From the Confessions: The Defense of the Augsburg Confession
Therefore, when speaking about justifying faith, we must keep in mind that these three things concur: the promise, that it is free, and that the merits of Christ are the payment and propitiation. The promise is received by faith since the word "free" excludes our merits, signifying that the benefit is offered only through mercy. The merits of Christ are the payment since there must be a certain propitiation for our sins. Scripture frequently implores mercy, and the holy Fathers often say that we are saved by mercy. Therefore, whenever mercy is mentioned, we must bear in mind that faith is required to receive the promise of mercy. Also, whenever we speak of faith, we want an object to be understood, namely, the promised mercy. For faith justifies and saves, not on the ground that it is a worthy work in itself, but only because it receives the promised mercy.
Pulling It Together
Justifying faith, properly understood, includes these three things. First, that a promise has been made. God has promised to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9) in order to reconcile the world to himself through Christ (2 Cor 5:19). Second, that the promise is freely given. There is no condition attached to God's promise. We need do nothing and can do nothing to make his promise come to pass. Our works will not hasten the fulfillment of the promise. God freely forgives, cleanses, and reconciles to himself without any assistance from us. We do not forgive ourselves, nor do we help God forgive. We do not cleanse ourselves from unrighteousness, nor do we help God do so. We do not propitiate ourselves, and we do not assist God in reconciliation. He is not only quite capable of doing these things, he has promised to do so freely—without our merits. Third, these things are accomplished through Christ's merits. He has paid the price for our transgressions. Because the penalty for sin is death (Rom 6:23), Jesus Christ gave his own life on the cross in payment for our debt. We did not help him pay this debt in any way. Nor can we offer to pay after the tab has been settled. All we can do—or need do—is thankfully receive what has been freely offered and paid for through God's great mercy.
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, thank you for setting me free from sin and death, and for giving me your free gift of eternal life. Amen.
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