Some Christians grieve over the loss of moral influence that used to be wielded by the church in the world. This is true enough, as far as it goes. Christians must recognize that they cannot live like pagans and still be seen to be Christians. But this only goes as far as the tenets of basic morality, and not farther. Such moral influence is not the unique provenance of the church, but is open to all rational human beings, believers and atheists alike. Government and community are ordained by God to recognize moral boundaries in the world. This takes no uniquely “religious” instruction to know, understand, and bring into practice. Another flaw in this thinking is that one of the goals of the church is to wield moral influence in the world. What in the world makes us think that, if we are faithful to the confession of the crucified Lord, the world will be delighted to receive our counsel and thrilled to give us entry into the halls of power? Christ’s kingdom, the last time I checked, is not of this world. Our transfiguration will only reach to its full glorious effulgence at the consummation of the age, when what is hidden will be revealed. Until then, we walk by faith, not by sight (2Co 5:7).
Scripture says that faith alone justifies because it is that through which alone I cling to Christ. By faith alone I am partaker of the merits and mercy purchased by Christ’s blood. It is faith alone that receives the promises made in Christ. Through our faith the merits, goodness, grace, and favour of Christ are imputed and reckoned to us. Our justice is not a formal justice which is deserved by us by the fulfilling of the law. If it were justification would not be of grace. It is a justice that is reckoned and imputed to us through faith in Christ Jesus. It is clearly, fully, and by mercy imputed to us.
—Robert Barnes. The Reformation Essays of Dr. Robert Barnes. Ed. Neelak S. Tjernagel. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1963. (p. 36)
At any rate, if we Reformation folk do the “third use of the law” badly, we get very close to the infamous “application section” of the sermon so common in Wesleyan & evangelical preaching. And if we do it badly, the sensitive Christian believer can be driven to a slavery as bad as any slavery done to them by a totalitarian dictator. If the Ten Commandments were not impossible enough, the preaching of Christian behavior, of Christian ethics, of Christian living, can drive a Christian into despairing unbelief. Not happy unbelief. Tragic, despairing, sad unbelief. (It is not unlike the [unhappy] Christian equivalent of “Jack Mormons” – those who finally admit to themselves and others that they can’t live up to the demands of this non-Christian cult’s laws, and excuse themselves from the whole sheebang.) A diet of this stuff from pulpit, from curriculum, from a Christian reading list, can do a work on a Christian that is (at least over the long haul) “faith destroying.” You might be in just this position this evening. Many of us have friends whose story is not a far cry from this. We all regularly rub shoulders with such “alumni of the Christian faith” – sad that the Gospel of Christ didn’t (for them, at least) “deliver the goods,” didn’t “work.”