Last week, we touched on the Lutheran understanding of Law and Gospel. But this teaching goes a little deeper than what I said in the previous post. More specifically, we understand that the Law has three distinct uses within Christian life. According to us Lutherans, the Law can be used as a curb, a mirror, and as a guide.
So what do these three labels mean? Let’s break it down:
- The Curb: Think about what a curb does on the road. It prevents people from jumping up on the sidewalk and mowing down pedestrians. If you start to lose control of your car, smacking into the curb should knock you back where you belong. The Law does the same thing. It helps restrain our baser instincts, keeping us from lashing out and doing major damage to those around us. Now this isn’t perfect: people obviously still jump the curb from time to time, but the first use of the Law is to keep our sinful proclivities in check.
- The Mirror: Think about what happens when you first get up in the morning. You stretch, stumble into the bathroom, and then (if you’re anything like me) you receive a horrible fright by looking into the mirror. I know that when I look in the mirror in the morning, I see a lot of stuff I don’t like. My hair (what little I have left) is a mess, I have way too much stubble, and so on. By looking in the mirror, I see what I need to fix. And the same thing is true. When I look into God’s Law, I see myself. More specifically, I see my sin. I see where I’ve fallen short of God’s intentions for my life. I see what needs to be fixed. God’s Law reveals my sin and shows me how desperately I need a Savior.
- The Guide: When I explain this idea, I used to use the illustration of a map. Nowadays, though, it’s more accurate to call this a spiritual GPS system. God’s Law not only keeps us in check, it not only reveals our sin, but it also illustrates how God wants His people to live. I heard it explained this way recently (on an excellent podcast): think of the Law as the underlying operating system of the universe. It’s the rules God created to run everything. By sharing the Law with us, God shows us His intentions for life, the universe, and everything. As such, it can guide our actions and point us in the right direction.
Now to be fair, there’s some debate within Lutheran circles about how valid it is to use the Law in that third way. We Lutherans can be a little skittish when it comes to the Law. We see it as an accuser, almost as an enemy. It’s difficult for us to see the Law as being beneficial, especially since Lutherans tend to be all about the Gospel. While we normally aren’t slapped with the “evangelical” label when it comes to American society and politics, we tend to see ourselves as true evangelicals, because for us, the Gospel must always have primacy of place in our lives, worship services, and sermons.
And that brings us to the subject of Lutheran sermons, something that is near and dear to my heart. But we’ll save that discussion for next week. But keep in mind a lot of what I’ve said over the past two weeks. The Lutheran understanding of Law and Gospel and the Three Uses factor heavily into how a Lutheran sermon is put together.