus Christ is both human and divine. Lent prepares us for the death and resurrection of Jesus by showing us both our sin and our need for a Savior. Easter is our everlasting Alleluia as Christ is triumphant over death and hell. Ascension is His promise that He is ever with us and soon will return in the flesh. While we wait for that return, we watch in hope as Jesus continues His ministry among us in Word, water, wine, and bread.

Jesus saves us through the working of the Holy Spirit in our baptism. It may sound odd to consider baptism on the Nativity of our Lord. Yet His nativity among us is more than a baby and a stall. His nativity among us, how Jesus natives Himself to His people, happens when water, Word, and mandate come together in Holy Baptism. You are washed in regeneration and renewing waters through the Holy Spirit Whom God has poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ, our Savior. When you are washed you are made holy. You are made holy by being incorporated into His justification so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Paul starts the next verse after today’s Epistle by saying the saying is trustworthy. As Luther’s Small Catechism taught us, “This is most certainly true.” The goodness and loving kindness of God has come to save us. Truth stamps out the lie. Jesus’ birth according to the flesh is the fulfillment of the sure and certain Word that now becomes flesh. Your salvation has drawn near. You are Christ’s heir. You receive what He brings: forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation of your soul. This is our Christmas joy that lasts beyond today.

“Joy, O joy, beyond all gladness, Christ has done away with sadness! Hence, all sorrow and repining, for the Sun of Grace is shining!” Merry Christmas today, tomorrow, this summer, and all of your life!

Christmas Midnight – Luke 2:1-20

It is the custom of my congregation to celebrate “Midnight Mass” at 6:00 P.M. Christmas Eve.

Everybody loves to get gifts. Some even love to give gifts more than get gifts. No matter whether you give or get gifts, even those who aren’t so hip on celebrating Jesus’ birth in the flesh love gift-giving and gift-getting. Christians see the giving and getting of gifts as a reflection of our heavenly Father’s love. He gave the world His Son, breaking into time and space as man. Yet even Christians join those who don’t believe in Christ in seeing joy not in Jesus but in gifts.

Tonight there’s a gift in a cattle stall in Bethlehem. Whether or not you believe that gift is for you, or even if you think that moment in time didn’t take place, the gift is still for you. A poor Child, given to poor parents, is born homeless in a foreign country. That’s not the way Hollywood scripted it. The King of Kings ought to have a royal entrance, a crib made of finest gold, and blankets of the most expensive silken stuff. Not so this King.

Why the fuss? What is there wonderful about a birth so rude and bare? The birth of this Child is prophesied a thousand years before, even longer, and comes to its fulfillment by the calling of a census of the Roman Empire. Caesar Augustus perhaps had no idea that by calling a census and asking everyone to return to their hometown that He set into motion something our heavenly Father had promised for multiple generations.

The birth of this Child may not have all the trappings of a royal birth, but it does have a royal announcement. An angel of the Lord appears to announce the Savior’s birth not to noblemen, but to shepherds. Fear not is the first words from the angel’s mouth. There is nothing to fear. Messiah has come to His people at last. No wonder the heavenly hosts gather with the angel to sing glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!

The Lord God is pleased with you because of the Savior’s birth. Jesus Christ is born to restore what was lost in Eden. Jesus Christ is born to shed His blood that covers your sin. He is the One sent by the Father, hence the name Messiah. He is sent to bring salvation and redemption to all. This poor Child? Yes, this poor Child. This poor Child is the Lord. God becomes man in this Child. God becomes our Brother, our Savior. The stall becomes heaven, the crib becomes the throne of the divine majesty! “In poverty He came to earth Showing mercy by His birth; He makes us rich in heavenly ways As we, like angels, sing His praise.”

The Gift of Jesus born a man takes away all fear from your heart. All who believe in His name are given the right to become children of God, as Saint John puts it in tomorrow morning’s Holy Gospel. Jesus Himself tells Nicodemus: God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. No longer is God an angry Judge. In Jesus God is well pleased with you, for Jesus takes away sin and its consequences, hell and condemnation.

As the crib in the stall holds heavenly salvation and blessed glory, so through this gift of the Savior our daily crosses find certain hope in Christ, just as Saint Paul says in Romans chapter eight: For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us…. We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

He calls you for the purpose of receiving His gift of life. What joy we have in receiving this gift and clinging to this gift as the priceless treasure sent from a loving God to His precious creation. What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him. He prepares a place for you with Him because of this Baby Boy born to Mary and Joseph.

Jesus is your gift tonight. He comes to give you the gift of forgiveness and life. “Therefore, all Christendom, rejoice And sing His praise with endless voice. Alleluia!”

Fourth Sunday in Advent – John 1:19-28

It is fitting that the man who calls himself out of humility, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” writes about two moments of great humility in the first chapter of his Gospel. Let’s save the first and greatest moment of humility for Christmas morning. Today let’s look at the second moment of humility: John the Baptist resisting the urge to call himself someone he wasn’t.

It is not easy to be humble. We all have a few things about ourselves that are braggable. Given the right occasion you are able to brag about how good you are at something or how much you know about something. There was a time when I was a sports trivia fanatic. I could tell you practically every World Series and Super Bowl winner. A fellow pastor I know memorized every hymn number in The Lutheran Hymnal and Lutheran Worship. I’m sure he’s got a good head start on Lutheran Service Book. Perhaps you have your braggable moments as well.

Sometimes our bragging goes too far. You get caught up in how much you think you know that, as we say back home, you get too big for your britches. You think you know someone and you brag about your connection. You realize, however, that you hardly know the person but you want to look good so you stretch the truth. You think you’re an expert about something but you realize that there’s always something more to learn that someone knows and you don’t know.

John the Baptist could have been that guy. He could have said, “Sure, I’m the Christ” or “Call me Elijah 2.0” or even “I’m that prophet you’ve been waiting for all these years”. John tells the truth. He doesn’t care about making a name for himself. He gives a witness, a testimony about who he is and what he does. The testimony isn’t an account of how he came to faith or how he got to be who he is. His testimony is nine words: I am not the Christ. I am not. No.

Imagine if John would have played along with those sent from the Pharisees. They’re looking for an explanation. John could give them what they’re looking for simply by making a false testimony. That would do him no good, not to mention those sent from the Pharisees. John would be a liar. John would point everyone away from the true Messiah and to himself. Doing so would have ruined his entire ministry of repentance toward the forgiveness of sins.

John the Baptist takes the opportunity not to lie, but to tell the truth. I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord,” as the prophet Isaiah said. The Pharisees, even those who were sent from the Pharisees, should have done their homework. When John says these words, it should be evident that the Christ is near. John also points this out when he says to them, among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.

The word “know” has some subtleties. We see it in the English language. You can know someone, like a friend or an acquaintance. You can also have knowledge about something. The thrust of the verb “to know” in John’s words to the emissaries from the Pharisees is the latter definition. These men, even the Pharisees themselves, may “know” Jesus as someone on their radar screen of public personalities. Yet John tells them they don’t “know” who Jesus is when it comes to knowing about Messiah or the one who comes before Messiah. As the younger generation might put it, “You guys don’t have a clue about the one who is to come.”

We “get a clue” about the calling of both John and Jesus in John’s words. John’s calling is to prepare the way of the Lord, just as Isaiah prophesied some seven hundred years before. Though John is considered the greatest of all prophets, he’s nothing compared to the capital “P” Prophet, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Prophet promised in the Old Testament reading from Deuteronomy chapter 18: The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers – it is to him you shall listen…I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.

The capital “P” Prophet needs a lowercase “p” prophet to prepare everyone for the big moment. That’s John’s calling: preparation through the preaching of repentance and through baptism. The way is made straight in the preaching of repentance. You are turned from sin toward a new way of walking: a straight path behind the ample shadow of Messiah, Jesus Christ. As Saint Paul writes to the Church at Philippi: The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything. Jesus comes to take away your anxiety about today and tomorrow. Jesus walks before you through the valley of the shadow of death. You have nothing to fear. Jesus walked that way before you. He cleared the path for you to receive His forgiveness and His righteousness.

If John says he’s Messiah, your hope is dashed to pieces. John’s righteousness is nothing. He can’t even untie the sandal strap of the one who comes after him. Thanks be to God that John didn’t take on something bigger than himself. John witnessed who he was, not who he wasn’t. In his confession we see our own confession; our own witness. We are nothing outside Christ. Jesus is our all. Jesus did not spurn the Virgin’s womb. Jesus did not despise becoming man. Jesus did not hoard His innocence and His mercy to Himself. Jesus gives to John, to you, and to me all that we need to bring us with Him into our heavenly Father’s presence. We are clothed in Christ. It is enough.

My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, and let all flesh bless His holy name forever and ever.

Christ Alone is Perfect Doctrine

If all doctrine is one, if all the articles of doctrine are one and one is all, if doctrine is like a perfect golden ring, then Christ as the center is the whole essence of Christian doctrine just as he is the center and heart of the Scriptures. The solus Christus is not an abstraction but a reality embracing everything that Christ has done to save fallen mankind. The solus Christus embraces the entire work of God from creation to Christ’s return. It is the total opus ad extra of the Trinity. The solus Christus embraces not merely the work of Christ and the Father who sends Him, but also the work of the Spirit who sanctifies us. In fact, it is Christ who is our sanctification as well as our righteousness. The unity of doctrine is both christological and doctrinal, for the doctrine is Christ’s and Christ is the center of all the doctrine, perfecta doctrina. To Luther, then, the solus Christus dominates every article of faith, whether it is creation, redemption, the sacrament of the altar, baptism, worship, or whatever. It also dominates the third article. Christ is not only our righteousness, He is our holiness. Luther says, “The church is indeed holy, but it is a sinner at the same time.” Here simul justus et peccator becomes simul sanctus et peccator. Luther goes on in this way, “Therefore it believes in the forgiveness of sins and prays, ‘forgive us our debts’ (Matthew 6:12)… Therefore we are not said to be holy formally as a wall is said to be white because of its inherent whiteness. Our inherent holiness is not enough. But Christ is the perfect and total holiness of the church [perfecta et tota sanctitas ipsius]. When our inherent holiness is not enough, Christ is enough [satis est Christus].”

Robert D. Preus, “Luther: Word, Doctrine, Confession”, from Doctrine is Life: Essays on Scripture, pages 284-285.

Third Sunday in Advent – Matthew 11:2-11

Eve gave birth to Cain and said, I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord. Jacob said before he died, I wait for your salvation, O Lord. Even King David longs for the coming of Messiah: Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! When God restores the fortunes of his people, let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad. As Saint Peter says in his first epistle: the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. Eve, Jacob, David, and all the Old Testament believers were not deceived in their hope. Their salvation in Jesus Christ has come in the fullness of time.

The last great prophet before Messiah’s appearance, perhaps speaking for all those who waited for the consolation of Israel, sends some of his disciples to Jesus asking are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another? Even today heaven and earth still hangs in the balance on the right answer to this question. If you don’t see Jesus as the one who is to come, you join observant Jews in their continual waiting for Messiah’s appearance. You also join those who will not see Jesus as the one who is to come. There’s no need for a Savior to bestow salvation. From what do you need to be saved except your belief in a Middle Eastern folk religion centered on a cultic hero who supposedly died for the sins of the world and rose from the dead for their salvation.

Jesus gives an unambiguous answer to the disciples of John. The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. Fulfilled are the words of the prophet Isaiah: Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. The then of the prophet Isaiah is now. Jesus, in the days of His flesh, with the disciples of John in His presence, has performed the most wonderful miracles that only God can do.

Fulfilled also are these words of the prophet Isaiah: The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord‘s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.

Jesus comes according to the flesh to draw sinners to Himself. If you were to ask many people about why Jesus is born a man in time, perhaps they would tell you He comes in order to work obedience to the Law of God. Maybe they might tell you Jesus appears to show you how you can receive eternal life by doing as He does. Both responses, well meaning as they are, are wrong. Jesus comes as the friend of sinners. He says, whoever comes to me I will never cast out. He sends out His apostles to make disciples of all nations. All nations are composed of sinners, whether Jew or Gentile. Jesus, God in flesh, proclaims all that Isaiah foretells. The Lord’s favor rests on Him and, as you believe in Jesus as your hope for eternity, His favor rests on you.

Fulfilled are the words of the prophet Malachi: Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me…. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years. Then I will draw near to you for judgment. The messenger sent before the Lord is John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin. His sermon is simple: Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand. John’s voice is also a herald for the Christ: Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! As John has prepared Zion for the coming of the Lamb, the Lamb has appeared among them. Jesus, the Savior, is here.

Jesus ends His words to John the Baptist’s disciples with the phrase, blessed is the one who is not offended by me. Who would take offense at the voice of the Good Shepherd? Plenty of people then and now take offense at His voice. Jesus can’t be that lowly of a person. The King of Kings ought to draw near His subjects in regal robes and thundering voice. God the Father’s only-begotten Son should dwell exclusively with those who show in their words and deeds that they are worthy of His presence among them. No fishermen, tax collectors, sinners, or hypocrites allowed, please. The one who is to come from the Father should teach strict obedience to a particular lifestyle that identifies one as a follower of God. Touching lepers and dead bodies, let alone breaking bread with the dregs of society, is not the Messiah that anyone should expect.

You get the Messiah your heavenly Father sends, not the one you think you ought to get. That is why some of John’s disciples and many Jews take exception to Jesus. Even after Christ’s resurrection from the dead Saint Matthew writes that some doubted. Those who take offense at Jesus understand all the prophecies spoken in this sermon, and countless more besides those, in an earthly and carnal way. They see a carpenter’s boy from way up in Nazareth doing miraculous things and saying miraculous words and think, “Nah! He can’t be the promised Savior. He doesn’t confirm our good works and pious thoughts as contributing to our salvation. I’ll pass on Jesus and wait for the real deal.”

You take a pass on Jesus at your eternal peril. Blessed is the one who is not offended by me. Blind reason makes so many objections to Jesus. Instead of looking for evidence, why not pray the words of King David in Psalm 119: Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. By the word “law” King David understands it to mean the fullness of God’s revelation: both law and gospel.

What wondrous things we see when we behold the fullness of the revelation of God! We see Jesus Christ, born in the fullness of time according to the flesh. We see His perfect life, His perfect righteousness, His perfect offering, and His perfect fulfillment of every speck and dot of the Law. We see Him give this entire fulfillment to us as a gift. We see His righteousness cover us. We behold Jesus as eternal God, friend and helper of the poor, the least, and the miserable. We behold Jesus as our Helper and Friend Who freely hangs with the better class of losers like you and me. We see Jesus as Savior and Redeemer, because there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Our Confidence Is In God Even When the World Is Burning

But where do our souls dwell when the abode of every creature is afire and there is no earthly dwelling place? Answer: My dear hearer, where is the soul now? Or where is it when we sleep and are not conscious of what is taking place in our bodies and in the world around us? Do you think that God cannot so preserve or hold the souls of men in his hand that they will never know how heaven and earth passed away? Or do you think that he must have a bodily home for the soul, just as a shepherd has a stable for his sheep? It is enough for you to know that they are in God’s hands and not in the care of any creature. Though you do not understand how it happens, do not be led astray. Since you have not yet learned what happens to you when you fall asleep or awaken, and can never know bow near you are to waking or sleeping, though you daily do both, how do you expect to understand all about this question? The Scripture says, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit,” and so let it be. Meanwhile there will arise a new heaven and a new earth, and our bodies will be revived again to eternal salvation. Amen. If we knew just how the soul would be kept, faith would be at an end. But now we journey and know not just whither; yet we put our confidence in God, and rest in his keeping, and our faith abides in all its dignity.

Martin Luther, Church Postil for the Second Sunday in Advent (Luke 21:25-36)

Adam, the Garden, and God’s Law

If, according to Lutheran teaching, the law is not made for a righteous person, if it has reference only to sin, then it had no place in the state of created, original righteousness. Man in the holy divine image was without the law. His condition is thought of as the perfect unio mystica, the gracious indwelling of the most holy Trinity. The command not to eat is therefore only something negative and does not come under the concept of law. It was only a pedagogic measure in the interest of confirming the state of innocence. It also gave man opportunity, however, to enter into sin and so into the position of being under the law.

According to the Reformed, on the other hand, the first man was under the law just like the believer. For the former, too, the objective, divine will existed as a norm outside himself, according to which he was obligated to live and conduct himself. After all, the necessity of a progressive development into perfection was facing him. Such perfection he had not yet received with the divine image, but it was intended for him. Even as a bearer of the divine image Adam was subject to the prescriptive dictates of the law in the form of a commanding conscience, which in this form constitutes an essential motivating element of human nature. For human nature is simply the finite, which can get to know the divine will as the absolute only in this form. The purely finite sees the infinite opposite it and sees itself only as different from and dependent on it.

Lutherans, by way of contrast, see Adam as the final product of God’s creation, who did not need any real development but only to persevere and be confirmed in holiness. Enjoying the most intimate unity with God by virtue of the indwelling of the Trinity, he was the perfect human model. Because he was created with perfect righteousness, the difference between what one should do and what one wants to do, between God’s will and his own will, did not even exist. God’s will was expressed only as that which was identical with man’s will. Man’s will was in full conformity with God’s. That a separation occurred between the two and the consciousness of the divine will became a reality as a demanding conscience is already the result of sin.

The imperative form of the divine will in the conscience became a reality only then when God had to call man to account and condemn him. It is, however, no more essential than the form whereby God called man to account and condemned him and is only a testimony to the already degenerate quality of human nature. Rather, only that original holy impulse which was at the bottom of that divine commanding is shown to be essential; this is not law, not duty, but willingness, love. And this is restored from the categorical imperative form through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, by faith. It was only when the Reformed idea of a covenant of works and a covenant of grace was adopted that Lutheran teaching began to abandon this view, which originated from exegetical considerations.

Matthias (Max) Schneckenburger, “Vergleichende Darstellung des lutherischen und reformierten Lehrbegriffs” (A Comparative Presentation of the Lutheran and Reformed Concept of Doctrine), quoted in “The Difference Between The Reformed And The Lutheran Interpretation Of The So-Called Third Use Of The Law” by August Pieper. All italicized print appears in Pieper’s essay.

Killing the Old Adam and Sustaining the New Man

According to Lutheran theology, the believer needs the law only because he is still a sinner, that is to say, he is not yet a perfect believer in every respect, not yet a person who has the absolute principle as the all-determining dynamic of his life. For the Lutheran, therefore, the activity called forth by the law is directed principally to the work itself, to practicing the personal and indeed negative virtues, to subduing evil desires (concupiscentia). The believer’s chief concern is to rid himself more and more of the remnants of his sinful Old Man. Precisely these remnants are recognized in the mirror of the law and are constantly struck by its reprimands. As a believer, however, who no longer is under the law, he has only to conserve the faith he has by always establishing himself in it anew. Here, too, of course, belongs the manifestation of love in his outward activities, if indeed he is to avoid losing the fellowship with God he already has.

According to the Reformed view, on the other hand, a believer becomes secure as far as he himself and his final, definite overpowering of sin are concerned only by doing good works. His chief activity to which the divine law summons him is therefore directed toward outward work, toward the positive shaping of the world according to the divine norm.

This basic difference, which is, to be sure, in itself rather subtle but nevertheless very significant and characteristic with respect to the authority of the law, not only gives Reformed piety its particular quality and spirit, but also has consequences and similarities in other doctrines.

Matthias (Max) Schneckenburger, “Vergleichende Darstellung des lutherischen und reformierten Lehrbegriffs” (A Comparative Presentation of the Lutheran and Reformed Concept of Doctrine), quoted in “The Difference Between The Reformed And The Lutheran Interpretation Of The So-Called Third Use Of The Law” by August Pieper. All italicized print appears in Pieper’s essay.

Without Law and Compulsion

It is therefore just as absurd and stupid when they say: The righteous person should do good works, as when they say: God should do good; the sun should shine; the pear tree should bear pears; three plus seven should be ten, since all of this follows naturally of necessity because of the thing itself and the result which is determined.

Or, that I may state it still more clearly and plainly: all this follows without the command and order of a single law, naturally and willingly, without force or compulsion. For that for which each thing has been created, that it does without law and compulsion. The sun shines by nature, without being told to; the pear tree bears pears of itself, without being compelled to, etc. Therefore one may not command a righteous person to do good works, for he does them without any command or compulsion because he is a new creation and a good tree. Because we human beings do not do as we should and what we should after the first creation when Adam and Eve were created in righteousness and innocence, for this reason God gave the law—that he might point out to us and convince us by means of it that we now are not God’s but the devil’s work.

– Martin Luther (St. Louis Ed. 22:445-446. Sadly, this is not in the American Edition Volume 55.)