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Forgiveness & Love

Apology, IV. Justification

(Tappert)

152 There is a familiar figure of speech, called synecdoche, by which we sometimes combine cause and effect in the same phrase. Christ says in Luke 7:47, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, because she loved much.” But he interprets his own words when he adds: “Your faith has saved you” (v. 50). Now Christ did not want to say that by her works of love the woman had merited the forgiveness of sins. 153 Therefore he clearly says, “Your faith has saved you.” But faith is that which grasps God’s free mercy because TwoDebtorsof God’s Word. If anybody denies that this is faith, he utterly misunderstands the nature of faith. 154 And the account here shows what he calls “love.” The woman came, believing that she should seek the forgiveness of sins from Christ. This is the highest way of worshiping Christ. Nothing greater could she ascribe to him. By looking for the forgiveness of sins from him, she truly acknowledged him as the Messiah. Truly to believe means to think of Christ in this way, and in this way to worship and take hold of him. Moreover, Christ used the word “love” not toward the woman but against the Pharisee, because Christ contrasted the whole act of reverence of the Pharisee with that of the woman. He chides the Pharisee for not acknowledging him as the Messiah, though he did show him the outward courtesies due a guest and a great and holy man. He points to the woman and praises her reverence, her anointing and crying, all of which were a sign and confession of faith that she was looking for the forgiveness of sins from Christ. It was not without reason that this truly powerful example moved Christ to chide the Pharisee, this wise and honest but unbelieving man. He charges him with irreverence and reproves him with the example of the woman. What a disgrace that an uneducated woman should believe God, while a doctor of the law does not believe or accept the Messiah or seek from him the forgiveness of sins and salvation!

155 In this way, therefore, he praises her entire act of worship, as the Scriptures often do when they include many things in one phrase. Later we shall take up similar passages, like Luke 11:41, “Give alms; and behold, everything is clean.” He demands not only alms, but also the righteousness of faith. In the same way he says here, “Her Eph2,8sins, which are many, are forgiven, because she loved much,” that is, because she truly worshiped me with faith and with the acts and signs of faith. He includes the whole act of worship; but meanwhile he teaches that it is faith that properly accepts the forgiveness of sins, though love, confession, and other good fruits ought to follow. He does not mean that these fruits are the price of propitiation which earns the forgiveness of sins that reconciles us to God.

156 We are debating about an important issue, the honor of Christ and the source of sure and firm consolation for pious minds — whether we should put our trust in Christ or in our own works. 157 If we put it in our works, we rob Christ of his honor as mediator and propitiator. And in the judgment of God we shall learn that this trust was vain and our consciences will then plunge into despair. For if the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation do not come freely for Christ’s sake, but for the sake of our love, nobody will have the forgiveness of sins unless he keeps the whole law, because the law does not justify so long as it can accuse us. 158 Justification is reconciliation for Christ’s sake. Therefore it is clear that we are justified by faith, for it is sure that we receive the forgiveness of sins by faith alone.

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Augsburg Confession IV, Justification

 

Tappert1 It is also taught among us that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God by our own merits, works, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith, 2 when we believe that Christ suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us. 3 For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness, as Paul says in Romans 3:21-26 and 4:5. (Tappert edition, The Book of Concord)

Claims about Martin Luther

Sola FideIt is held by some that “The doctrine of Sola Scriptura originated with Martin Luther, the 16th-century German monk who broke away from the Roman Catholic Church and started the Protestant ‘Reformation.’[1]  Part of this is true.  Dr. Luther was a 16th-century German monk (of the Augustinian order).  However, the Roman Catholic Church excommunicated Luther for his teachings.

Claims about Martin Luther

According to Luther, salvation was a free gift—not merited, earned, achieved, or won by man for believing or acting.  In other words, man does nothing (and can do nothing) for his salvation.  This doesn’t, however, mean that man does nothing in life but believe.  The Christian believes in Christ alone for salvation, to be sure, but as Luther has said, “faith in Christ alone saves, but faith is never alone.”  In other words, the Christian believes in Christ, and this faith in Christ truly saves (unto eternal life), yet such a Christian will also do good works.[2]  Thus, the Christian believes, and such a Christian who believes will also be active in good works (see John 15:3-5).

The essence of Luther’s teaching is called the doctrine of justification by grace through faith.  This is the teaching that sinful man, by God’s grace in Christ, through faith, is declared righteous (objective justification), without him (that is, sinful man), having done anything or doing anything towards his salvation.  This central teaching of the Christian faith excludes all human works, potential works, thoughts, and inclinations on man’s part and rests solely on Christ and Christ alone for salvation.  Man cannot save himself, nor can he contribute or add to his own salvation.

Such a teaching conflicts with the Roman Catholic teaching of infused grace and its sacramental system, for Luther’s teaching denied even the presumed result of infused grace (i.e. actions/works of man) as being meritorious.  Infused grace is the teaching that God freely gives His grace through means (i.e. the Sacraments), and this grace moves men to do and act, and only then will man be saved.

According to the Roman Catholic teaching, then, man is saved by God’s grace, but such a grace also works through love.  Such grace is not sufficient alone to save without the works that follow.  Thus, man is saved by God’s (infused) grace, but if works do not follow, then there is no salvation.  Salvation, then, is dependent both on infused grace and man’s response.  This teaching makes salvation dependent on God and man together.  Luther, however, was teaching that salvation rests on God and His grace alone, without man’s response included.

For Luther, God’s grace alone was (and is) sufficient for man’s salvation.  Resting on Christ alone through faith for salvation means that the sinner, forgiven by God, has certainty of salvation, not in Himself, but in Christ, who has fulfilled the Law and has paid the penalty of man’s sin completely.

In distinction, the Roman Catholic teaching cannot say unequivocally that man can be sure of his salvation, unless he also does (shows) the works.  The Roman Catholic, then, can only doubt his/her salvation, and seek to be more sure by doing more through the receiving of “grace” in the sacraments (and going to mass), whereas the one who believes in Christ alone for salvation has nothing but certainty of having God’s grace and favor, and peace with God (Romans 5:1ff), not on account of his faith or because of any change within him, but on account of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30).

This is the Gospel that Luther preached and taught.  Most certainly, it can be denied, and is by all who seek to contribute to their salvation with their own doing.  Such a teaching can also result in “smug” Christians and hypocrites, who omit God’s law and repentance, and seek only to do what they will, contrary to God’s Word.  Yet, such actions are not of faith, nor are they representative of the true biblical doctrine.  They are a misuse and abuse of God’s truth and doctrine for their own means.

Luther preached and taught according to Holy Scripture.  His certainty was not in the Roman Catholic Church of the papacy, in tradition, or in any other authority (including his own), but rested in the Bible alone.  For this reason, the Roman Catholic Church excommunicated him.  And though Luther wanted the Roman Catholic Church to prove him wrong according to the Bible, this they did not do.

For both Luther and the Roman Catholic Church, the issue could be said to be one of authority.  But for Luther, it was the authority over sin, death, and the devil that concerned him, not his own authority, of course, but that of Christ’s.  According to the teaching of the church of his day (which is found today, also), Luther only knew the God of law, demand, and condemnation.  Rightly, Luther recognized that he could not appease God or placate his wrath.  Even with “God’s help” in the sacraments, Luther saw himself before God as a sinner who was undeserving of God’s mercy.  This is how the Bible, too, reveals our condition before God.

Luther found no solace and no comfort in the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church because, ultimately, he still had to do something for his salvation, which he knew was not worthy of God’s recognition or approval.  The comfort and the consolation Luther desired, he found in the Gospel, the good news of sins forgiven through faith in Christ, apart from his own works and apart from what the Roman Catholic Church was teaching (and continues to teach).  But far from creating a complacent Luther, this revelation of God moved Luther to action, preaching and teaching the doctrine of God as revealed in Holy Scripture and not by the church.

Luther, actually, didn’t want to break with the church.  Yet the church did not want any part of him or his teaching, which was according to Scripture alone.  Luther wanted the Gospel preached rightly and with clarity, but this the church would not bear.  Thus, they excommunicated him, and the break was clear.


[1] Peters, 2.

[2] Works that are done, having faith in Jesus Christ and according to God’s Word and will.  This excludes man-made works.

Unprofitable Servants…

Augsburg Confession

Article VI: Of New Obedience

1] Also they teach that this faith is bound to bring forth good fruits, and that it is necessary to do good works commanded by God, because of God’s will, but that we should not rely on those works to merit justification 2] before God. For remission of sins and justification is apprehended by faith, as also the voice of Christ attests: When ye shall have done all these things, say: We are unprofitable servants. Luke 17:10. The same is also taught by 3] the Fathers. For Ambrose says: It is ordained of God that he who believes in Christ is saved, freely receiving remission of sins, without works, by faith alone. (http://bookofconcord.org/augsburgconfession.php#article6)

Already Clean…

“You are already clean because of the word

which I have spoken to you.”

John 15:3

“For above all one must take care that the heart is good, pure, and holy, as Ps. 51:10 states: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” It is as if he were saying that cleanness of the works of the body is nothing unless there first is cleanness of the heart. But this uncleanness of the heart is so deep that no human being is sufficiently aware of it, much less can purge it away by his own strength, as Jer. 17:9–10 says: “The heart of man is deceitful and inscrutable. Who will search it out? I the Lord search out the heart and the reins.” Therefore the heart becomes pure and good only through faith in Christ, as we read in Acts 15:9: “He made no distinction between us and them, but purified their hearts by faith.” For faith in the Word purifies, because just as the Word of God is completely pure and good, so it makes him who adheres to it pure and good like itself. Whatever it has and is able to do it shares with him who adheres to it and believes it. Ps. 19:7 says: “The Law of the Lord is unstained, changing the souls.” And Christ says in John 15:3: “You are clean because of the Word which I have spoken to you.” Thus also Ps. 51:4, in the Hebrew: “Against Thee alone have I sinned … so that Thou art justified in Thy sentence and blameless in Thy judgment.” He who believes in the Word of God is righteous, wise, true, good, etc. Thus, on the contrary, he who is separated from the Word of God or departs from it will necessarily remain in wickedness, in uncleanness, and in everything that is opposed to the Word of God. “He who trusts in his own mind is a fool” (Prov. 28:26), which is a statement against his own confidence. Therefore the apostle says in Titus 1:15: “To the impure nothing is pure, but their minds and consciences are corrupted.” This is what the apostle means here when he speaks of “falling away from the living God.” For one falls away from the living God when one falls away from His Word, which is alive and gives life to all things, yes, is God Himself. Therefore they die. He who does not believe is dead. But falling away comes about through unbelief. And thus it is clear what an “evil heart” of unbelief is. It is a heart in which nothing is good, but everything is evil, because it departs from everything that is good.” (LW 29: Lectures on Titus, Philemon, and Hebrews)

“Faith Alone”, Paul, and James

 The very words “alone” or “only” are not grammatically next to the word faith in any of St. Paul’s letters.  However, in the epistle of James, we have these words, “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (James 2:24).

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he writes, “that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28).

So which is it?  Is man justified by faith (Paul), or is man justified by works and not by faith alone (James).  Lutherans (and most non-Catholics) will affirmatively confess the former,[1] Roman Catholics the latter.  Whose right?

For an answer, we must note that the emphasis of James is different than that of Paul.  The context itself indicates this.

James, clearly, is speaking of how works demonstrate a faith already present (Read James 2:14-26), while Paul is speaking of the righteousness of faith (Read Romans 3:21-26, 28, 2-8, etc.).

As you read Paul in the sense that he is writing, that is, according to text and context, and with the words that he uses, even without the words “sola,” “alone,” or “only” preceding or post the word faith, the meaning Paul plainly intends is that righteousness is through faith, with no works attached whatsoever to justification (note esp. Romans 3:21, 28; 4:6—he doesn’t use the word “alone” or “only,” of course), but he does use the word “apart from” or “without,” depending how the Greek word is translated.

For clarification, Luther did not add “faith alone” in order to justify the Lutheran tradition (See the following).

LW35.OnTranslating-AnOpenLetter.SelectedQuotes

The text of Paul’s letter to the Romans itself indicates that righteousness is through faith, without/apart from anything that man does (See the following).

LW35.PrefaceToRomans.a


[1] For example, as in Robertson’s Word Pictures, “Jam 2:24 – James is discussing the proof of faith, not the initial act of being set right with God (Paul’s idea in Ro 4:1-10). And not only by faith (kai ouk ek pistewj monon). This phrase clears up the meaning of James. Faith (live faith) is what we must all have (2:18), only it must show itself also in deeds as Abraham’s did.”

“The Ecumenical Movement-A Brief Assessment”

According to William Rusch, a Lutheran pastor serving as Adjunct Professor at Yale Divinity School and New York Theological Seminary, the ecumenical movement has as its goal “the visible unity of divided churches.”[1] This is a laudable goal, to be sure.  However, such a goal is untenable, for the simple reason that we live in a fallen world.

Current ecumenical efforts have shown (i.e. ELCA, Joint Declaration of Justification by Faith[2], etc.) that in order to “show” such a “visible unity,” the method must be one of compromise and the “appearance” of a unity that does not truly exist.  Genuine unity has to do with doctrine.  It is not the work of man.  It is the work of God.  It expresses itself, not in a diverse array of confessions and statements, but in the united confession of Christ according to His Word.  Where such confession remains nonexistent, regardless of “intentions,” true unity does not yet exist and cannot demonstrate itself.

To report that “substantial agreement,” “common understanding,” and “common views” exist between various church bodies[3] that are in dialogue does not yet indicate visible unity.  It shows that much work still needs to be done.

Defining terms, so crucial in the sciences, is also necessary here.  Also necessary is not only the agreement of the definition of a particular word or phrase, but agreement in its particular usage, and also as it relates to the whole.

Take for example the article of justification.  What is it (definition)?[4] Is this the central article of the Christian faith by which the Church stands or falls,[5] or is it just one article among many?  If it is just one article among many, how important is it?  If the article of justification is only “more” important than others, how is it “connected” with the others, if at all?

Such dialogue may indeed take place, but it appears to be of little concern in many current discussions.  What is of greater desire, it seems, is to look like “one big church,” regardless of what is sacrificed for the sake of a “visible unity.”

Does this mean that ecumenical efforts are truly out of place and have no importance for today’s Christendom?  From the above it might appear so.  Yet it would be premature to jump to that conclusion.  True ecumenical endeavor has as its root the desire of Christians to gather together in unity (a God-given desire, by the way!), but in the genuine unity of true doctrine and true communion with one another.  Thus, wherever there is already agreement in the true doctrine, there already is genuine unity.[6]

In a fallen world, can such agreement in the true doctrine really exist?  Only as sinners (and church bodies) turn away from their own thoughts and opinions and believe the Christ of Scripture, even the very words of the Bible.  Until then, current ecumenical efforts are in vain, even should all claim to have reached the goal of “visible unity.”  Should that “goal” be reached, yet not with unity in the one true faith according to Holy Scripture, it is a sham unity, and a kind of unity with which God is not pleased (1 Corinthians 1:10; Romans 16:17-18; Ephesians 4:1-6).


[1] William Rusch, “Harvesting the Fruits of Ecumenical Dialogue,” Lutheran Forum, Vol. 44, No. 4 (Winter 2010): 51-53.

[2] Some would certainly debate that any “agreement” has really been found, except to “agree to disagree.”

[3] Rusch, 52.

[4] Augsburg Confession IV: It is also taught among us that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God by our own merits, works, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith, 2 when we believe that Christ suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us. 3 For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness, as Paul says in Romans 3:21-26 and 4:5 (Tappert ed.).

[5] Augsburg XXVIII: The chief article of the Gospel must be maintained, namely, that we obtain the grace of God through faith in Christ without our merits; we do not merit it by services of God instituted by men (Tappert ed.).

[6] Augsburg Confession VII: It is sufficient for the true unity of the Christian church that the Gospel be preached in conformity with a pure understanding of it and that the sacraments be administered in accordance with the divine Word (Tappert ed.).

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