Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Furthermore, it is taught that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God through our merit, work, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God out of grace for Christ’s sake through faith when we believe that Christ has suffered for us and that for His sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us. For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness in His sight, as St. Paul says in Romans 3 and 4.
That was taken from the Augsburg Confession, the fourth article. The day on which this letter reaches you, June 25, is the day when the Augsburg Confession was presented to Emperor Charles V by the German Lutheran princes in 1530.
In the past many people considered this date, the presentation of the Augsburg Confession, as the start of the Reformation. It was at this point that the Lutheran church really became its own entity and separate from the Roman Catholic Church. With this confession the teaching of the Lutheran churches was organized, formalized and presented to the Holy Roman Emperor. The purpose of this confession was to prove exactly what it was what the Lutherans taught, as the rumour mill and propaganda twisted the truth tremendously, as well as show that all the things that the Lutherans taught was something the church has always believed.
The article quoted above, the fourth article, has become known as “The article upon which the church stands or falls.” Meaning that if this article should be lost, be ignored, or minimized it would also mean the loss of the church. Yes, you might still have the gathering of people, you might still have the building, but it would cease to be a Christian church. It would cease to be the church that God intended, the church where the gospel is proclaimed and the forgiveness of sins is received through Word and sacrament.
This article teaches us that we become righteous before God, forgiven of all our sins, only through faith in Christ. Faith receives all the gifts that Jesus has prepared, won, finished, and delivered to all who believe. Faith, by itself, doesn’t necessarily save. Faith requires an object, something to cling to, to trust in, to hold on to. That object is Christ and His life for you, His suffering & death for you, His resurrection for you, and His ascension for you. Faith is regarded as righteous because Christ is righteous and He gives His forgiveness through the conduit of faith. Works are disregarded here, even your faith is a gift crafted by God Himself, there is only trust—trust in Jesus and His suffering for you. This article is one of comfort, it lays out to us the promise of God in Christ, the promise that the whole of the Bible is made is convey to us. God forgives you, you are right with God, not because of what you’ve done, because you know you’ve not done enough, but because of Jesus, because of His suffering and death have made you righteous through faith in Him.
So important was this confession to the Lutheran princes who presented it that they were willing to die rather than give it up. They gave their necks to their Roman Catholic Emperor for the sake of this confession, this faith, this comfort that been brought back into the light by Luther and his compatriots. The world still needs this confession, this faith, this comfort. May God give us the same faith and courage as those Lutheran princes to confess this faith and comfort to our neighbours, our communities, and to the world.
Your servant in Christ,
Pastor Tim Schneider