Concord #21: Good Works (part 2)

"Concord" is a weekly study of the Lutheran Confessions, where we will take up a topic from the Book of Concord and reflect on what we believe, teach, and confess in the Lutheran Church. The purpose of this series is to deepen readers' knowledge and appreciation for the confessions of the Lutheran Church, and to unite them "with one heart" to confess the teachings of Holy Scripture.

Good Works (part 2)

Last week we began a discussion of good works according to the twentieth article of the Augsburg Confession. Preachers of grace are often accused of neglecting the Law, and that was the case when the Lutheran reformers began to preach the Gospel. In answer to the charge that they had eliminated the Law from their teaching, they responded that their writings included much about the Ten Commandments and what God expects of people. It’s not that the Lutheran Church eliminates the Law in favor of the Gospel, it’s that we treat the Law in a very particular way. And this has everything to do with good works.

“First, that our works cannot reconcile God or merit forgiveness of sins, grace, and justification, but that we obtain this only by faith when we believe that we are received into favor for Christ's sake, who alone has been set forth the Mediator and Propitiation, 1 Tim. 2:5, in order that the Father may be reconciled through Him. Whoever, therefore, trusts that by works he merits grace, despises the merit and grace of Christ, and seeks a way to God without Christ, by human strength, although Christ has said of Himself: I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. John 14:6. This doctrine concerning faith is everywhere treated by Paul, Eph. 2:8: By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of your selves; it is the gift of God, not of works, etc.” (Augsburg Confession XX.9-11).

At the outset, it is necessary to distinguish works from faith. Works have no place at all before God as means to merit His favor. With respect to forgiveness and salvation, works are completely excluded. Only faith counts, and it counts because of Christ.

This is the teaching not only of the Scripture, but of the teachers of the Church. “And lest any one should craftily say that a new interpretation of Paul has been devised by us, this entire matter is supported by the testimonies of the Fathers. For Augustine, in many volumes, defends grace and the righteousness of faith, over against the merits of works. And Ambrose, in his De Vocatione Gentium, and elsewhere, teaches to like effect. For in his De Vocatione Gentium he says as follows: Redemption by the blood of Christ would become of little value, neither would the preeminence of man's works be superseded by the mercy of God, if justification, which is wrought through grace, were due to the merits going before, so as to be, not the free gift of a donor, but the reward due to the laborer” (Augsburg Confession XX.12-14).

If we say that our works count for something before God, we diminish the works of Christ—His innocent life, His suffering and death—and we rob Christ of His glory. We must never consider God’s grace as a reward for our works and labors, but as a gift freely given out of His love. Before God, our works have no standing. It is only faith in Christ. And more on this faith next time.

You can read the Book of Concord at http://www.bookofconcord.org

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in New Haven, MO.

Created: June 14th, 2017