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Lessons in the Lutheran Confessions
Concerning Justification, part 4

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1 Corinthians 3:18–23

From the Confessions: The Defense of the Augsburg Confession

Concerning Justification 

Here, having followed the philosophers, the scholastics teach only a righteousness of reason, namely civil works, and furthermore, concoct that reason without the Holy Spirit is able to love God above all things. So long as the human mind is at ease and does not feel the wrath or judgment of God, it can imagine that it wants to love God and that it wishes to do good for God's sake. In this manner, the scholastics teach that people merit the remission of sins by doing what is in them, that is, when reason grieves over sin, elicits an act of love to God, or wishes to do good. Since this opinion flatters people, it has produced and multiplied many services in the Church like monastic vows and abuses of the mass. With this opinion, in the course of time, one act of worship or observance and another has been devised. In order that they might nourish and increase confidence in such works, they have affirmed that God necessarily gives grace to those doing these works, not by the necessity of constraint but of immutability.

Pulling It Together

The whole problem of the scholastics, as it is with the world's philosophers, is that they believed that people are capable of being good. As a result, people who think this way, lull themselves into a state of calm, imagining that everything will be fine so long as they are good enough or religious enough or somehow balance the books against their debt of sin. But people are not good. Yes, it pains us to hear it but it is helpful to know it or to be reminded. Luther teaches that God “does not regard or consider anything in us as good. And in this way we are already good as long as we recognize nothing as good except God’s good and our own good as evil, for he who is wise in this way with God is truly a wise and good man. For he knows that nothing is good outside of God and that in God everything is good. As Christ says: 'The kingdom of God is within you' (Luke 17:21). It is as if He were saying: 'Outside of you is exile. Outside of you is everything which is seen and touched, but within you is everything which is believed only by faith'” (Luther's Works, Vol. 25, p. 383). Do you see that it is only God at work within you that brings about any real good in your life? And if it is God who is doing it, it is not you who does these good works, but instead the Spirit who is at work within you. How then would we imagine that we must do good works before God would offer us his grace? If there is anything immutable about God, it is that he offers his grace freely to all (Titus 2:11).

Prayer: Holy Spirit, work in me your will today. Amen. 

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