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Lessons in the Lutheran Confessions
Concerning Justification, part 10

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1 John 1:8–9

From the Confessions: The Defense of the Augsburg Confession

Concerning Justification 

So it is false that we earn forgiveness of sins by our works.

Pulling It Together

There is an earthly righteousness that comes from human work and ability. Keeping the commandments, being a good citizen, exercising control over what is said, and minding one's own affairs with diligence and humility are examples of this kind of righteousness. The world would be a far better place if we all worked diligently at this earthly righteousness. Yet keeping the commandments, however perfectly, does not earn one anything but a fuller enjoyment of life (Lev 18:5). Applying the commandments to every part of life will only make for a blessed life here on earth. Earthly righteousness will never earn or merit the forgiveness of sins. Fine and decent people remain troubled about their standing before God because they know in their hearts that they are sinners. Even if they smiled at everyone and had a polite greeting, they know that they thought poorly of some. Even if they gave regularly to the local food pantry, they know that there was always more they could have done. And this is just the point. How can we ever know if we have done enough good?

So, we try to be more religious, hoping that the nagging accusations in our consciences will go away. We pile on more works, only now they are religious acts. These too, like other earthly kinds of righteousness, are fine and add to the enjoyment of life. But they will not earn the forgiveness of sins. The person who has 40 years of perfect attendance at Sunday School and worship, is still condemned by the sins he has committed. He will find no forgiveness of sins through his perfect attendance, even if he has a certificate and lapel pin to display for his lifetime effort. Imagine someone actually saying to God, “But, Lord! Lord! I have a shiny pin so I should enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 7:21-23).

There is, however, another kind of righteousness. It is not an earthly righteousness. This righteousness is heavenly and full of grace and forgiveness. It does not come from our hard work or the keeping of the commandments. Heavenly righteousness is the free gift and work of God. So, you should understand by now that even if you have an external, earthly righteousness, you must also have a righteousness that is higher and internal. Only the righteousness that is given by the work of God in Christ will free you from sin and an evil, accusing, nagging conscience. Only the righteousness of Christ graciously given to you will allow you peace of mind and lead you out of death into eternal life.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for the sweet peace and fellowship of your Spirit that I enjoy because of your grace. Amen. 

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The Sola Confirmation Series, written by the Rev. Steven E. King, is work-book style Confirmation curriculum. It is designed to serve as a simple and practical resource for teaching the biblical Word of God according to the traditional pattern of Martin Luther’s Small Catechism.  Each book in the series can be used as the basis for a “come as you are” small group Bible study, as a student book for home school or independent study programs, or as a classroom tool and homework resource as part of an existing confirmation program. 

The Ten Commandments book is a ten-week unit, which includes one session on each of the Commandments. The Scripture focus in the Ten Commandment series is on Moses and the Exodus Cycle, with Bible Study lessons taken primarily from the Pentateuch.

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