Disease of the Law
Friday of Pentecost 23
17 November 2017
The sin of fallen humanity is a disease so deep and pervasive it is invisible to humans. We don't have much counter-evidence, since Jesus was the only sinless person who ever walked among us after the Fall. Since we have no experience with any other way of being we begin to presume that our decrepit and fallen behavior is the way things are supposed to be. Because of this fantasy, we also believe that with just the right attitude adjustment, we will be able to offer our works to God for righteousness. Self-righteousness is a pervasive, indeed endemic, disease.
Humans can also delude themselves into thinking that their works are capable of making them right in God's presence. Indeed, humans can fastidiously obey the law, or think they are, scrupulously weighing every word, and carefully seeking the good of the other in every human relation. Indeed, we should be doing such things for the good of the neighbor, but not to claim righteousness in the presence of God. The claim that our scrupulously correct behavior makes us right before God is called "opinio legis" or the opinion of the law. This is a purely human opinion, that is, one anchored in the human heart and not in the Word of God. It keeps careful track of what is owed in every human relation and fulfills that duty in every painful detail. This painful scrupulosity attempts to satisfy the will of God.
Righteousness in the presence of God must always be the gift of God, for only Christ can fully, perfectly, and most scrupulously satisfy the law of God. In fact, the Bible specifically attributes righteousness to those who do not work (Rm 4:5). The righteousness that is not done, or earned, or worked, must be the righteousness of another, that is, the righteousness of the Son of God, received by faith. The more clearly we see that Christ is our righteousness, the more obvious it will be to us that the disease of the law must be rooted out. 

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Martin Luther
"The Law frightens and causes trembling-these are the spiritual effects of the Law. It really has a double function: in an external way to repress violence and spiritually to reveal sins. It restrains the wicked to prevent their living according to their own flesh, and it shows the Pharisees their sins to keep them from pride. Satan, every wicked theologian, and even nature cannot bear to have their works condemned. Those who have the firstfruits of the Spirit have the battle to fight against confidence in our own works.
"This disease is an innate thing in us. From it develop all the monastic orders. 'If you keep this, I promise you in the name of the Lord eternal life.' Consequently, they perform these works, because they hope that God will pay some attention to them. This disease has deep roots in us.
"Justification, however, is to believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Human reason neither grasps nor finds this gospel, but this is hidden knowledge. Men say, 'I do works; therefore I am pleasing. I preserve my decency.' These are the empty inventions of seducers who mislead men by works. It is one thing to fulfill the works of the law; it is another to be justified. We assign righteousness not to the law and its works but to grace alone, which is offered to us through Jesus Christ. The law does teach that one must do works, serve his brother, and recognize his own sin. These are good things, are they not? To be humble in knowing oneself, to do good for one's neighbor-these are wonderful. But you want to add: This is to be just in God's sight. Those who do not use the law lawfully, that is, as the law ought to be used, should not exalt the law beyond what the law is or can be. You are using the law not according to its lawful function but as if it were grace and the Holy Spirit. This use of the law is one that is 'for the just man.' You false prophets err when you teach that the law is laid down for the just man. That, you see, is contrary to the nature of both the law and righteousness. The law is laid down for the lawless (1Ti 1:9).
"This gives the law both its civil and spiritual functions. Wicked man is restrained and is led to a knowledge of himself. Those are the two functions. By its civil function it restrains crass sinners who rush in before they reveal all things as free. This must be the law with its own punishment. Many people are greedy, and yet they live with a beautiful and holy appearance. Paul in Romans 1 assails the Gentiles for their crass and manifest sins. In chapter 2 he assails the very decent-appearing Jews who beneath their hypocrisy kept encouraging the worst sins so that these holy sinners are put to shame. There we have the true use, and you should not assign more to the law than to restrain and humble the proud saints that they may be led to understanding. When this occurs, there is no further function of the law. Why, then, do you preach that one is justified thereby? The just man ought not have the law except as a restraint and to reveal his sin. But it does not take away sin. But in the case of manifest sinners, it restrains. In the case of secret sinners, it reveals. In the case of the just man, it cannot restrain, because there is nothing to restrain. It cannot reveal, because he has done nothing concealed. It is the good use of the law to restrain and to reveal sin; but it is misuse of it to say that it takes away sin."

Martin Luther, Lectures on 1 Timothy, 1.9
Psalm 6

O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath. Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing; heal me, O LORD, for my bones are troubled. My soul also is greatly troubled. But you, O LORD- how long? Turn, O LORD, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love. For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise? I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes. Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping. The LORD has heard my plea; the LORD accepts my prayer. All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled; they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment. (ESV)
Lord Jesus Christ, You are the righteousness of God for those who do not work. Grant that we might rest in Your gracious care so that we might be cured of the opinion of the law in our hearts. Keep granting us Your mercy by speaking forgiveness to us on the lips of the ministers of Your Word. Amen.
For police and all first responders, that they would be strengthened in their duty and service to the community by the God who gives us the gift of government
For all those who are traveling to the LCEF Conference this weekend, that they would be kept safe in their travels
For President Thomas Winger and the faculty and staff of Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, St. Catharines, Ontario that they might always speak God's peace in Christ
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
Sent by smurray@mlchouston.org in collaboration with
Constant Contact