Reformation Sunday

I'm doing Reformation Sunday rather than Lectionary 31 C because I'm Lutheran, and because its always the same set of readings. So once done, it's done.

Fair warning: the Romans reading... Yeah. Settle in for a long post. All the citations!

Jeremiah 31:31-34

"I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts."

- Jeremiah 31:33b (NRSV)

Verse 33 is quoted twice in quick succession in Apology of the Augsbueg Confession,  Article 4: Justification (AP 4.123, 4.125). First in a string of quotes framing the argument, then to show what the life of faith means. Melanchthon unpacks the spiritual, regenerated person's relationship to the two tables of the law, with some strong influence from Luther, thusly: "Therefore, after we have been justified and reborn by faith, we begin to fear and love God, to pray for and expect help from him, to thank and praise him, and to obey him in our afflictions. We also begin to love our neighbor because our hearts have spiritual and holy impulses." (AP 4.125)

Verse 33 makes another appearance later in the same article in a footnote (AP 4.219, n. 167) . In this section, responding to the arguments against the Augsburg Confesions's relationship between faith and love, the quarto edition quotes verse 33. The last sentence of this section it also worth quoting: "Whoever throws away love will not retain faith, however strong it may be, for that person does not retain the Holy Spirit." (AP 4.219)

We've seen these citations fairly recently.

Romans 3:19-28

"so that ... the whole world may be held accountable to God ... no human being will be justified in his sight”

- Romans 3:19-20 (NRSV)

Verses 19 and 20 are excerpted in Smalcald Articles, Part 3, Section 3: Concerning Repentance (SA 3.3.1) along with another passage from Romans 1 and one from John 16. This hard verse is described by Luther as  "the thunderbolt of God" (SA 3.3.2), the point of which is to drive all people to true repentance of heart rather than some self-defined piety or legalism that strives to place humans over God by making righteousness achievable by human action.

Verse 20 is cited twice in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration. First in Article 5: Law and Gospel (SD 5.17), verse 20 along with Romans 7:7 are held up as an explanation of the purpose of God's law--that the law is good, divine, and shows forth what humans were created "to be pleasing and acceptable to God." So the law experienced by sinners points out how we fall short of living up to what we were created to be.

The second citation is in Article 6: Third Use of the Law (SD 6.16) in a string of citations from the Pauline letters that points out there are different reasons to follow the law. One way is the reborn person striving to follow God's law out of love for God. The second, pointing more to verse 20, is the way of fear and coercion. It is possible to follow God's law simply out of fear of punishment. Following the law this way cannot lead to righteousness other than self-righteousness producing "saints in the stripe of Cain."

"But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets,  22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction,  23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God;  24 they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,  25 whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed;  26 it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus."

- Romans 3:21-26 (NRSV)

The meat of this passage, verses 21-26, are cited twice in The Book of Concord. The first citation is in The Augsburg Confession, Article 4: Concerning Justification (AC 4.3), which is a restatement of this passage emphasizing that faith in Jesus is reckoned as righteousness, a central tenet of the Lutheran reformation.

The second citation is an editorial insert in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 11: Election (SD 11.15) within the first point unpacking what the Lutheran reformers after Luther's death came to agreement about predestination. The first point of agreement is that "the human race has been truly redeemed and reconciled with God through Christ." This is not the same thing as universalism, because hearing the gospel proclaimed and the Spirit moving the hearer to faith and repentance is still part of this (points 3 and 4, SD 11.17-18). However, the first point of thinking about predestination is that God wants to save all people.

Verse 21 is quoted in Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 4: Justification (AP 4.41) where the point of this verse is lifted up: "the forgiveness of sins is offered freely." There is nothing we can do to earn the forgiveness of sins.

Verse 22 is cited twice in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration. First in Article 3: Righteousness (SD 3.54) verse 22 is cited through editorial insert with several other Pauline passages (one of them being verse 25 below). Verse 22 and the others are used to highlight the distinction between the God who dwells in us and the righteousness of faith that comes first. The order is what matters in this part of the article.

The second citation is an extrapolated quote in Article 11: Election (SD 11.28). "'Righteousness' comes 'through faith in Christ' to all and 'for all who believe.'" This extrapolation is another reminder, along with the rest of the scriptural quotes in this paragraph, that the offer of salvation is universal, real, and God's will.

"23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God;  24 they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus25 whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed"

- Romans 3:23-25 (NRSV)

As we focus in a bit more on this passage, parts of verses 23-25 are quoted in Smalcald Articles, Part 2, First Article (SA 2.1.3) where Luther lays out fairly briefly "the office and work of Jesus Christ, or to our redemption" (SA 2). The bolded part of the quote above are what Luther uses from this passage to outline Jesus' work for our redemption. It is worth noting that the phrase "as a gift," while used in both Luther's translation and the NRSV, is not what Luther used in the Smalcald Articles. In this part, Luther uses instead "without merit," I assume to drive home the point that this is God's work, not ours, as the rest of this short but significant article continues.

Turning to particular verses in the above quote, verse 23 is quoted in Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 4: Justification (AP 4.32). Here we see the continuing effect Melanchthon had on Lutheran thought. This part of The Book of Concord was written in 1531 while The Formula of Concord was written in 1577, but the argument that was highlighted about the second citation of verse 20 up above is made here using verse 23. "It is false and an affront to Christ to say that people who observe the commandments of God without grace do not sin" (AP 4.28) because "they lack the wisdom and righteousness of God, which acknowledges and glorifies God" (AP 4.32). Following God's law is not the same as loving God.

Verse 24 is cited three times in The Book of Concord. The first two citations are both quotes in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession. The first quote is in Article 4: Justification (AP 4.73) as Melanchthon begins to clarify the exclusivity "faith alone." This was a sticking point for the Catholics who wanted to talk about our merit and works earning God's grace. But in this section, Melanchthon notes all of Paul's exclusive language about faith and grace: given freely, not by works, as a gift... But this free gift of grace through faith alone does not remove Word and sacraments from the Christian life as the Lutheran reformers saw it. The Word is still central to the gift of faith that draws us into repentance, and once reborn and renewed, each Christian will want to hear God's Word and receive the sacraments out of love for God. That was the key different Melanchthon was trying to make--we repentant sinners who have encountered God's grace come to hear God's word and receive the sacraments not to earn God's favor but because good works follow faith, not the other way around.

The second quote is in Article 20: Good Works (AP 20.10) reiterates that the role of good works is not to earn merit before God and this verse, along with Romans 4:16, serve as consolation for those unsure about the free gift of justification by God's grace.

The third citation is an editorial insert offering many citations from Paul's letters in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 3: Righteousness (SD 3.7). The nine citations offered (including verses 27 and 28 below) are of certain phrases that Luther and the reformers who followed him use to emphasize that righteousness is not earned, and indeed that this teaching was the central point of the Lutheran Reformation.

Verse 25 is cited seven times in The Book of Concord. The first citation is in a footnote to The Augsburg Confession, Article 21: Concerning the Cult of the Saints (AC 21.2, n. 188, German text) and highlights a translation issue. What we read as "a sacrifice for atonement," which is closer to the Latin text here, could also be translated as "mercy seat" and is an intentional reference to Exodus 25:17 and this verse--a reference we don't have because of the Jeremiah 31 reading.

Verse 25 comes up again in a footnote to pology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 4: Justification (AP 4.40, n. 73) where we're helpfully informed that Melanchthon preferred the Latin translation of this text, show by his use of "propitiator," in his response to the Confutation.

Later in this same article (AP 4.82), verse 25 is used in the body of the text. The subsection of this article where verse 25 is quoted is "We Obtain the Forgiveness of Sins Only by Faith in Christ." Verse 25 makes the second point of this subsection, that "it is certain that sins are forgiven on account of Christ, the atoning sacrifice."

Verse 25 is quoted again later in the same article (AP 4.358, quarto) as Melanchthon continues to defend this central issue of the Lutheran reformation: "the merit of Christ's suffering is not communicated to us, unless we grasp it by faith and set it against the terrors of sin and death."

Later on in Article 12: Repentance (AP 12.63), verse 25 is quoted to show "that the forgiveness of sins can be received in no other way than by faith alone, which believes that sins have been forgiven on account of Christ." The argument being that faith is part of repentance because faith believes in the forgiveness of sins and so should be counted as part of repentance.

Verse 25 returns to the footnotes in The Large Catechism, Part 4: Baptism (LC 4.86, n. 225), noting again Luther's penchant to use the mercy seat image for what we hear as "a sacrifice of atonement." In this conclusion to Luther's thoughts on baptism, the way Luther succinctly presents the continuation of God's mercy despite our tendency to return to sin even after baptism is worth lifting up: "As Christ, the mercy seat, does not withdraw from us or forbid us to return to him even though we sin, so all his treasures and gifts remain" (LC 4.86).

Verse 25 is finally cited in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 3: Righteousness (SD 3.54) along with verse 22 above and others to highlight the distinction between the God who dwells in us and the righteousness of faith that comes first.

"it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus."

- Romans 3:26 (NRSV)

Verse 26 is quoted, like verses 23-25 above, in Smalcald Articles, Part 2, First Article (SA 2.1.4), along with verse 28 below, to show that only God is righteous, so only God can justify us, which happens through faith. Luther hear clarifies the "he himself" to be "God alone," even though his own translation of the Bible, like the NRSV, go with "he himself." This clarification reflects how this verse works in the larger passage, helpfully specifying the reference of the pronouns. While also making clear that this is God's action and not ours.

"27 Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith.  28 For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law."

- Romans 3:27-28 (NRSV)

Verses 27 and 28 are officially cited through editorial insert after excerpted quotes from the Pauline letters in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 3: Righteousness (SD 3.7) like verse 24 above was, a listing of certain phrases that Luther and the reformers who followed him use to emphasize that righteousness is not earned.

Without verse 27, verse 28 is cited six times in The Book of Concord. The good news here is that we've encountered some of these citations in this post already. The first citation is a quote just before the quote of verse 24 above in Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 4: Justification (AP 4.73) emphasizing that the "alone" of "faith alone" is biblically sound.

A bit later in this article (AP 4.87) Melanchthon cites verse 28 as "the essential point of the entire discussion" of justification, and the Lutheran reformation generally.

The third citation of verse 28 is in another familiar place: Smalcald Articles, Part 2, First Article (SA 2.1.4). The same article where we find citations for verses 23-25 and verse 26. Here verse 28 is paired with verse 26 as noted and commented on above.

The last three citation of verse 28 are in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 3: Righteousness (SD 3), an article in which we've already spent some time. The first of the last three citations is a quote (SD 3.12) equating being justified by faith with faith being reckoned to us by God as righteousness and that all righteousness comes through Jesus' faithfulness. This equating is to make clear that faith is not a work or virtue but a gift so that we might become righteous entirely by God's grace.

The penultimate citation of verse 28 is a quote a bit later (SD 3.27) working through the relationship between faith, works, contrition, repentance, and righteousness. Verse 28 is quoted to make clear "that neither the contrition that precedes nor the works that result from faith belong in the article or the treatment of justification by faith" because all good works, even love, follow from the gift of faith. For "People must first be righteous before they can do good works."

The ultimate citation of verse 28 is actually two (SD 3.42, 43), but they make the same point. Faith alone makes us righteous because only faith lays hold of, grasps, appropriates God's grace and the merit of Jesus.

John 8:31-36

Almost done. Three more citations.

Verse 34 is partly quoted in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 2: Free Will (SD 2.7). Here the "slave of sin" language is being highlighted to show as part of the ongoing argument about works and free will that any work done by someone not reborn, regardless of how good it might seem in the world, cannot be a good work because only by faith and the Holy Spirit does God deem work good. The unrepentant sinner is completely corrupted. And even for the reborn, the work itself is not good, but because the person does the work in faith the work is good. Please do not confuse all works done by Christians as good work, however, because those reborn by the Spirit in this life are at the same time saint and sinner.

"So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed."

- John 8:36 (NRSV)

Verse 36 is quoted in Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 4: Justification (AP 4.31) right before the quote of Romans 3:23 above, again making it clear that being justified is not about reason, but faith alone justifies.

Verse 36 is also cited through a kind of quote and an editorial citation to make it clear in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 2: Free (SD 2.67) as a reminder that being baptized by the Spirit does change the person. After baptism, we have true free will because Jesus has made us free, even if what we can do with that free will is still limited. But part of having a free will means that we "not only hear the Word but are also able to assent to it and accept it--although in great weakness."

TheoThru

Congratulations on making to the end of this post! (And that's both for you and for me...)

Hopefully what has become clear is that the issue of justification matters. Even after the passing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, clarity about how we are justified to God matters. Justification is God's work, done by faith activated through the Holy Spirit and encountering the proclaimed gospel, which then bears the fruit of good works. But the faith itself, which is a gift from God, is what God reckons as righteousness--something that God wants for all people.

  • How do we recognize the ambiguity of the Reformation?
  • Where are we still tempted to become self-righteous saints like Cain?
  • How to we keep God's gracious gift and work before us and those who hear us preach?