By works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one. He will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. (ESV)
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Johannes von Staupitz
8 November 2013
Faith in Christ receives the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives faith in Christ. Both things are true. The Holy Spirit confers faith and faith receives the Spirit. This is one of the reasons why Christians attribute to God alone the whole work of salvation from conversion to glorification in heaven. Faith brings with it all the gifts of God because faith embraces the divine promises. In this sense, faith is both powerful and powerless. On the one hand, faith does nothing. It is not a work, nor an accomplishment. It merely receives this merit of Christ; holding on to it tenaciously. On the other hand, its power is exhibited by what it receives. The death, blood, life, and merit of Christ are all held in the hand of faith making powerless faith the most powerful thing.
Faith has its hand on the switch that starts up a nuclear power plant. The technician that flips that switch does nothing. He produces no energy. But see what a powerful thing his nothing accomplishes. The divine power of God unto salvation is placed in the hands of faith. Among those powerful gifts is the Holy Spirit, who dwells among God's people and confers on them "the holy Christian church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting" (Apostles' Creed). All those conspicuous gospel blessings bring with them a new attitude over against the law. While the law remains an existential threat, faith seeks to uphold the law (Rm 3:31). Of course, always doing so imperfectly; the mercy of God always making up for what is lacking in our obedience.
This is why it is seldom helpful for Christians to focus on "their own obedience." We aren't the power; any more than the technician flipping the switch in the nuclear plant is the power. That's why the joy of doing good works is often a surprise; it comes upon us unexpectedly. When we are focused on the power of God it will do the rest.
The Apology of the Augsburg Confession
"When starting to fulfill the Law, faith ought to be present, which certainly believes that we have a reconciled God for Christ's sake. For mercy cannot be received except through faith. Paul says in Rm 3:31, 'Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.' Here's what we ought to understand: People regenerated through faith not only receive the Holy Spirit, and have motives that agree with God's law, but we ought also to realize that they are far distant from the law's perfection. This point by far has the greatest importance, and we must add it to the argument also. We cannot conclude that we are counted righteous before God because of our fulfilling of the law. Justification must be sought somewhere else in order that the conscience may become peaceful. For we are not righteous before God as long as we flee from God's judgment and are angry with God. Therefore, we must conclude that we are counted righteous for Christ's sake being reconciled through faith. This is not because of the Law or our works. Because of faith, beginning to fulfill the law pleases God. Because of faith, there is no charge that we fulfill the law imperfectly, even though the sight of our impurity terrifies us. If justification is to be sought somewhere else, our love and works do not justify.
Christ's death and satisfaction ought to be placed far above our purity, far above the law itself. This truth ought to be set before us so that we can be sure of this: We have a gracious God because of Christ's satisfaction and not because of our fulfilling the law.
"Paul teaches this in Gal 3:13, when he says, 'Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.' This means that the law condemns all people. But Christ without sin has borne the punishment of sin. He has been made a victim for us and has removed that right of the law to accuse and condemn those who believe in Him. He Himself is the atonement for them. For His sake they are now counted righteous. Since they are counted righteous, the law cannot accuse or condemn them, even though they have not actually satisfied the law. Paul writes the same way to the Colossians, 'You have been filled in Him' (2:10). This is like saying, 'Although you are still far from the perfection of the Law, the remnants of sin do not condemn you. For Christ's sake we have a sure and firm reconciliation, if you believe, even though sin dwells in your flesh.'"
"The Apology of the Augsburg Confession,"
Lord Jesus Christ, we have been reconciled to You through the blood of Your atonement. You send Your Spirit to faith that faith might receive Your Spirit. Keep our faith focused on the power that You confer through Your atonement, that we might be surprised at the good works You can accomplish in and through us. Amen.
For the family of Diane Garner, suffering deep grief, that the Lord Jesus would comfort them in their loss
For Scott and Noreen Linke, who are celebrating their 33rd wedding anniversary today, that the Lord Jesus would grant them ever greater blessings
For the faculty and staff of Memorial Lutheran School, that they would be strengthened in their service to children and their families
For Pastor and Maryann Murray, that the Lord would send the holy angels to watch over them as they travel for vacation
Art: Eyck, Jan van The Adoration of the Lamb (1425-1429)
© Scott R. Murray, 2013