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From the Confessions: The Defense of the Augsburg Confession
Concerning Love and the Fulfilling of the Law
It is clearly a juvenile fallacy to interpret “unprofitable servant” as meaning that works are worthless to God but are profitable to us. Christ is speaking of a profit that would make God a debtor of grace to us, though it is out of place here to discuss what is profitable or unprofitable. “Unprofitable” servants means “insufficient,” because no one fears, loves, and trusts God as much as he ought. But let us be done with these cold quibbles of the adversaries which sound minds will easily judge when they are brought to the light. They think they have found a flaw in words that are very plain and clear. But everyone can see that this passage condemns confidence in our own works.
Pulling It Together
Our works earn us nothing. This is a clear teaching, made even clearer by understanding that the word translated as “servant” in so many English translations, literally means “slave.” This is humanity’s condition; we are not mere servants, in today’s understanding of someone who is paid for their service. We are indentured servants, slaves to sin and death, and we can never earn our freedom. No matter how much work we do, that labor is simply what is demanded of a slave. The slave’s work does not make the master indebted to the slave.
Either the master sets us free—and death and the devil are not going to do that—or someone pays our debt and sets free. This is precisely what Christ has done for us. He has paid our debt and liberated us, declaring, “No longer do I call you slaves” (John 15:15 NASB). If we are no longer indentured, to whom do we owe the debt? Indeed, if there is no longer a debt to be repaid, since Christ has paid it (Col 2:14), why would we even imagine a debt is to be requited? We not only condemn confidence in works, the whole notion of paying an already-paid debt is unreasonable.
Prayer: Thank you, God, for paying my sin debt, nailing it to the cross of Christ. Amen.
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