On the one hand there are those who minimize the so-called Third Use of the Law (look up the Formula of Concord Article VI here for those who wonder what this means). It is all grace and all good. And then there are those who speak for the Third Use and insist that the good works we do are guided by the Law (which, as some say, always accuses -- but does not only accuse). It is a good discussion because on the one hand nobody wants anybody to think that works count toward salvation. Only Christ and His merits are responsible. But on the other hand we come face to face with the teaching of St. Paul who repeatedly exhorts God's people to good works and the preaching of Luther which mirrors St. Paul. On the other hand, Lutheran preachers today are generally not so keen on such a bold call to good works and exhorts the people to godly living (walking worthy of their calling).
I will not attempt to rehash or even summarize the whole debate here but I will say that it is a good debate to have. Iron sharpens iron (at least so the Scriptures say). If we are to be discussing things, this is a profound and serious issue to talk about and one that should not be ignored. It cannot be a choice between the preaching of justification by grace through faith and good works. It must be both. As Luther put it in his 1535 Galatians commentary, “Therefore it is as necessary that faithful preachers urge good works as that they urge the doctrine of faith.” Again he wrote “This is why faithful preachers must exert themselves as much in urging a love that is unfeigned or in urging truly good works as in teaching true faith.”
My point is this. Preaching the Third Use of the Law does require care but it is not so difficult as to give the preacher the option of ignoring it. In fact, failing to preach the Third Use is itself failing to preach the whole counsel of God. Yet who wants to do this? Nobody that I know. We would all rather end every sermon at the restatement of what Christ has done for you and presume that the Spirit will fill in the gaps and move the Christian to fight the flesh and to desire what is good, right, true, and virtuous. Yet, therein lies the problem. It seems, at least superficially, to take away from the Gospel to urge God's people to good works. Perhaps more importantly, it steps on toes.
The Formula of Concord says:
Therefore, in this life, because of the desires of the flesh, the faithful, elect, reborn children of God need not only the law’s daily instruction and admonition, its warning and threatening. Often they also need its punishments, so that they may be incited by them and follow God’s Spirit, as it is written, ‘It is good for me that I was humbled, so that I might learn your statutes’ [Ps. 119:71]. And again, ‘I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified’ [1 Cor. 9:17]. And again, ‘If you do not have that discipline in which all children share, you are illegitimate and not his children’ [Heb. 12:8].How then shall we live? It is a joyful affirmation that God has in Christ accomplished all things for us and our salvation and yet the question lingers -- so, how then does the Christian live in response to God's grace and baptismal gift? That is what this debate is all about. How then shall we live out the baptismal grace and gift we have been given in Christ Jesus? And that is every bit as much of the preacher's task as proclaiming that the wages of sin is death and the free gift of God in Christ is everlasting life.
I must admit that the beginning of my preaching career I found it easier to skirt the issue than face it. Yet, I found, as probably most of my hearers did, that the proclamation of this Gospel alone was not urging me toward or defining for me the shape of the Christian life that follows from God's saving gift. I confess that I need to hear the urging of the Law and need to be encouraged to good works. I need to be encouraged to struggle against sin and fight against the dominion of the devil, the world, and my own sinful self. I am not who I was but neither am I yet who I shall be. And right now there is a battle going on within me -- not the easy battle between me and the world but the more personal and difficult battle within me, between the dying old man who refuses to leave without a fight and the new person created in Christ Jesus for good works. I am certainly no better at this than St. Paul: So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. (Romans 7:21-23 ESV)
This is NOT a question of the Gospel being inadequate but rather how God works to accomplish His will and purpose. It is rather about using the full language of Scripture to confront our sins and call us to repentance. It is about using the full language of Scripture to exhort, encourage, and instruct the forgiven sinner to live the new life given him in his baptism, reflected in new obedience and good works. For the Lutheran preacher, we use both ways of addressing the Christian because both ways are addressed by the Holy Spirit in God's Word.
This topic is not theoretical in the least but profoundly practical and urgent. Brothers, if we cannot discuss this, we cannot discuss anything. So I suggest we discuss this. At our winkels, at district pastoral conferences, and informally. The more the better. Searching the Scriptures and reading again our own Confessions. And I am confident we will be better off for it.