Monday, June 21, 2010

The limit of the Law

From the commentary on Galatians.
I recommend you buy the book, if you don't have it.  I think it belongs in the Essential Lutheran Library.

I've always meant to have this section handy.  The highlighting of there being no Law in the conscience and the limit of the Law are my own.

For although the Law is the best of all things in the world, it still cannot bring peace to a terrified conscience but makes it even sadder and drives it to despair.  For by the Law sin becomes exceedingly sinful. (Rom. 7:13)

Therefore the afflicted conscience has no remedy against despair and eternal death except to take hold of the promise of grace offered in Christ, that is, this righteousness of faith, this passive or Christian righteousness, which says with confidence:  "I do not seek active righteousness.  I ought to have and perform it;  but I declare that even if I did have it and perform it, I cannot trust in it or stand up before the judgment of God on the basis of it.  Thus I put myself beyond all active righteousness, all righteousness of my own or of the divine Law, and I embrace only that passive righteousness which is the righteousness of grace, mercy, and the forgiveness of sins."  In other words, this is the righteousness of Christ and of the Holy Spirit, which we do not perform but receive, which we do not have but accept, when God the Father grants it to us through Jesus Christ.

As the earth itself does not produce rain and is unable to acquire it by its own strength, worship, and power but receives it only by a heavenly gift from above, so this heavenly righteousness is given to us by God without our work or merit.  As much as the dry earth of itself is able to accomplish in obtaining the right and blessed rain, that much can we men accomplish by our own strength and works to obtain that divine, heavenly, and eternal righteousness.  Thus we can obtain it only through the free imputation and indescribable gift of God.  Therefore the highest art and wisdom of Christians is not to know the Law, to ignore works and all active righteousness, just as outside the people of God the highest wisdom is to know and study the Law, works and active righteousness.

It is a marvelous thing and unknown to the world to teach Christians to ignore the Law and to live before God as though there were no Law whatever.  For if you do not ignore the Law and this direct your thoughts to grace as though there were no Law but as though there were nothing but grace, you cannot be saved.  "For through the Law comes knowledge of sin"  (Rom. 3:20).  On the other hand, works and the performance of the Law must be demanded in the world as though there were no promise or grace.  This is because of the stubborn, proud, and hardhearted, before whose eyes nothing must be set except the Law, in order that they may be terrified and humbled.  For the Law was given to terrify and kill the stubborn and to exercise the old man.  Both words must be correctly divided, according to the apostle (2 Tim. 2:25 ff).

... This is our theology, by which we teach a precise distinction between these two kinds of righteousness, the active and the passive, so that morality and faith, works and grace, secular society and religion may not be confused.  Both are necessary, but both must be kept within their limits.  Christian righteousness applies to the new man, and the righteousness of the law applies to the old man, who is born of flesh and blood.  Upon this latter, as upon an ass, a burden must be put that will oppress him.  He must not enjoy the freedom of the spirit or of grace unless he has first put on the new man by faith in Christ, but this does not happen fully in this life.

... Then do we do nothing and work nothing in order to obtain this righteousness?  I reply:  Nothing at all.  For this righteousness means to do nothing, to hear nothing, and to know nothing about the Law or about works but to know and believe only this:  that Christ has gone to the Father and is now invisible;  that He sits heaven at the right hand of the Father, not as a Judge but as one who has been made for us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption from God (1 cor. 1:30);  in short, that He is our High Priest, interceding for us and reigning over us and in us through grace.  Here one notices no sin and feels no terror or remorse of conscience.  Sin cannot happen in this christian righteousness;  for where there is no Law, there cannot be any transgression (Romans 4:15).  If, therefore, sin does not have a place here, there is no conscience, no terror, no sadness.  Therefore John says:  "No one born of God commits sin"  (1 John 3:9).  But if there is any conscience or fear present, this is a sign that this righteousness has been withdrawn, that grace has been lost sight of, and that Christ is hidden and out of sight.  But where Christ is truly seen, there must be full and perfect joy in the Lord and peace of heart, where the heart declares:  "Although I am a sinner according to the Law, judged by the righteousness of the Law, nevertheless I do not despair.  I do not die, because Christ lives who is my righteousness and my eternal and heavenly life.  In that righteousness and life I have no sin, conscience, and death.  I am indeed a sinner according to the present life and its righteousness, as a son of Adam where the Law accuses me, death reigns and devours me.  But above this life I have another righteousness, another life which is Christ the Son of God who does not know sin and earth but is righteousness and eternal life.  For His sake this body of mine will be raised form the dead and delivered from the slavery of the Law and sin, and will be sanctified together with the spirit."

Thus as long as we live here, both remain.  The flesh is accused, exercised, saddened, and crushed by he active righteousness of the Law.  But the spirit rules, rejoices, and is saved by passive righteousness, because it knows that it has a Lord sitting in heaven at the right hand of the Father, who has abolished the Law, sin, and death, and has trodden all evils underfoot, has led them captive and triumphed over them in Himself  (Co. 2:15).   In this epistle, therefore, Paul is concerned to instruct, comfort, and sustain us diligently in a perfect knowledge of this most excellent and Christian righteousness.  For if the doctrine of justification is lost, the whole of Christian doctrine is lost.  And those in the world who do not teach it are either Jews or Turks or papists or sectarians.  For between these two kinds of righteousness, the active righteousness of the Law and the passive righteousness of Christ, there is no middle ground.  Therefore he who has strayed away from this Christian righteousness will necessarily relapse into the active righteousness;  that is, when he has lost Christ, he must fall into a trust in his own works.

We see this today in the fanatical spirits and sectarians, who neither teach nor can teach anything correctly about this righteousness of grace...  They cling only to the righteousness of the Law.  Therefore they are and remain disciplinarians of works;  nor can they rise beyond the active righteousness.  Thus they remain exactly what they were under the pope.

...Therefore we always repeat, urge and inculcate this doctrine of faith or christian righteousness, so that it may be observed by continuous use and may be precisely distinguished from the active righteousness of the Law.  (For by this doctrine alone and through it alone is the church built, and in this it consists.)  Otherwise we shall not be able to observe true theology but shall immediately become lawyers, ceremonialists, legalists, and papist.

... In affliction and in the conflict of conscience it is the devil's habit to frighten us with the Law and to set against us the consciousness of sin, our wicked past, the wrath and judgment of god, hell and eternal death, so that thus he may drive us into despair, subject us to himself, and pluck us from Christ.  It is also his habit to set against us those passages in the Gospel in which Christ Himself requires works from us and with plain words threatens damnation to those who do not perform them.  If here we cannot distinguish between these two kinds of righteousness;  if here by faith we do not take hold of Christ, who is sitting at the right hand of God, who is our life and our righteousness, and who makes intercession for us miserable sinners before the Father (Heb. 7:25), then we are under the law and not under grace, and Christ is no longer a Savior.  Then He is a lawgiver.  Then there can be no salvation left, but sure despair and eternal death will follow.

Therefore let us learn diligently this art of distinguishing between these two kinds of righteousness, in order that we may know how far we should obey the law.  We have said above that in a Christian the Law must not exceed its limits but should have its dominion only over the flesh, which is subjected to it and remains under it.  When this is the case, the law remains within its limits.  But if it wants to ascend into the conscience and exert its rule there, see to it that you are a good dialectician and that you make the correct distinction.  Give no more to the Law than it has coming, and say to it:  "Law, you want to ascend into the realm of conscience and rule there.  You want to denounce its sin and take away the joy of my heart, which I have through faith in Christ.  You want to plunge me into despair, in order that I may perish.  You are exceeding your jurisdiction.  Stay within your limits, and exercise your dominion over the flesh.  You shall not touch my conscience.  For I am baptized;  and through the gospel I have been called to a fellowship of righteousness and eternal life, to the kingdom of Christ, in which my conscience is at peace, where there is no Law but only the forgiveness of sins, peace, quiet, happiness, salvation, and eternal life.  Do not disturb me in these matters.  In my conscience not the Law will reign, that hard tyrant and cruel disciplinarian, but Christ, the Son of God, the King of peace and righteousness, the sweet Savior and Mediator.

... When I have this righteousness within me, I descend from heaven like the rain that makes the earth fertile.  That is, I come forth into another kingdom, and I perform good works whenever the opportunity arises.  If I am a minister of the Word, I preach, I comfort the saddened, I administer the sacraments.  If I am a father, I rule my household and family, I train my children in piety and honesty.  If I am a magistrate, I perform the office which I have received by divine command.  If I am a servant, I faithfully tend to my master's affairs.  In short, whoever knows for sure that Christ is this righteousness not only cheerfully and gladly works in his calling but also submits himself for the sake of love to magistrates, also to their wicked laws, and to everything else in this present life--even, if need be, to burden and danger.  For he knows that God wants this and that this obedience pleases Him.

(Luther's commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians. 1535.  Luther's Works.  Volume 26.  American Edition.  The Argument of St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians.  pp. 4-12)

And if you are myself, and it is summer, finally, and your relatives are all coming and there is work everywhere, you might get off the computer and get your head out of the books and get something done, i.e. I shall take a break from this at least until after the wedding.


Nick said...

Speaking of imputation,
in my study on this topic of imputed righteousness, the Greek term “logizomai” is the English term for “reckon/impute/credit/etc,” (all terms are basically equivalently used) and when I look up that term in a popular lexicon here is what it is defined as:

QUOTE: “This word deals with reality. If I “logizomai” or reckon that my bank book has $25 in it, it has $25 in it. Otherwise I am deceiving myself. This word refers to facts not suppositions.”

The lexicon states this term first and foremost refers to the actual status of something. So if Abraham’s faith is “logizomai as righteousness,” it must be an actually righteous act of faith, otherwise (as the Lexicon says) “I am deceiving myself.” This seems to rule out any notion of an alien righteousness, and instead points to a local/inherent righteousness.

The Lexicon gives other examples where “logizomai” appears, here are some examples:
Rom 3:28 Therefore we conclude [logizomai] that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

Rom 4:4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted [logizomai] as a gift but as his due.

Rom 6:11 Likewise reckon [logizomai] ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Rom 8:18 For I reckon [logizomai] that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

Notice in these examples that “logizomai” means to consider the actual truth of an object. In 3:28 Paul ‘reckons’ faith saves while the Law does not, this is a fact, the Law never saves. In 4:4 the worker’s wages are ‘reckoned’ as a debt because the boss is in debt to the worker, not giving a gift to him. In 6:11 the Christian is ‘reckoned’ dead to sin because he is in fact dead to sin. In 8:18 Paul ‘reckons’ the present sufferings as having no comparison to Heavenly glory, and that is true because nothing compares to Heavenly glory.

To use logizomai in the “alien status” way would mean in: (1) 3:28 faith doesn’t really save apart from works, but we are going to go ahead and say it does; (2) 4:4 the boss gives payment to the worker as a gift rather than obligation/debt; (3) 6:11 that we are not really dead to sin but are going to say we are; (4) 8:18 the present sufferings are comparable to Heaven’s glory.
This cannot be right.

So when the text plainly says “faith is logizomai as righteousness,” I must read that as ‘faith is reckoned as a truly righteous act’, and that is precisely how Paul explains that phrase in 4:18-22. That despite the doubts that could be raised in Abraham’s heart, his faith grew strong and convinced and “that is why his faith was credited as righteousness” (v4:22). This is also confirmed by noting the only other time “credited as righteousness” appears in Scripture, Psalm 106:30-31, where Phinehas’ righteous action was reckoned as such. This is confirmed even more when one compares another similar passage, Hebrews 11:4, where by faith Abel was commended as righteous.

Brigitte said...

Nick, I recommend to you the letter to the Galatians and also this commentary.

Nick said...


I'm not sure what you're getting at. Galatians only speaks of "imputation" once, quoting Gen 15:6, which is the same verse Paul is speaking of in Romans.

Brigitte said...

Hi Nick. I am not sure what You are getting at. If Galatians has nothing to do with imputation, why did you comment what you did to this post?

I do have a simple question for you. Since I have been trying to write about "mercy", are you saved, and are you saved by God's mercy alone or not?

(or is it mercy and something else and whatever the something else is, do you have enough that? And if you have enough of that are you not nullifying/besmirching/blaspheming the saving work of Christ, who has slain for you the devil, sin and death?)

Thanks be to God, it is the free gift of God's favor and mercy, as announced to us everywhere, in this time, beginning with the Christmas angels. A Savior has been born to you. Amen.

Nick said...


I think you misread me. Galatians does speak of "imputed righteousness," but where it does, it is simply referencing the same thing as Romans 4 (Gen 15:6). I addressed this text in my original post, but it doesn't matter whether we're looking to Gen 15:6 as quoted in Romans 4 or when it's quoted in Gal 3.

As for your question: are you saved, and are you saved by God's mercy alone?

My response is: Yes. There is nothing in me or that I ever did that would make God owe me salvation, thus any gifts He bestows upon me (us) is ultimately undeserved.

Brigitte said...

Nick writes: "thus any gifts He bestows upon me (us) is ultimately undeserved."

If you had left out the "ultimately" I would have said that we say the same thing and that's what imputation is to me: undeserved gifts received.

What I wonder about is what is "ultimately" doing here? It sounds like a backhanded taking away. Taking away just a wee little bit, makes the whole thing unsound.

So, what is it you are trying to say?

Nick said...


When I say "ultimately" it is because God often gives men a role in how he dispenses/utilizes His gifts. For example, God would never bless a farmer with good crops if the farmer never planted (trusting in God) to begin with. Another example, God gave us the Scriptures but he used men to write it and men to make copies throughout the centuries.

More along the lines of salvation, God gives us the gift of faith, but unless and until that gift is exercised, we cannot reap the bigger and better gifts God has in store.

In other words, a gift need not be direct and immediate, as a birthday presnt is.

Brigitte said...

Nick wrote:

QUOTE: “This word deals with reality. If I “logizomai” or reckon that my bank book has $25 in it, it has $25 in it. Otherwise I am deceiving myself. This word refers to facts not suppositions.”

With faith, there is no delayed realization, it is actually given to you and "logizomai", as you point out, actual fact.

Christ died for all the sins of the entire world. Through the means of grace (Word and Sacrament), this gift is delivered to me and received in faith. I now have it for real--forgiveness of sins, Christ's righteousness is mine. It is the blessed exchange: my sins for his righteousness.

Not when I have "exercised" something.

Gifts are not "reaped".

Thanks be to God.

Nick said...

Are you saying faith is purely passive? That we don't perform an act of the will when believing in something? If so, that seems to go against the very notion of faith, and those texts which speak of people having a hard time believing or believing in spite of difficulties (e.g. Romans 4:18-22 shows Abraham's faith 'grew' and stayed strong in spite of the difficulties he saw).

Brigitte said...

Nick, did you read this post at all??? It says that the righteousness of faith is purely passive as opposed to the righteousness of the law. This is very Good News for you and for me. Believe it!

Faith is created by the Holy Spirit, through Word and Sacrament. Through these He calls and gathers us by the Gospel, the joyous word of redemption through our Savior God, Jesus Christ, who has done everything. All is a "gift" that is "given", not "reaped", "deserved", "chosen", "achieved", or any other verb on the part of myself.

Nick said...

I read the post, I was asking for clarification. If faith is purely passive, such that no act of the will takes place, then I'd say there's problem with that approach.

Brigitte said...

That is exactly what we are saying. Luther dealt with it most thoroughly in the bondage of the will.

Without the power of the Word, the Gospel we are toast, blind, dead in our trespasses. The Lord prepared a salvation we could never fathom. He has caused it to be proclaimed to us; he has put himself on the cross. We were powerless.

Nick said...

A purely passive faith is hardly faith at all. And the same goes with a purely passive hope and love.

Brigitte said...

Nick states: "A purely passive faith is hardly faith at all. And the same goes with a purely passive hope and love."

Is this supposed to be a Bible verse or something authoritative? What authority do you have this on??? Also, you will note that we have not been talking about love, at all so far. You are introducing a new subject and mixing things together.

Question for you: Is it easier to do nothing and just receive a gift, giving full credit to the giver or is it easier to do a little bit something and pretend you have earned/reaped a "gift"?
Which is giving honor to the giver?

What is it that happened when Christ went to the cross for you? You have as yet told me NOTHING about Christ. It is as if he did not exist and had done nothing for you.

"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for." Hebrews 11:1,2.

Is this faith something you work up in yourself? Or is faith inspired by the object of faith? The latter of course.

(Also read the rest of the chapter.) I assume you have your own Bible handy.

Read some more along with me.
"Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."
Matthew 11:27.

"Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 18:4.

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.... O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were no willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord." Matthew 23

Brigitte said...

"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get. but the tax collector stood at a distance. He would hot even look up to heaven but beat his breast ad said, "God, have mercy on me, a sinner." I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." Luke 18

"As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, "Jesus of Nazareth is passing by." He called out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him "What do you want me to do for you?" "Lord, I want to see," he replied. "Jesus said to him, "Receive your sight; your faith has healed you." (Luke 18)

(Note Jesus did not say, it was your loud yelling that stopped me that combined with your faith saved you... Your faith has healed you. The beggar only asked for Christ's mercy.)

Nick, this is really important stuff. Don't be flippant about it. Either your salvation is Christ or it is Christ plus something. But Christ will not have plus something. God does not share his glory with another. We have no glory. Give him the glory as the giver. This is the right thing. I'm praying for you.
Yours, Brigitte.

Nick said...


Sorry for this late response, a lot of stuff came up in my life (nothing tragic, thankfully), including food poisoning the last few days. I simply have been unable to be online for more than maybe 15 minutes a day over the last week or so. I'll try to remember and respond as best as I can.

I have read Hebrews 11, and it speaks of what true faith consist of, and the way it teaches faith it is anything but passive. The examples and teachings are of "walking by faith, not by sight" (2 Cor 5:7). And 1 Cor 13:13 explains the triad of faith-hope-charity, which would be absurd if faith was passive while the other two were not.

You asked about what is easier, to receive a gift or to work for it and pretend to earn it. I think that's a false dilemma, and not Scriptural. Texts like Romans 6:22f put the "gift" of eternal life as a result of growing in sanctification.

You then asked me: "What is it that happened when Christ went to the cross for you?"
Christ's sacrifice satisfied God's wrath for my sins and those of the whole World (1 Jn 2:2). This is not to be confused with the teaching of Lutherans and Calvinists who teach The Father damned Jesus to essentially hellfire in our place, since that's the punishment we deserved.

I'm not sure what your Matthew and Luke quotes are getting at, for they all speak of having to "humble" ourselves and clean up our act. For example, the Luke 18 situation wasn't about faith at all, as both men were already believers going to daily prayer, but rather about "he who humbles himself."