Local News: Redeemer Church PCA of Jackson will begin offering later this month a Dynamic Marriage Class. The classes, which last for eight weeks, will be held every Sunday at 5:30 p.m. For those who can’t attend the summer classes, another will be offered later in the Fall. For more information, visit Redeemer’s web site.
This week, we’ll discuss Article VI of the Augsburg Confession, which covers the “New Obedience.” This phrase is meant to refer to the works that believers do after being justified by faith in Christ.
The 16th century Reformers, both Lutheran and Reformed, frequently encountered the objection that if faith in Christ is all that is necessary to be forgiven, the importance of obedience and good works is neglected. Some honestly feared that preaching a message of “faith alone” would lead to licentiousness—using God’s grace an excuse for unbridled sin. Listen to how Phillip Melancthon addresses this objection:
“This faith should bring forth good fruits, and… men ought to do the good works commanded of God, because it is God’s will, and not on any confidence of meriting justification before God by their works.”
In answer to why people should have any motivation to obey, if such obedience is not the basis for salvation,Augsburg simply says, “because it is God’s will.” We should obey God, not in hopes of getting something from God in return, but simply because he is our Father and is entitled to our obedience. If there were no threat of punishment and no promise of reward, obeying God would still be the right thing to do. God, because of his character, is worthy of being obeyed for his own sake.
After explaining in Romans 3 how we are justified only by faith, apart from works of the law, Paul anticipated the objection, “Do we therefore nullify the law?” His answer is emphatic: “By no means! Rather, we uphold the law.” Genuine trust in Christ doesn’t hinder a lifestyle of obedience; it ought to establish it.
Luther frequently discussed how when our works are done in an attempt to merit God’s favor, they are not really being done “for God” anymore; they are being done simply for our own sake, in hopes of benefiting ourselves.
Melancthon goes into more detail:
“Remission of sins and justification is apprehended by faith, as also the voice of Christ witnesses: ‘When you have done all these things, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants.’’”
In Christ’s parable, which Melancthon here refers to, our Lord taught that even if we succeeded in doing everything God expected of us, we’d have no reason to brag. We’d have simply doing our duty, what was expected of us. The Russian Orthodox Catechism, written by St. Philaret, closes with this same quote from Christ, explaining that we shouldn’t be puffed up by thinking we’ve succeeded in keeping God’s laws. Even as synergistic as Eastern Orthodoxy is (emphasizing how man must cooperate with God in salvation), the Eastern Church has emphasized works before God, but not merit. There is a tremendous difference. The evangelicals of the 16th century weren’t minimizing the importance of good works; rather, they were simply dispelling any notion that our works have merit before God. We are reconciled to God because of Christ’s merit, not our own.
In closing this article, Melancthon explains that the evangelical church wasn’t making up some new teaching, as they were sometimes accused of doing. That we are reconciled to God only by faith in Christ, and that our works are aresult of being saved, not the cause of it, is attested to in the writings of the early church fathers. Melancthon quotes St. Ambrose, a 5th century bishop who was a contemporary of St. Augustine:
“This is ordained of God, that he that believes in Christ shall be saved, without works, by faith alone, freely receiving remission of sins.”