Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
The first and chief article is this: Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification (Romans 4:24-25). He alone is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), and God has laid upon Him the iniquities of us all (Isaiah 53:5). All have sinned are justified freely, without their own works or merits, by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood (Romans 3:23-25). (Smalcald Articles II.I.1-3).
That right there is the heart of the Lutheran Confession. All have sinned. All have been justified freely without work or merit. Justification–becoming right with God–is something that happens outside myself, apart from myself. It’s objective. My redemption is in Christ Jesus, in the blood that He shed.
But that’s just the first part of the first and chief article. If this righteousness is outside of myself and apart from myself, then it does me no good. If the Lamb of God took away my sin and is nowhere to be found, if His blood was shed 2,000 years ago and is all dried up now, what benefit is it to me? So the first and chief article is completed: This is necessary to believe. This cannot be otherwise acquired or grasped by any work, law, or merit. Therefore, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us. As St. Paul says: For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. (Romans 3:28) That He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Smalcald Articles II.I.4). Faith is the personal application of the benefits of the objective righteousness that is found in Christ. Faith saves because faith is not my own work, but the work of God for me and in me.
Nothing of this article can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven and earth and everything else falls. For there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12) And with His stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5) Upon this article everything that we teach and practice depends, in opposition to the pope, the devil, and the whole world. Therefore, we must be certain and not doubt this doctrine. Otherwise, all is lost, and the pope, the devil, and all adversaries win the victory and the right over us. (Smalcald Articles II.I.5)
Nothing yielded or surrendered. Christ died for our sins, was raised for our justification, bore our sins, redeemed us by His blood, all by grace, apart from works. Faith grabs hold of that righteousness and receives it as God’s work alone. And He does it all as gift.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in New Haven, MO. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.