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Lessons in the Lutheran Confessions
Concerning Love and the Fulfilling of the Law part 11

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Matthew 5:17–20

From the Confessions: The Defense of the Augsburg Confession

Concerning Love and the Fulfilling of the Law 

We are debating about a great subject that concerns the honor of Christ and where god-fearing minds may seek a sure and firm consolation—whether confidence is to be placed in Christ or in our works. Now, if trust is placed in our works, the honor of mediator and propitiator is appropriated from Christ. Yet in God's judgment, we will discover that such confidence was vain, and then consciences will rush into despair. If the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation do not occur freely for Christ's sake, but instead because of our love, no one will have forgiveness of sins unless he has fulfilled the entire law. For the law does not justify as long as it can accuse us. Justification is reconciliation for Christ's sake. Therefore it is clear that we are justified by faith because it is very certain that by faith alone the forgiveness of sins is received.

Pulling It Together

Take note of this sentence: “For the law does not justify as long as it can accuse us.” The purpose of the law is to teach people to live as God wills and, when they deviate, to accuse them of breaking the law. The law still accuses and condemns, as it should. Indeed, it will condemn everyone, for there is no one who can fulfill the law by keeping it perfectly—except Jesus. He kept the law and even fulfilled its penalty of death when he took upon himself the sins of the world (1Pet 2:24). So the law teaches us and accuses us but also compels us to rely upon the righteousness of Christ instead of our own. For everyone quickly understands that they cannot keep the whole law. We have lied, coveted, and dishonored our parents. We do not love God with our whole heart and soul and mind and strength. Breaking even one of these commandments just one time is to have failed to fulfill the whole law (James 2:10). At this point, the law accuses us of sin and condemns us with the penalty of death (Rom 6:23).

This is why we need a propitiator and mediator, someone who has fulfilled the law for us and stands before the Eternal Judge to show that the penalty for our sin has been paid. We must believe Jesus alone is this satisfaction for our sin. If we appropriate this function to ourselves, we are altogether lost and condemned—no matter how hard we work at being good and religious.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me to see and confess my sin through your law, but also to see you, my Savior. Amen. 

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