From the Confessions: The Defense of the Augsburg Confession
Concerning Love and the Fulfilling of the Law
It is easy for a Christian to appraise each mode because both modes exclude Christ and are therefore to be rejected. The first teaches that our works are a satisfaction for sin, so the impiety is obvious. The second contains much that is injurious. It does not teach us to trust in Christ when we are born again. It does not teach that justification is the forgiveness of sins. It does not teach that we attain the forgiveness of sins before we love, but falsely expresses that we rouse in ourselves the act of love so that we merit forgiveness of sins. Nor does it teach that we overcome the terrors of sin and death by faith in Christ. It falsely claims that people come to God by their own fulfilling of the law, without Christ as propitiator. Finally, it imagines that this keeping of the law without Christ as propitiator is a righteousness worthy of grace and eternal life, though even in saints only a weak and feeble fulfilling of the law occurs.
Pulling It Together: The word “atonement” translated in Romans 5:11 in the Geneva and King James versions is abandoned in subsequent New Testament translations. From the American Standard Version (1901) through the English Standard Version (2001), the word “reconciliation” is used. Either word works but the newer word, it may be suspected, is used because English speaking cultures have forgotten what atonement means and so, it has fallen out of use. For the time being, we still use reconciliation because we understand it to mean that two parties have come to terms. When people are no longer enemies and have become friends again, they are reconciled.
When William Tyndale translated the New Testament (1526), he created the word “attonment” to express what Christ did for us. Jesus at-oned us to God. He became the at-one-ment that made us friends of God (John 15:15), instead of his enemies. This was accomplished, not through our own works but, solely through the work of Christ. The Greek word (καταλλαγ?) literally means “down upon another.” The doctrine of justification that we confess rests upon this one, central point: that our sins have fallen upon Jesus Christ instead of ourselves. We receive this atoning grace of God through faith in Christ’s merit.
Prayer: Keep me in faith, Lord, depending upon your atonement. Amen.
The Basics of the Christian Faith is an edition of the catechism that is aimed at seekers, visitors, and those that may not come from a Lutheran background. It is recommended for use in outreach, as a visitor welcome gift, or in new member packets.