Rev. Brian L. Kachelmeier serves as pastor of Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in Los Alamos, NM. He is the host of the Redeemer Theological Academy radio program, frequent guest on Issues, Etc., Old Testament teacher for the Wittenberg Academy, and author of the soon to be released book Reading Isaiah with Luther.
In the Apology, Melanchthon is setting forth the proper teaching on the article of Justification. When he employs the Latin phrase “lex semper accusat” (the Law always accuses), he is rejecting the papist teaching on the Righteousness of the Law without Christ the Mediator. They bury Christ and teach the Law for justification. The Law always accuses and condemns the self-righteous. In contrast, he sets forth the Biblical doctrine of justification through faith alone in Christ our Mediator. In concord with Melanchthon, we believe, teach, and confess the Righteousness of the Gospel.
The key difference between these two opposing views on justification is found in the role of Christ as Mediator. When justification is taught correctly, all honor and glory are properly given to Christ and troubled consciences are comforted. However, when the article of justification is lost, Christ’s work as Mediator is obscured and Christians are robbed of true comfort for the conscience. With Christ as the Mediator by faith, we have the remission of sins, the renewal of the Holy Spirit, and the righteousness of Christ. In this life, the justified begin to keep the Law and the perfect obedience of Christ is imputed to them. For those who have been justified by faith, we boldly proclaim the Latin phrase “lex non potest eos accusare aut damnare” (the law cannot accuse or condemn them).
This does not mean that we have no use for the Law. The justified need to be constantly led by the Holy Spirit and guided by the Law. To be clear here, we are not saying that the Gospel no longer needs to be heard by the justified. On the contrary, the Gospel needs to be perpetually preached to repentant believing sinners, who by nature, are still plagued with sin. Melanchthon writes,
… in the preaching of repentance the preaching of the Law is not sufficient, because the Law works wrath and always accuses. But the preaching of the Gospel should be added, namely, that in this way remission of sins is granted us, if we believe that sins are remitted us for Christ’s sake. Otherwise, why would there be need of the Gospel, why would there be need of Christ? This belief ought always to be in view, in order that it may be opposed to those who, Christ being cast aside and the Gospel being blotted out, wickedly distort the Scriptures to the human opinions, that by our works we purchase remission of sins. (Triglotta Apology Art. IV On Justification [Article III: Love and the Fulfilling of the Law], para. 139. NOTE: Kolb/Tappert Apology Art. IV, 260).
If we only preach the Law to the justified, then we will produce Pharisaic pride in the heart. In addition, we would end up focusing their attention on their own works and not the work of Christ their Mediator. It must be noted that the Law will work wrath and always accuse them of sin.
Later Melanchthon states,
…In regard to justification, we therefore are compelled to dissent from the adversaries. For the Gospel shows another mode; the Gospel compels us to avail ourselves of Christ in justification; it teaches that through Him we have access to God by faith; it teaches that we ought to set Him as Mediator and Propitiator against God’s wrath; it teaches that by faith in Christ the remission of sins and reconciliation are received, and the terrors of sin and of death overcome. (Triglotta Apology Art. IV On Justification [Article III: Love and the Fulfilling of the Law], para. 170-171. NOTE: Kolb/Tappert Apology Art. IV, 291-292).
In this life, we constantly need an Advocate with the Father, Jesus the Righteous One who is the Propitiation for our sins. We are continually in need of the remission of sins and the renewal of the Holy Spirit. Melanchthon continues with the importance of hearing the Gospel by saying,
And when in this manner the heart is cheered and quickened by faith, it receives the Holy Ghost, who renews us, so that we are able to observe the Law; so that we are able to love God and the Word of God, and to be submissive to God in afflictions; so that we are able to be chaste, to love our neighbor, etc. Even though these works are as yet far distant from the perfection of the Law, yet they please on account of faith, by which we are accounted righteous, because we believe that for Christ’s sake we have a reconciled God. These things are plain and in harmony with the Gospel, and can be understood by persons of sound mind. And from this foundation it can easily be decided why we ascribe justification to faith, and not to love; although love follows faith, because love is the fulfilling of the Law. But Paul teaches that we are justified not from the Law, but from the promise which is received only by faith. For we neither come to God without Christ as Mediator, nor receive remission of sins for the sake of our love, but for the sake of Christ. (Triglotta Apology Art. IV On Justification [Article III: Love and the Fulfilling of the Law], para. 172-173. NOTE: Kolb/Tappert Apology Art. IV, 293-294).
The papists teach that faith initiates justification and love completes it. Melanchthon makes it clear that our love does not justify us before God. For those who seek to fulfill the Law by their love without Christ the Mediator, the Law always accuses. He states,
Likewise we are not able to love God while He is angry, and the Law always accuses us, always manifests to us an angry God. Therefore, by faith we must first apprehend the promise that for Christ’s sake the Father is reconciled and forgives. Afterwards we begin to observe the Law. Our eyes are to be cast far away from human reason, far away from Moses upon Christ, and we are to believe that Christ is given us, in order that for His sake we may be accounted righteous. In the flesh we never satisfy the Law. Thus, therefore, we are accounted righteous, not on account of the Law, but on account of Christ, because His merits are granted us, if we believe on Him. If any one, therefore, has considered these foundations, that we are not justified by the Law, because human nature cannot observe the Law of God and cannot love God, but that we are justified from the promise, in which, for Christ’s sake, reconciliation, righteousness, and eternal life have been promised, he will easily understand that justification must necessarily be ascribed to faith, if he only will reflect upon the fact that it is not in vain that Christ has been promised and set forth, that He has been born and has suffered and been raised again; if he will reflect upon the fact that the promise of grace in Christ is not in vain, that it was made immediately from the beginning of the world, apart from and beyond the Law; if he will reflect upon the fact that the promise should be received by faith… (Triglotta Apology Art. IV On Justification [Article III: Love and the Fulfilling of the Law], para. 174-176. NOTE: Kolb/Tappert Apology Art. IV, 295-297).
In this life, we can never love God perfectly in our hearts. Our love will always fall short and the Law will always accuse us. We cannot be justified before God by our love. Love does not complete our justification. At the same time, faith does not begin our justification; rather, faith justifies us and receives the Holy Spirit. It is impossible to please God without faith, and it is impossible to keep the Law without the Holy Spirit. Faith begins our keeping of the Law. This incipient keeping of the Law is counted as righteousness before God solely because of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness by faith alone without the works of the Law. As Mediator, Christ took the anger and wrath of God upon Himself on the cross. He bears our sin. If He bears our sin, then our consciences do not. Thus, Melanchthon writes,
…The glory of Christ becomes more brilliant when we teach that we avail ourselves of Him as Mediator and Propitiator. Godly consciences see that in this doctrine the most abundant consolation is offered to them, namely, that they ought to believe and most firmly assert that they have a reconciled Father for Christ’s sake, and not for the sake of our righteousness, (Triglotta Apology Art. IV On Justification [Article III: Love and the Fulfilling of the Law], para. 178. NOTE: Kolb/Tappert Apology Art. IV, 299).
Whereas, obedience to the Law demands perfection, obedience to the Gospel requires faith. Therefore, Melanchthon states,
… And this obedience to the Gospel is reckoned for righteousness, so that, only on account of this, because by this we apprehend Christ as Propitiator, good works, or obedience to the Law, are pleasing. For we do not satisfy the Law, but for Christ’s sake this is forgiven us, as Paul says, Rom. 8:1: There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus. (Triglotta Apology Art. IV On Justification [Article III: Love and the Fulfilling of the Law], para. 187. NOTE: Kolb/Tappert Apology Art. IV, 308).
By His death on the cursed tree, Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the Law and freed us from the condemnation of the Law. In Christ, the Law cannot accuse or condemn. For this reason, Melanchthon asserts,
Paul teaches this in Gal. 3:13, when he says: Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us, i.e., the Law condemns all men, but Christ, because without sin He has borne the punishment of sin, and been made a victim for us, has removed that right of the Law to accuse and condemn those who believe in Him, because He Himself is the propitiation for them for whose sake we are now accounted righteous. But since they are accounted righteous, the Law cannot accuse or condemn them, even though they have not actually satisfied the Law. To the same purport he writes to the Colossians 2:10: Ye are complete in Him, as though he were to say: Although ye are still far from the perfection of the Law, yet the remnants of sin do not condemn you, because for Christ’s sake we have a sure and firm reconciliation, if you believe, even though sin inhere in your flesh. (Triglotta Apology Art. IV On Justification [Article III: Love and the Fulfilling of the Law], para. 58. NOTE: Kolb/Tappert Apology Art. IV, 179).
By faith, we receive the remission of sins, the renewal of the Holy Spirit, and the righteousness of Christ. The Law cannot accuse or condemn those who have been justified by faith in Christ the Mediator!