A Jagged Contention: The Third Use of the Law


“For although they are regenerate and renewed in the spirit of their mind, yet in the present life this regeneration and renewal is not complete, but only begun, and believers are, by the spirit of their mind, in a constant struggle against the flesh, that is, against the corrupt nature and disposition which cleaves to us unto death. On account of this old Adam, which still inheres in the understanding, the will, and all the powers of man, it is needful that the Law of the Lord always shine before them, in order that they may not from human devotion institute wanton and self-elected cults [that they may frame nothing in a matter of religion from the desire of private devotion, and may not choose divine services not instituted by God’s Word]; likewise, that the old Adam also may not employ his own will, but may be subdued against his will, not only by the admonition and threatening of the Law, but also by punishments and blows, so that he may follow and surrender himself captive to the Spirit, 1 Cor. 9:27; Rom. 6:12, Gal. 6:14; Ps. 119:1ff; Heb. 13:21 (Heb. 12:1).”

– The Epitome of the Formula of Concord: The Third Use of the Law


A great deal of discussion and debate seems to surround the role of the Law in the life of the Christian. Do Christians still need the Law? Do you think the Formula’s explanation of the Law’s third use is clarifying or more confusing? Listen to our own Scott Keith over at the Christ Hold Fast podcast and weigh in with your thoughts.


4 thoughts on “A Jagged Contention: The Third Use of the Law

  1. The Law is needed – obvious enough and undeniable for any sinner. Besides, if God made it and gave it to us, he thinks we need it. Human beings forget and need to be reminded, lest they forget the need for salvation. This particular quote seems more about the 1st use, however.

    The 3rd use is what Christians use the Law to do. We examine the Law of God, which is good, to inform our behavior in gratitude to God and because, as renewed souls, we know that is good.

    No matter anyone’s denial of the need, Christians often turn to the Law of God to help them consider, speak, and act. Then again, sometimes we don’t because we are sinners – thus the 1st two uses.


  2. I’m curious what the Epitome means when it talks about “self-elected cults” and “the desire of private devotion.”

    Are they speaking of the order of worship on Sunday mornings? If so, is this an endorsement of the regulative principle?

    Regulative principle aside, “if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

    Certainly, we will fail on a daily basis to mortify the flesh, and our success at fighting the flesh is not the basis of our hope or assurance. Praise God that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

    But any supposed Christian who “makes a practice of sinning” ought to be given a healthy dosage of 2nd use, in order to set them back on the path of mortification.

    After all, “if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.”


    1. As I understand the “self-elected cults” it pertains to those aspects of righteous living created by man to be a way of living a god-pleasing life. Think of sacramentals – saying a rosary, lighting a candle, wearing a scapular, saying a prayer taught as means of grace because they are good works under the Law, ways of devoting oneself to God and means by which God receives worshipers and showers grace on the devotees. In the days of the reformers, taking on holy orders would have been such a man-made doctrine of law, the view that taking vows is a good work under the Law and that God responds to such undertakings with grace.

      In Christ’s day, it was life according to the mishnah preached by the Pharisees, those oral traditions viewed as an extension of God’s Law.

      It should not be construed to reflect on order of worship as both Testaments tell us that God expects orderly worship. We are aware in practice and preaching that such worship derives value from the balance of Law and Gospel conveyed and expressed. If we place the value on the doing of the order, then we have made either and idol or a law out of it. If we believe that God rewards the doing of it, we lose the Gospel.

      The Law brings us to confession, the Word brings us salvation, by third use of law we can confess our faith, we live a life of faith in prayer and praise, we receive the Sacrament to strengthen and preserve. All this we do in response to grace, not to merit it.


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