From the Confessions: The Defense of the Augsburg Confession
Concerning Love and the Fulfilling of the Law
The adversaries treat the matter preposterously, citing this one passage in which Paul teaches about fruits. Yet they omit very many other passages in which he discusses the mode of justification in a regular order. Besides, they always add a correction to the other passages that deal with faith, namely, that they ought to be understood as applying to fides formata. They add no correction that there is also need of the faith that understands we are accounted righteous for the sake of Christ as propitiator. As a result, they exclude Christ from justification and teach only a righteousness of the law. So, let us return to Paul.
No one can infer anything more from this text than that love is necessary. This we confess. Therefore, not to commit theft is also necessary. But this reasoning will not be correct if someone would desire to frame an argument like this: "Not to commit theft is necessary. Therefore, not to commit theft justifies." Justification is the approval of the entire person, not of a certain work. Therefore, this passage from Paul is not against justification by faith, so long as the adversaries do not add to it whatever their imaginations please. For he says, "I am nothing," not that love justifies. He declares that without faith, love is extinguished, however great it may have been. He does not say that love overcomes the terrors of sin and of death, that we can set our love against the wrath and judgment of God, that our love satisfies God's law, that without Christ as propitiator we have access to God because of our love, that by our love we receive the promised forgiveness of sins. Paul says nothing like this. He does not, therefore, think that love justifies, because we are justified only when we apprehend Christ as propitiator, and believe that for Christ's sake God is reconciled to us. Justification should not even be dreamed of without Christ as propitiator.
Pulling It Together: Faith is not formed by love or other good works. That is backwards thinking and contrary to Scripture. Rather, love is formed by faith. Faith in Christ compels us to love and to obey God. Therefore, faith also urges us to keep the other commandments, such as, “You shall not steal” (Exod 20:15). Yet there are people who do not steal, though they have no faith in Christ. Are they justified to God because they do not steal? No; religious and civil works do not justify. Only faith in Christ reconciles God by justifying sinners. Without faith, good deeds are of no account with God since works do not justify. That is Christ’s function, not ours. Therefore, once justified through faith, good works necessarily follow but they do not make payment for our sins or remove the terrors of sin and death. We should never imagine anything but Christ Jesus as the only satisfaction and payment for our sins.
Prayer: Lord, have mercy upon me, a sinner. Amen.
In Part 2 of Sola Scriptura, "The Norm of Faith" study shows how an active view of the Word informs and guides our understanding of what Scripture says. In other words, it will talk about what the Bible means based on what it does. In terms of how we come to articulate our faith and our doctrinal teachings, to speak of Scripture as the "norm" of faith means that it is the standard against which our theology and proclamation are measured.