Using Which Use

ne of the classic Lutheran debates is the number of uses of the law. Rather than try to weigh in on that topic, I want to show that the connection between vocation and worship does not send Christians into the third use (if there is one), but instead sends us back into the first use. But for the sake of clarity and the argument below, I should take a moment and clarify what these uses are.

he Three Uses of the Law

The Formula of Concord Article VI in both the Epitome and Solid Declaration lists the three uses of the law. The first use is "to maintain external discipline and respectability against dissolute, disobedient people." The second use is "to bring us people to a recognition of their sins." The third use is "when those who have been born anew through God's Spirit, converted to the Lord, and had the veil of Moses removed from them live and walk in the law" (FC, SD VI.1).

This three-fold delineation, however, misses the positive aspect of the law expressed in the Augsburg Confession, which states "that all political authority, orderly government, laws, and good order in the world are created and instituted by God and that Christians may without sin exercise political authority" (AC XVI.1-2). To read the first use as just the disciplinarian misses what God is up to among both Christians and non-Christians, namely creating a trustworthy world. The Formula becomes more explicit about law later on: "the word 'law' has one single meaning, namely, the unchanging will of God, according to which human beings are to conduct themselves in this life" (FC, SD VI.15).

I see two implications from this:

  1. Weighing the Formula over the Confession, Christians are the ones to best serve in roles of political authority, because only Christians can live and walk in the law.
  2. Reading the Formula through the Confession, non-Christians can fulfill the law insofar as they participate in God's will creating a trustworthy world.

The first implication gives me the willies. The second implication may lead to thoughts of universalism, except that even Christians can only participate in God's will through the activity of the Spirit. As the Formula reminds us, Christians still need the law, for "believers in this life are not perfectly, wholly, completive vel consummative [completely or entirely] renewed" (FC, SD VI.7). In this way, living even willingly in a way that fulfills the law is not salvific, as such living is not fully possible in this life.

Vocation as First Use

t the heart of the place of vocation is the quality of the law. If the law is bad and functions only to punish or curtail otherwise improper actions, then vocation has no real point. We have a job to give us something to do so we don't provide the devil with idle hands. If the law is good, however, then vocation is how Christians participate in God's ongoing creation of a trustworthy world.

How is this not the third use? Because vocation is about discipline, and mainly the discipline of paying attention to the relationship you have with your neighbor because of Christ. Vocation is not about simply living and walking in the law. Vocation, rather, is about relationships.

Do Christians desire to participate with God in creating a trustworthy world? I hope so, and this may get at the third use. But when Christians actually attend to their neighbors, we help to create the good order God creates. We become co-creators with God, showing our neighbor God's will for a trustworthy world.


rust is the center of vocation. What do we trust? Who do we trust? How do our practices show who or what trust? The claim that God is up to creating a trustworthy world places Christians in a particular position to both God and our neighbor. That we can be co-creators of that trustworthy world gives Christians motivation to do something with the gospel which we hear and receive in public Christian worship. 

he beauty of this trust and vocational understanding is that if there is a requirement of the law present, it comes from our neighbor. It is not something we determine for the neighbor, and neither is it something God has set down in holy writ for all the ages about our neighbor. Instead we receive the law by being in relationship with our neighbor, and in that being we create a relationship worthy of trust. These relationships we learn in worship by being in trustworthy relationships with God and others.