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Lessons in the Lutheran Confessions
Concerning Justification, part 33

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2 Corinthians 5:17–21

From the Confessions: The Defense of the Augsburg Confession

Concerning Justification 

It will then become easy to state the minor premise if we know how the remission of sins happens. The adversaries carelessly dispute whether the forgiveness of sins and the infusion of grace are the same change. Being idle men, they do not know what to answer. In the forgiveness of sins, the terrors in the heart about sin and eternal death must be overcome, as Paul testifies, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 15:56-57). In other words, sin terrifies consciences through the law that reveals the wrath of God against sin. Yet we gain the victory through Christ. How? By faith, when we comfort ourselves with confidence in the mercy promised for Christ's sake. Thereby, we prove the minor proposition. The wrath of God cannot be appeased if we set against it our own works, because Christ has been set forth as the propitiator so that for his sake, we may become reconciled to the Father. But Christ is not taken hold of as a mediator except by faith. Therefore, by faith alone we obtain forgiveness of sins, when we comfort our hearts with confidence in the mercy promised for Christ's sake.

Pulling It Together

Søren Kierkegaard wrote in Sickness Unto Death that we acquire a new appreciation of ourselves when the self is viewed “directly in the sight of God.” When we see ourselves as God sees us, everything changes. And it is terrifying. So long as we are our own measure, everything seems right enough; we are barely troubled by our thoughts and actions. The only time we are bothered at all is when we have said or done something wrong and it has become public enough that it brings about uncomfortable consequences. We are then forced to measure ourselves by the views of others.

What a difference there is between our own standards and how others measure us. Still, when the trouble blows over, we fall back into a personal measurement of self. We seem good enough again. However, when God becomes the measure of a person, an absolute measure of our state is understood. “Getting God as a measure” is terrifying. We are backed up to the doorjamb of his holy righteousness and we discover that we do not measure up. The thought that makes sin so dreadfully alarming is that one no longer stands against his or her own measure but is reckoned by the measure of the Almighty.

When one realizes their true measurement against God's standards, eternal death now constantly looms nearby. So, how do we conquer eternal death? How might we even overcome the fear of it? We cannot, except by God's view of us being changed. We cannot, however, change the way he regards us though love and good works. We will never measure up. God's view of us is only altered when we are “in Christ.” When he sees us through the skin, so to speak, of his own Son, we measure up. This is nothing that we do; it has been done for us and the new measure is given to us freely.

This is the only way that we can ever be confident when being viewed “directly in the sight of God.” When we realize that, clothed in Christ as we are (Rom 13:14; Gal 3:27), God sees us as being in his Son, we have a sure and confident hope. So long as we attempt this through our own actions, our own measure, we remain uncertain, lacking confidence in God's mercy and love for us. But when we know that the Father is reconciled by the measure of the righteousness of his Son, then we who are by God's grace in Christ by faith are therefore justified by Christ.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for newness of life by bearing our sin and reconciling us to your Father. Amen. 

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