From the Confessions: The Defense of the Augsburg Confession
So as not to pass by Christ altogether, the adversaries require a knowledge of the history of Christ, and attribute him with giving us, as they say, prima gratia, "first grace," which they understand as a habit that disposes us to more readily love God. Yet what they ascribe to this habit is of little importance because they imagine that the acts of the will are of the same kind before and after this habit. They imagine that the will can love God but that this habit stimulates it to do so more cheerfully. They ask us to first merit this habit by preceding merits; then they tell us to earn an increase of this habit and eternal life through works of the law. Hence they bury Christ, so that men do not use Christ as as a mediator and believe that because of him they freely receive remission of sins and reconciliation. Rather, they dream that by their own fulfillment of the law they merit the remission of sins and are accounted righteous before God. Nevertheless, the law is never satisfied, since reason does nothing except certain civilized acts, while neither fearing God, nor truly believing that he cares. Although they speak of this habit, without the righteousness of faith, people cannot love God or even understood what the love of God is.
Pulling It Together: The Reformers were answering challenges from a church that really believed it was their own works that earned them eternal life. Take that in for a moment. It is a little difficult to conceive of today, as we have benefited for five centuries from the Lutheran Confession. But in the early sixteenth century, the church believed that knowing the story of Jesus was only the beginning of the Christian religion. Somehow, knowing about him gave one the disposition to please God. This adjustment of human nature, it was taught, would allow people to perform increasing acts of piety and devotion that would earn them favor, forgiveness, and righteousness with God. In the meanwhile, they do not avail themselves of Christ's merits, for he was only the beginning of religion. They have become the next step in their supposed salvation. All of this happens, they imagine, by virtue of their own religious works. All the while, they fail to keep the first commandment. For without the righteousness given by God through faith, people will never love him with their whole heart. Evidence of this is the anxiety they will feel the next time they sin. “What do I need to do to fix my sin?” they will worry, not knowing that their sin has already been fixed—and not by any work of their own.
Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for knowing me and leading me in the everlasting way. Amen.
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