One of the problems with the notion that Reformed theology is utterly divorced from the rest of Protestantism (i.e., Lutheranism) and the concomitant ignorance of the broader Protestant history and tradition is that we Reformed folk often end up losing our theology. One example of this is the confusion over the uses of the law. There are three uses of the law: pedagogical, civil, and normative. Some Reformed folk have got the idea that the normative use is the ONLY use. This is, well, crazy. All the mainstream Reformed theologians and, more importantly, all the Reformed confessions teach three uses of the law. For example, the Heidelberg Catechism asks,
“What is necessary for you to know that in this comfort you may live and die in this comfort?”
Three Things. First the greatness of my sin and misery, second how I am redeemed from all my sins and misery, and third how I am to be thankful to God for such redemption.
From where do we learn the greatness of our sin and misery? The Heidelberg Catechism (Q. 3) says, “out of the law of God.” That’s the first use. When it says, “How I am to be thankful to God for such redemption” and “good works” are “only those which proceed from truth faith, are performed according to the law of God, and to his glory….” (HC 91). That’s the third use, the normative use.
We confess both uses and further, there remains a pedagogical function, even in the third use, even for Christians. God requires that the law be preached “strictly” so that “all our life we may learn more and more to know our sinful nature, and thus become the more earnest in seeking the forgiveness of sins, and righteousness in Christ…” (HC 115). That’s the pedagogical function even in the third use. Yes, Reformed theology does teach a version of “lex semper accusat.” We don’t say that it only accuses, however! There’s a difference. In Christ the flaming arrows of the law have been quenched for believers. We’re not under condemnation. We’re as righteous before God as Christ is (HC 60), as if we had done all that he did for us. That imputed righteousness is the first benefit of trusting (faith) in Christ. From that flows the second benefit or sanctification (See Belgic Confession Art 24).
Does Calvin say that the normative use is the “principal use“? No, not in the way that expression is sometimes taken, as if Calvin denied the pedagogical use. All he means is that the goal of justification is sanctification. The goal of justification is that believers, by grace, through faith, will be conformed to God’s holy law in this life.
Nick Batzig has been working through this question on his blog and he shows that the Westminster Divines taught the same thing. For whatever diversity in there is in Reformed theology, there is, after all, only one Reformed faith.