Category Archives: Timothy Wengert

Set Free from the Curse and Compulsion of the Law

We believe, teach, and confess that, although men truly believing and truly converted to God have been freed and exempted from the curse and coercion of the Law, they nevertheless are not on this account without Law, but have been redeemed by the Son of God in order that they should exercise themselves in it day and night, Psalm 119. For even our first parents before the Fall did not live without Law, who had the Law of God written also into their hearts, because they were created in the image of God, Genesis 1:26f., 2:16ff, 3:3. We believe, teach, and confess that the preaching of the Law is to be urged with diligence, not only upon the unbelieving and impenitent, but also upon true believers, who are truly converted, regenerate, and justified by faith. (Formula of Concord, Epitome, Article Six, paragraphs 2-3)

We are set free from the “curse and compulsion” of the law. So many pastors, when they inquire about the law’s third use, try to justify such “curse and compulsion.” The result is a famine of the Word of God – that is, no gospel. “Third use” never justifies beating up on people in a sermon right after announcing the gospel, for fear that they will put nothing in the collection plate or, more seriously, will not “take God seriously.” Compulsion is just that: compulsion. And believers are freed from that very thing, insofar as they are believers. At the same time, we cannot wish the law away. God’s promises make us believers in God, not unbelievers, and they set us in a community of folks who need our prayers and support. Moreover, the law is hardwired into creation itself, because it reveals God’s will and desire for all people and for the world God has made. The story in Genesis 1-3 depicts a world in which there are nonthreatening commands: “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and oversee it.” “Cling to your spouse.” “Take care of the garden.” “Trust me!” Redemption gives us back creation and its beautiful order as gifts, in which we may revel. No wonder the believing psalmist in Psalms 1, 19, and 119 looks at the law and sees only blessing and invitation and even sweetness. Thus, there is a place for law in the believer’s life of faith, but only as invitation (paragraph 3). Any threat must be aimed squarely at the flesh and sin.

– Timothy J. Wengert, A Formula for Parish Practice: Using the Formula of Concord in Congregations, pages 97-98

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