A Laymen’s Commentary on the Epitome of the Formula of Concord: The Righteousness of Faith Before God

III. The Righteousness of Faith Before God.

The Principal Question In This Controversy.

1] Since it is unanimously confessed in our churches, in accordance with God’s Word and the sense of the Augsburg Confession, that we poor sinners are justified before God and saved alone by faith in Christ, and thus Christ alone is our Righteousness, who is true God and man, because in Him the divine and human natures are personally united with one another, Jer. 23:6; 1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor. 5:21, the question has arisen: According to which nature is Christ our Righteousness? and thus two contrary errors have arisen in some churches.

2] For the one side has held that Christ according to His divinity alone is our Righteousness, if He dwell in us by faith; contrasted with this divinity, dwelling in us by faith, the sins of all men must be regarded as a drop of water compared to the great ocean. Others, on the contrary, have held that Christ is our Righteousness before God according to the human nature alone.

At the time of the Formula of Concord it was universally accepted that Christ, who is God and man, is our righteousness as Scripture declares (Jeremiah 23:1-8,1 Corinthians 1:30, 2 Corinthians 5:11-21). However the question then was brought up, is it the human nature or the divine nature that is our Righteousness?

Andreas Osiander (1498-1552), originally one of the signers of many of the documents in the Book of Concord, said that Christ’s divinity dwelling in us is our Righteousness. On the other side Francesco Stancaro (1501-1574), who was a professor at the University of Konigsberg, said that Christ’s humanity dwelling in us is our Righteousness. The language of Christ dwelling in us is also popular today amongst the Evangelicals, though it is unlikely that they would speak with such specificity about the natures of Christ.

None of these opinions are correct. Christ certainly dwells with in us but that in and itself is not our Righteousness. Instead it is Christ for us, not Christ in us, that is our Righteousness.

Affirmative Theses.
Pure Doctrine of the Christian Churches against Both Errors Just Mentioned.

3] 1. Against both the errors just recounted, we unanimously believe, teach, and confess that Christ is our Righteousness neither according to the divine nature alone nor according to the human nature alone, but that it is the entire Christ according to both natures, in His obedience alone, which as God and man He rendered to the Father even unto death, and thereby merited for us the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, as it is written: As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of One shall many be made righteous, Rom. 5:19.

Against both the error of dividing Christ, we confess that it is the whole Christ, man and God, that is our Righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30, Philippians 2:1-11, Romans 5:12-21). Christ is not to be divided for He is now eternally united, to divide Him is to undermine His work. The Solid Declaration explains why the whole Christ is our righteousness:

55] Accordingly, since in our churches it is acknowledged [established beyond controversy] among the theologians of the Augsburg Confession that all our righteousness is to be sought outside the merits, works, virtues, and worthiness of ourselves and of all men, and rests alone upon Christ the Lord, it must be carefully considered in what respect Christ is called our Righteousness in this affair of justification, namely, that our righteousness rests not upon one or the other nature, but upon the entire person of Christ, who as God and man is our Righteousness in His only, entire, and complete obedience.

56] For even though Christ had been conceived and born without sin by the Holy Ghost, and had fulfilled all righteousness in His human nature alone, and yet had not been true and eternal God, this obedience and suffering of His human nature could not be imputed to us for righteousness. As also, if the Son of God had not become man, the divine nature alone could not be our righteousness. Therefore we believe, teach, and confess that the entire obedience of the entire person of Christ, which He has rendered the Father for us even to His most ignominious death upon the cross, is imputed to us for righteousness. For the human nature alone, without the divine, could neither by obedience nor suffering render satisfaction to eternal almighty God for the sins of all the world; however, the divinity alone, without the humanity, could not mediate between God and us.

57] But, since it is the obedience as above mentioned [not only of one nature, but] of the entire person, it is a complete satisfaction and expiation for the human race, by which the eternal, immutable righteousness of God, revealed in the Law, has been satisfied, and is thus our righteousness, which avails before God and is revealed in the Gospel, and upon which faith relies before God, which God imputes to faith, as it is written, Rom. 5:19: For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of One shall many be made righteous; and 1 John 1:7: The blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, cleanseth us from all sin. Likewise: The just shall live by his faith, Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:17.

58] Thus neither the divine nor the human nature of Christ by itself is imputed to us for righteousness, but only the obedience of the person who is at the same time God and man. And faith thus regards the person of Christ as it was made under the Law for us, bore our sins, and in His going to the Father offered to His heavenly Father for us poor sinners His entire, complete obedience, from His holy birth even unto death, and has thereby covered all our disobedience which inheres in our nature, and its thoughts, words, and works, so that it is not imputed to us for condemnation, but is pardoned and forgiven out of pure grace, alone for Christ’s sake.

Formula of Concord Solid Declaration Article III 55-58

This goes directly to soteriology, that being the economy of justification.  Christ must be fully man and fully God to save us. The Epitome continues:

4] 2. Accordingly, we believe, teach, and confess that our righteousness before God is (this very thing], that God forgives us our sins out of pure grace, without any work, merit, or worthiness of ours preceding, present, or following, that He presents and imputes to us the righteousness of Christ’s obedience, on account of which righteousness we are received into grace by God, and regarded as righteous.

It is Christ’s work alone that is justifying. It is this work that is credited to us as righteousness (Romans 5:17-19). Thus it is Christ’s objective work in the cross imputed to the Christian that saves.

5] 3. We believe, teach, and confess that faith alone is the means and instrument whereby we lay hold of Christ, and thus in Christ of that righteousness which avails before God, for whose sake this faith is imputed to us for righteousness, Rom. 4:5.

6] 4. We believe, teach, and confess that this faith is not a bare knowledge of the history of Christ, but such a gift of God by which we come to the right knowledge of Christ as our Redeemer in the Word of the Gospel, and trust in Him that for the sake of His obedience alone we have, by grace, the forgiveness of sins, are regarded as holy and righteous before God the Father, and eternally saved.

This faith is not just a mere knowledge of history but rather a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8). For a full discussion of what faith is see Apology of the Augsburg Confession Article IV (II) 48-60. In the Apology Melancthon points out that faith is a trust in the promises of God, regardless of how much knowledge one has about Him and His work. So even an infant can have faith for it depends not on intellectual assent but trust.

7] 5. We believe, teach, and confess that according to the usage of Holy Scripture the word justify means in this article, to absolve, that is, to declare free from sins. Prov. 17:15: He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the righteous, even they both are abomination to the Lord. Also Rom. 8:33: Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.

8] And when, in place of this, the words regeneratio and vivificatio, that is, regeneration and vivification, are employed, as in the Apology, this is done in the same sense. By these terms, in other places, the renewal of man is understood, and distinguished from justification by faith.

To define a couple of terms: To justify has a highly technical meaning.  Namely to absolve, declare free from sins.  It is a courtroom term (Proverbs 17:15, Romans 8:31-3). The term regeneration or renewal of life is also sometimes used in Scripture to mean justify.  The Solid Declaration has a longer discussion of this:

18] However, since the word regeneratio, regeneration, is sometimes employed for the word iustificatio, justification, it is necessary that this word be properly explained, in order that the renewal which follows justification of faith may not be confounded with the justification of faith, but that they may be properly distinguished from one another.

19] For, in the first place, the word regeneratio, that is, regeneration, is used so as to comprise at the same time the forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake alone, and the succeeding renewal which the Holy Ghost works in those who are justified by faith. Then, again, it is [sometimes] used pro remissione peccatorum et adoptione in filios Dei, that is, so as to mean only the remission of sins, and that we are adopted as sons of God. And in this latter sense the word is much and often used in the Apology, where it is written: Iustificatio est regeneratio, that is, Justification before God is regeneration. St. Paul, too, has employed these words as distinct from one another, Titus 3:5: He saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Ghost. 20] As also the word vivificatio, that is, making alive, has sometimes been used in a like sense. For when man is justified through faith (which the Holy Ghost alone works), this is truly a regeneration, because from a child of wrath he becomes a child of God, and thus is transferred from death to life, as it is written: When we were dead in sins, He hath quickened us together with Christ, Eph. 2:5. Likewise: The just shall live by faith, Rom. 1:17; Hab. 2:4. In this sense the word is much and often used in the Apology.

21] But again, it is often taken also for sanctification and renewal, which succeeds the righteousness of faith, as Dr. Luther has thus used it in his book concerning the Church and the Councils, and elsewhere.

22] But when we teach that through the operation of the Holy Ghost we are born anew and justified, the sense is not that after regeneration no unrighteousness clings any more to the justified and regenerate in their being and life, but that Christ covers all their sins which nevertheless in this life still inhere in nature with His complete obedience. But irrespective of this they are declared and regarded godly and righteous by faith and for the sake of Christ’s obedience (which Christ rendered the Father for us from His birth to His most ignominious death upon the cross), although, on account of their corrupt nature, they still are and remain sinners to the grave [while they bear about this mortal body]. Nor, on the other hand, is this the meaning, that without repentance, conversion, and renewal we might or should yield to sins, and remain and continue in them.

Formula of Concord Solid Declaration Article III 18-22

Thus we should be careful to distinguish the context in which regeneration is used, and hence its meaning. As always with biblical interpretation, context is essential. The Epitome continues:

9] 6. We believe, teach, and confess also that notwithstanding the fact that many weaknesses and defects cling to the true believers and truly regenerate, even to the grave, still they must not on that account doubt either their righteousness which has been imputed to them by faith, or the salvation of their souls, but must regard it as certain that for Christ’s sake, according to the promise and [immovable] Word of the holy Gospel, they have a gracious God.

Even though sin clings to the believer after conversion and regeneration it does not mean that that believer is not justified.  The person is justified on account of Christ’s sacrifice.  God sees them as pure.  It is God who justifies and declares us righteous.  The continued indwelling sin does not indicate that a person is not justified (1 John 1:5-10).

10] 7. We believe, teach, and confess that for the preservation of the pure doctrine concerning the righteousness of faith before God it is necessary to urge with special diligence the particulae exclusivae, that is, the exclusive particles, i. e., the following words of the holy Apostle Paul, by which the merit of Christ is entirely separated from our works, and the honor given to Christ alone, when the holy Apostle Paul writes: Of grace, without merit, without Law, without works, not of works. All these words together mean as much as that we are justified and saved alone by faith in Christ. Eph. 2:8; Rom. 1:17; 3:24; 4:3ff.; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 11.

With regards to justification we must follow the pattern of Scripture and use exclusive terms. We need to remove any human work or doubt with regards to our justification. This requires being precise in our language. The Solid Declaration puts it like this:

36] And this is the meaning of the Apostle Paul when in this article he urges so diligently and zealously the particulas exclusivas, that is, the words by which works are excluded from the article of justification: absque operibus, sine lege, gratis, non ex operibus, that is, by grace, without merit, without works, not of works. These exclusivae are all comprised in the expression: By faith alone in Christ we are justified before God and saved. For thereby works are excluded, not in the sense that a true faith can exist without contrition, or that good works should, must, and dare not follow true faith as sure and indubitable fruits, or that believers dare not nor must do anything good; but good works are excluded from the article of justification before God, so that they must not be drawn into, woven into, or mingled with the transaction of the justification of the poor sinner before God as necessary or belonging thereto. And the true sense of the particulae exclusivae in articulo iustificationis, that is, of the aforementioned terms, in the article of justification, consists in the following, and they should also be urged in this article with all diligence and earnestness [on account of these reasons]

Formula of Concord Solid Declaration Article III 36

Scripture uses this exclusive language extensively. See

  • Ephesians 2:8
  • Romans 1:17
  • Romans 3:21-31
  • Romans 4
  • Galatians 3:1-14
  • Hebrews 11:1-12:2

The Epitome continues:

11] 8. We believe, teach, and confess that, although the contrition that precedes, and the good works that follow, do not belong to the article of justification before God, yet one is not to imagine a faith of such a kind as can exist and abide with, and alongside of, a wicked intention to sin and to act against the conscience. But after man has been justified by faith, then a true living faith worketh by love, Gal. 5:6, so that thus good works always follow justifying faith, and are surely found with it, if it be true and living; for it never is alone, but always has with it love and hope.

We will talk more about this in the next article on Good Works.  However we should be clear that justification doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  Justification is God’s work alone but other elements surround Justification.  Contrition proceeds justification (it is not the cause of Justification though) and Good Works follow Justification (it is not the cause of Justification though) (Galatians 5:1-15, James 2:14-26).

The Solid Declaration says:

41] For good works do not precede faith, neither does sanctification precede justification. But first faith is kindled in us in conversion by the Holy Ghost from the hearing of the Gospel. This lays hold of God’s grace in Christ, by which the person is justified. Then, when the person is justified, he is also renewed and sanctified by the Holy Ghost, from which renewal and sanctification the fruits of good works then follow. Et haec non ita divelluntur, quasi vera fides aliquando et aliquamdiu stare possit cum malo proposito, sed ordine causarum et effectuum, antecedentium et consequentium, ita distribuuntur. Manet enim, quod Lutherus recte dicit: Bene conveniunt et sunt connexa inseparabiliter fides et opera; sed sola fides est, quae apprehendit benedictionem sine operibus, et tamen nunquam est sola. That is: This should not be understood as though justification and renewal were sundered from one another in such a manner that a genuine faith sometimes could exist and continue for a time together with a wicked intention, but hereby only the order [of causes and effects, of antecedents and consequents] is indicated, how one precedes or succeeds the other. For what Luther has correctly said remains true nevertheless: Faith and good works well agree and fit together [are inseparably connected]; but it is faith alone, without works, which lays hold of the blessing; and yet it is never and at no time alone. This has been set forth above.

42] Many disputations also are usefully and well explained by means of this true distinction, of which the Apology treats in reference to the passage James 2:20. For when we speak of faith, how it justifies, the doctrine of St. Paul is that faith alone, without works, justifies, Rom. 3:28, inasmuch as it applies and appropriates to us the merit of Christ, as has been said. But if the question is, wherein and whereby a Christian can perceive and distinguish, either in himself or in others, a true living faith from a feigned and dead faith, (since many idle, secure Christians imagine for themselves a delusion in place of faith, while they nevertheless have no true faith,) the Apology gives this answer: James calls that dead faith where good works and fruits of the Spirit of every kind do not follow. And to this effect the Latin edition of the Apology says: Iacobus recte negat, nos tali fide iustificari, quae est sine operibus, hoc est, quae mortua est. That is: St. James teaches correctly when he denies that we are justified by such a faith as is without works, which is dead faith.

43] But James speaks, as the Apology says, concerning the works of those who have already been justified through Christ, reconciled with God, and obtained forgiveness of sins through Christ. But if the question is, whereby and whence faith has this, and what appertains to this that it justifies and saves, it is false and incorrect to say: Fidem non posse iustificare sine operibus; vel fidem, quatenus caritatem, qua formatur, coniunctam habet, iustificare; vel fidei, ut iustificet, necessariam esse praesentiam bonorum operum; vel bona opera esse causam sine qua non, quae per particulas exclusivas ex articulo iustificationis non excludantur. That is: That faith cannot justify without works; or that faith justifies or makes righteous, inasmuch as it has love with it, for the sake of which love this is ascribed to faith [it has love with it, by which it is formed]; or that the presence of works with faith is necessary if otherwise man is to be justified thereby before God; or that the presence of good works in the article of justification, or for justification, is needful, so that good works are a cause without which man cannot be justified, and that they are not excluded from the article of justification by the particulae exclusivae: absque operibus etc., that is, when St. Paul says: without works. For faith makes righteous only inasmuch as and because, as a means and instrument, it lays hold of, and accepts, the grace of God and the merit of Christ in the promise of the Gospel.

Formula of Concord Solid Declaration Article III 41-43

As we will see later “Justification is by faith alone, but faith is never alone” (1 Corinthians 13). The Epitome continues:

Antitheses: Contrary Doctrines Rejected.

12] Therefore we reject and condemn all the following errors:

13] 1. That Christ is our Righteousness according to His divine nature alone.

14] 2. That Christ is our Righteousness according to His human nature alone.

Christ is our righteousness according to both natures.  The whole Christ is involved. We should never divide Christ.

15] 3. That in the sayings of the prophets and apostles where the righteousness of faith is spoken of the words justify and to be justified are not to signify declaring or being declared free from sins, and obtaining the forgiveness of sins, but actually being made righteous before God, because of love infused by the Holy Ghost, virtues, and the works following them.

16] 4. That faith looks not only to the obedience of Christ, but to His divine nature, as it dwells and works in us, and that by this indwelling our sins are covered.

It is Christ for us, not Christ in us. Grace is imputed to us by the work of Christ, not infused in us by His indwelling. The Solid Declaration says:

54] Likewise also the disputation concerning the indwelling in us of the essential righteousness of God must be correctly explained. For although in the elect, who are justified by Christ and reconciled with God, God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, who is the eternal and essential righteousness, dwells by faith (for all Christians are temples of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, who also impels them to do right), yet this indwelling of God is not the righteousness of faith of which St. Paul treats and which he calls iustitiam Dei, that is, the righteousness of God, for the sake of which we are declared righteous before God; but it follows the preceding righteousness of faith, which is nothing else than the forgiveness of sins and the gracious adoption of the poor sinner, for the sake of Christ’s obedience and merit alone.

Formula of Concord Solid Declaration Article III 54

The Epitome continues:

17] 5. That faith is such a trust in the obedience of Christ as can exist and remain in a man even when he has no genuine repentance, in whom also no love follows, but who persists in sins against his conscience.

We will talk about this more in the next article.  However, faith and unrepentant sin cannot coexist. They are antithetical to each other.

18] 6. That not God Himself, but only the gifts of God, dwell in believers.

19] 7. That faith saves on this account, because by faith the renewal, which consists in love to God and one’s neighbor, is begun in us.

20] 8. That faith has the first place in justification, nevertheless also renewal and love belong to our righteousness before God in such a manner that they [renewal and love] are indeed not the chief cause of our righteousness, but that nevertheless our righteousness before God is not entire or perfect without this love and renewal.

21] 9. That believers are justified before God and saved jointly by the imputed righteousness of Christ and by the new obedience begun in them, or in part by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, but in part also by the new obedience begun in them.

22] 10. That the promise of grace is made our own by faith in the heart, and by the confession which is made with the mouth, and by other virtues.

23] 11. That faith does not justify without good works; so that good works are necessarily required for righteousness, and without their presence man cannot be justified.

All variations on works righteousness.  Basically declaring that God gets you kick started but you must do the rest.  It is God who wholly saves.  He does not partially do it, but fully.  To say otherwise is to say that Christ’s death on the cross is insufficient, and robs glory from God.

As always this is the article on which the church stands or falls.  Justification must remain whole and undefiled by any human work.  It is purely the work of Christ, for you, for your forgiveness. As the Solid Declaration emphatically says:

6] This article concerning justification by faith (as the Apology says) is the chief article in the entire Christian doctrine, without which no poor conscience can have any firm consolation, or can truly know the riches of the grace of Christ, as Dr. Luther also has written: If this only article remains pure on the battlefield, the Christian Church also remains pure, and in goodly harmony and without any sects; but if it does not remain pure, it is not possible that any error or fanatical spirit can be resisted. (Tom. 5, Jena, p. 159.) 7] And concerning this article especially Paul says that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. Therefore, in this article he urges with so much zeal and earnestness the particulas exclusivas, that is, the words whereby the works of men are excluded (namely, without Law, without works, by grace [freely], Rom. 3:28; 4:5; Eph. 2:8-9), in order to indicate how highly necessary it is that in this article, aside from [the presentation of] the pure doctrine, the antithesis, that is, all contrary dogmas, be stated separately, exposed, and rejected by this means.

Formula of Concord Solid Declaration Article III 6

1 By grace I’m saved, grace free and boundless;
My soul, believe and doubt it not.
Why stagger at this word of promise?
Has Scripture ever falsehood taught?
No! Then this word must true remain;
By grace you too will life obtain.

2 By grace! None dare lay claim to merit;
Our works and conduct have no worth.
God in His love sent our Redeemer,
Christ Jesus, to this sinful earth;
His death did for our sins atone,
And we are saved by grace alone.

3 By grace God’s Son, our only Savior,
Came down to earth to bear our sin.
Was it because of your own merit
That Jesus died your soul to win?
No, it was grace, and grace alone,
That brought Him from His heav’nly throne.

4 By grace! This ground of faith is certain;
So long as God is true, it stands.
What saints have penned by inspiration,
What in His Word our God commands,
Our faith in what our God has done
Depends on grace–grace through His Son.

5 By grace to timid hearts that tremble,
In tribulation’s furnace tried,
By grace, in spite of fear and trouble,
The Father’s heart is open wide.
Where could I help and strength secure
If grace were not my anchor sure?

6 By grace! On this I’ll rest when dying;
In Jesus’ promise I rejoice;
For though I know my heart’s condition,
I also know my Savior’s voice.
My heart is glad, all grief has flown
Since I am saved by grace alone.

(LSB 566)

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