Faith That Justifies

Faith That Justifies

Martin Luther was an outlaw. This, decreed by the Holy Roman emperor Charles V in 1521, kept Luther (for fear of his life) from traveling to the city of Augsburg, Germany in 1530 as his and his fellow Lutheran reformers’ confession was to be presented. Charles had summoned the reformers to Augsburg to explain their theological positions before an imperial diet (an assembly of the imperial estates). Charles, who had no love for the doctrines espoused by the reformers, was in a hurry to force a peace upon the churches of his land so that he could deal with the impending threat of a Muslim jihad invasion.
In Luther’s stead, his fellow reformer, Philip Melanchthon, would journey to Augsburg. Drawing on several foundational confessional documents that had been penned by the Lutheran reformers over the years leading up to this diet, Melanchthon would pen what would become forever known as The Augsburg Confession.[1] In its preface Melanchthon wrote,
In most humble obedience to Your Imperial Majesty, we offer and present a confession of our pastors’ and preachers’ teachings as well as of our faith, setting forth on the basis of the divine Holy Scripture what and in what manner they preach, teach, believe, and give instruction in our lands, principalities, dominions, cities, and territories (Preface to the Augsburg Confession).
The entire confession bears careful study (I use the first half in my new member classes), but for our purposes we will zero in on its most famous and foundational article: Article IV Concerning Justification. It reads:
It is taught that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sins and righteousness before God through our merit, work, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God out of grace for Christ’s sake through faith when we believe that Christ has suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us. For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness in his sight, as St. Paul says in Romans 3[:21-26] and 4[:5].
This simple paragraph (along with most of the rest of The Augsburg Confession) that extolls faith and the benefits it receives from Christ was vociferously rejected by the Roman Catholic responders (in a document call The Confutation). In order to defend the confession presented at Augsburg, the Lutheran Reformers penned The Apology (Defense) of the Augsburg Confession. The rest of this article will zero in on the defense of the above article. Of special interest to us is the article’s emphasis on and definition of justifying faith.
Before progressing to The Apology, though, let’s make sure we understand the word justification. In Greek, the words justification, justify, righteous and righteousness are the same root word. So, when the Lutheran reformers wrote about being made righteous, they were saying the same thing as being justified. In other words, they were talking about being restored to a right relationship with God. And the question before them was: How are we restored to a right relationship with God? Article IV of The Augsburg Confession answered that simply by pointing to Christ and His promises that are received by faith. The Roman Catholic Church rejected this.
The next several paragraphs are direct quotes from The Apology (Defense) of the Augsburg Confession on Justification and justifying faith. They are of the utmost importance. Take your time reading them and pay special attention to the way they speak of faith. 
[The Roman Catholic opponents] condemn us for teaching that people receive the forgiveness of sins not on account of their own merits but freely on account of Christ, by faith in Him. They condemn us both for denying that people receive the forgiveness of sins on account of their own merits and for affirming that people receive the forgiveness of sins by faith and are justified by faith in Christ… this controversy deals with the most important topic of Christian teaching, which rightly understood, illumines and magnifies the honor of Christ and brings the abundant consolation that devout consciences need… AP IV: 1-2
The faith that justifies is not only a knowledge of history; it is to assent to the promise of God, in which forgiveness of sins and justification are bestowed freely on account of Christ… we will add further that to have faith is to desire and to receive the offered promise of the forgiveness of sins and justification. AP IV: 48
Whenever we speak about justifying faith, we must understand that these three elements belong together: the promise itself; the fact that the promise is free; and the merits of Christ as the payment and atoning sacrifice. The promise is received by faith… APIV: 53
Faith does not justify or save because it is a worthy work in and of itself, but only because it receives the promised mercy. APIV: 56
God cannot be dealt with and cannot be grasped in any other way than through the Word. Accordingly, justification takes place through the Word, just as St. Paul notes [Rom. 1:16]: the gospel ‘is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith.” APIV: 67
Faith is the very righteousness by which we are reckoned righteous before God, not because it is a work that is worthy in and of itself, but because it receives the promise by which God has pledged that on account of Christ he desires to be gracious to those who believe in him and because it knows that ‘Christ Jesus… became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption’ [1 Cor. 1:30]. AP IV: 86
Notice the consistent emphasis on the content and object of the faith. As highlighted here (What_We_Believe_In.pdf), faith saves not because it believes, but because it receives the promises of Christ. This is the faith that justifies. How, then, did the Reformers answer the question How are we restored to a right relationship with God? Christ.  Christ alone.  Christ’s work alone. Faith clings to this, and for Christ’s sake, God counts us righteous. This is the faith that justifies. – Pastor Conner

[1] On many Lutheran Church cornerstones (including Zion’s) the initials U.A.C. appear, which stand for Unaltered Augsburg Confession.

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