Justified by Faith
Dear fellow heirs of the Reformation:
One of the most important documents of our Christian and Lutheran faith dates back 489 years to 1530—The Augsburg Confession. Of that confession containing 28 articles, the most important is Article IV, which reads as follows:
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, 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. For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteous, as Paul says in Romans 3.
Now this is a most beautiful confession of faith, but it is a bit theological. My purpose this morning is to explain this article and our text in simple terms that anyone can understand and be blessed by.
Let’s start where Paul starts with the book of Romans—with sin. This past Wed. Bob Lenz spoke at the Middle School in New Ulm and I know that several of us heard him. In the evening program, Bob talked about the problem of sin. One girl in the audience turned to a friend and asked, “What is sin?” Her friend replied, “Sin is when you do something really bad.”
But there is more to it. God’s holy Law, summarized in the Commandments, specifies what we are to do and what we are not to do. The problem is not with God’s Law, which is holy, righteous, and good. The problem is with my sinful heart that desires to do contrary to what God commands and desires.
Sin is rebelling against what God has said. Sin is being wrapped up in myself and not caring about others. Sin is breaking God’s laws. Sin is failing to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. Sin is failing to love others as myself. Sin is anything that comes between God and me. And the worst sin—the very worst of all sins—is to reject the One that God sent to be our Savior. Those who persist in that sin of unbelief are condemned to an eternity apart from God in a place Jesus called hell. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”, our text plainly tells us in verse 23.
Now please know that God is just (v. 26). This means that He must punish sin. There are two ways to do this. One is to punish each sinner for the many sins they have committed. Another way—the one God chose—was to punish His own Son for the sins of the world. In this way, God was both just and the One who justifies those who believe and have faith in Jesus.
But that’s another big word: justify. What does this mean? It means to declare someone righteous; free from blame; to declare them guiltless. Sometimes people try to justify themselves, but this does not work before God. Someone has noted that justified means that God looks at me “just as if I’d never sinned.” That is because God sees me in Christ, clean and perfect.
And what about that big word righteous or righteousness? What does this mean? To be righteous means to have God’s approval; to be in the right with God.
God declares sinners righteous for Christ’s sake. This is a key teaching of the faith. God can do this because Christ took our place under God’s Law and He took our place on the cross. This was an act of pure grace on God’s part. We didn’t and we don’t deserve or earn it—NO! It is His gift. GRACE—”God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense”.
Our text says in verses 24 & 25: We “are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith.”
Now there’s a big and important word that needs a bit of explanation—propitiation. The NIV puts it this way: “sacrifice of atonement.” A bit of background is necessary to understand and appreciate this fully. Leviticus 16 relates the Old Testament feast known as Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. This it was celebrated October 9th. On this day, the high priest would take the blood of a goat and sprinkle it on the mercy seat, which was the cover of the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies. In this way, atonement was symbolically made for the sins of the people and God’s wrath against sin would be turned away. So propitiate means to turn away someone’s wrath or anger—in this case, God’s. God poured out His wrath on Jesus, so that He could pour out His love on us. To propitiate means to cause to be favorably inclined, to regain someone’s good will.
We are not saved by our works or satisfactions. We are saved by God’s grace that we receive by faith. So what is faith? Christian faith is not just agreeing that something may be so. It is not just historical knowledge. It is more than head knowledge. Faith, as Luther noted, “is a living, busy, active, powerful thing.” It is a firm confidence in the grace and promises of God. Faith is like a hand that receives God’s gifts in Christ and holds firmly on to them. (Like our old Reformation banner.)
We are saved by God’s grace through faith, which the Holy Spirit works in us through the Word of God. But for what?
First, for eternal life. Jesus earned this for us by His death and resurrection. He has gone to prepare a place for us in heaven. As we trust in Him, we know that “Heaven is our home.” As a member of God’s family, I belong to Him and belong with Him eternally. When we properly teach and believe the doctrine of “Justification by Grace Through Faith” we can be and are assured of eternal life.
But we are also saved for life here and now. A life lived by grace to the glory of God. A life of faith marked by love shown to others. A life of faith that produces good works. Yes, Lutherans believe that good works are necessary as a fruit or expression of living faith. Faith without works is dead.
The catechism defines a good work as “Everything a child of God does, thinks, or speaks in faith according to the Ten Commandments, for the glory of God and for the benefit of his or her neighbor.”
Children of God, we are called to live a life of faith that eagerly and earnestly shares the gospel—the good news of God’s love and salvation—with many others. A life of faith that seeks to keep the commands of God. A life of faith that shines brightly amidst the darkness of this dying world. A life of faith in our God of grace that brings us peace amidst the troubles of this world, and sure comfort at the hour of our death. What a blessed heritage we have in The Reformation!
Reread Article IV of the Augsburg confession.
When all is said and done, what more shall we say? Soli Deo Gloria. Glory to God who has saved us by His grace! Amen!