MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
6421 W. Poinsettia Drive
KJV Luke 6:36 Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. 37 Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: 38 Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again. 39 And he spake a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch? 40 The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master. 41 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye? 42 Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother's eye.
BE MERCIFUL AS THE FATHER
When we celebrate Holy Communion, we are acknowledging our need for forgiveness, since only those who sin need forgiveness. More importantly, we are also confessing that Christ alone is our righteousness.
The Scriptures have only one purpose: to show us our true state and to give us the love, forgiveness, and mercy of our Father through His Son Jesus Christ. Everything else is subordinated to this purpose. Critics will say that the Bible is not up to their high standards as literature. Others will sniff that the history recorded in the Bible is not interesting or relevant to them. Still others will profess a great spiritual interest in the Bible, but they get stuck on some outrageous idea and promote that concept as salvation: worship only on Saturday; establishing an earthly kingdom with Jerusalem as the capital; speaking in tongues and having strange visions.
God established that He would provide a Savior and the instruments of our forgiveness and salvation, long before man understood what this would mean. Every phrase in the Bible is directed toward that purpose. As Luther said, the Scriptures carry Christ the way a cradle carries a baby. We cannot point to a single verse or episode in the Bible that is irrelevant to this Gospel promise.
The first promise of the Gospel is Genesis 3:15. All the Old Testament figures looked forward to the time when the promised Messiah would be revealed. They believed in Him without seeing Him. When the Son of God became incarnate through the Virgin Mary and was born, the Holy Trinity changed. Some people say that God never changes. But that depends on what we mean by change. The eternal truth established by God at Creation never changes, but at that one point in time, the eternal Son of God took on our human nature. When Jesus was conceived through the Holy Spirit, His human and divine natures were united in the One Person. The union of natures remains to this day, so that the eternal Son of God remains both God and man. In that respect, the Holy Trinity changed, since the human nature of Christ was not united with His divine nature until He was conceived.
This may seem overly detailed to some, but it is necessary to understand the meaning of forgiveness and the sacrament of the altar. The atoning death of Christ on the cross is our foundation of forgiveness. On the cross Jesus earned forgiveness for the entire world, paying for all sins for all time. However, God did not say that the sins of the world were forgiven for each individual whether he ever believed or not (contrary to the Kokomo Statements of WELS).
When Jesus rose from the dead, He was declared righteous in the Spirit. In other words, all men die because of their sin, but Jesus did not die as a sinner. Therefore, God declared Him righteous.
KJV 1 Timothy 3:16 And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.
However, no Scripture passage says that God declared everyone forgiven, whether they believed or not, because of the resurrection of Christ. Yet that is the obstinate false teaching of a group of Lutherans, who find support in the LCMS (CTCR) statement on justification.
That is why it is so important to understand the unified truth of the Scriptures. The Word of God teaches that the Holy Spirit brings us the Gospel of forgiveness through the Word and the sacraments. The Book of Concord is also very clear about this. Anyone who speaks of God working apart from the Word and sacraments is an Enthusiast. Those who declare the entire world forgiven at the resurrection of Christ are saying that forgiveness came to everyone for all time on that first Easter. ELS Pastor Rolf Preus has published this opinion repeatedly, and many chimed in to agree.
The terminology becomes confusing. Rolf uses the term objective justification to mean that everyone was declared forgiven when Christ rose from the dead. Others use the term “objective justification” as a synonym for the atoning death of Christ. Instead of untangling all that and giving the history, let’s look at what the Book of Concord says.
"For neither you nor I could ever know anything of Christ, or believe on Him, and obtain Him for our Lord, unless it were offered to us and granted to our hearts by the Holy Ghost through the preaching of the Gospel. The work is done and accomplished; for Christ has acquired and gained the treasure for us by His suffering, death, resurrection, etc. But if the work remained concealed so that no one knew of it, then it would be in vain and lost. That this treasure, therefore, might not lie buried, but be appropriated and enjoyed, God has caused the Word to go forth and be proclaimed, in which He gives the Holy Ghost to bring this treasure home and appropriate it to us. Therefore sanctifying is nothing else than bringing us to Christ to receive this good, to which we could not attain ourselves."
The Large Catechism, The Creed, Article III, #38, Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 689. Tappert, p. 415. Heiser, p. 194.
"Faith is that my whole heart takes to itself this treasure. It is not my doing, not my presenting or giving, not my work or preparation, but that a heart comforts itself, and is perfectly confident with respect to this, namely, that God makes a present and gift to us, and not we to Him, that He sheds upon us every treasure of grace in Christ."
Apology of the Augsburg Confession, IV. #48. Of Justification. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 135. Heiser, p. 36.
"These treasures are offered us by the Holy Ghost in the promise of the holy Gospel; and faith alone is the only means by which we lay hold upon, accept, and apply, and appropriate them to ourselves. This faith is a gift of God, by which we truly learn to know Christ, our Redeemer, in the Word of the Gospel, and trust in Him, that for the sake of His obedience alone we have the forgiveness of sins by grace, are regarded as godly and righteous by God the Father, and are eternally saved."
Formula of Concord, Thorough Declaration, III. #10. Of the Righteousness of Faith before God. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 919. Tappert, p. 541. Heiser, p. 250.
This is also exactly how Dr. Robert Preus expressed himself in his last book, “Justification and Rome,” published after his death.
"But the imputation of Christ's righteousness to the sinner takes place when the Holy Spirit brings him to faith through Baptism and the Word of the Gospel. Our sins were imputed to Christ at His suffering and death, imputed objectively after He, by His active and passive obedience, fulfilled and procured all righteousness for us. But the imputation of His righteousness to us takes place when we are brought to faith."
Robert D. Preus, Justification and Rome, St. Louis: Concordia Academic Press 1997, p. 72. (Imputing is another name for counting or reckoning. It is used repeatedly in Romans 4 in teaching how righteousness was imputed and will be imputed to those who believe in Christ.)
That is why the Lutheran Church has spent so much time in the past in teaching about the “Means of Grace.” Only the Word and sacraments are instruments or means by which God the Holy Spirit brings us forgiveness. And this forgiveness is received by faith.
The Bible and the Book of Concord speak always about the importance of faith, since the wrath of God remains on unbelievers. Yes, the atoning death of Christ remains truly the payment for the sins of the world, but man is damned for his unbelief in this message.
Justification is the declaration of forgiveness in the sight of God. A man may go to the electric chair for his crimes, but if he dies believing in the righteousness of Christ, he is innocent before God of his crimes.
The preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the Lord’s Supper cannot be without effect. Those who repent of their sins and receive the Gospel of forgiveness with joy and thankfulness will also be examples of forgiveness.
It does not work in the reverse. There are many people we admire for their kindly behavior, patience, and generosity, but all those traits are sins if they exist without faith in the Savior. St. Augustine called virtues without faith “glittering vices.” Luther pointed out that such people are in the greatest danger because their self-discipline makes them imagine that they can save themselves through their works, without God, without forgiveness of their sins.
The sins of all sins in the Bible is unbelief, so please do not tell me that God forgives every individual whether he ever believes in Christ or not. That concept of forgiveness without belief is the message of the Universalist, imagining that God is just too nice to hold unbelief against anyone. (It is no surprise that unbelievers do not think that unbelief is damning. Similarly, the JW and Mormon cultists do not believe in their final destination, Hell.)
But, when we trust in the Gospel, the Gospel slowly transforms us (Large Catechism, Baptism) so that the good leaven of Christ invades our being and makes us more loving, more patient, more generous, more forgiving.
God does everything that is good. He provides the Law to teach us our true nature, the Gospel of Jesus Christ to promise and give us forgiveness of our sins. The Holy Spirit motivates us (through the Means of Grace) to do good works to glorify God’s name.
This Gospel lesson is Jesus’ challenge to us to take this wonderful gift of forgiveness seriously, to be as merciful toward others as God is toward us.