How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to Your Word.
With my whole heart I seek You; let me not wander from Your commandments!
I have stored up Your Word in my heart, that I might not sin against You.
Blessed are You, O Yahweh; teach me Your statutes!
With my lips I declare all the rules of Your mouth.
In the way of Your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on Your precepts and fix my eyes on Your ways.
I will delight in Your statutes; I will not forget Your Word.
Here again, in this second section of the psalter’s acrostic poem, we see the psalter’s delight for God’s Law. He describes specifically the first use of the Law: the Law as a curb. The Law acts as a curb by restraining the sin of a person. As the Lutheran Confessions put it, the first use of God’s Law is “to maintain external discipline against dissolute, disobedient people” (FC SD IV, 1).
And because the psalter is made wise through God’s Law, he is wise enough to know that his keeping of the Law is not dependent on his power alone, but solely on God’s allowance, hence the passive imperative, “Let me not wander from Your commandments” (v. 10)! Thus, we cannot say a person is acting wisely when they make the false claim that the doing of the Law justifies a sinner. For as Luther says, “How anybody can say that he by nature loves the Law is beyond me. The Law is a prison to be feared and hated. Any unconverted person who says he loves the Law is a liar” (Commentary on Galatians, 123).
So long as a person remains in the flesh and its inherent sinfulness, one cannot keep the Law entirely, which is why we and the psalter must rely on the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification in us to help us keep the Law. And unless the Holy Spirit converts us, as Luther says, we can only hate the Law since it condemns us, but the converted person loves the Law since in it he sees how to love God and neighbour (cf. Matthew 22:34-40).
In his commands to Israel, Moses lists two vital reasons why the Israelites must keep the Law. The first is that they may live (Deuteronomy 4:1) and the second is that their status as Yahweh’s people might be palpable before all the nations (v. 6). By “live,” Moses is not speaking of eternal life through the Law, but merely that the keeping of the Law provides temporal living. He lists a specific example from Israel’s history, “Your eyes have seen what Yahweh did at Baal-peor, for Yahweh your God destroyed them from among you all the men who followed the Baal of Peor. But you who held fast to Yahweh your God are all alive today” (vv. 3-4). The one who keeps the Law, then, is granted long-lasting temporal life.
Moses also urges the Israelites to watch their souls carefully lest they forget God’s Word, which the psalter is wise to pray to God in this psalm, “Let me not wander from Your commandments! …Teach me Your statutes” (vv. 10, 12)! Moses also commands them to teach their children and their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren (Deuteronomy 4:9). In other words, Moses commands the parents and all God’s people to catechise their children.
Woe to us lazy parents, then, who leave catechesis to someone else. If we don’t catechise our children about Jesus and who He is, then someone else will, and their catechesis will be grossly erroneous. This is why I am not an advocate for teaching the Bible in public schools. The last thing we need is for our children to get catechised by misinformed evangelicals, uninformed self-proclaimed “Christians” who themselves refuse to be taught by going to church; prideful, know-it-all atheists; and Law-Gospel reducing liberals.
Catechesis should also not be solely the pastor’s job in our beloved Lutheran Church, for many parents use that as an excuse not to catechise their children and remain disengaged in their children’s faith life. No, that was not Luther’s original intent with the Small Catechism; for go to the beginning of each section in the SC, and what does it say? “As the head of the family should teach them in a simple way to his household.”
Both from Scripture and our Confessions, then, there is no excuse for fathers not to teach their children the Word. (However, keep in mind that Luther did advocate for the pastor catechising in cases where parents are unable and/or unwilling to teach.) If we still wish to maintain this tradition of having the pastor catechise our children so they might form a relationship with their pastor (even though both parents might be willing and able), we can do this, but the parents must be the sole teachers of their children’s catechesis and catechism class merely being supplemental to their catechesis at home, as well as the church providing the necessary resources for catechesis (catechism, writing utensils, etc.).
This is a could place to end, but lest you read this and foolishly think I am advocating for works righteousness through the Law despite what I’ve said just a few paragraphs earlier as well as here, I find it necessary to reiterate myself: The Law does not justify.
There are absolutely certain blessings that come with keeping the Law, as the Scriptures frequently testify, but not once do they say the Law is the basis for justification by faith—that is, God’s eternal favour. This belongs solely to faith in Christ alone (Galatians 3:7-9; Romans 4-5).
Luther, Martin. Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians. Translated by Theodore Graebner.