The Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost

If we are saved by grace alone through faith, why do we have to do anything for our salvation? Versions of this question arise in many situations. Lutherans are used to ‘saved by grace and not by works’ but over the centuries it might be said that we’ve de-emphasised works to uphold grace – and in doing so, not understood grace! In theological speak, it is about understanding the relationship between justification and sanctification. The Lutheran Reformers were not deaf to the already audible accusations that they had effectively ‘got rid of good works’. “No”, they said, “we’ve eliminated the pride or terror they bring and now teach them correctly”.

Below is the last section of Article XX of the Augsburg Confession … from Triglot Concordia: The Symbolical Books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church: German-Latin-English [1917] 

( ). For more recent translations check out the Tappert translation (1959) or the Kolb-Wengert translation (2000) …

23 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.

24 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 25 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, 26 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.

27 Furthermore, it is taught on our part that it is necessary to do good works, not that we should trust to merit grace by them, but because it is the will of God. 28 It is only by faith that forgiveness of sins is apprehended, and that, for nothing. 29 And because through faith the Holy Ghost is received, hearts are renewed and endowed with new affections, so as to be able to bring forth good works. 30 For Ambrose says: Faith is the mother of a good will and right doing. 31 For man’s powers without the Holy Ghost are full of ungodly affections, and are too weak to do works which are good in God’s sight. 32 Besides, they are in the power of the devil who impels men to divers sins, 33 to ungodly opinions, to open crimes. This we may see in the philosophers, who, although they endeavoured to live an honest life could not succeed, 34 but were defiled with many open crimes. Such is the feebleness of man when he is without faith and without the Holy Ghost, and governs himself only by human strength.

35 Hence it may be readily seen that this doctrine is not to be charged with prohibiting good works, but rather the more to be commended, because it shows how we are enabled to do good works. 36 For without faith human nature can in no wise do the works of the First or of the Second Commandment. 37 Without faith it does not call upon God, nor expect anything from God, nor bear the cross, but seeks, and trusts in, man’s help. 38 And thus, when there is no faith and trust in God all manner of lusts and human devices rule in the heart. 39 Wherefore Christ said, John 15:5: Without Me ye can do nothing; 40 and the Church sings: 

Lacking Thy divine favour, 

There is nothing found in man, 

Naught in him is harmless.