From the Confessions: The Defense of the Augsburg Confession
Concerning Monastic Vows
We are discussing the kind of doctrine that the composers of the Confutation are now defending, not the question of whether vows should be observed. For we hold that lawful vows ought to be observed. But do these services merit the remission of sins and justification? Are they satisfactions for sins? Are they are equal to Baptism? Are they the observance of commands and counsels? Are they so-called evangelical perfection? Do they have the merits of supererogation? Do these merits, when applied on behalf of others, save them? Are vows made with these opinions valid? Are they legitimate vows if taken under the pretext of religion, yet merely for the sake of the belly and idleness? Are they truly vows if they have been extorted either from the unwilling or from those who on account of age were not able to judge the kind of life parents or friends made for them, thrusting them into monasteries so that they might be supported at the public expense, without the loss of private patrimony? Are vows lawful if they openly point to an evil purpose, either because weakness prevents observance, or because members of these orders are compelled to approve and support the abuses of the Mass, the godless worship of saints, and counsels to rage against good men? These are the questions we are considering.
Pulling It Together
So-called evangelical perfection is the keeping of all God’s commands. Let us consider three points in this regard. First, being in a monastic order does not equal “evangelical perfection” any more than does membership in a particular denomination. Joining a group does not equate to perfection—particularly when the group is concerned with human traditions rather than God’s commands.
Two, faith is true evangelical perfection. Jesus teaches that God’s commandment is to believe in his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another (1 John 3:23). In other words, the Apostle John summed up all the commandments with a version of the greatest commandment. “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30–31). Keep believing in God and his Spirit will work in you to love your neighbor.
Three, Jesus always hammers people with the law when that is what they need. When people imagine that they may be perfect by doing the right things, Jesus always gives them the law so that they might discover how impossible it is to keep (Acts 15:10), then rely on God’s free gift of grace instead of their own imperfect works. So, in the case of the man in today’s gospel text, even if he could have given away all his wealth, would he have followed Jesus? Would he have faith in the one God sent? The law makes us see who we truly are; it demonstrates the mindlessness of the notion that we can save ourselves through good works, morality, and religion. We are not saved by letting go of wealth. But in the case of this man, seeing the impossibility of the task, he would have to turn to God instead of self.
When we have come to the end of the law’s rope, we find a noose—or we let loose of the rope and trust God. Believe in his Son; have faith; keep faith in him above all things. Even if you do not seem perfect in your own eyes—for you will always struggle in this imperfect nature—you have been perfected in Christ. So, remember your baptism and know that the impossible is possible with God—not with you or your good works.
Prayer: Give me your Spirit, God, that I may have faith in Christ alone. Amen.
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Written in honor of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, The Life of Martin Luther, a nine-session adult study, takes participants through the circumstances and events of the life of Martin Luther as it reflects on the biblical themes underlying the Lutheran Reformation.