Justification, according to the third article of the Formula of Concord Solid Declaration means to “pronounce righteous and free from sins and to count as freed from the eternal punishment of sin because of Christ’s righteousness, which is ‘reckoned to faith by God’ (Phil 3:9)” (FCSD III.17). Justification is the article upon which the church stands or falls. Because this is the most important article, as Luther himself asserted in the Smalcald Articles, it is vital that we receive and confess it properly and emphatically as often as we can.
To be justified is to be forgiven of all our sins on account of the vicarious death and glorious resurrection of our Lord and Savior,Jesus the Christ. We are justified by being forgiven of our sins. Or, to put it a different way, we are bound in sin and we are justified, or freed in the forgiveness of our sin by our Free Lord, Jesus Christ. He is not captive to sin, death, nor the power of the devil, but we are. In order for us to be forgiven, the Free God must release us bound sinners in the free gift of holy absolution. Only in the complete and free forgiveness of our sins, on account of Jesus’ righteousness, are we bound sinners released from our captivity to the tyrannies that overwhelm us everyday.
This all may seem superfluous to talk about on a Lutheran site, but it is necessary because wherever and whenever the gospel is assumed it is lost. I can’t count how many Lutheran (LCMS) sermons I have heard that do not do the work of preaching the forgiveness of sins. Not preaching about being forgiven, but actually preaching the Law of God to reveal sin and the Gospel of Jesus Christ that forgives sins. To be sure, there are many faithful Lutheran preachers who free the bound conscience in the proclamation of the Gospel faithfully every Lord’s Day. If you are one of those faithful preachers, then I pray that the Holy Spirit keep you in that faithful proclamation. If you are a hearer of that faithful preacher, then I pray that you be kept steadfast in the faithful hearing and reception of the means of grace. However, if you are not faithful in this justifying proclamation, I ask that you read again the third article of the Formula of Concord and pray that the Holy Spirit guide you to free the bound sinner in the preaching of absolution. If you are a hearer that is not hearing the free forgiveness given on account of Jesus’ righteousness, then I pray that you would bring your pastor back gently (Galatians 6:1) and graciously remind him of his ordination vow to uphold both the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions.
This understanding that Justification is best confessed as the free forgiveness of sins is vital for the Church’s faithful proclamation. At the end of article III in FCSD, they guide people to read Luther’s lectures on Galatians to further understand what Justification is. In that volume, concerning chapter 3 verse 13, Luther says, “This is the most joyous of all doctrines and the one that contains the most comfort. It teaches that we have the indescribable and inestimable mercy and love of God. When the merciful Father saw that w were being oppressed through the Law, that we were being held under a curse, and that we could not be liberated from it by anything, He send His Son into the world, heaped all the sins of all men upon Him, and said to Him: “Be Peter the denier; Paul the persecutor, blasphemer, and assaulter; David the adulterer; the sinner who ate the apple in Paradise; the thief on the cross. In short, be the person of all men, the one who has committed the sins of all me n. And see to it that You pay and make satisfaction for them.” (LW 26:280). This is why we need to understand properly that Justification is an action of the forgiveness of sins. It is not a dead doctrine to be memorized, but the action of the proclamation of the complete forgiveness of the sinner. The sinner is completely absolved because Christ completely took his or her sin and made it His own. This is the faithful proclamation of the Lutheran minister. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit keep us in this steadfast proclamation in order that justification may take place for every bound sinner.