Have I missed the usi legis?

Does "gospel and law" violate Luther's two uses of the law? The first, the civil use, which rules and governs behavior, and the second, the theological, which convicts each person of sin before God? I think not, even though it appears prima facie to violate the sequence of the usi legis driving one to the gospel of Christ.

I feel I have satisfactorily handled the derivation of obligation from the gospel, and its contrast with the gospel as a violation of the law environment, elsewhere. But the question that confronts me as a Lutheran is, have I disturbed Luther's sense of the functions? (We'll leave off the question of whether one or the other derivation is more authentic to Luther, as a secondary question. Also as a much longer and harder comparative slog through texts than the functional analysis.) Does gospel obligation produce law that does the usus primus and the usus secundus?

Begin with the central notion (even to Paul) of charis. Grace, but also a word fraught with client-patron obligations. The recipient of a gift is obligated to the giver, especially as such a gift reinforces the gradient of social standing between them. (And with our "infinite qualitative distinction" ...) A gift without obligations falls into the Derridean analysis -- giving to the dead. And indeed, we were dead in sin when the gift was given, but even if you void that of its hyperbole, we are alive in Christ as recipients of the gift. If this does void the "cheap grace" problem and constitute law in the form of the command of God, does such law govern behavior and convict of violation?

If we posit the concept of calling and vocation, I believe it does the first. Our behavior has ethical implications (can be right or wrong) because of the calling in Christ and the unique vocation of every created person in their time and place and situation. We are called upon to do right as right is constituted by God in Christ and called for in our lives. And if it does the first, then it also does the second with respect to violations of our calling to be in Christ in ways particular to our existential situations. As sinners, as disconnected from God though reconnected in Christ, we miss the mark (hamartia). We fail to be that which we are called to be in relationship with God and fellow creation. If the law is the perfect mirror, as the psalmist writes, then how better than in Christ to show us who we are called to be, and what we miss?

But how depressing!

What about the usus evangeliorum? Does such a derivation rob grace and the gospel of its liberating aspects? If the gospel produces law which functions, is the gospel itself still a comfort to consciences? Or have we made Christ into a condemnation?

No! No, we absolutely have not! Remember, law is consequent to gospel, and obligation consequent to grace! There is, therefore, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. We are referred by the law, not to a tribunal of judgment, but back again to the grace of God which constitutes us as human beings. We are referred by God's calling and our obligations to a life in the mercy of God who creates us. This is reconciliation. This is the action of Christ settling our drawer with the ledger at the end of every day, to borrow the financial sense of that word. And every day we begin in the place of our calling, which is the place of our prayer, with a reconciled drawer ready for a day full of transactions. We may have debts to fix with others, and others may have debts to fix with us, but we are freed from concern for "the ultimate reckoning," freed to deal equitably with one another because God is profligate with grace. This is the economy of salvation.

Comments

Popular Posts