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Lessons in the Lutheran Confessions
Concerning Justification, part 23

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Romans 4:15–16

From the Confessions: The Defense of the Augsburg Confession

Concerning Justification 

Faith does not merely acknowledge the history but assents to the promise. Paul plainly declares this when he says, “That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed” (Rom 4:16). For he understands that the promise cannot be received except by faith. This is why he places them together as things that belong to one another, connecting promise and faith. It is easy to determine what faith is if we consider this article in the Creed: “the forgiveness of sins.” So it is not enough to believe that Christ was born, suffered, and was raised again unless we also add the article that is the purpose of the story: “the forgiveness of sins.” To this article the rest must be related, namely, that because of Christ and not because of our merits, forgiveness of sins is given to us. Why was there a need for Christ to be offered for our sins if we could earn satisfaction for our sins through our own merits?

Pulling It Together

If a promise is made, faith—not work—is required. This is true in human relations and it is no less true in the relationship between the human and the divine. If I promise my children that we will go on vacation later in the year, they must hope with faith in me until it comes to pass. More to the point, if I promise that I love them and will not hold faults over their heads and use those mistakes against them in the future, even if they remember their mistakes, they must have faith that their father will keep his word. Indeed, they would never entertain such faith unless I had made that promise.

Just so, faith is required of us because God has made us a promise. He has pledged to forgive us all our sins because Christ satisfied the law's penalty for our trespasses. God has promised to forgive us our debts because his Son paid the price through the cross. Because he promised, faith is required; we must believe what he promised. Nor is it of any use to simply know the story of how God has accomplished this in Christ. We must have faith in his promise.

Imagine my children reminiscing after their father is in the grave. One child might say, “Remember that story about Dad promising to take us to the beach those summers? You know what I discovered? He and Mom really did go. I wish we had actually believed him so we could have gone too.” Then imagine the other child saying, “I wish we hadn't spent all of our summers working to earn money for vacations when we could have enjoyed the ones they wanted to give us.”

Prayer: I believe, Lord. Help my unbelief. Amen.

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