4.  Of the Law and its Purposes

We believe and teach

–  that God in creation wrote his law in the hearts of men (the natural Law) and later gave the ten commandments on two stone tablets to Moses on Mount Sinai;

–  that the principal sum of the law is love, first to God (first table of the Law) and then to neighbour (second table of the Law);

–  that the Law’s requirements for perfect love in thought, word and deed are eternal and unchanging, as God is eternal and unchanging;

–  that God in his holiness, threatens to punish those who violate His commandments and by grace promises to reward those who love Him and keep His commandments;

–  that the law of the Old Testament consisted of three types of laws: the general moral law that applies to all people at all times (the natural law), the ceremonial law which regulated the Jewish sacrificial ceremonies and religious services in anticipation of the Messiah, and the civil law that regulated the Jewish people’s social life;

–  that the Ceremonial law has been fulfilled in Christ and therefore is repealed in the New Covenant era;

–  that Christians are not bound by the Old Testament laws of society and justice which were only applied to the Jewish religious state in the Old Covenant period;

–  that no man after the fall can keep God’s law in a true and perfect manner;

–  that salvation by observing the law is impossible;

–  that the Law has three main purposes:

– to maintain external order in Society (curbing function),

– to show us our sin and drive us to Christ (reflective function),

– to remind us Christians of how God wants us to live and admonish us to live righteously (guiding function).



After the fall the moral law is written on the heart, but it is corrupted and must be completed and corrected by the revealed Law in the Scriptures.


Guided by the the light of the natural law, people can on the external, societal level do much good. But this civil righteousness does not make man righteous before God. The Scriptures reveal that the Law is “spiritual” (Rom. 7:14), i.e., it makes absolute demands for the heart’s complete, undivided love for God and the unselfish love of neighbor. It requires both internal and external righteousness.


In the Old Testament the Ceremonial law is a law specially adapted for the people of Israel as a development of the first table’s commandments about the relationship to God. The Ceremonial Law with its arrangements for religious services and sacrifices typified Christ and was abolished when he arrived as the perfect priest and once and for all sacrificed himself for the sins of men. In the New Testament there are only a few commandments and regulations for the proclaimation of the Gospel and administration of the sacraments of the church, which can be seen as a form of ceremonial law.


The Civil law in Israel was primarily a development of the second table of the law (the relationship with neighbour) and regulated the external co-existence in the society. The Old covenant’s social laws have been in New Testament era replaced by the laws of the country in which we live. In all countries God is behind all the justice that promotes good law and order. Christians must therefore be careful to follow their own country’s rulers and authorities, as long as they do not order anything contrary to God’s Word.


The Moral Law or the natural law in its New Testament form is not completely identical to the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament (Ex. 19 and 20, Dt. 5). The Third Commandment of the Sabbath, for example, is abolished in the New Testament. The Sabbath (Saturday) has not been replaced by some new law regarding any other day as a day of divine worship. The Sabbath rest typified Christ and the rest of the Gospel sanctifies all days. Sunday as a day of divine worship is something that the Church, in Christian freedom, has put in place for good order, to avoid preaching and the Word of God being despised and neglected.


Jesus is not a new Moses who comes with new legislations. He expounds and deepens (e.g. in the Sermon on the Mount, Matt. 5-7) the moral law given to all. He gives it depth and clarity, and shows how it first has to be held in our inner being, in the heart, and then finds an outlet in good works.


The law tells us what we should do and not do and how we should be. It has no saving power in itself, but has only an enlightening and judicial effect. Conscience - the God-given judicial function in our hearts - must be enlightened by the law so that it truly judges according to the law of God and not after people’s self-chosen and fabricated law.


The law has never, either before or after the Fall, been given to man that he shall earn or purchase for himself the love of God and grace. It invites us only to wholeheartedly and without ulterior motives love God above things and love our neighbor as ourselves. To use the law as a way of salvation or ladder to heaven is to coarsely abuse it.


The law requires unconditional obedience and consequently whoever violates it should be punished. Since we can not keep the commandments of God as we should, the law always accuses us (lex semper accusat). It shows us our sin and brings us under God’s wrath, so that we are appalled and despair of ourselves. This is the law’s reflective and judicial function and it is not fictitious or invented for pedagogical reasons. The law’s threat of punishment is the highest reality and will be enforced by divine justice if the sinner does not turn back to Christ, the Saviour. Without a painful encounter with God’s holy Law no one asks or looks for the gospel.


It is of utmost importance that those who have been convicted of their sin by the law may meet Christ and hear that he has fulfilled all the requirements of the law in the sinner’s stead. He is full of mercy and does not judge, but forgives and restores sinners. He also gives them the gift of the Spirit, a new will and new strength that they may continue to follow God’s commandments. Without faith in Christ there is no provision to keep the law.


The Lutheran church is not antinomian, i.e., there is no lawlessnes taught in the church. Both law and gospel must be preached and rightly divided, so that the frivolous and self-confident are brought to their senses by the law and those who are worried and concerned for their sins may be comforted and drawn by the Gospel. Since Christians here in this life will never be perfect, but have remaining their sinful nature, the law must also be continually preached in the church both for the knowledge of sin and for guidance and training in righteousness.


As Christians, we are confronted often with modern, secular human standards, lifestyles and values, such as in the view of marriage and family, equality and gender roles, sexuality and abortion. To depart from them is not always easy. The Church’s ethical teaching, with advice, support and encouragement to boldly walk in God’s good commandments, is therefore important. As Christians, we are by no means spared the temptation to walk the wide road to live according to the way of the world.



What the Holy Scriptures say

And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone. (Dt. 4:13)


For when the Gentiles, which have not the law (the written law), do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another. (Rom. 2:14-15)


You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, of all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these  two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matt. 22:37-40)


Therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:10)


You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God, am holy. (Lev. 19:2)


Be therefore perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt. 5:48)


For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one of them is guilty of all. (James 2:10)


For I The Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the sons to the third and fourth generation of those that hate me, and showing mercy to thousands of those that love Me and keep My commandments. (Ex. 20:5-6)


Let every soul be subject to the higher authorities. For there is no authority but of God; the authorities that exist are ordained by God. ... For it is a servant of God to you for good. For if you practice evil, be afraid, for it does not bear the sword in vain; for it is a servant of God, a revenger for wrath on him who does evil. (Rom. 13:1 ff.)


knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous one, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for fornicators, for homosexuals, for slave-traders, for liars, for perjurers, and anything else that is contrary to sound doctrine. (1 Tim. 1:9-10)


Therefore let no one judge you in food or in drink, or in respect of a feast, or of the new moon, or of the sabbaths. For these are a shadow of things to come, but the body is of Christ. (Col. 2:16-17)


For by the works of the Law none of all flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law is the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:20)


The carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the Law of God, neither indeed can it be. (Romans 8:7)


... because the Law works out wrath, for where no law is, there is no transgression. (Romans 4:15)


As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Continue in my love! If you keep My commandments, you abide in my love. (John 15: 9-10)


This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. (1 Jn. 5:3) 



What the Lutheran Confessions say

Of Civil Affairs they teach [our churches] that lawful civil ordinances are good works of God, and that it is right for Christians to bear civil office, to sit as judges, to judge matters by the Imperial and other existing laws, to award just punishments, to engage in just wars, to serve as soldiers, to make legal contracts, to hold property, to make oath when required by the magistrates, to marry a wife, to be given in marriage. - - - They condemn also those who do not place evangelical perfection in the fear of God and in faith, but in forsaking civil offices, for the Gospel teaches an eternal righteousness of the heart. Meanwhile, it does not destroy the State or the family, but very much requires that they be preserved as ordinances of God, and that charity be practiced in such ordinances. Therefore, Christians are necessarily bound to obey their own magistrates and laws save only when commanded to sin; for then they ought to obey God rather than men.Acts. 5:29. (Augsburg Confession, Art. 16, Trigl. p. 51)


Of [Ecclessiastical] Usages in the Church they teach that those ought to be observed which may be observed without sin, and which are profitable unto tranquillity and good order in the Church, as particular holy days, festivals, and the like.


Nevertheless, concerning such things men are admonished that consciences are not to be burdened, as though such observance was necessary to salvation. (Augsburg Confession, Art. 15, Trigl. p. 49)


Of this kind is the observance of the Lord’s Day, Easter, Pentecost, and like holy-days and rites. For those who judge that by the authority of the Church the observance of the Lord’s Day instead of the Sabbath-day was ordained as a thing necessary, do greatly err. Scripture has abrogated the Sabbath-day; for it teaches that, since the Gospel has been revealed, all the ceremonies of Moses can be omitted. And yet, because it was necessary to appoint a certain day, that the people might know when they ought to come together, it appears that the Church designated the Lord’s Day for this purpose; and this day seems to have been chosen all the more for this additional reason, that men might have an example of Christian liberty, and might know that the keeping neither of the Sabbath nor of any other day is necessary. (Augsburg Confession Art.28, Trigl. p. 91)


Now, the Decalog requires not only outward civil works, which reason can in some way produce, but it also requires other things placed far above reason, namely, truly to fear God, truly to love God, truly to call upon God, truly to be convinced that God hears us, and to expect the aid of God in death and in all afflictions; finally, it requires obedience to God, in death and all afflictions, so that we may not flee from these or refuse them when God imposes them. (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Art. 4, Trigl. p. 121)


Let us, therefore, in all our encomiums upon works and in the preaching of the Law retain this rule: that the Law is not observed without Christ. As He Himself has said: Without Me ye can do nothing. Likewise that: Without faith it is impossible to please God, Heb. 11:6. For it is very certain that the doctrine of the Law is not intended to remove the Gospel, and to remove Christ as Propitiator. ... For it [the Law] always accuses the conscience which does not satisfy the Law, and therefore in terror, flies from the judgment and punishment of the Law. Because the Law worketh wrath, Rom. 4:15. Man observes the Law however, when he hears that for Christ’s sake God is reconciled to us, even though we cannot satisfy the Law. When, by this faith Christ is apprehended as Mediator, the heart finds rest, and begins to love God and observe the Law, and knows that now, because of Christ as Mediator, it is pleasing to God, even though the inchoate fulfilling of the Law be far from perfection and be very impure. (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Art 3, Trigl. p. 197)


These two doctrines, we believe and confess, should ever and ever be diligently inculcated in the Church of God even to the end of the world, although with the proper distinction of which we have heard, in order that, through the preaching of the Law and its threats in the ministry of the New Testament the hearts of impenitent men may be terrified, and brought to a knowledge of their sins and to repentance; but not in such a way that they lose heart and despair in this process, but that ... they be comforted and strengthened again by the preaching of the holy Gospel concerning Christ, our Lord, namely, that to those who believe the Gospel, God forgives all their sins through Christ, adopts them as children for His sake, and out of pure grace, without any merit on their part, justifies and saves them, however, not in such a way that they may abuse the grace of God, and sin hoping for grace, as Paul, 2 Cor. 3:7 ff., thoroughly and forcibly shows the distinction between the Law and the Gospel.


Now, in order that both doctrines, that of the Law and that of the Gospel, be not mingled and confounded with one another, and what belongs to the one may not be ascribed to the other. (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Art 5, Trigl. p. 961)



We warn against

all kinds of false doctrines that contrary to the Scripture teach, for example,

–  that there is no valid moral standard for all times but that each person must find for themself what is right for him (changing, subjective morality);

–  that we must keep the Sabbath and other laws from the Old Covenant;

–  that in the sight of God it is enough that one is a good and respectable member of society (external obedience to the law);

–  that the law is a way of salvation (self-righteousness and all kinds of false doctrines of works);

–  that the law does not need to be preached to Christians (antinomianism).




Come, Holy Spirit, Lord God, fill with the goodness of your grace the heart, spirit and mind of your believers, kindle in them your ardent love!


O Lord, through the splendour of your light you have gathered in faith people from all the tongues of the world; so that in your praise Lord, may there be sung Halleluja! Halleluja! Amen.

M. Luther