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Old News?

October 16, 2015 No Comment

by Mathew Block

“Our churches teach that people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works. People are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favour and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. By His death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins. God counts this faith for righteousness in His sight.”

cl3005-cover-smSo speaks the fourth article of the Augsburg Confession (the primary Lutheran statement of faith, presented to Emperor Charles V on June 25, 1530). There were many subjects in contention during the Reformation; you can think of pretty much any doctrine in Christianity, and someone somewhere at the time was arguing about it. But it is not, perhaps, too far-fetched to say the primary issue in contention was justification: “In what way can sinful men be made right with God?”

For people like Philip Melanchthon (the author of the Augsburg Confession) and his friend Martin Luther, the witness of Scripture was clear: we are saved by grace alone, a gift received through faith in Christ. St. Paul writes: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). God’s grace isn’t earned, St. Paul explains. Instead, it’s given freely to those who don’t deserve it. It’s given to sinners.

That’s the Gospel at its core: God the Father sends His Son Jesus Christ to bridge the gap between sinful humanity and Himself. At the cross, Christ takes upon Himself the sins of the entire world—my sins, your sins—and accepts judgement in our place. Through His death and resurrection, He becomes our Way home to the Father. He sends His Holy Spirit into the world, calling sinners to forgiveness, calling the dead back to life.

And that’s exactly what we were—dead. “We were dead in our trespasses,” St. Paul writes, but God has “made us alive together with Christ”—and all this solely because God is “rich in mercy” and “loved us” (Ephesians 2:4). For indeed, “God demonstrates His love for us in that while were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

You’ve probably heard all this before. And perhaps this article sounds in some ways like old news, like a mere rehearsal of a Sunday School lesson you heard when you were five. But it’s not old news; it’s Good News. It was Good News to the disciples, shocked to discover the tomb empty. It was Good News for the martyrs led to the Coliseum to face death at the lion’s jaws. It was Good News for the reformers, confronted by sharp divisions in the church. So too, it is Good News for us today. It is the Gospel, forever relevant and forever necessary to a world broken by sin.

You’ve probably heard all this before. And perhaps this article sounds in some ways like old news, like a mere rehearsal of a Sunday School lesson you heard when you were five. But it’s not old news; it’s Good News. It is the Gospel, forever relevant and forever necessary to a world broken by sin.

“People are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favour and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake.” That was the Reformer’s confession, based on Scripture. It must ever remain our confession too.

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Mathew Block is editor of The Canadian Lutheran and communications manager for Lutheran Church–Canada.