The 1st use of the Law and the new commenting system

We theology nerds talk quite a bit about the Second Use of the Law (the theological use, the “mirror,” which convicts us of sin and drives us to the Gospel), and we argue about the Third Use of the Law (the didactic use, the “guide,” which shows Christians how to live).  We don’t usually say much about the First Use of the Law (the civil use, the “curb,” which enables sinners to live in societies).

The First Use of the Law concerns only external righteousness.  There is no merit to it, no question of earning salvation by external compliance.  Jesus teaches us that we violate the commandment against murder when we hate our brother, and we violate the commandment against adultery when we lust after someone in our hearts.  That inner state is where our status as sinners is evidenet, and it is this inner condition that the Gospel addresses.  But it is also important not to murder anyone externally or to actually commit adultery.  This external righteousness is absolutely necessary if human beings are to live together in families, nations, and societies.  Even someone boiling over with sinfulness on the inside can, on the outside, be a good citizen.

Our sinful nature has to be “curbed.”  The Law achieves this by means of things like parental discipline, the state’s legal system, and social sanctions.  The Law’s first use can make us feel guilt and shame.  We would be ashamed to actually do some of the things we fantasize about.  Many harmful enterprises are held back when the question arises, What if someone finds out?  Being held back by such considerations does not make us a moral person–we shouldn’t have had those fantasies in the first place–but they make civil society possible. [Read more...]

Thoughts on Ferguson shooting

We’ve blogged about the militarization of the police (here and here), but what about the shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri?  Some say the 18-year-old was just minding his own business walking down the street when the police officer killed him in cold blood.  Police have put out a more complicated  story.  But let’s assume the police story is true. . . . [Read more...]

The first use of the Law

We’ve talked about the second use of the Law (which convicts us of our sin and drives us to the Gospel) and the third use of the Law (its role in the Christian life).   But we have perhaps neglected the first use of the Law, the civil use, which restrains external evil so as to make life in society possible.   The civil use doesn’t save anyone, and it isn’t even religious as such, applying to all people whether they are believers or not.  But the civil use would seem to govern the extent and limits of Christian political involvement.

We ARE to promote civil righteousness in the social order–opposing abortion, working for justice, fighting corruption, protecting families, etc., etc.  That does NOT mean we are trying to impose our religion on anyone, much less trying to seize power to bring on a Christian utopia.   It does NOT politicize the church.  In the civil arena, we battle abortion in an effort to restrain our sinful impulse to kill our own children; in the church, though, we bring forgiveness to women and doctors who have committed abortion.  Furthermore, believing in the first use of the Law does NOT mean just going along with whatever happens in the civil order, as some have mistakenly interpreted the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms.  Those who believe in no morality at all are not following the first use.  The first use of the Law would seem to govern issues such as gay marriage, legalized euthanasia, and other controversial issues in the public square.

This is my understanding of the first use of the Law.  Do I have it right?  Am I missing anything?   How else could this doctrine be applied?