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Part 2 of Tchividjian's Interview

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Tullian Tchividjian is conducting a four part interview with Mike Horton on the distinction between justification and sanctification and the relationship of the law to the gospel. Part one is here. Part two is now available here.

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Mike, what are the three uses of the law?

Reformed theology embraces these “three uses”: (1) pedagogical or elenctic—to show us our sin and drive us to Christ; (2) civil (to curb vice with the threat of temporal punishment), and (3) didactic (to guide Christian living).

In order further to drive a wedge between Lutheran and Reformed approaches, I often hear Reformed brethren point to the “third use” as a Reformed distinctive that’s denied by Lutheran theology.  This too is simply inaccurate.  It was Luther’s sidekick Melanchthon who identified the “three uses” and the Antinomian Controversy in Luther’s circle provoked the sternest rebukes from the Reformer.  As a result, the Book of Concord staunchly affirmed the third use of the law—and gives more space to it than any of the Reformed confessions.  To be sure, there are differences.  As I point out in The Christian Faith, the principal difference in my view is the eschatology of sanctification—that is, the relationship between the “already” and the “not yet.”  When both groups go off the reservation, Lutherans usually wander into an under-realized eschatology (downplaying the “already” of the new creation) and we Reformed folks embrace an over-realized eschatology (downplaying the continuing struggle with sin).  However, that’s a difference in emphasis.  In terms of basic doctrine, there is no difference between our confessions.  It’s very helpful for people on both sides actually to read the others’ confessions!

When applying these three uses, it’s important to know our audience.  Our primary audience in preaching is the covenant community.  God has pledged his grace in Christ to his congregation.  They are baptized, hear the Word, make profession of faith, receive the Supper, participate in the communion of the saints in confession, song, fellowship, prayer, and gifts.  At the same time, as under the old covenant, not all physical descendants of the covenant (children of believers) are true children of Abraham.  Some, like Esau, sell their birthright for a cheap dinner.  In our preaching, we must use the law carefully.  We still need to use the pedagogical use: showing believers that they still, even in their regenerate state, do not have the kind of righteousness that can withstand God’s judgment and must flee to Christ.  We proclaim the law to the nations as well (civil use), testifying to God’s moral will for all of his creatures.  And we exhort believers to follow God’s commands (third use).   In all of this, we have to be careful that we do not give the impression either that by following God’s commands one can receive his saving benefits in Christ or that because we are saved by grace alone, apart from works of the law, that God’s commands are no longer obligatory.

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  • Guest - Roger Ball


    I don’t understand why you insist on speaking of the gospel as if it were a “thing” in itself. For instance, you say, “The law and the gospel “do” different things. That doesn’t change after conversion.” And elsewhere, “… we have to recognize that they [law and gospel] “do” different things.”

    This is wrong. The gospel message is the “the power of God unto salvation” because it is the “means” or “agency” by which we are saved, it doesn’t “do” anything. It has no being or personage.

    Once more, you have successfully undermined the saving and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit by turning the gospel message into an entity with both saving and sanctifying power.

    What one hand would seem to give, the other quickly takes away by insisting on this language. This is not gospel-driven sanctification, it is instead a thinly disguised indicative-driven self-sanctification.

    I’m starting to think that “you” are the real problem here. And you seem to have more in common with Joel Osteen then you care to admit. You rightly claim the law has no power in itself, but then you ascribe this very ability to the gospel.

    Bottom line, indicatives should only be considered sanctifying in the Christian life from within the proper context (union with Christ and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit), but you have effectually reversed and confused the context (again). If this isn’t the case, then please explain your insistence on this language and why you prefer to use it.

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