Article IV on Justification
Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God [coram Deo] by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake [propter Christum], through faith [per fidem], when they believe [so wir glauben; cum credunt] that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes [imputat; zurechnen] for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4.
This is the central and chief article (Hauptartikel) of the faith. Lutheran theology is concentric, centered on the objective, saving work of Christ in justifying the sinner in His death. Rightly this article is often described as the “article upon which the church stands or falls.” Without the hub, the wheel cannot turn properly. Our brother McCain pointed me to the following quote from Apology IV:
“But since in this controversy the chief topic of Christian doctrine is treated, which, understood aright, illumines and amplifies the honor of Christ [which is of especial service for the clear, correct understanding of the entire Holy Scriptures, and alone shows the way to the unspeakable treasure and right knowledge of Christ, and alone opens the door to the entire Bible], and brings necessary and most abundant consolation to devout consciences, we ask His Imperial Majesty to hear us with forbearance in regard to matters of such importance.”
At issue is the justification of the sinner before God [coram Deo]. This is not about our justification before men [coram hominibus], which has to do with civic righteousness, but the righteousness that avails before a righteous God. The 4th article builds on what has been confessed before. Because man is utterly incapable of righteousness before God due to original sin (AC II), and because the Son of God, the incarnate Word, has offered His perfect life as an atoning sacrifice for the sin of the world (AC III), righteousness before God cannot be achieved by man but must be imputed externally by grace through faith for Christ’s sake. For this reason, justification before God must necessarily exclude any strength, merits, or works on man’s part.
“Faith” is not an active work, rather it is a passive trust in the completed work of Christ, namely that we are received into God’s favor and our sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, whose death “made satisfaction” (satisfecit) for our sins.
This article rests on key passages from Romans which form the central theme of Paul’s doctrine, that the law cannot justify the sinner (Rom 3:20), that there is a righteousness apart from the law which comes through faith in Christ Jesus. “For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law” (Rom 3:28). Citing Abraham, St. Paul concludes: “But the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him that raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” (Rom 4:23-25),
As Melanchthon notes in the Apology, the proper distinction of the Law and the Gospel, of our works and Christ’s work, are at the heart of this central teaching. Clearly the Law and our works must be rigorously excluded from the article of justification, lest the merits and sufferings of Christ be diminished. The concept of “imputation” ensures that the Christian’s righteousness before God remains Christ’s righteousness, something outside of ourselves (extra nos) to which faith objectively clings. This also governs the Lutheran understanding of the Christian being simul justus et peccator. In Christ through faith, the believer is totally justified; in himself he remains total sinner by virtue of original sin, which is not taken away but covered by forgiveness. The justification of the sinner before God in Christ is always whole and entire.
Articles IV, V, and VI together form a cohesive whole. Melanchthon treats them as a unit in Apology IV. (There is no Apology V or VI.) The article of justification and its reception through faith flows into a discussion of the ministry of the Word and Sacrament which provides the objective Gospel that creates faith and to which faith clings, which give rise to the good works of love that flow freely from faith.
Saturday, February 10, 2007
Article IV on Justification
Posted by WM Cwirla at 4:17 PM