Concord #23: Good Works (part 4)

"Concord" is a weekly study of the Lutheran Confessions, where we will take up a topic from the Book of Concord and reflect on what we believe, teach, and confess in the Lutheran Church. The purpose of this series is to deepen readers' knowledge and appreciation for the confessions of the Lutheran Church, and to unite them "with one heart" to confess the teachings of Holy Scripture.

Good Works (part 4)

The great consolation of the Gospel—the grace of God, forgiveness of sins, and justification-- are apprehended by faith in Christ. But what is the nature of this faith? How can simply knowing about Jesus accomplish such great spiritual blessings?

“Men are also admonished that here the term "faith" does not signify merely the knowledge of the history, such as is in the ungodly and in the devil, but signifies a faith which believes, not merely the history, but also the effect of the history—namely, this article: the forgiveness of sins, to wit, that we have grace, righteousness, and forgiveness of sins through Christ” (Augsburg Confession XX.23).

Faith is not merely the knowledge of history, but also the effects of history. This is a fantastic definition of Christian faith. True, faith cannot exist without a knowledge of what Christ did and said two thousand years ago. But if it remains two thousand years in the past, it doesn’t do a person much good here and now. At best, it can be an inspirational story. But if Jesus is just an inspirational story, or a good example from history, then you are the one who must take the example and do something with it. And then you are right back in your works again.

“Now he that knows that he has a Father gracious to him through Christ, truly knows God; he knows also that God cares for him, and calls upon God; in a word, he is not without God, as the heathen. For devils and the ungodly are not able to believe this article: the forgiveness of sins. Hence, they hate God as an enemy, call not upon Him, and expect no good from Him. Augustine also admonishes his readers concerning the word "faith," and teaches that the term "faith" is accepted in the Scriptures not for knowledge such as is in the ungodly but for confidence which consoles and encourages the terrified mind.” (Augsburg Confession XX.24-26).

Faith that is simply historical knowledge is not faith at all. But faith that trusts in the forgiveness of sins—won by Christ at the cross and distributed today in the means of grace—not only consoles terrified minds, but also produces new desires: to call upon God and expect good from Him. Simply knowing about the Gospel does not do this.

It is only after faith has apprehended the forgiveness of sins and worked the new desire to call upon God and expect good from Him that the discussion of good works can take place. And that will take place the next and final part of the article on Good Works.

You can read the Book of Concord at http://www.bookofconcord.org

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in New Haven, MO.

Created: June 14th, 2017