Sunday, November 23, 2008

Roundtable 39: The Law: Smalcald Articles III.II

In this article Luther sets forth the "chief use" of the Law. Whose use? The Holy Spirit's use. It is all the same "Law" but the Law functions in various ways. First, the Law restrains sin "by threats and the dread of punishment and by the promise offer of grace and blessing." It's rather simple: do not run the red light, if you do you may well kill somebody by hitting then, and if you do, you may well receive the punishment of a ticket. If you do not, you obey the law and by it you receive the blessing of not receiving a ticket and may well receive a greater blessing: you do not kill yourself, or others. That's the way the Law should work, and in this life, in the civil realm, that is how it works at times, but God intended for there to be perfection. Luther explains that this perfect system that was a reflection of the perfect Law of God "failed because of the evil that sin has worked in humanity." Now things are topsy-turvey, the Law, which is but a reflection of God's holiness and perfection, is viewed as something "evil" by fallen man, preventing him from doing what he wants to do, telling him that it is wrong to avoid indulging his every sinful whim.

But the "chief office or force of the Law is to reveal original sin with all its fruit." Here again is a very important point that distinguishes Biblical truth, from the false teaching of Rome: original sin is truly sin, not merely a defect. And as a result of original sin, we see its evil fruits in our life and those around us. The Law shows us just "how low can you go," so to speak. The perfection of God's holy will, which is what the Law is, now reveals how deeply we have fallen away from the perfection in which all of mankind was created.

What are the results? Luther is a keen student of human psyche and he rightly identifies the fact that we can feel, all at the same time: "terrified, humbled, depressed." As a result we can despair and while we know we need help, the Law will not help, but only continue to accuse and point out our sins to us.

Reading this article, the words to Luther's first hymn, "Dear Christians" comes to mind, as he describes his own personal experience with the Law and the conviction he felt over against his sin:

Fast bound in Satan's chains I lay;
Death brooded darkly over me.
Sin was my torment night and day;
In sin my mother bore me.
But daily deeper, still I fell;
My life became a living hell,
So firmly sin possessed me.

The question to ponder today is this: is sin a reality in the view of most? Do most people feel guilty? Or does our culture and society surround us with the false-comfort that "as long as we are not hurting anyone" it is ok for us to to what we want? How does this article from the Smalcald Articles speak to this challenge of life in our modern world? How best can we communicate these truths to people today?

The reason the Law must be so clearly and sharply proclaimed is so that sinful man realizes just how desperately he needs the salvation that is given by God through Christ. And how sweet that good news is on the ears of the humbled, terrified sinner: the blood of Jesus, God's Son, cleanses from all sins!

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