Another recap if you please, to keep us mindful of what’s gone on so far in the Augsburg Confession:
II. Original Sin
III. The Son of God
V. Of the Ministry
Part of our discussion of Article V: Of the Ministry dealt with the means whereby we obtain faith – that is through the Word and Sacraments. It’s important that we get these delivered to us properly, that our faith be in Christ alone and His grace delivered by faith through a true understanding of the Scriptures.
You remember last month near the end of our time together in the Augsburg Confession there was a list of topics that “need more discussion.” One of the topics (number 4) was: “That justification, i.e., forgiveness (from Article IV) involves nothing that you do.”
This brings us to Article VI: New Obedience:
Our churches teach that this faith is bound to bring forth good fruit [Galatians 5:22-23]. It is necessary to do good works commanded by God [Ephesians 2:10], because of God’s will. We should not rely on those works to merit justification before God. The forgiveness of sins and justification is received through faith. The voice of Christ testifies, “so you also, when you have done all that you were command say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (Luke 17:10). The Fathers teach the same thing. Ambrose says, “It is ordained of God that he who believes in Christ is saved, freely receiving forgiveness of sins, without works, through faith alone.”
Lutherans have been accused of being lazy when it comes to doing good works. Maybe it looks that way. But the foundational Lutheran understanding of just what constitutes a good work is important here. This “new obedience” can be (and often is) confused with the things that we do that are seen by the world around us as “good.” There are two kinds of righteousness spoken of in the Confessions: the righteousness of the Law and the righteousness of faith.
Works that represent the righteousness of the Law fall into two general categories; those done from fear of punishment – “if I don’t do these things God will be angry with me, so if I do them He’ll have to give me a pass, or at least reduce my punishment;” and those done for hope of personal reward – “if I do these things God will owe me blessings here on earth and an extra jewel in my crown in eternity.”
But in the righteousness of faith we don’t depend on our works; either for reduced punishment or more blessings. Our righteousness before God is based ONLY on the merits of Christ, on His incarnation, life, and His innocent suffering and death as payment for our sins. His forgiveness, His righteousness is given to us freely by faith in His promises, and we receive that faith in Him as a gift as well.
Luther liked to use the image that Jesus used in the Sermon on the Mount when discussing good works. Your works are the fruit of a tree. Faith frees us from dependence on our works, and makes us good trees. The fruit (good works) flows naturally from the tree – a good tree can’t help but produce good fruits. We still do the works of the Law, but because we seek the will of God without our own benefit. This is the “Third Use of the Law” in our confessions.
One more quick quote, this time from the Formula of Concord: “So, too, this doctrine of the Law is needful for believers, in order that they may not hit upon a holiness and devotions of their own, and under the pretext of the Spirit of God set up a self-chosen worship, without God’s word and command, as it is written in Deuteronomy 12. . . .” (FC SC VI 20) In other words, maybe the best “good work” directed toward your neighbor is found in the second table of the Ten Commandments; honor your parents and those in authority (#4); live chaste and decent lives, and love and honor your spouse (#6).
Next month Article VII: Of the Church.