Oktoberfest has concluded, and the Festival of the Reformation is fast approaching.
The Prophet Habakkuk writes, "The righteous person will live by his or her faith" (Habakkuk 2.4). This is Article 4 in the Augsburg Confession, and it is the chief article of the Church.
A righteous person is someone whom God has forgiven and has given the promise of eternal life. A person is not righteous on account of the law. Grace will not be given on account of our good works (Apology 4.29 [36-38]; BKS 165). Believing that righteousness before God is based on the law and our good works is the false doctrine of works-righteousness (the belief that we must do something to be made righteous before God’s eyes).
The Apostle Paul sweeps all ideas of works-righteousness away when he declares that the law brings wrath, for the law always accuses and terrifies our consciences (Apology 4.39 [41-42, 44-45]; BKS 167). We cannot be set free from sin and be justified through the law (Apology 4.40 [1-3]; BKS 168). Instead, we have been given the promise of the forgiveness of sins and justification on account of Christ (Apology 4.40 [3-5]; BKS 168) which is the true and comforting declaration that we are liberated from our sins and are now justified through grace.
Justification is a synonymn of righteousness. Justification is the forensic (pertaining to the law) declaration that God forgives our sins. Christ, therefore, is the one who justifies us. He was given for us in order to make satisfaction for the sins of the world, and He has been appointed as the one who reconciles God’s differences with us (mediator) and the one who atones for our sins by sacrificing Himself (propitiator) (Apology 4.40 [5-7]; BKS 168). Jesus atones for us by taking all of our sins upon Himself, and thereby suffers the wrath of God for those sins, dies, and rises again.
Justification has three elements: the promise that God forgives our sins; this promise is free (i.e. by grace); and Christ’s blood and merit is the treasure by which our sins are paid (Apology 4.53 [53-55, 1-3]; BKS 171-2). Therefore we are not justified by our own merits, but we are justified by faith alone, justification being understood as the making of a righteous person out of an unrighteous one, i.e. regeneration (Apology 4.78 [39-43]; BKS 175).
Faith is that we trust in the mercy promised in Christ (Apology 4.45 [2-3]; BKS 169). Faith doesn’t justify or save because it is a worthy work in and of itself (i.e. something that we do), but only because faith receives the promised mercy as a gift which is given from the rich treasure (Apology 4.56 [21-23]; BKS 171). Faith consoles hearts in the midst of the fear of God’s wrath, receives the forgiveness of sins, justifies us, and makes alive (Apology 4.63 [53-56]; BKS 172). We obtain the forgiveness of sins only by faith in Christ, not through love, nor on account of love or works, although love follows faith (Apology 4.76-78 [31-38]; BKS 175).
We have been saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2.8)!
Note: BKS (Bekenntnisschriften: the Lutheran Confessions in German)