From the Confessions: The Defense of the Augsburg Confession
Since people cannot fulfill the law of God by their own strength, and all are under sin, subject to eternal wrath and death, they cannot be freed by the law from sin and be justified. Yet the promise of the remission of sins and of justification has been given us for Christ's sake, who was given for us in order that he might make satisfaction for the sins of the world, having been appointed as mediator and propitiator. This promise is not dependent on our merits but freely offers the remission of sins and justification as Paul says, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace” (Rom 11:6). And elsewhere, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law” (Rom 3:21). In other words, the remission of sins is freely given. Nor does reconciliation depend upon our merits. If the forgiveness of sins depended upon our merits, and reconciliation were from the law, it would be useless. Since we cannot fulfill the law, it would also follow that we would never obtain the promise of reconciliation. Thus Paul reasons, “If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void” (Rom 4:14). For if the promise required the condition of our merits and the law that we never fulfill, it would follow that the promise would be useless.
Pulling It Together: Circumcision was a seal or sign of Abraham's faith in God's promise. It was not a requirement for earning God's grace. Rather, it was a sign that Abraham believed what God promised. Even so, the promise of God's complete forgiveness is for those who believe his promise, not for those who have been circumcised or have in any other way become virtuous enough to receive God's gift. His priceless gift is freely given because of what his Son accomplished—not because of our achievements. First, we cannot achieve righteousness by keeping the law. It simply is not possible, as has been demonstrated earlier. Peter came to the same conclusion (Acts 15:10). Second, if God's grace is freely given, how is it that some say it must be earned, that people must somehow merit God's forgiveness? If one has to earn God's grace through works, then his grace is not grace at all. Furthermore, since we cannot even love God with our whole heart and soul and mind and strength (Mark 12:30), we cannot keep the law at all. For whoever thinks he has kept the law but has failed in even one part of it, is guilty of breaking all of the law (James 2:10). So if meriting God's favor is based on our works, one easily sees that a promise of grace is altogether useless, since no one would ever be the recipient of that promise.
Prayer: Thank you, Father, for giving me your grace in spite of myself. Amen.
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