Love, not law, is the motive

The last few days have seen a discussion at First Things’ Evangel blog on the respective roles of the law and the gospel in the Christian life, in particular in this post by Joe Carter.

Quite separately from this I found myself looking through Henric Schartau’s classic sermon “Jesus Only” (the linchpin of the chapter “Transfiguration Day” in Bo Giertz’s The Hammer of God, on which I have blogged before). The third part of his sermon, on sanctification, contains some insights from Schartau that seem very relevant to the discussion at Evangel.

First, Schartau explains how our good works do not increase our faith, but the other way round:

The more a person grows in faith in the Lord Jesus, the more he will also increase in good works. You do not, as you may suppose, receive more faith and grace from God by virtue of your watchfulness, meekness, patience, and devotion, but quite the reverse. In the proportion that Jesus becomes great and glorious to you, in the proportion that He becomes indispensable, you will increase in all the virtues that derive their strength from Him. The more faith, which is the origin of love, increases, the more will also love, which is the result of faith, increase.

Hence what matters is for our love for Jesus – “the proportion to which [he] becomes great and glorious to you”. And since “the origin of love” is faith, what will increase our love is not the demands of the law, but the promises of the gospel, in which Jesus’ love is declared to us and the Holy Spirit stirs up our faith and love for him. As Schartau continues:

Love for Jesus is the chief motive unto sanctification in a converted soul. It is love for Jesus that makes the believers submissive to Him in trials and sorrow, enabling them to bear His cross when the Lord finds it needful for their sanctification. Paul designates the knowledge of the love of Christ as the most immediate cause leading to one’s being “filled unto all the fullness of God.” In like manner it is love for Jesus that makes the most pleasing sins abominable and the most grievous duties light.

It is love for Jesus that enables us to love all men, because He has deigned to make them all objects of His love. It is love for Jesus which opens our heart so that we may have confidence in those who are known to be partakers of that same love of Christ. It is love for Jesus which quenches our anger when we are offended, which kills hatred and enables the believer to love his enemies, since Jesus has loved them too, precisely as He loved us even while we were yet His enemies.

So if pastors want to promote sanctification in their congregations, what is needed is a weekly proclamation of the gospel, of the forgiveness of sins in and through Jesus Christ; not “to-do” lists and checklists of appropriate Christian behaviour. The latter may well be more effective at “modifying behaviour”, at least in the short term; but only the former can change hearts, as people are stirred up to a greater love for Jesus.

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8 Responses to Love, not law, is the motive

  1. Pingback: Love as a Motivator « Theological Explorations

  2. Paul Huxley says:

    Schartau aside, do you have a verse for that? Or does Schartau have a verse for that?

    The closest I can think of from the top of my head is 2 Corinthians 3:18: ‘And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.’

    Any suggestions?

  3. fws says:

    there is great confusion here among confessional lutherans isn’t there?

    sanctification is really simply faith. fruits of sanctification (which is not sanctification by the way), according to the formula of concord always happen spontaneously, without effort, encouragement, reminders.

    when we exhort christians to good works or tell them how they should act, even we tell them they “should” do good works out of love for Jesus, this is the Law speaking. The exact same message applies to pagans as well, who should also have faith in Jesus, and who also should do good works with a proper heart relation to God.

    the SAME law gets preached to pagan and christian alike and the same gospel gets preached to pagan and christian alike. Lutherans speak like there is some special more spiritual preaching of the law for christians, a “evangelical exhortation”. No. Only the Holy Gospel can increase sanctification and faith and the fruit of sanctification.

    the ONLY difference between “fruit of sanctification” and the “fruit of the law” is that one results from a response to the gospel which restores “free will” to being in conformity to god’s will. Good works simply become “true to nature” or “natural” (think of how Jesus did good works) and the other, fruit of the law, from a response of free will to the carrots and sticks of the law, forced out of us against our wills.

    The SAME law or will of god fruit, is being worked and accomplished as fruit of spirit or fruit of law. all is being providenced by God, both in pagan and in the christian in sofar as he is regenerate, but from different motives or means.

    this is brilliantly broken down for us in the augustanas section on free will.

  4. Andrew Hall says:

    I linked to your post over at my blog, I think this is excellent. Thanks for the reminder that the gospel is the power of God for sanctification!

    After my friends Scott and Ryan nagging me for years to read The Hammer of God, I just might need to go and pick up a copy myself.

  5. steve martin says:

    Great post!

    I like what the late Dr. Gerhard Forde said, “sanctification is just getting used to our justification”.

  6. fws says:


    i see that forde quote alot. I have no idea what it means although it sounds great.

    shouldn´t he say alot more?

    after all , sanctification /regeneration is where God places in the hearts of man a New Will that is perfectly conformed to God´s will. wow! and only after the creation of that will, the process called sanctification/regeneration, does the most important fruit of that automatically flow: faith in Jesus Christ. the old will, that we should identify by the names will power, free will, reason try harder and what-would-jesus-do could never produce this faith. double wow.

    somehow fordes quote does not seem to do sanctification/regeneration justice.

  7. steve martin says:


    He’s saying that God does the sanctifying, and when we realize that in our justification He has given everything needful, that freedom and understanding will liberate us and God will use us for His purposes, totally aside from our efforts.

    I think Forde was spot on.

  8. fws says:

    this IS a great post. it gets exactly right something that most lutherans take the reformed view on. congratulations.

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