“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.
Original sin has replaced our original righteousness. That is to say, in the beginning God created man and woman in a right relationship with Him and all of creation, properly oriented toward God in knowledge and worship, and toward creation in vocation. But sin disordered that relationship. We became disoriented, crooked, skewed. Now our orientation is every which way but toward God.
Justification is getting lined back up again, like this paragraph is “left justified” because the words are lined up straight on the left side. Justification is how we get pointed back toward God; it’s how we get restored to that right relationship with Him that we lost. And being right with God, we also become right with the world.
No strength, merit, or work of our own can do this. It might get you close—really close, in fact. But if it’s not right in line, even minor imperfections will be amplified when it comes to reaching God. Like traveling to the moon—if you’re off even by fractions of a percent, you’ll sail right past into the outer darkness.
So how do we get right? Lutheran churches teach that people “cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4” (Augsburg Confession, article IV). Faith. Faith is what justifies.
But it’s not just any old faith. It’s faith that we are justified for Christ’s sake. He’s the One who does the work with His sacrificial death and victorious resurrection. We don’t justify ourselves by approaching God; God justifies us by receiving us into favor. And He does so by forgiving our sins.
This faith He imputes for righteousness. That means that He counts it for righteousness. It’s like you log into your bank account to find that someone has deposited more money than you could ever hope to spend. Through faith, God gives us credit for Jesus’ work. And we are justified.
You can read the Book of Concord at http://www.bookofconcord.org
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard serves as pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in New Haven, MO.