From the Confessions: The Defense of the Augsburg Confession
Paul discusses this topic, especially in the Epistle to the Romans, declaring that when we believe that God is reconciled to us for Christ's sake that we are justified freely by faith. In the third chapter of Romans he maintains this proposition that contains the main point of the entire discussion: “For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law” (Rom 3:28). The adversaries interpret this as referring to Levitical ceremonies. However, Paul speaks not only of the ceremonies, but of the whole law. For he quotes afterward from the Decalogue: “You shall not covet” (Rom 7:7). If moral works could earn the forgiveness of sins and justification, there would also be no need for Christ and the promise—and all that Paul says about the promise would be overthrown. He would also have been wrong in writing this to the Ephesians: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God” (Eph 2:8). Similarly, Paul refers to Abraham and David (Rom 4:1, 6) who had the command of God concerning circumcision. Therefore, if any works justified, these works must have since it was commanded. Nevertheless, Augustine teaches correctly and at length in Of the Spirit and Letter that Paul speaks of the entire law. He states, “These matters, therefore having been considered and treated, according to the ability that the Lord has thought worthy to give us, we infer that man is not justified by the precepts of a good life, but by faith in Jesus Christ.”
Pulling It Together: The key phraseology of Paul is “through faith” or “by faith.” He mentions it 31 times. Not only Paul though, since James and Peter each use the phrase once, and the writer of Hebrews uses it 24 times. It is a critically important doctrine of the New Testament, as well as the Old Testament. Justification by faith, or forgiveness of sins through faith is not a new topic but it is one that is so hard to believe that much space, many writers, and even more years have been devoted to the topic. One’s principles and virtues and religious practices do not justify. Only faith in Jesus Christ justifies sinners. We should be thankful, since because of this oft-mentioned phrase we know that we are freely justified through faith or by faith in Jesus Christ. Otherwise, we would be lost, trying to make it on our own merits and abilities. There are not enough years to justify the likes of sinners like us. Only Christ will do.
Prayer: Gracious Redeemer, thank you for the gift of your salvation. Amen.
The newest volume in the series, "Old Places, New Faces," The General Epistles offers a series of 12 Bible studies based on Hebrews, James, I & II Peter, I, II, & III John, and Jude. The geographical locations of Biblical characters can symbolically refer to places we find ourselves with respect to our faith. As we become more acquainted with our spiritual geography, we will better discern where God would have us go or what changes we need to make in order to serve Him better.