I finally finished reading The Law is Not of Faith yesterday. In the volume’s final essay, “Obedience is Better than Sacrifice,” Michael Horton endeavors to show the importance of the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s active obedience. Although not exactly his primary point, I found the following passage particularly interesting (emphasis in bold is mine):
“No longer paralyzed by anxiety in a debt economy [since Christ has paid our debt -PTMcW] we are free to live imperfectly yet joyfully in the eucharistic economy, between Christ’s finished work and our final glorification. We are no longer debtors to God in any respect — not even to his grace, but are grateful heirs. For this first time, we can render obedience that comes from the heart of sons rather than slaves. In Christ, the Great King finally has received the human service in which his fatherly heart delights. And the whole creation will enter with thanksgiving behind its new Adam (Rom. 8:18-24).
That is why Paul can say, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1). It is in view of the triumphant indicatives — “God’s mercies” — which Paul has enumerated throughout the epistle, that the imperative is issued. No longer offering dead sacrifices (of atonement), believers off their own bodies as living sacrifices (of thanksgiving), in a “spiritual worship” that goes far beyond the bloody altars of the old covenant. Jesus Christ alone offered a sufficient sacrifice for sin (Heb. 5:1; 9:26; 10:12), and this brings to an end any notion of debt in our relation to God. “Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name” (Heb. 13:15). Or, as we find it in 1 Peter 2:5, “Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Since we cannot give God any gift as a recompense (i.e., guilt offering), all that is left is the thank-offering that he has wanted all along.
Resuming the Thanksgiving Parade: Serving Our Neighbor
Christ Jesus did not simply pick up where the first Adam left off; he undid Adam’s transgression by his sacrificial death and successfully fulfilled Adam’s vocation by his obedient life. If there is no debt to God, but only thanksgiving, where do our good works go? There is only one direction: outward to our neighbor. We look up in faith toward God and out to our neighbor in loving service.
Gustav Wingren nicely summarizes Luther’s concern with the neighbor as the recipient of the believer’s good works. Instead of living in monasteries, committing their lives in service to themselves and their own salvation, Luther argues, believers should love and serve their neighbors through their vocations in the world, where their neighbors need them [Gustav Wingren, Luther on Vocation, trans. Carl C. Rasmussen (Evansville, IN: Ballast, 1994), 2.]. “God does not need our good works, but our neighbor does” [Ibid., 10.]. Elsewhere, Wingren writes:
“When one presents works before God in the kingdom of heaven, God’s order is disrupted in both realms. Since the reign of Christ is in giving, and in grace and the gospel, to proffer gifts here is an attempt to depose Christ from his throne. A human being lets his works compete with the King of heaven. At the same time, his neighbor on earth is neglected since his good works have clearly been done, not for the sake of his neighbor, but to parade before God. … The human being who in his vocation serves his fellow-men fulfills his task out of love for Christ. … Christ is excluded whenever the ordinary neighbor is excluded” [Ibid., 13, 31.].
God descends to serve humanity through our vocations, so instead of seeing good works as our good works for God, they are now seen to be God’s works for our neighbor, which God performs through us” (pp. 332-333).
Later, Horton quotes Wingren again:
“In vocation works are constrained to move toward one’s neighbor, toward the earth; and faith alone, trust, prayer, all without works, ascends heavenward” [Ibid., 33.].
[Horton:]… The commandment to love, Luther insists, is lex naturae [Ibid., 44.]. Thus, the same law that was inscribed in the human conscience in the covenant of creation and on tablets in the covenant at Sinai is now written on our hearts in the new covenant.
… We cannot give anything to God that would obligate a return on his part (Rom. 11:35), but part of the wonder of God’s condescension is that he delights in receiving the prayers and praises of his creation. In one sense, these are gifts, but they are qualitatively and not merely quantitatively different from God’s gift.
… “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creation” (James 1:17-18 ESV). On the basis of this indicative (the vertical line pointing downward from God), James follows with the imperative (horizontal line) to be doers as well as hearers of the word, caring for our neighbors (vv. 21-27) (pp. 334-336).
I believe James 2:14-16, 25 also speaks to this issue. Definitely something to chew on. Thoughts?