Brace yourself…this is a long one for a Friday. Most of the thoughts from the Augsburg Confession have been rather brief. But not this week’s; this week’s is quite lengthy. Maybe that should tell us something about the Lutheran Reformer’s earnest desire to maintain an understanding that Good Works are necessary. But the question is, FOR WHAT? See what the Lutheran Church believes about good works. Enjoy!
Collect of the Week (Proper 18-C)
O merciful Lord, You did not spare Your only Son but delivered Him up for us all. Grant us courage and strength to take up the cross and follow Him, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Article XX (Good Works)
1 Our teachers are falsely accused of forbidding good works. 2 Their published writings on the Ten Commandments, and other similar writings, bear witness that they have usefully taught about all estates and duties of life. They have taught well what is pleasing to God in every station and vocation in life. 3 Before now, preachers taught very little about these things. They encouraged only childish and needless works, such as particular holy days, particular fasts, brotherhoods, pilgrimages, services in honor of the saints, the use of rosaries, monasticism, and such things. 4 Since our adversaries have been admonished about these things, they are now unlearning them. They do not preach these unhelpful works as much as they used to. 5 In the past, there was only stunning silence about faith, but now they are beginning to mention it. 6 They do not teach that we are justified only by works. They join faith and works together, and say that we are justified by faith and works. 7 This teaching is more tolerable than the former one. It can offer more consolation than their old teaching.
8 The doctrine about faith, which ought to be the chief doctrine in the Church, has remained unknown for so long. Everyone has to admit that there was the deepest silence in their sermons concerning the righteousness of faith. They only taught about works in the churches. This is why our teachers teach the churches about faith in this way.
9 First, they teach that our works cannot reconcile God to us or merit forgiveness of sins, grace, and justification. We obtain reconciliation only by faith when we believe that we are received into favor for Christ’s sake. He alone has been set forth as the Mediator and Atoning Sacrifice (1 Timothy 2:5), in order that the Father may be reconciled through Him. 10 Therefore, whoever believes that he merits grace by works despises the merit and grace of Christ [Galatians 5:4]. In so doing, he is seeking a way to God without Christ, by human strength, although Christ Himself said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
11 This doctrine about faith is presented everywhere by Paul, “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
12 If anyone wants to be tricky and say that we have invented a new interpretation of Paul, this entire matter is supported by the testimony of the Fathers. 13 Augustine defends grace and the righteousness of faith in many volumes against the merits of works. 14 Ambrose, in his book The Calling of the Gentiles, and elsewhere, teaches the same thing. In The Calling of the Gentiles he says,
Redemption by Christ’s blood would be worth very little, and God’s mercy would not surpass man’s works, if justification, which is accomplished through grace, were due to prior merits. So justification would not be the free gift from a donor, but the reward due the laborer.
15 Spiritually inexperienced people despise this teaching. However, God-fearing and anxious consciences find by experience that it brings the greatest consolation. Consciences cannot be set at rest through any works, but only by faith, when they take the sure ground that for Christ’s sake they have a gracious God. 16 As Paul teaches, “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God” (Romans 5:1). 17 This whole doctrine must be related to the conflict of the terrified conscience. It cannot be understood apart from that conflict. 18 Therefore, inexperienced and irreverent people have poor judgment in this matter because they dream that Christian righteousness is nothing but civil and philosophical righteousness.
19 Until now consciences were plagued with the doctrine of works. They did not hear consolation from the Gospel. 20 Some people were driven by conscience into the desert and into monasteries, hoping to merit grace by a monastic life. 21 Some people came up with other works to merit grace and make satisfaction for sins. 22 That is why the need was so great for teaching and renewing the doctrine of faith in Christ, so that anxious consciences would not be without consolation but would know that grace, forgiveness of sins, and justification are received by faith in Christ.
23 People are also warned that the term faith does not mean simply a knowledge of a history, such as the ungodly and devil have [James 2:19]. Rather, it means a faith that believes, not merely the history, but also the effect of the history. In other words, it believes this article: the forgiveness of sins. We have grace, righteousness, and forgiveness of sins through Christ.
24 The person who knows that he has a Father who is gracious to him through Christ truly knows God [John 14:7]. He also knows that God cares for him [1 Peter 5:7], and he calls upon God [Romans 10:13]. In a word, he is not without God, as are the heathen. 25 For devils and the ungodly are not able to believe this article: the forgiveness of sins. Hence, they hate God as an enemy [Romans 8:7] and do not call Him [Romans 3:11–12] and expect no good from Him. 26 Augustine also warns his readers about the word faith and teaches that the term is used in the Scriptures, not for the knowledge that is in the ungodly, but for the confidence that consoles and encourages the terrified mind.
27 Furthermore, we teach that it is necessary to do good works. This does not mean that we merit grace by doing good works, but because it is God’s will [Ephesians 2:10]. 28 It is only by faith, and nothing else, that forgiveness of sins is apprehended. 29 The Holy Spirit is received through faith, hearts are renewed and given new affections, and then they are able to bring forth good works. 30 Ambrose says: “Faith is the mother of a good will and doing what is right.” 31 Without the Holy Spirit people are full of ungodly desires. They are too weak to do works that are good in God’s sight [John 15:5]. 32 Besides, they are in the power of the devil, who pushes human beings into various sins, ungodly opinions, and open crimes. 33 We see this in the philosophers, who, although they tried to live an honest life could not succeed, but were defiled with many open crimes. 34 Such is human weakness, without faith and without the Holy Spirit, when governed only by human strength.
35 Therefore, it is easy to see that this doctrine is not to be accused of banning good works. Instead, it is to be commended all the more because it shows how we are enabled to do good works. 36 For without faith, human nature cannot, in any way, do the works of the First or Second Commandment [1 Corinthians 2:14]. 37 Without faith, human nature does not call upon God, nor expect anything from Him, nor bear the cross [Matthew 16:24]. Instead, human nature seeks and trusts in human help. 38 So when there is no faith and trust in God, all kinds of lusts and human intentions rule in the heart [Genesis 6:5]. 39 This is why Christ says, “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). That is why the Church sings: “Lacking Your divine favor, there is nothing in man. 40 Nothing in him is harmless.” (Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. Edited by Paul Timothy McCain. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005, S. 42).
This is another key article in the Augsburg Confession. Article XX offers more details about faith and works than what was previously written. Lutherans insist on the biblical truth that our good works do not save us. So they are sometimes accused of opposing good works. This article sets forth the Bible’s clear teaching that good works are the fruit of faith, not the cause of our salvation. The Lutheran hymn “Salvation unto Us Has Come” offers a short, powerful summary of these essential Gospel truths:
Faith clings to Jesus’ cross alone
And rests in Him unceasing;
And by its fruits true faith is known,
with love and hope increasing.
For faith alone can justify;
Works serve our neighbor and supply
The proof that faith is living. (Paul Speratus, 1484–1531; tr. The Lutheran Hymnal, 1941, alt.)
Rome continues to insist that people are saved by God’s grace, but not through faith alone. This teaching dangerously encourages people to believe they are able, even in some small way, to contribute toward their salvation. This diverts their focus from Christ and His merits to their own works. It also leads to despair, doubt, and uncertainty when people come to realize the enormity of their sin and wonder if in fact they have done “enough” to merit or deserve God’s favor. After setting forth the proper biblical distinction between faith and good works, the Augsburg Confession asserts very clearly that our good works are necessary, not to merit grace, but because this is God’s will for our lives. God’s gift of saving faith enables us to do good works. (See also Ap XX; SA III XIII; FC Ep IV and SD IV.) (Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. Edited by Paul Timothy McCain. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005, S. 41).
Almighty, everlasting God, for our many sins we justly deserve eternal condemnation. In Your mercy You sent Your dear Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who won for us forgiveness of sins and everlasting salvation. Grant us a true confession that, dead to sin, we may be raised up by Your life-giving absolution. Grant us Your Holy Spirit that we may be ever watchful and live true and godly lives in Your service; through Jesus Christ, our Lord (LSB, collect #153).
Daily Prayer (For Friday)
We pray…for the preaching of the holy cross of our Lord Jesus Christ and for the spread of His knowledge throughout the whole world; for the persecuted and oppressed; for the sick and dying.