Justin Perdue: Welcome to the members’ podcast. We want to thank our members for your support of Theocast. We could not do what we do without you. This message of the sufficiency of Christ and the rest that we have in him would not go to people that it has gone to, it would not be spreading like it is, without your partnership with us. Thank you for your support. We pray you continue to partner with us in this work and continue along with us to spread this word of Christ: the message of Jesus, the sufficiency of Christ, and the rest and peace that pilgrims like us have in him.
We want to continue now with our conversation on the five points of Reformed theology as we are defining them. We are going to pick up where we left off in defining the three uses of the Law.
Just as a reorientation, we are in our fourth point, which is Law-gospel distinction. We’ve talked a little bit about what that distinction is, about what Law is, and about what gospel is. But we would be remiss if we did not define the uses of the Law, because that’s an important piece of the Law-gospel distinction conversation. I’ll talk about each of these uses and why they matter so much.
The three uses, historically understood, sometimes has a difference in the way that they are ordered that is dependent on which tradition you’re a part of. For us Reformed guys in the 1689 tradition, it is ordered as such. The first use of the Law is to show us our sin and drive us to Christ for salvation. It is that mirror that we assess ourselves in light of God’s Law. We see how short we fall. We are ruined, undone, and driven to Christ because he is our only hope for salvation and we cast ourselves upon the mercy of God in him. That is the first use of the Law.
The second use of the Law is to restrain our corruption. In one sense, this is a kind of civil use. Let me illustrate it this way: this is where God tells us that if you do these things, it will be good for you, and if you do these things, it will be terrible for you. Sometimes when he tells us not to do something, there is punishment that is threatened that would curb and restrain our corruption. It helps us to see that it’s not worth doing it. That’s the second use: do this and it will go well, do that and it will destroy you.
The third use of the Law is in Christ; the Law serves as our perfect guide for living. This is not a threatening thing. This is not a scary thing. This is God’s goodness and kindness to us that in Christ, we’ve been redeemed, we’ve been counted righteous, our sin has been removed from us, and now God’s Law guides us in all of our matters of living. We pursue adherence to the Law as we trust Christ and rely upon the Holy Spirit in us to do that conforming work. That’s the first, second, and the third use of the Law.
Jon Moffitt: For the sake of time, we’re not going to give a huge Scriptural background here, but you can definitely see these in Scripture. First. Paul says it’s a mirror it’s to show you your need for Christ. Second, you can see how it’s used to govern. The flesh is so evil that we need there to be a governing as far as suppression of evil goes, as far as making sure that we’re not killing each other goes. Then the third use fits because the nature of humanity has not fully been glorified. This is another Reformed understanding of Scripture where we believe that we are both saved and a saint, meaning that the Spirit comes in and dwells within us, but that we are also a sinner. This falls into the Law-gospel or three uses of the Law that we hold. These two are in tension; we aren’t fully glorified yet and we don’t have all of the abilities to fight against the flesh 100% of the time. This is why Paul says in Romans 7, “The things that I don’t want to do, I keep doing them.” He calls himself the worst sinner that he knows. 1 Timothy 1:15. The residue of the sinner still remains because of that. The third use of the Law comes in and it’s there to help govern our lives as believers, to push us towards loving God and loving neighbor with an explanation of how it should be done.
Justin Perdue: An example is how we would preach and even imperatives and commands that are given to us in the New Testament. Let’s look into Paul exhorting his readers to flee from sexual immorality because the sexually immoral will not inherit the kingdom of God. First of all, the context of the New Testament epistles does matter. Paul most often was not writing into a Jewish context but into a Gentile context, where sexual immorality would have been part and parcel of their religion. They would not have to intuitively understand that this biblical sexual ethic is a thing and he needs to explain that to them – that’s a whole other conversation.
In that imperative of fleeing from sexual immorality and how the sexually immoral will not inherit the Kingdom of God, this is the first use of the Law: we would be very clear on what God’s Law requires, how all of us stand condemned, and how every one of us is weak. We have failed to meet the test and we are desperate then for One who would keep that law in our place – and his name is Christ. Run and flee to him. This is the second use of the Law: sexual immorality will wreck your life. It’s really bad for you. If you avoid it, it will go well for you. Sin is not worth it. It never brings anything good. The third use of the Law is that in Christ Jesus, knowing all of these things means we’re safe. We’re in Christ: we’re righteous and redeemed; so now let us pursue uprightness when it comes to our sexual lives. Let’s flee from sexual sin because we do know it’s bad for us, but also because we want to honor God with our lives. We want to be good for our neighbor. We trust Christ. We’re going to rely upon the Spirit to do this work in us. Let’s lock arms together so that we might live this way. That’s how we would go about preaching that.
The only threatening piece in any of that is the holiness of God’s Law and what He requires. But then we are offered Christ in the gospel anew, even as Christians. We run to Christ and we receive that anew as we sit under the word each week. In one sense, we are absolved of guilt anew. We are reminded of righteousness granted anew. We have peace with God.
Jon Moffitt: Two thoughts on that. The third use of the Law comes from our assurance unto obedience; it is not obedience unto salvation. When the third use of the Law is given, it is given to the person who is fully assured of their status.
Justin Perdue: I would even say it’s not obedience unto assurance.
Jon Moffitt: That’s right. Sometimes when people hear us, they say, “Wait a minute, there’s no use of the Law. The Law is abolished. It’s over with. It has been fulfilled.” They’re thinking that what we are saying is do this unto salvation or do this unto assurance. What we are saying because you are assured, and because you are a family member, here is how family members are to participate in God’s family rightly. The reason these are required is we’re sinners. We need to be told to do these things because our flesh is going to be selfish and it’s going to be entrapped. We need those encouragements and instructions saying we are going to be tempted to do this so we need to do that.
Let’s go to Ephesians 4. Paul gets done talking about our election and our calling, and he says, “If you have been chosen, you need to walk in a manner worthy of the calling which you have been called.” He’s now going to give you instruction as a family member. Then he says to do it with patience, meekness, and long-suffering. Bear with one another. He has to do that because when we get around each other, we’re going to lack patience because we’re sinners; we’re going to lack meekness and kindness because we’re sinners. The Law comes in and says that you need to govern your flesh, but we will always say that the third use of the Law is never given to you outside of the gospel. It’s relevant because of the gospel. The first three chapters of Ephesians is gospel. Then third use of the Law comes after, not before.
Justin Perdue: Think of the entire letter of 1 John. He is writing to Christians, there has been false teaching in the church, and people have left the church and abandoned them. He is writing to the redeem to comfort them. His exhortations about practicing righteousness, loving the brothers, and all of those things are not meant to unsettle but to comfort them. He tells them that they are already doing this, and that they should just do it all the more.
To your point, Jon, he’s writing to the redeemed and telling them about how the redeemed live. He tells them that the people and the false teaching they have been are the ones who are faults. They are in Christ. This is evidenced by him saying this is how we live together as redeemed people in the community called the church.
The third use is never threatening. Oftentimes, one of the sad things is that that third use of the Law is preached with a threatening tone as though it’s like the first use: you’re going to be crushed and that should never be. That’s a confusion in of itself.
Let’s move on now to our fifth point of Reformed theology, at least as we see it here at Theocast. The fifth one is an ordinary means of grace understanding. Ordinary means of grace is how we understand that we are sustained and sanctified in the Christian life. Yeah. This is a big deal because people ask this question, “Tell me, pastor, how am I going to grow? Tell me how I’m going to be sanctified. What do I need to be doing so that I can become more like Christ?” That’s what all Christians want to be.
Jon Moffitt: The confessions here are very helpful. This is where we are going to learn about the primary means of which God administers a grace to us. We would argue from Scripture that the New Testament shows where there are the ordinary ways in which God strengthens and sanctifies us. Just think about the word “ordinary” for a moment. There are definitely extraordinary times or means that God has used and can use to build His church and strengthen our faith. But in the week in and week out day-after-day, these are the means that he has guaranteed and promised to strengthen us. Historically speaking, those would be the public teaching and preaching of God’s word, which are also seen in administering the word through fellowship.
I would also say the sacraments: baptism, the Lord’s Table, and lastly prayer. I would say public was definitely meant there, but I think there’s argumentation for private prayer that God uses there as well. These are the means that God uses to grow us in our knowledge and trust, to grow us in our sanctification, and – to use Paul’s actual language in Ephesians 4:16 – to strengthen us in love. He says when the body functions properly, it strengthens itself so it builds itself up on love. In that context, he’s talking about preachers and teachers gathering together and administering the word, administering the Table, and administering baptism. That would be the three means by which, when we say ordinary means, are the means that God uses to strengthen and govern His church.
Justin Perdue: It’s important to understand that the ordinary means of grace primarily occur when the church has gathered. This is a gathered assembled church reality. You alluded to the fact that private prayer is useful and I agree with you.
These basically are the ordinary means of grace in a Reformed church context that we do when we gather: word, sacrament, and prayer. We could potentially add in their song: “Sing Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to one another.”
Jon Moffitt: Which I think falls underneath word.
Justin Perdue: I agree. Same. Even in some sense, it’s prayer, depending on the kind of song that it is, etc. You and I are in agreement about that.
This happens when we gather and not so much when we’re alone. That sounds counterintuitive to the modern evangelical ear because we have been so conditioned to think that what really matters is what happens when I’m by myself, and it’s just Jesus and me. The pattern of the New Testament, the way that it was written, is it is Jesus and us. The epistles in the New Testament, for example, are written to congregations, churches, and even the ones that are written to individuals like the pastoral epistles 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, and then Philemon are written to individuals with the church in view. Whenever the word, prayer, and the sacraments are talked about, it’s always in that gathered “we” or “us” kind of way. This is how God works.
To your point, the body builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4 is so helpful in that the body builds itself up unto maturity and the stature of Christ. This is a practical boots-on-the-ground application: when people ask me how they can grow in the faith and what do they need to be doing, I tell them to concern themselves with just showing up on Sundays.
Jon Moffitt: It’s mealtime. Come and eat.
Justin Perdue: People look at me like I’m crazy. They are thinking there has got to be more to it than that. Of course, there are other things we can talk about and we will talk about, but this is where it begins. Discipleship is a buzzword in our context. I tell people that their discipleship begins on Sunday morning. This is where discipleship not only starts, but also will be sustained. If you don’t show up here, I have no hope for you that you will grow and will be sustained in the faith. People who just kept showing up at our churches end up looking at us and understanding that what we said was right. They have been coming for a year – or two or three – and so much has changed. What’s ironic is they are doing the same stuff that they were doing before, but they’re doing them for different reasons and with a different posture.
Jon Moffitt: The ordinary means reorients your priorities. Jimmy wrote an article about the real stuff of the Christian life. We think the real stuff of the Christian life is personal Bible reading, prayer, and spiritual disciplines. Scripture says the real stuff of the Christian life happens when the body functions together. Nowhere else in Scripture is there a promise of growth and spiritual building then when it’s inside the context of the church.
Here’s another: Paul is talking to the church in Colossae. In Colossians 3:16, he says this: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” Now he doesn’t mean that individually; he’s writing to a church. How do we know this? “Teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” The writer of Hebrews says, “Let us hold fast,” us collectively, “the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” Why? Because of the confessions that we are holding to, we are then applying those. “Consider how to stir one and up and love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” It is talking about the return of Christ drawing near. God’s people have engaged in God’s word for the sake of obeying God’s word together for the purposes of growing in godliness.
We always assume holiness happens outside the context of the church. Paul and the writers in the New Testament say that actually, godliness is seen and applied in the context of the church. When the word of God and our confession is held together, we consider how to build one another up, and then we grow. The Christian life is not designed to be lived alone. We make that argument from ordinary means language because this is what Scripture tells us.
There are two different ways that I sometimes will talk about this. One is that the corporate reality of the Christian life drives the private reality – private meaning you living by yourself, or once you’ve left church, and things like that. As evangelicals, we tend to think the opposite: we think that the private drives the corporate. We think we’re useful in the corporate setting because of what we have done privately; no, the corporate reality will make you useful everywhere else because it is what sustains you and propels you forward.
We could even talk in the gathered-scattered sort of paradigm where the church gathers in order to scatter and to love your neighbor through the week, then we gather again on the Lord’s Day. You will be useful when you scatter because you’ve gathered. You will be sustained, fed, and strengthened in the gathering so that you can then scatter to love your neighbor. It’s a very liberating thing.
This is my closing thought: the ordinary means understanding frees people. It simplifies Christian life in a very biblical way, and we prioritize the right things. When you look at somebody and say, “Just show up to church and everything else is going to sort itself out,” that person will not only experience the ordinary means in the gathering but also, when they have a conversation with somebody after and they are invited to hang and end up going, they build these things into their lives. Before you know it, the fellowship of the saints is happening and all kinds of good things just flows out of that gathered reality. Then you look up in a year or two or five, and you realize that your life is different than it was. You don’t even know that you have done a lot. That’s the point: God has used His ordinary means to accomplish His extraordinary ends by the power of His Spirit.
I would say the ordinary means changes your identity. Justin, you never think of yourself outside of the context of a husband and father, because that is who you are, and it has fundamentally changed the direction of your life. You were married a little bit later in life, meaning that you had developed a career and you were a single man for a while. Then when you were married, it changed the way you thought, it changed the way that you spent your time, and it changed the way you spent your money. Then you had four children and that changed the way in which you and your wife structured your lives even more. Your priorities went from an individual I-do-whatever-I-want to being more responsible because now people rely and depend on you.
What happens when you understand the ordinary means of grace is they happen within the context of the church – not only do you need the church but also the church needs you because you’re a part of that body. They depend upon you, your priorities change, and your attention goes to the gathered church. You never think of yourself as an individual Christian, but you think of yourself as being part of this family who has responsibilities. As you govern your life, you build your priorities around the love and care of the body that you are a part of. The ordinary means of grace is what helps drive and change that.
Justin Perdue: That’s good, brother. This has been a good conversation. I hope that it has been helpful for those who have tuned in, especially if you’re newer to Theocast. We hope this has been a good conversation for you to clarify what we mean when we say Reformed.
You can go over to our website theocast.org where you can find a number of resources, including a couple of short primers that we’ve written on confessional theology, it’s called Faith vs. Faithfulness: A Primer on Rest. In addition, we have done a primer on assurance that we have called Safe in Christ. These are things that we hold near and dear that we see in Scripture and in the confessions. We hope that those things are encouraging to you and remind you, as we all need reminders, of the sufficiency of Christ and what he has done for us.
Thank you again to our members for your generous and faithful support of this ministry. Continue to partner along with us and pray along with us that this message would spread as far and as wide as possible.
We thank you again, and we look forward to talking with you next week.