I made something of an off hand remark about "two kinds of righteousness" in the last post and a number of people e-mailed me about it. I must have been out of it, but I had no idea that this was controversial in the Lutheran blogsphere. In fact, I think (as we shall see below) that it doesn't really contradict the law-gospel approach (as some have charged), but clarify some of the misleading rhetoric connected with it.
First, what am I referring to when I talk about "two kinds of righteousness?" Luther used to the phrase to entitle a sermon he wrote in 1518 (possibly reformatioal, or close to being as such). He also mentions this in the preface of the Galatians commentary of 1531-35.
"Two kinds of righteousness" describes the two sorts of righteousness the human subject is capable of having. This goes hand-in-hand with the dialectical anthropology that Luther operates within. The first sort of righteousness is active righteousness and it is the sort of righteousness that the external person has. In other words, since the external person is ruled by reason and can weigh external goods, one against another- they are capable of actualizing a external, activity based, righteousness in the kingdom of the world.
This means that we do good things using our freedom and reason, and therefore people "see" us doing good things. In this realm therefore, the human person can be instructed by the law and when asked to do good things external by the law, most certain can do so.
There is a second sort of righteousness, the righteousness of faith which is passive before God. Again, as we saw, for Luther the will is primary in our relationship to God. It also rules the human person. The will is ruled by affections that are inculcated in us relationally. We either love and believe in the Word of the Devil or in God. As he say in Bondage of the Will, the two master take turns riding us and we can do nothing to resist them.
Luther says that the righteousness we have in this realm is from faith and not activity. God gives us Jesus Christ, whom we passively receive in faith and therefore become righteous through him. Our activity cannot affect this realm, because our actions do not change our unfree will to be different than it is. God must act on us. We are always passive in this relationship to him.
Now, I think that this is helpful for understanding law/gospel because it clears up a lot of confusion.
When, for example, certain 20th century Lutheran thinkers complain about a "third use" intervening after the gospel, they are effectively making a mistake of realms that could be cleared up by this distinction. In other words, when we are dealing with our righteousness in the direction of God via our bound wills- yes, that's absolutely right. The gospel is the last Word. There is no law intervening in our relationship to God after the gospel comes. The gospel is the last word.
But, when we are talking about the kingdom of the world, things are different. In the kingdom of the world, we are free and we are capable of "using" the law as a guide to actualize a right relationship with creation. Hence, although as passive righteousness (things that are above us, in the terms of the Bondage of the Will) the law is worthless, it is good and necessary in the instruction of the external person in the kingdom of the world.
In that sense, gospel could be said to come before law- just as the promise of the first commandment comes at the beginning of the Decalogue and then frees one to obey the rest of the commandments. Nevertheless, if we are looking from the perspective of the passive righteousness, then law precedes gospel and ends with the pronouncement of justification.
For this reason, the distinction does not destroy law/gospel, but clarifies how we are talking about law/gospel- that is, as it relates to "passive" righteousness or "active" righteousness.