1943 Synod Convention Essay
The doctrine that we are justified and saved by faith alone does not in any way contradict or militate against the doctrine that we are saved by grace alone. The Apostle Paul, in speaking of the justification of a sinner before God, says, Rom. 4:16: “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace: to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed.” Here it is clearly stated that justification by faith, so far from contradicting justification by grace, definitely serves to confirm it. For faith is not a virtue or good work which adds to or merits salvation wrought by grace, but it is simply the means or instrument through which sinners accept God’s grace.
In His boundless love and mercy God has prepared salvation for all men. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16). Yes, even before the creation of the world, from eternity, God Who knew that mankind would fall away from Him decreed that He would save them through the sacrifice of His own Son; for the Apostle Paul says, 2 Tim. 1:9: “Who hath saved us and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.” And in Eph. 3:11 he says, in speaking of his call to preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, that it is now done “according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This eternal decree for the salvation of mankind was revealed to our first parents immediately after their fall. The promise of the Savior was made repeatedly to the patriarchs and to the people of Israel through the prophets, not only by direct prophecy, but also through the sacrifices and other symbols and types in their worship. The work of the Messiah, His suffering, death and resurrection, were foretold, so that those who lived in those ancient times could put their trust in Him for their salvation. The prophet Jeremiah calls Him: “The Lord our righteousness.” In the Old Testament the people of God knew Him as their righteousness, as the One through Whom they might be justified before God.
And “when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law,” Gal. 4:4,5. When the Savior came to the earth He took upon Him the task of atoning for the whole world’s sin. John says of Him: “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.” John 1:29. “God spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all.” Rom. 8:32. “Christ gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.” I Tim. 2:6. He was thus given as a sacrifice, “That he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” Heb. 2:9.
These and a host of other passages of Scripture assure us that Jesus Christ came to the world to assume the sins of all men and to give Himself as a sacrifice to atone for these sins. Just before His death on the cross the Savior said: “It is finished.” He thereby declared that His work of atoning for the world’s sin was then fully completed. And by raising Jesus from the dead the Father assures us that His just demands on the world are by the death of His Son fully satisfied. The apostle says: “If one died for all, then were all dead; and he died for all.” 2 Cor. 5:14. All our sins were laid on Jesus Christ, and He died as our Substitute in our stead. The sins of the whole world have therefore by the death of Jesus received the full punishment due them. And we know that God is satisfied with the ransom paid, for He would not have freed our Substitute from the bonds of death, so long as any of our sins were still counted against us. When He died for all it was counted by God as if all sinners had died. And when He was raised again, it is an assurance that God has declared Him just. And with Him, our Substitute, God has thereby declared all sinners just. Of this we are assured by the apostle, Rom. 4:25: “He was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification,” i.e. because our justification is an accomplished fact. This is also attested to by the apostle in the following chapter, 5:8, where he says: “Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation: even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.” Here the righteousness wrought by Christ is made just as general as sin which was brought upon all men by Adam. Just as surely as judgment has come upon all men by the offence of Adam, so it is equally certain that the justification of life has come upon all men by the righteousness which was wrought by Christ.
This glorious truth God proclaims to the world in the Gospel. The Gospel proclaims that the whole world has been reconciled to God. The Apostle Paul says, 2 Cor. 5:19: “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” All sinners are reconciled to God through the redemption of Jesus Christ, their trespasses are not imputed, i.e. not counted against them. Christ, therefore, through His ambassadors pleads with all sinners to be “reconciled to God,” to accept redemption.
God wants these glad tidings of the Gospel, that the world is reconciled to God and saved through the redemption of Christ, to be proclaimed to all men. Jesus gave this command to His apostles: “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” Mark16:15,16. They are not only to tell all men about the boundless love of God and about the great self-sacrifice of the Savior, but they are to assure the poor sinners that God is reconciled, that their sins are taken away, and that a place is prepared for them. in heaven: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” Is. 40:1,2. They are to bring this message to all, for Jesus says: “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all the nations.” Matt. 24:14.
However, this righteousness which has been procured for all men by the holy life of our Savior and by His suffering, death and resurrection is not enjoyed by all. God cannot in a general way justify all sinners and still continue to be a just and holy God. His just demands, that His holy law be kept to the last iota and that even the least transgression be punished by death, temporal and eternal, cannot be abrogated. It is only through the perfect obedience of our Savior and through His suffering and death in our stead that it is possible for God to declare us sinners just. Therefore it is only in Jesus Christ that we can benefit by God’s declaration that the whole world is justified. Without Christ, God is still the God of wrath, Who is as a burning fire against all transgressors. God’s eternal purpose to save sinners is a purpose in Jesus Christ and in no other way. God’s promises in the Gospel are “In him (i.e. in Jesus Christ) yea, and in him Amen.” 2 Cor. 1:20. Therefore it is only in Jesus Christ that we are justified and saved. The Apostle Paul says: “For he hath made him to be sin for us who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” 2 Cor. 5:21. Only in Jesus Christ Who was made to be sin for us do we have and own the righteousness of God which is procured for us. Therefore does the same apostle say again: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” Rom. 8:1. Only those who are in Christ Jesus escape the condemnation which their sins have deserved.
How then, may we become so intimately united with Jesus Christ that we in Him may be clothed in the righteousness with which we can stand before God? Scripture teaches that it is through faith and faith only. When Jesus in His parting words to His disciples promised to send His Spirit to dwell in them because they were believers, He says: “At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.” John 14:20 (Comp. vs. 17 and 19). Through faith in Jesus we are united with Him, so that we partake of the fruits of His redemption. Thereby is the righteousness of God imputed to us. The Apostle Paul says Rom. 3:21,22: “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested … Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe.” And again he says: “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness;” Rom. 4:5.
God has indeed in Jesus Christ declared all men righteous, but He does not force us to accept this righteousness. He brings it to us in the Gospel. The Gospel not only tells us about the righteousness which is procured for us through the redemption of Jesus Christ, leaving it to us to get possession of it as best we can, but it brings to us this righteousness itself by assuring us that God has already declared all sinners righteous, when He raised Jesus from the dead. If we do not want to believe this message of the Gospel and put our trust in the gift which it brings, but insist on finding some other way to salvation or reject salvation altogether, we cannot expect to have any benefit from it. Speaking of those who were lost in the wilderness because of their unbelief, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews says: “For unto us was the gospel preached as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.” Heb. 4:2. By refusing to believe in the promises of the Gospel, men reject the salvation which it brings to them. Jesus therefore says not only, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,” but he adds, “But he that believeth not shall be damned.” Mark 16:16. And, “He that believeth not is condemned already because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” John 3:18. And in the 36th verse He says of the unbeliever: “The wrath of God abideth on him.” Men’s unbelief, then, is now, after God in Christ has declared all sinners righteous, the real cause of their damnation. When Jesus promises to send the Comforter to make men partakers of His salvation, He says that when this Comforter is come, “He will reprove the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgment.” And then He adds: “Of sin because they believe not on me.” John 16:8,9, The real sin which condemns is unbelief, because it prevents men from partaking of the righteousness which is procured for all in Jesus Christ, and so the curse of all their other sins will fall back upon their heads. God has not promised that there is no condemnation to them who are not in Christ Jesus.
But through faith the poor sinner accepts and appropriates unto himself the righteousness of God in Christ. What, then, is this saving faith? Saving faith presupposes knowledge of the things which God has prepared for the salvation of sinners. John the Baptist’s mission, in order to prepare the way for the promised Savior, was, “To give knowledge of salvation unto his people.” Luke 1:77. Paul says: “How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?” Rom. 10:14. And Jesus says in His sacerdotal prayer: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” John 17:3.
Moreover, faith assents to the message of salvation made known to the sinner. Faith regards this message as thoroughly true and reliable. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Heb. 11:1. St. Paul says of Abraham’s faith in the promises of God, that he was “fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.” Rom. 4:21. And, in His sacerdotal prayer, Jesus again says of His disciples: “I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me.” John 17:8.
A true living faith also implies a sincere longing for God’s grace and a firm reliance on His glorious promises. The Psalmist says, 84:2, “My soul longeth, yea even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.” And the Apostle Paul gives expression to his trust in the promises of God in these words: “For I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day,” 2 Tim. 1:12. And again:”Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” Rom. 8:33,34 (See also following verses).
These are only a few of the many passages of Scripture which describe a true living faith. Through this faith the penitent sinner receives and applies to himself the righteousness wrought by the redemption of Jesus Christ. The Evangelist John complains because, when the promised Savior came to His own in the world, they received Him not. Then he adds: “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become. the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” John 1:12. Those who believe on His name receive the Savior. They also receive the fruits of His redemption, for the apostle says: “To him give all the prophets witness, that through is name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.” Acts 10:43. And Paul says to those who are believers in Christ: “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him.” Col. 2:6.
The believer receive Christ and applies His righteousness unto himself, not because his faith is a virtue or a good work which merits salvation, either wholly or in part, so that God imputes righteousness to him because he in himself is better than those who do not believe. After having spoken of those who will not accept salvation by grace alone, but insist on putting their trust in their own righteousness, the Apostle Paul asks, “What, then? are we better than they?” And he answers: “No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jesus and Gentiles, that they are all under sin.” Rom. 3:9. Then he goes on to prove from Scripture the universality of sin, and concludes: “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets: Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Vs. 20–24.
From these last passages especially, we learn in what manner, we are justified and saved by faith: not by virtue of any merit inherent in the act of faith, but because our faith embraces and holds the merits of Jesus Christ’s redemption. It is by God’s grace that we are justified through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. By grace God declares the sinner just. The redemption of Jesus Christ makes it possible for the perfectly holy and just God to do this. Our faith comes into consideration only as the organ or channel through which the fruits of Christ’s redemption are transmitted to us.
Scripture speaks of faith, not only as an act on the part of the one who believes, but it often thereby denotes the contents of his faith, viz., that which he believes. In Gal. 3:2 the apostle asks: “Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” And in the 23rd verse of the same chapter he says: “But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.” It is very plain that by faith here is meant that which we believe, the object of our faith. Likewise in Rom. 10:8 he speaks of the “word of faith which we believe.” In Acts 6:7 we are told that “a great company of priests were obedient to the faith” and in the Epistle of Jude, 20th verse we read: “But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost.” But even in the passages where faith denotes the subjective act on the part of the believer, it is the idea of that which he believes which predominates. It is through the contents of our subjective faith that we are justified and saved, and not because of the act of believing. Not every kind of faith saves, but only faith in the grace of God through the obedience of Christ. Scriptures therefore parallel salvation by grace and salvation by faith. In Acts 15:9 we are told that men’s hearts are purified by faith; and in I John 1:7 we read: “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” Yet there is no contradiction here; for through faith we accept and apply to ourselves the cleansing which the blood of Jesus Christ alone can bring about.
Our Confession says (Form. of Conc. Th. Decl.): “Therefore it is considered and understood to be the same thing when Paul says that we are ‘justified by faith,’ Rom. 3:28, or that “Faith is counted for righteousness’, Rom. 4:5, and when he says that we are ‘made righteous by the obedience of one’, Rom. 5:19, or that ‘By the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life’, Rom. 5:18. For faith justifies, not for this cause and reason that it is so good a work, and so fair a virtue, but because it lays hold of and accepts the merits of Christ in the promise of the holy Gospel; for this must be applied and appropriated to us by faith, if we are to be justified thereby. Therefore the righteousness which is imputed to faith or to the believer out of pure grace is the obedience, suffering and resurrection of Christ, since He has made satisfaction for us to the Law, and paid for (expiated) our sins.” (Trigl. p. 919.)
Only through faith, which like a hand is stretched out to accept and hold the gift which is brought us in the Gospel, can we be justified and saved. Scripture very definitely excludes all merit through our own works: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” Rom. 3:28, “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, has made satisfaction for our sins.” (Trigl. p. 919.)
Only through faith, which like a hand is stretched out to accept and hold the gift which is brought us in the Gospel, can we be justified and saved. Scripture very definitely excludes all merit through our own works: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” Rom. 3:28. Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we mightbe justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” Gal. 2:16. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is. the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.” Eph. 2:8,9.
The Formula of Concord says: “This remains the office and property of faith alone, that it alone, and nothing else whatever, is the means and instrument by and through which God’s grace and the merit of Christ in the promise of the Gospel are received, apprehended, accepted, applied to us and appropriated; And that from this office and property of such application or appropriation love and all other virtues and works are excluded.” (Trigl. p. 929.)
Now it is true that a living faith arises only in hearts that are filled with sorrow and contrition because of sin. Jesus says: “They that be whole need not a physician; but they that are sick;” Matt. 9:12. Only those who have learned with concern to see their own misery of sin and their great need of salvation will long for deliverance. But this contrition and sorrow is worked by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Law in hearts that are dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1) and filled with “enmity against God” (Rom. 8:7). The Apostle Paul says, Gal. 3:24: “Wherefore the law was our school master to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” Therefore, since it is altogether the work of God, this contrition and sorrow cannot be regarded as a meritorious work in man.
Likewise faith itself is a work of God through the preaching of the Gospel which is the power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16) and through Holy Baptism (Gal. 3:26,27; Tit. 3:5). In Phil. 1:29 we read: “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake.” In Eph. 1:18 the apostle says that we “Believe according to the working of his mighty power.” Coming to faith is described as being “born of God” (John 1:12,13), as being “raised from the dead” (Col. 2:12) and as a creation compared to the creation of the world (2 Cor. 4:6). Faith, then, as well as contrition and sorrow; is wrought by the operation of the Holy Spirit in those that by nature cannot know the things of the Spirit of God. (I Cor. 2:14.)
It is also true that good works are necessary fruits of faith, so that if no good works appear,it is a sign that there is no living faith. Yet these good works pf the believer do not come into consideration when he is justified. These good works will in this life always be too imperfect to merit salvation in part. See St. Paul’s complaint about his own works in Rom. 7. Besides, the good works of the believer also are producd by the gracious power of God in those who are already justified by grace. The apostle says, Eph. 2:10: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them;” and Phil. 2:13: “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”
The Formula of Concord says: “But here very good attention must be given with especial diligence, if the article of justification is to remain pure; lest that which precedes faith, and that which follows after it, be mingled together or inserted into the article of justification as necessary and belonging to it, because it is not one and the same thing to speak of conversion and justification. …
“True saving faith is not in those who are without contrition and sorrow and have wicked purpose to remain and persevere in sins; but true contrition precedes, and genuine faith is in or with, true repentance. Love is also a fruit which surely and necessarily follows true faith. For the fact that one does not love is a sure indication that he is not justified, but is still in death, or has lost the righteousness of faith again, as St. John says, I John 3:14. But when Paul says, Rom. 3:28: ‘We are justified by faith without the deeds of the law,’ he indicates thereby that neither the contrition that precedes, nor the works that follow, belong to the article or transaction of justification by faith. For good works do not precede justification but follow and the person must first be justified before he can do good works.
“Moreover, not love or any other virtue, but faith alone is the sole means and instrument by which and through which we can receive and accept the grace of God, the merit of Christ, and the forgiveness of sins, which are offered us in the promise of the Gospel.”(Trigl. pp. 924, 925.)
How comforting it is for the anxious sinner to know that salvation from sin and death is prepared and given to him by God by grace alone, and that nothing is required on his part to partake of this grace; he may confidently put his trust in the assurance of the Gospel that God in Christ has declared all sinners righteous; thereby applying to himself what God has done for all men, For salvation is accepted and appropriated by faith alone.
To this glorious divine truth our Synod has been given grace to testify faithfully through the past ninety years; God grant that this truth may be preserved to us and to our children in generations to come!