In the Bible Study I attend, we’ve been covering the Augsburg Confession in preparation for the anniversary of the Reformation. We just finished discussing Article XXVII on Monastic Vows, and even though I don’t have much experience with monks or nuns, and I don’t have reason to believe I’ll have much experience in the future, I was surprised by how relevant this section still is.
One key sentence that I want to use as the central theme of this post is, “Righteousness comes by faith to those who believe that they are received by God into grace for Christ’s sake” (Section 37, Article XXVII).
These days, when people say “for Christ’s sake,” they are expressing some sort of consternation at something that’s angered them. Those who prefer to avoid taking the Lord’s name in vain usually use something like “for Pete’s sake!” Who Pete is, I don’t really know, but it gets the message across without breaking the second commandment, or so we tell ourselves, but that’s a topic for a whole different blog post.
But here, in the Augsburg Confession, we get a whole different light shed on this idea of “for Christ’s sake.”
The background to this is the idea of Works Righteousness. A big subject that Luther (and Melanchthon, the author of the Augsburg Confession) argued against was the idea that if we worked hard enough, did enough good deeds, and prayed the right thing the right amount of times in a day, we could earn our own righteousness.
That’s ridiculous. We cannot earn a gift. A gift, by definition, is something given willingly, without any payment. How, then, can a person do enough deeds to earn a gift already freely given to us?
This gift of righteousness was not given to us for our sake. Rather, we are made righteous for the sake of Christ, so that his punishment, his sacrifice, would not be in vain.
Monks (at the time this was written) believed they would be justified and would earn forgiveness based on the keeping of their vows. If this were the case, what’s the point of Jesus? Those who try to earn their salvation have no need for Jesus and because of that fall horribly short and completely miss out on the true Gospel. For Christ’s sake, we are justified and made righteous, forgiven and redeemed.
Along this same line, another issue still relevant today, is the idea of getting close to Christ. By doing good works, more good works than the next person, one will garner a closer relationship with Christ.
This is false.
You cannot be closer to God than you already are.
But it’s not. We are in a one flesh union, baptized into Christ. We are in the body of Christ. How can we get any closer?
How did we get this close? Through Christ. Through his works. Through his ministry on earth, his crucifixion, and his resurrection.
No other person can be closer than you. We often have a mindset of, “If I was a better Christian I would have been a pastor,” or “If I really loved God, I would have gone into church work.”
No pastor or church worker is closer to God than you are. For Christ’s sake you are made one with Him. That’s the closest you can get.
“True Christian perfection is to fear God from the heart, to have great faith, and to trust that for Christ’s sake we have a God who has been reconciled” (Section 49, Article XXVII). In Christ, we are reconciled, made one, with our Father in Heaven.
During the time Luther and Melanchthon were talking about this concept of being saved by Christ’s deeds and not our own, the corrupt Catholic church was selling indulgences in an attempt to lighten the punishment in purgatory.
We are justified by grace through faith on account of Christ Jesus. I like to call this, “the Lutheran slogan”.
Now this may seem irrelevant because it was 500 years ago. But it is still incredibly relevant.
Many people go through each day wondering what will happen when they die. Afraid of the torments in Hell, they work hard to please God, giving up their favorite foods during lent, going on mission trips to get closer to God, immerse themselves in the activities provided by their church, or evangelizing on the streets.
Wait. These all sound like good things to do as Christians, right?
Yes. These are really good things for us to do. But we shouldn’t do these things because we’re afraid to go to Hell. We shouldn’t do these things in a vain attempt to please God so that we’ll be saved. Rather, we should do these things because we want to bring others to God and because we want to immerse ourselves in the love of our Heavenly Father. And we should do these things because we’re commanded by God to help the poor and love our neighbors.
Bottom line, we should do these things wholeheartedly, with confidence and joy, knowing 100% that we’ve been saved by Christ. Knowing that because of Christ, we’ll spend eternity in Heaven, regardless of how many mission trips we go on and regardless of how many years we taught Sunday School.
Nothing we say or do can bring us closer to God. Nothing we say or do can earn salvation for us. We have already been given salvation freely. We are already in this one flesh union with God. All for Christ’s sake.
For Christ’s sake, we have been saved.