"You can't stop yourself from breaking the _______ commandment, so you might as well______."
You can fill in the blank.
"You can't stop yourself from breaking the 6th commandment, so you might as well watch movie with sexually explicit content."
"You can't stop yourself from breaking the 5th commandment, so you might as well just drink and drive."
I have never actually heard anyone say these exact words, but I have heard and read similar arguments used by different Lutherans as rationalizations for other behaviors. The thinking is that if I am a sinner through-and-through (which you are) then the commandments cease to have any real value in terms of guidance. If I cannot stop myself from breaking the commandments then I should just ignore them altogether.
This is folly, especially since it confuses the three different functions of the Law of God.
Lutherans have traditionally and popularly divided the workings of God's Law into three distinct functions.
- There is a civil function where the threats of punishment keep me from doing things which might endanger society at large.
- There is a theological function where the Law holds up the standard that God has set for humanity where I am found weighed, measured, and lacking.
- And there is the teaching function where the Christian, freed from sin, delights in the Law of God and desires to learn to please God and serve his neighbor with good works done in faith.
The fact that you cannot stop yourself from breaking a commandment (any commandment for that matter) falls under the second [theological] function of the Law. When we look at the commandment we see that we are complete and utter failures at keeping them. I should repent, plead completely guilty before God, and throw myself upon the mercy of Jesus Christ earned at the cross.
But this tells me nothing about how I should now act as a forgiven sinner. I am forgive of my sin for the sake of Christ, but I still need to learn from the commandment how to act as a child of God.
According to the first function, some actions have worse consequences than others. No, I cannot keep myself from breaking the 6th commandment, but I can stop myself from ruining my marriage. I can avoid situations where I am placed under unnecessary temptation. I can warn others who might be traveling down that path.
According to the third function I would gladly avoid anything that even smelled faintly of evil.
We cannot use the fact the we are all 100% sinful as a guide for our lives as human beings. The standard of the 10 Commandments serves as a curb and guide for our lives before and after we come to faith in Christ. Being a sinner, and being forgiven, is then not an excuse for more sin.
Lutherans have to keep their distinctions in check. It is a tall order, a difficult task. It is, however, the calling of a true theologian.