Posts tagged ‘Apology of the Augsburg Confession’

ABC Extra – Righteous, Dude!

“Righteous!”  Whenever I see this word followed by an exclamation point, I cannot help but envision a teenage Californian with long hair, decked out in board shorts, surfboard in hand, just waiting to take on the next big wave.  And it’s not surprising that this is the portrait that comes to mind.  After all, the word “righteous” is not exactly an integral entry in our pop-culture lexicon.  And when the term is used, it describes nothing more than a big wave.  In fact, I found some of the synonyms assigned to the word “righteous” in the Urban Dictionary to be interesting:  “awesome,” “amazing,” “cool,” “exciting.”[1]  All of these can certainly apply to big waves.

Though the word “righteous” is not regularly used in a particularly thoughtful manner in our day and age, this word served as a foundation of theological thinking and speaking for the biblical writers.  For it was used to describe the very character of God: “The LORD is righteous; He has cut me free from the cords of the wicked” (Psalm 129:4).  It is interesting to note how the Psalmist connects the righteousness of God to the defeat of wickedness.  In the Bible, righteousness and wickedness are inimical.  Thus, righteousness is more than just something that is “awesome” or “cool,” it is, in a phrase, that which is wholly right while actively opposing that which is wrong.

In our text from this past weekend in worship and ABC, God expounds not only on His righteousness, but on how a person can connect to His righteousness.  God says through His prophet Habakkuk, “The righteous will live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4).  “Righteousness,” God says, “is not attained by righteous living, but through faith in the God who is the very definition and embodiment of righteousness.”

Interestingly, this conception of righteousness – that it is attained through faith in God – is at odds with Habakkuk’s conception of righteousness.  When God tells Habakkuk that the Babylonians will soon sweep in to destroy Israel because of her unrighteousness, Habakkuk protests:  “Why are You silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves” (Habakkuk 1:13)?  Habakkuk carries with him a conception of righteousness that is grounded not in God, but in good works.  The more good things a person does, the more righteous he is.  Conversely, the more bad things a person does, the more wicked he is.  Habakkuk’s argument to God, then, is, “Israel may be wicked, but Babylon is wicked-er!  How can You use a nation less righteous than Israel to punish her for her unrighteousness?”

It is important to understand that Habakkuk’s objection to God and conception of righteousness is not entirely unfounded.  Righteousness can be and is defined in such a way to include the works the one does.  Indeed, the Lutheran Confessions even speak of a “righteousness of works”:  “The human will…can to a certain extent render civil righteousness or the righteousness of works; it can speak of God, offer to God a certain service by an outward work, obey magistrates, parents; in the choice of an outward work it can restrain the hands from murder, from adultery, from theft” (Ap XVIII:40).  This “righteousness of works,” however, as helpful as it might be to keep society in order and provide for its ongoing tranquility, counts for nothing in the sight of God.  Isaiah accurately estimates the value of this kind of righteousness before God when he writes, “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).

God’s primary concern is not how righteous we are in the world’s sight, but how righteous we are in His sight.  And righteousness in God’s sight can only be attained by faith in Christ.  As the Lutheran Confessions state: “The imputation of the righteousness of the Gospel is from the promise; therefore it is always received by faith, and it always must be regarded certain that by faith we are, for Christ’s sake, accounted righteous” (Ap IV:42-43).  Because we are accounted righteous “for Christ’s sake,” we cannot consider anyone better or worse, holier or wicked-er, in the sight of God.  For Christ’s righteousness is indiscriminately and freely applied to all who have faith.  And because Christ’s righteousness is whole and complete, everyone who receives His righteousness is also whole and complete.  There is no difference between those justified in Christ.  That is why, to obtain true righteousness, only one thing will do – faith!

Want to learn more? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!


[1] Definition 2 at http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=righteous

April 30, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – Atonement: Universal or Limited?

This weekend in worship and ABC, we continued our “Credo!” series with a study of the doctrine of the atonement.  As I mentioned in ABC, the word “atonement” comes to us via the sixteenth century, literally meaning, “at-one-ment.”  That is, the doctrine of the atonement teaches that whereas sin separates us from God, God makes us “at-one” with Him through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ.  The apostle Paul explains it well:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. (2 Corinthians 5:17-20)

With these words, Paul offers a simple, yet eloquent, definition of the doctrine of the atonement.  The atonement is God’s reconciliation of the world to Himself through Christ.  Yet, this definition has caused more than a little debate over the years.

Two opposite and equal errors have been made with regard to the doctrine of the atonement.  The first error is that of “universal atonement.”  “Universal atonement” teaches that, because God has reconciled the world to himself through Christ, ultimately, no one will stand condemned.  Everyone will be saved.  Indeed, this what the great church father Origen taught:

So then, when the end has been restored to the beginning…so that when all feeling of wickedness has been removed, and the individual has been purified and cleansed, He who alone is the one good God becomes to him “all,” and that not in the case of a few individuals, or of a considerable number, but He Himself is “all in all.” (Origen, De Prinicipiis, 3.6.3).

Origen’s borrows the phrase “all in all” from 1 Corinthians 15:28 to assert that God will not just save “a few individuals, or a considerable number,” but all people!  Everyone will be saved!  This is the doctrine of universal atonement.  And it is a false doctrine.  Not all people will be saved.

The second error that has crept into the doctrine of atonement is that of “limited atonement.”  “Limited atonement” notes that, even though Paul writes “that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ,” not all are saved.   Some are cast into hell (cf. Revelation 20:15).  Thus, “limited atonement” teaches that God did not reconcile the whole world to Himself in Christ; rather, He reconciled only the world of the elect, or those He has chosen for salvation, to Himself.  Indeed, this is the teaching of many modern day Calvinists, although it is debatable as to whether or not Calvin himself taught this.

So what is the way through these debates?  Is universal atonement or limited atonement correct?  Actually, neither is correct.  Lutherans have long made a distinction between objective justification and subjective justification.  Objective justification states that when Christ died, He did so for the sins of the whole world.  God sought to reconcile the whole world to Himself in Christ.  Subjective justification notes that Christ’s objective work on the cross must be received subjectively, or personally, through faith.  This is what the Lutheran Confessions call “personal faith”: “Personal faith – by which an individual believes that his or her sins are remitted on account of Christ and that God is reconciled and gracious on account of Christ – receives the forgiveness of sins and justifies us” (Apology IV:45).  In other words, the Lutheran confessors teach that Christ’s objective work on the cross does you no good if you don’t trust in it for your forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation!  This is why the Scriptures contain constant calls to personal faith (e.g., Romans 10:9-10).

Both objective and subjective justification are needed.  Subjective justification is needed because it invites us to have faith and reminds us that without faith, we will be damned (cf. Luke 8:12).  Objective justification is important because it reminds us that Christ’s work on the cross is not just for some, but for the whole world.  Indeed, it is for you!  God not only reconciles the world to Himself in Christ, He reconciles you, for He loves you.  This is the true doctrine of the atonement!

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!

October 4, 2010 at 5:15 am 3 comments


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