Sunday, August 10, 2008

W's commentary on Romans, 2

Regarding chapter 2:17-3.20 Dr. Witherington writes on page 98, in his "bridging the horizons" section:

"There is a trap in focusing on Paul's insistence on a Law-free Gospel, the trap of cheap grace. Paul is not encouraging lawlessness by making clear that Christians are not under the Mosaic law and covenant. Indeed he will argue that Christians are under the Law of Christ. The issue here, however, is not only how one obtains right standing with God (by grace through faith), but also one's attitude and approach to the Word of God when it has been entrusted to believers as a gift. Paul's theology is that a gift never becomes a possession in the sense of something one can do with as one pleases. The Word of God, including the Law, was entrusted to Israel as a gift, and therefore there could be no ground for boasting. A gift is not an accomplishment or achievement."

I notice that Dr. Witherington writes very often about the "Law of Christ". I've never heard so much about the "Law of Christ" except from my friends and neighbors who are of the Mormon persuasion. Did the Mormons get Christ as lawgiver from the Methodists?

Dr. Martin Luther has Christ as an interpreter of the law, not a new law giver. When Witherington says that when Paul is writing against the law, he means the "Mosaic law", because now there is a new law, the Law of Christ--I have my alarm bells ringing. The question remains: what does it mean that Christ is the end of the law, and yet sometimes we hear about the law of Christ?

The way one of my professors and Bible study teachers, Dr. Russ Nelson, (also a famous biblical scholar) explains the change in the law from the OT to the NT is that there were, for one thing, several types of law. There is not just this overarching "Mosaic" law. There was the law that applied to the running of the ancient nation of Israel. That does not apply to us. There is the sacrificial and ceremonial law, which does not apply in the NT after Christ's death and resurrection. But there is also the moral law and the Decalogue, which is timeless and generally known instinctively also by the heathen. This moral law remains. In my understanding "Christ's law" is an interpretation/explanation of this moral law. It is not a "new" law, per se. The essence of the law has been and still is the love of God and neighbor. Paul does give specific instructions to the churches that would be expressions of morality, loving behaviour, as well as other instructions for good order for the times and location.

Christ is chiefly our Redeemer and thus: the "end of the law". The law will not reign in our consciences and terrify us any more. The Gospel, the good news, will reign, instead. It will make us glad to serve Christ and fellow man. If we mix the law into this, we do not have any Gospel. So yes, we need always insist on and focus on having a Law-free Gospel.

The text says quite clearly what the law does in the conscience: "But we know that whatever the Law says it speaks to those under the Law, in order that all mouths might be stopped and all the world be held guilty before God. Therefore, no one, from works of the law, will be declared righteous, from among all humans before him, for through the Law we become conscious of sin."

Dr. W. brings up "cheap grace". I guess, we can get that from Paul's question " 'Do evil so good may come?' The judgment of them is deserved." Of course, no one is saying that one should do evil so good would come of it. I don't know who would teach such a thing. Is the Augustinian/Lutheran/Calvinist way of thinking promoting cheap grace, according to W? He is not saying that. But I feel, he may be thinking/implying it. That would be a misrepresentation. He is not simply warning that there can be a danger with the Law-free Gospel. He says "there is a trap." Does he mean that focusing on the Law-free Gospel is definitely a trap?

Ok, so far my thoughts on that. I will add a quote from Luther here that shows how he handles justification and law keeping for the Christian. They must be carefully distinguished and separated as not to nullify the Gospel, and make Christ's suffering superfluous. From the commentary to letter to the Galatians (Luther’s works, volume 26, commentary on Galatians, p. 137):

” ‘ But the Law is good, righteous, and holy.’ Very well! But when we are involved in a discussion of justification, there is no room for speaking about the Law. The question is what Christ is and what blessing He has brought us. Christ is not the law; He is not my work or that of the Law; he is not my love or that of the law; He is not my chastity, obedience, or poverty. But He is the Lord of life and death, the Mediator and Savior of sinners, the Redeemer of those who are under the Law. By faith we are in Him and He is in us (John 6:56). This Bridegroom, Christ, must be alone with his bride in His private chamber, and all the family and household must be shunted away. But later on, when the Bridegroom opens the door and comes out, then let the servants return to take care of them and serve them food and drink. Then let works and love begin.

… Victory over sin and death does not come by the works of the Law or by our will; therefore it comes by Jesus Christ, alone. Here we are perfectly willing to have ourselves called ’sola fideists’ by our opponents, who do not understand anything of Paul’s argument. You who are to be the consolers of consciences that are afflicted, should teach this doctrine diligently, study it continually, and defend it vigorously...”

P. 145
But we do make a distinction here; and we say that we are not disputing now whether good works ought to be done. Nor are we inquiring whether the law is good, holy, and righteous, or whether it ought to be observed; FOR THAT IS ANOTHER TOPIC (my emphasis). But our argument and questions concerns justification and whether the law justifies. Our opponents do not listen to this. They do not answer this question, nor do they distinguish as we do. All they do is to scream that good works ought to be done and that the law ought to be observed. ALL RIGHT, WE KNOW THAT. (my emphasis). But because these are distinct topics, we will not permit them to be confused. In due time we shall discuss the teaching that the law and good works ought to be done.”


Nemo said...


I am not familiar with Dr. W, so I can’t really speak to the controversary without further research. However, I did notice that you were wrestling with his discussion about “cheap grace”. I am guessing that this reference comes, not from Paul, but from Bonhoeffer’s “Cost of Discipleship”. In Chapter 1, Bonhoeffer (a Lutheran minister) makes the distinction between what he calls cheap and costly grace. Cheap grace he denounces, while costly grace he asserts is what we should be living under. Below are some excerpts.

“Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as it was before. "All for sin could not atone." The world goes on in the same old way, and we are still sinners "even in the best life" as Luther said. Well, then, let the Christian live like the rest of the world, let him model himself on the world's standards in every sphere of life, and not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace from his old life under sin. That was the heresy of the enthusiasts, the Anabaptists and their kind. Let the Christian beware of rebelling against the free and boundless grace of God and desecrating it. Let him not attempt to erect a new religion of the letter by endeavouring to live a life of obedience to the commandments of Jesus Christ! The world has been justified by grace. The Christian knows that, and takes it seriously. He knows he must not strive against this indispensable grace. Therefore — let him live like the rest of the world! Of course he would like to go and do something extraordinary, and it does demand a good deal of self-restraint to refrain from the attempt and content himself with living as the world lives. Yet it is imperative for the Christian to achieve renunciation, to practise self-effacement, to distinguish his life from the life of the world. He must let grace be grace indeed, otherwise he will destroy the world's faith in the free gift of grace. Let the Christian rest content with his worldliness and with this renunciation of any higher standard than the world. He is doing it for the sake of the world rather than for the sake of grace. Let him be comforted and rest assured in his possession of this grace — for grace alone does everything. Instead of following Christ, let the Christian enjoy the consolations of his grace! That is what we mean by cheap grace, the grace which amounts to the justification of sin without the justification of the repentant sinner who departs from sin and from whom sin departs. Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves.”

“Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”

I haven’t finished the book yet, so I’m not sure where entirely he goes (I understand that there have been questions raised about his theological soundness). However, I do think that at least the first chapter is something that should be engaged with more (whether you agree or disagree with it).

Brigitte said...

Thank you, Nemo.

I am quite familiar with Bonhoeffer. Especially I liked his "Life Together", "Gemeinsames Leben".

I think I understand his "cheap grace", but I think that can also be used as a cheap shot. Luther nowhere advocates a cheap grace and I don't like to see it thrown at him and other Christians, when some legalist or super Christian feels like it.

During the second world war, I had grandparents who were farmers and members of the underground confessing church. My other grandfather, a strong Christian of the pietist bend, was a civil servant and it was demanded that he stay in the party to keep his work. I have an audio tape of him when I interviewed him, talking about his decisions and you can tell of his anguish. He said he told the party that he was a Christian and intended to remain one and that he join the party with this caveat.

What would we have done? I grew up thinking about these dilemmas. What would you have done if you had a house full of children to support? Oh, God, I never want to be in these circumstances.

Bror Erickson said...

Great critique, sorry you had to read all that. Someday Nemo too will learn that not every one who callse themselves Lutheran is Lutheran, and even if they are it doesn't mean everything they wrote in life is. I have to respect Bonhoefer for many things, The book "The Cost of Discipleship" is not one of those things. "the gift we have to ask for?" What! How do I ask for life when I am dead?
BTW. I used to live in Ft. McMurray, left when I was 5 that was back in the late 70's early 80s when my dad pastored there.

Nemo said...


Granted, it can be used as a cheap shot. I did not intent to accuse you, Luther, or anyone else, by posting it. I apologize if I did so. Rather, I was trying to give some context to what Dr. W may have been referencing (I am not endorsing him; as I said before, I am unfamiliar with his work. However, it looks like you have identified some legitimate problems with his theology).

Brigitte said...

Dear Nemo: you are on the internet, you can post whatever you like--I suppose preferably as close to the topic as you can. No offense whatsoever. Keep reading and writing.

I am curious where you fit yourself in the spectrum. What are you thinking about?

Brigitte said...

Thanks Bror. An ex-Albertan, eh? That's cool. Many people in my town travel to Ft. McMurray for work, just a few hours up the highway...

Nemo said...

Well, to paraphrase Paul, I guess I could say that all posts are permissible, but not all posts are beneficial. :-)

I guess I would have to say that I view good works as part of the same paradox as I view salvation. God gets the credit if I am saved, but I am condemned if I am not (entirely my fault). Neither side should be emphasized to the exclusion of the other.

Good works (and this thought is still in development) should be viewed the same way. Of course they don’t save us, but at the same time, the gospel is not a license to sin. Neither is it license for inaction. I don’t see the whole “but I was waiting for the Holy Spirit” argument against good works to be quite valid. We are saved, we have the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit bears fruit. Just as the unbeliever’s lack of salvation cannot be blamed on God, neither can our lack of good works. Christ did not have kind words for the servant who did not return his talents with interest (Matthew 25:14-30) and Paul appears to address works as well in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 (note: the individual whose works are destroyed is still saved. Thanks be to God that, through Christ, even our failings here are forgiven.)

For background, I was born, baptized, raised, and confirmed in the Lutheran church, but have since left it due to both the lack of a strong Lutheran church in the area I moved to, and the fact that I found (or was led) to a church that is both theologically deep and enthusiastically Christian. Now I am reevaluating my background, and am attempting to see how much of Lutheran theology can be defended. I am seeking to thoroughly examine Lutheran doctrine/practice and measuring it not only against its own confession, but also against Scripture.

As someone who has been both inside and now outside of the Lutheran church, I can second Rev. Cwirla’s observation: as well as does Pastor McCain’s:

Brigitte said...

Well, some of those topics we have just covered at the Old Adam, and you are also checking other blogs.

What is the "theologically deep" and "enthusiastically Christian" church you found? Is their doctrine more "defensible"? I can't imagine it.

Personally, I could not belong to a different denomination. I have come through the Pietism of my grandfather and found joy and freedom only in the correctly taught Gospel. I also would not be able to give up the sacrament, no matter how weak or even morose the congregation seems.

The search for some kind of outstanding works is also a torture. Most of us have enough trouble leading our regular daily lives in an effective and honorable way. Here the teaching about vocation is such a blessing. We serve God in our various callings. They can be exercised in a Christian way for Christ and it makes a difference how you do it. Things like teaching and confessing correctly, praying, etc. are also works. There are many small things (giving a cup of water) that count as something when done in the Lord.

Bror Erickson said...

No the Gospel isn't a license to sin. But it is the forgiveness of sins, still. We don't need a license to sin. We do a good enough job of it on our own. What we need is forgiveness and lots of it.
Neither is it a license to inaction towards good works, which is also a sin that is forgiven by the gospel. However, it is actually a door through which good works are made possible. Thing is,Like Brigitte, says giving a person a glass of water in the Lord is a good work. I think we will be surprised to find that God won't think much of most charity work that goes on today, when we finally meet him. He will think wonderous those mundane things we do every day. Why because we don't try to stand before God on the fact that we had lunch, we do want God to take recognition of our giving a thousand to the church, or the salvation army. "But what ever you do, whethere you eat or drink, do all to the glory of God." Excuse me now, I think I need to go eat a brat and drink a beer to the glory of God.

Brigitte said...

Thanks for your input, Bror. Good stuff. This licence to sin complaint, is driving me up the wall. Ben Witheringon, thinks, too, that "simul justus et peccator" means "it is impossible to resist willful sin". (quote) Does that make any sense? See discussion at the end of second newest entry (picture of blow up church). They must think we are complete libertines.

I don't know what it is about the brats and beer, with you guys, though.

OK, beer is probably healthier than coke. I read there is silicone in it from the soil via the hops and malt, etc., which is a trace element we need some of. Colas have phosphoric acid which is bad for the bones.

The brats--well, my pietistic Grandfather lived very long eating lots of sausage (and being very huge). Oh well. It was probably more of a miracle. Otherwise, they say fish and vegetables are better choices!!! You know all that.

I'm done for today. I am going to go and do a good deed and visit someone in the Old Folks Home, this afternoon. Of course, my reward is already gone since I have now bragged about it and have already puffed myself up with this work in my own mind. Who will redeem me...

Nemo said...

I just looked over at the discussion on Ben W’s blog that you mentioned, and noticed he referenced 1 John. Below is the relevant passage. Does it support his point? (I think not)

5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

Bror Erickson said...

I always find visiting to be a reward in itself, Brigitte. Which is why I like beer, it makes a great excuse for a visit, but it does add poundage. Last night I bottled five gallons of IPA, and drank three bottles with a freind that I though had gone bad, the carbonation had finally taken and they were wonderful! Tasted the choke Cherry wince from last year and I do believe it has finally matured to a drinkable state. Then split a hard lemonade, 16%, home hooch if you will, from 2 years ago, and it has mellowed quite nice. All while visiting friends. They won't let me into the old folks home with beer around here, but I still like visiting with them, their stories are often the best.

Brigitte said...

There are all kinds of rewards, aren't' there. I even got a free supper out of going to the old folks home.

Nemo: I think you're right that quote does not support his idea. He probably meant another one. Or he has some sort of interpretation of it.