Augsburg Confession, Article XXI – The Worship of the Saints

We’re getting closer and closer to the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. October 31st this year will mark the 500th anniversary of Luther posting the 95 Theses. The theses were meant to open an academic discussion on the prevailing Roman Catholic practice of selling indulgences. Though Luther does make many good points here, Luther’s thought in 1517 isn’t quite the same as his confession of faith in 1529 (when he published the Small Catechism). There are reasons why we pledge ourselves to the Small Catechism, not the Theses. Therefore, this year we’ve been studying another work, which Luther would claim as another clear confession of the faith he preached and taught, the Augsburg Confession.

This month we turn to another rather visible difference between Lutheranism and the Roman Catholic Church as it has existed for more than five centuries. Article XXI of the Augsburg Confession is titled, “Worship of the Saints,” and it deals with exactly that. Or, more clearly, how do we as saints on earth relate to the saints in heaven. What role do those who have preceded us in the faith play in our lives here? Even shorter, why don’t we pray to the saints?

Our churches teach that the history of saints may be set before us so that we may follow the example of their faith and good works, according to our calling. For example, the emperor may follow the example of David [2 Samuel] in making war to drive away the Turk from his country. For both are kings. But the Scriptures do not teach that we are to call on the saints or to ask the saints for help. Scripture sets before us the one Christ as the Mediator, Atoning Sacrifice, High Priest, and Intercessor [1 Timothy 2:5–6]. He is to be prayed to. He has promised that He will hear our prayer [John 14:13]. This is the worship that He approves above all other worship, that He be called upon in all afflictions. “If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father” (1 John 2:1).

Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 44.

The AC first answers in a positive sense how we on earth should view the saints. “Our churches teach that the history of saints may be set before us so that we may follow the example of their faith and good works, according to our calling. For example, the emperor may follow the example of David in making war to drive away the Turk from his country. For both are kings.” The Confession says that we may teach about those who have gone before us as examples for us to follow. Notice how the saint chosen is from Scripture. A king, for example, could look to David for a model – since they’re both kings. In my case, as a pastor, I could look to Timothy, since we’re both pastors.

The Apology of the Augsburg Confession (a follow-up document also in the Book of Concord) expands this explanation. It says, “They [the Roman Catholic opponents] absolutely condemn Article XXI because we do not require the invocation of saints. On no other topic do they speak more smoothly or wordily.” (Ap XXI, par. 1) Therefore, it says, we approve honoring the saints in three ways. The first is simple thanksgiving to God. We give thanks to God for the mercy shown to them, and that He has given us such great teachers and examples. Second, we honor the saints by being strengthened in the faith through their example. “When we see Peter’s denial forgiven, we also are encouraged to believe all the more that grace truly superabounds over sin.” (Ap XXI, 5) Lastly, we honor the saints by imitating them, first their faith, and then according to our own callings.

However, Scripture nowhere teaches us to call to the saints in heaven or ask them for help. Neither does Scripture teach that the saints in heaven can hear us; nor, provided they can hear us, does Scripture promise they can help us. “Scripture sets before us the one Christ as the Mediator, Atoning Sacrifice, High Priest, and Intercessor. He is to be prayed to. He has promised that He will hear our prayer.” (AC XXI, 2-3) Jesus comforts us throughout Scripture that He desires our prayers. He alone promises to both hear and answer our prayers. Therefore, with this blessed assurance, we pray to God alone while giving Him the honor and thanks for those who’ve gone before us in the faith.

At this point, the first part of the Augsburg Confession concludes. Up through this article, the confessors explain, “There is nothing that varies from the Scriptures, or from the Church universal, or from the Church of Rome, as known from its writers.” That means that the confessors sincerely (and correctly) believe that they have in no way departed from the faith once-for-all delivered to the saints. Because of this, they say, “those who insist that our teachers are to be regarded as heretics are judging harshly.” (AC Summary Statement, 1) Keep in mind, heresy was punished by execution at this time.

Further, they write,

Even here, if there are some differences, the bishops should bear with us patiently because of the Confession we have just reviewed. Even the Church’s canon law is not so severe that it demands the same rites everywhere. Nor, for that matter, have the rites of all churches ever been the same. Although, in large part, the ancient rites are diligently observed among us. It is a false and hate-filled charge that our churches have abolished all the ceremonies instituted in ancient times. (Summary Statement, 2-4)

The confessors recognized that differences in practice between the Evangelicals and the Roman Catholics were becoming clear. But, they felt they were minimal, and that, for sake of the confession given above, they should be permitted. The only practices that were changed were those that had either become corrupt over time or had corrupt beginnings. Even then, they were only changed so that they would no longer be an obstacle to a clear confession of faith.

Here the first part of the Augsburg Confession ends and the second begins. The remaining articles of the AC detail these changes in the ceremonies of the church. These things include receiving both the Body and Blood in the Sacrament, the end of priestly celibacy and monastic vows, and a right understanding of human traditions in the Church. Next month we’ll begin looking at these articles, starting with Article XXII: Both Kinds in the Sacrament. For now, some closing words from the confessors:

Our churches do not dissent from any article of the faith held by the Church catholic. They only omit some of the newer abuses. They have been erroneously accepted through the corruption of the times, contrary to the intent of canon law. Therefore, we pray that Your Imperial Majesty will graciously hear what has been changed and why the people are not compelled to observe those things that are abuses against their conscience. Your Imperial Majesty should not believe those who have tried to stir up hatred against us by spreading strange lies among the people. They have given rise to this controversy by stirring up the minds of good people. Now they are trying to increase the controversy using the same methods. Your Imperial Majesty will undoubtedly find that the form of doctrine and ceremonies among us are not as intolerable as these ungodly and ill-intentioned men claim. Besides, the truth cannot be gathered from common rumors or the attacks of enemies. It can easily be judged that if the churches observed ceremonies correctly, their dignity would be maintained and reverence and piety would increase among the people. (AC, A Review of the Various Abuses That Have Been Corrected)


The Righteousness of God: Sola Fide

Text: Romans 3:19-28

This year we mark the 498th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. To celebrate, we’ve been looking at three pillars of the Reformation, the truths that the Holy Spirit worked to preserve among us: Scripture Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone. God’s Word comes to us in the Scripture alone, it is the only place where we hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. We hear through it that we justified through faith alone, which we receive through God’s grace alone. Last week we spent some time looking at the Scripture Alone part; this week we will look at the idea of Faith Alone. It is only through faith that we are counted righteous in God’s eyes. We are justified by faith alone, without any merit or work on our part.

There was a period of time while I was back in seminary where I thought that record collecting was a cool thing. I would take weekly trips down to Neat Neat Neat Records to peruse the bins until I found something I had to have. Then I would take it back to my dorm room and fire it up. Almost always, everything would work just fine. But, was I ever filled with fury when a record skipped. That thing that I most hated about records, I also love about Lutheranism. Lutheranism is like a broken record. No matter what we’re talking about, no matter where we are, we always return to the fact that we are saved by God’s grace through faith. We preach Christ and Him crucified for the forgiveness of sins. That is what the Bible is all about, and so it’s what we’re all about. This week as we look at the Faith Alone pillar of the Reformation we confess with St. Paul that the righteousness of God comes to us through faith in Jesus, and by this faith we are justified, that is, forgiven our sins.


As Lutherans, that is our bread and butter. We eat, sleep, and breath justification by faith alone. We all have those verses in our text from Romans and from Ephesians 2 in our brains, and rightly so, but this was not always the case in God’s Church. I’m going to read you a little bit of a lengthy quote from Martin Luther, but I want you to pay close attention because it is very telling of the Church at the time:

I hated that word “righteousness of God,” which…I had been taught to understand philosophically…God is righteous and punishes the unrighteous sinner.

Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly…I was angry with God, and said, “As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the decalogue, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!” Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted. [1]

What Luther was confessing here is that during his time, the Church had lost faith in the words of Holy Scripture – that man is saved by faith alone. Instead, it taught that our works contribute to our salvation. It held that, since God is righteous, we must also be righteous. How do we become righteous? Not by faith, but by following God’s Commandments. As if the keeping the commandments wasn’t hard enough, God then punishes with eternal damnation those who fail to keep them. So much for a righteous God, thought Luther. God is not love, God is not mercy. According to Luther at the time, God was an unjust tyrant.

The Church was mired in a misunderstanding and a misapplication of the Mosaic Law (The Ten Commandments). They taught that the chief work of the Law was to justify sinners. Here what St. Paul says in our text, “we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.”[2] The role of God’s Law in the Commandments is not to justify, but to condemn. The Law stops mouths. It cuts through our lies, our false pretenses, our attempts to justify ourselves; it shows us for what we really are: sinners. It shows that, according to God’s standard of righteousness, we aren’t.

St. Paul continues, “by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”[3] The role of the Law, the right understanding and application of it, is to show us our sin. True, it is God’s will for our lives, and after repentance and as a result of faith, we do try to keep it. But that’s the key – without faith, the Law only kills. Jesus said that those who live by the sword die by the sword. In another context: those who attempt to justify themselves through the Law will die by it. As Paul said, through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. No human being will be justified in God’s eyes through its works. And at that thought, Luther crumbled. “If there ever was a person who could be saved through monkery,” he said, “I was that monk.” But, alas…


With Luther we come to these words in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”[4] What a brilliant statement! Such profound gospel! The righteousness of God is not something that He alone has and then demands of us. The righteousness of God is something He has, and He gives it to you. The righteousness of God comes apart from the works of the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it. This means that the entire Old Testament testifies about the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ. Remember on the road to Emmaus, how after the resurrection Jesus went through the books of Moses and the Prophets to show how it was about Him? Or, remember how Abraham was credited as righteous, even over 400 years before the Ten Commandments were given? The text says, “Abram believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness.”[5]

This is the chief article of the Reformation, the chief article of our faith. Luther, and those with him, really did face the possibility of death for their confession of faith, but they knew – as we do – that it’s all about Jesus. It’s all about Jesus because, as the text says, “there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”[6] There is no distinction among us. We have all sinned. We are all sinners, and, because we are born this way, we lack the glory of God. Man no longer exists as God created him to be. Therefore, the Son of God took on human flesh. He became the new Man, the new Adam, to obey God’s will and fulfill the Law in our place. Apart from Him there is no salvation, be we who believe are, “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”[7]

Therefore, in this the 498th anniversary of the Reformation, let us hold fast our confession. From Luther’s own words:

Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification…

All have sinned and are justified freely, without their own works or merits, by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood…

Nothing of this article can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven and earth and everything else falls…

Upon this article everything that we teach and practice depends.[8]

We confess that we are all by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned in thought, word, and deed. We deserve nothing but God’s eternal wrath and punishment. But, He sent His Son Jesus to take on human flesh and die in our place for the forgiveness of sins. We are justified by God’s grace through faith alone. We receive faith through the preaching of the Word and the Sacraments, and faith becomes the channel through which we grasp the forgiveness of sins. We neither earn eternal life, nor do we deserve it. We made righteous before God only through the blood of the Lamb, who sets us free through alone.

[1] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 34: Career of the Reformer IV, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 34 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 336–337.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ro 3:19.

[3] Rom. 3:20.

[4] Rom. 3:21-22.

[5] Gen. 15:6.

[6] Rom. 3:22-23.

[7] Rom. 3:24-25.

[8] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 263.

“Sola Scriptura: The Sword of the Spirit”

Text: Hebrews 4:1-13

We are just 2 years away from the 500th anniversary of the posting of the 95 Theses. Though it would be a while before Luther stumbled upon the true teaching of Scripture, his action ignited the powder keg of the Reformation. But, the work of the Lutheran reformers some 500 years ago was not just the work of men. Rather, the work of the Lutheran Reformation was begun and led by the Holy Spirit to return the Church to the well of God’s pure Word. In hindsight we describe this work by the three pillars that held it up: Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, and Sola Fide. We’re going to celebrate the Reformation this year by looking at each of these in turn. The Sola Scriptura principle states that it is through God’s Word alone that we learn of His grace, which we receive through faith.

Today we’ll look at three primary aspects of God’s Holy Word: A) The Bible is God’s divine Word, which alone has the power to kill and make alive; B) Because the Bible is God’s Word, it alone is perfect and sufficient for salvation; C) Because the Bible is God’s Word, and because it is perfectly sufficient for salvation, it also is open and accessible to all who read it.


We begin with our text from Hebrews 4, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”[1] From this we see that the Word of God, the Bible, is not just a collection of words on pages; it is a living and active thing. The first thing we believe as Christians about the Bible is that it’s inspired. This means that Bible comes from God, as individual books and as a whole, and was written by the direction of the Holy Spirit.

This is what we mean when we say that the Bible is inspired and inerrant. St. Paul wrote to Timothy, “All Scripture is breathed out by God.”[2] This means that Scripture comes not from man, but it originates from God – and what God creates, He creates perfect. Now, when Paul was addressing Timothy the Scripture he was talking about was the Old Testament. From Paul, we know that the Old Testament is holy. But, what about the New Testament? St. Peter addresses this in his writing. He wrote, “our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters.”[3] Peter goes on to say that some of the things Paul writes are hard to understand, and that people twist them as, “they do the other Scriptures.”

By Paul’s writing we know that the Old Testament is from God, and by Peter’s, we know that Paul’s writings are to be included in Scripture. We know that though they were physically written by men, they are in fact God’s words. Peter once wrote, “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”[4] Not just the subjects spoken about in Scripture are God’s Word, but the exact words. The Lord once told Jeremiah, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Write in a book all the words that I have spoken to you.”[5]


As the Bible is the Word of God, both in subject matter and in the exact words, it alone is perfect and without any error whatsoever. Now, this is where we come to the Sola Scriptura [Scripture alone] aspect of the Reformation. What Lutherans teach is what has been confessed by the orthodox Church for all time. That is, that the Bible contains all that is necessary for salvation. There is nothing that you need to know that isn’t in the Bible, and there’s nothing outside the Bible that can be added to it. This aimed not just at who you might think – the Roman church that insists on tradition – but also the Protestants who teach that in order to have a full knowledge of God you must add human reason, such as the study of science and mathematics.

While others teach that Scripture must be measured against human reason or tradition, the Lutheran church teaches that, “the only rule and norm according to which all teachings, together with ‹all› teachers, should be evaluated and judged are the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and New Testament alone.”[6] All human teaching is to be judged by Scripture and never added to it. The Scripture alone, as Paul teaches, is what makes man wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.[7]

It is true that the Bible does not teach us everything. The Bible is not a science textbook or a technical manual. It does not even tell us all the things of God, for we see, as Paul says, through a glass dimly. St. John also says that, were every one of the things that Jesus did to be written down, the world itself couldn’t contain the books. But, “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”[8] That is the goal and aim of all Scripture – the salvation of mankind. Through the Law God reveals His wrath against sin, and through the Gospel He gives us the Good News that Jesus Christ died for the forgiveness of our sins and creates faith within us. There is no other book or teaching in the world that does this. Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ alone.


So far we’ve learned that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. Each word on the page is from the Holy Spirit and is without error in part or whole. In addition to being the living and active Word of God, it also contains all we need to go to heaven. There is no information that we need to be saved that is not in the Bible, and nothing should be added to it. The Bible is the standard by which we judge all teachings. Now, with the Bible being the inerrant Word of God and profitable for salvation, we also confess that the Bible is an open book. The good news of Jesus Christ and the faith that comes through hearing it is accessible to all people.

The Bible is not a book of hidden knowledge. It is not a hard book to read. The Bible is written in plain words so that all who read it may understand and believe the doctrine necessary for salvation. God’s Word is, as David says, “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”[9] The Bible is not just a book for pastors, but it is for all people. Jesus commanded that the things He spoke be delivered to all people, and this comes through His written Word. King David also says, “the law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.”[10] St. John testifies that little children are able to understand the Scriptures.

Okay, if Scripture is such an open book, what about all those passages with the long names, all the whos-its and whats-its? And what about the Small Catechism, why do we make our children learn that? To the first question: there are parts of the Bible that are unclear to us. Typically, there are three reasons that. The first is a plain lack of familiarity. If you read Ag reports eight times as much as you read the Scripture, you should expect that the one will appear harder than the other. Second, the Bible appears unclear to those who are hostile towards it. This is what St. Paul writes, “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”[11] Third, the Bible is unclear to those who, though Christian, are prejudiced against certain parts of Scriptural doctrine. This would apply to those who believe the Baptism is simply a sign of our commitment to God rather than a washing of renewal and rebirth in the forgiveness of sins. They allow their human wisdom to rule over the Word of God. Within all this, we maintain that the more obscure portions of Scripture are mostly dealing with history and geography. If they do pertain to doctrine, then they are explained more clearly elsewhere in Scripture.

As for the Small Catechism, and for the rest of the Lutheran teachings, please open to page 273. It asks, “Do you confess the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, drawn from the Scriptures?” We use the Small Catechism not in addition to the Scriptures, but because what’s in the Catechism comes straight from them. It is merely a restatement of what the Church has always believed against the errors that have crept up over time.

God gave His Word for a definite purpose: To save man from sin and death through faith in Christ; to educate and train in holiness; and to magnify His glory. No other book in all creation is able to do this. Only in Scripture are we told that God exists, that He loves us, and that He sent His Son Jesus to die for our sins. God’s plan of salvation is revealed nowhere other than in the Holy Bible, and faith comes through the preaching of Scripture alone. That is the meaning of Sola Scriptura.

By the guidance of the Holy Spirit through Scripture, Martin Luther and the other Lutheran Reformers worked to purify the Church and bring it back from the many errors that had developed over time. Fundamental to that was the teaching the Bible alone is God’s Word. It alone is the verbally inspired Word of God in all its parts. It alone is God’s power to put to death the impenitent sinner and make alive the one who repents in faith. It alone contains all that is necessary for salvation and is accessible to all who read it.

May God the Holy Spirit continue to call people to faith through His Holy Word and direct the study of and growth in among us here.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Heb 4:12.

[2] 2 Ti 3:16.

[3] 2 Pe 3:15–16.

[4] 2 Pe 1:21.

[5] Je 30:2.

[6] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 473.

[7] 2 Tim. 3:15.

[8] Jn 20:31.

[9] Ps. 119:105.

[10] Ps. 19:7.

[11]1 Co 1:18.

The Very Voice of the Gospel

In Article XXV of the Augsburg Confession, one of the documents that identifies us as Lutherans, it says:

Confession in the churches is not abolished among us… 2The people are very carefully taught about faith in the Absolution. Before, there was profound silence about faith. 3[But] our people are taught that they should highly prize the Absolution as being God’s voice and pronounced by God’s command.[1]

Elsewhere in the Lutheran Confessions the absolution, or forgiveness, that is spoken by the pastor in the Divine Service or in private absolution is called the very voice of the Gospel itself. This means that when the pastor says, “In the stead and by command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you,” you are at that exact moment receiving forgiveness for your sins.

But by now I’ve already said a bad word, at least according to some Lutherans. Say the word, “confession,” and all sorts of images pop up. Images of confessional doors and awkwardness, the ideas of penance and obligation. It may surprise you that the Lutheran confessions do not abolish the practice of confession, but instead embrace it. But what we embrace is not the confession part, the part that we do, but the part God does – He forgives. It is for that reason we retain confession, for the sake of receiving absolution. We turn to the Fifth Chief Part of the Small Catechism, Confession and Absolution.

What is Confession?

Part of what makes our Lutheran minds cringe at the very word is that for such a long time the universal church had fallen out of Biblical practice. It was taught that confession had three parts: contrition, confession, and satisfaction. All three were works that man does. You become sorrowful over your sin, you confess it, and then you make amends for it. By adopting that practice the Church moved away from the teaching of Christ and robbed faithful Christians of the Gospel.

Instead of beginning and ending the process with the works of man, the Lutheran reformers sought to return the Church to the Biblical model of confession and absolution, which has only two parts: confession and absolution. That’s exactly what we learn in the Catechism. “What is Confession? Confession has two parts. First, that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness.”[2] That’s it. No forced guilt, no obligation to go at least once a year, no works of satisfaction. In fact, if we wanted to be real technical: both parts are worked by God. Sorrow over sin comes through the preaching of God’s Law and absolution is through the death of Christ and is applied by Him through the mouth of the pastor.

But, let’s step back and put things straight. The order goes confession then absolution, just like Law, then Gospel. What sins should we confess? Before God, everything. We should plead guilty of all sins, even those we aren’t aware of. We actually do that in the Lord’s Prayer, too. In Psalm 19 King David confesses that no one can discern all his errors or hidden faults.[3] We also admit with him that we were conceived and born in iniquity. Before God we should always plead guilty, but before our neighbor we should only confess those sins which we have committed against him. Jesus advocates that in Matthew 5, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”[4]

These forms of confession we do fairly frequently. We confess in church often, confessing that we have sinned in things we do and things we don’t do. We usually ask forgiveness from those we offend and usually receive it. Now the one the scares confession_and_absolution_lutheranus – confessing before a pastor. This is called private confession. We still have this because sometimes there are certain sins that weigh down heavy on your soul. We confess them in church, we maybe confess them to our neighbor, but they just stick in our heads and cause us endless grief. These are the sins that you can confess before the pastor and receive forgiveness for that specific sin. If you have a sin that is particularly bothering you, you can confess it to a pastor and be forgiven. In confession a pastor’s ear is a grave where the sin that is confessed dies and is buried. And then we rise to new life in Christ.

What is Absolution?

The second part of confession is absolution, forgiveness. Jesus sets this model, for example, in Matthew 11 when He says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”[5] “Come to me,” is the confession part, the part that we do. We are brought to repentance through the preaching of the Law. We realize that we sin in thought, word, and deed, and that we cannot save ourselves. Jesus urges us to come to Him, to confess our sins, and He gives restful forgiveness. Jesus also said, “Repent and believe in the gospel.”[6] Two parts. We spoke this verse in the liturgy, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”[7]


We confess our sins, and then we receive forgiveness. We learn in the Catechism how we should regard the forgiveness we hear in church. We should receive it from the pastor, “as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.”[8] When we confess our sins and receive absolution, we can know that a great burden is now lifted. The millstone of sin around our necks is lifted each and every time we hear those words, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord, Jesus Christ, I forgive you your sins.” By those words we can know where we stand before our heavenly Father. We are forgiven because of Christ and cleansed from all unrighteousness.

How can we be sure of this? It’s not because pastors are especially awesome and holy men who are closer to God and can say things like this. No, it’s because Christ has given the gift of forgiveness to the Church. This is what is called the Office of the Keys. In Matthew 16, in Matthew 18, in John 20, and in the Great Commission (Matthew 28), Jesus gives the church the authority to bind and loose sins. He says if we forgive anyone their sins they are forgiven, and if we do not forgive them, they are not forgiven. It’s called the Office of the Keys because forgiving sin is like opening heaven to believers in Christ while not forgiving the sins of those who do not repent is like closing the gates to them.

This is an authority that we all have as Christians. Christ gave the authority to forgive sins to the Church, but He also instituted the pastoral office. The pastoral office is a position distinct from the priesthood of all believers. It was instituted by Christ so that we may obtain the gift of faith and receive the forgiveness of sins. For that purpose Jesus called, and still calls, men to preach His Word, to teach it, to administer the sacraments and forgive sins in His name. That way we can be confident that when the pastor says, “I forgive you,” it’s not just the man saying these things, but it is Christ Himself who has called him to speak those words to us.

What is confession? Confession has two parts: first that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive forgiveness. This forgiveness comes freely as a gift flowing from Christ’s death on the cross as payment for our sins. We do not abolish confession, because to do so would be to silence the voice of the Gospel for poor sinners like us. Instead, we embrace it. We cherish absolution, that is, the forgiveness of our sin, knowing that through those words we receive it as from our Lord Himself.

[1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 50.

[2] Lutheran Service Book, 326.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001. Ps. 19:12

[4] Matt. 5:23-24.

[5] Mt. 11:28.

[6] Mk. 1:15.

[7] 1 Jn. 1:9.

[8] Lutheran Service Book, pg. 326.

The Apostles’ Creed

Today we continue our second week of Catechism study. Last week we focused on the Ten Commandments, about how they are God’s will for mankind, and yet we fail to keep them. We fail the very core of the Commandments, which is to love God and our neighbor. The only one to ever keep the Commandments is Jesus, who instead of claiming the blessing that would come from obedience, bore the curse of the Law and died to redeem us from our sins. If we were able to keep the Ten Commandments, then Scripture would stop at Mt. Sinai and there would be no New Testament, nor anything else in the Catechism to learn. However, today we move on to the Apostles’ Creed.

Martin Luther wrote,

I am also a doctor and preacher; yes, as learned and experienced as all the people who have such assumptions and contentment. Yet I act as a child who is being taught the catechism…I cannot master the catechism as I wish. But I must remain a child and pupil of the catechism, and am glad to remain so… [for] catechism study is a most effective help against the devil, the world, the flesh, and all evil thoughts. It helps to be occupied with God’s Word, to speak it, and meditate on it, just as the first Psalm declares people blessed who meditate on God’s Law day and night (Psalm 1:2).[1]

For this reason we continue to learn the Catechism today, particularly the Creed. In it we learn what every Christian should and must believe. In history, it has been divided into twelve articles, understanding that each of the Apostles contributed a line. There isn’t necessarily any proof for that, though the Creed is a summary of the teaching of the Apostles. For our purposes, the Creed is divided into three parts, which reflect the Triune God. First, the Father creates; second, the Son redeems; and Third, the Holy Spirit sanctifies.


The First Article of the Creed confesses, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” The First Commandment taught us to have no other Gods before God Almighty, and here we confess who God is, and what is His will and work. By saying God is the maker of heaven and earth, we confess exactly that. All that we see and have is the result of His work. We believe that He gives each of us our body and soul, our eyes, ears, and all our members. In addition to those things, He gives us food and drink, clothing, children, house and home. Besides even those things, He gives what we need to support this life, which include the sun and moon, air, fire, water, the earth and everything in it. To watch over these things, He also gives us good government, peace, and security.

From this we should learn that none of us owns themselves, nor can we preserve or create any of those things we just heard. This is true, whether we’re talking about something as small as a grain of wheat or as big as a jumbo jet. All these things are included in the work of God as Creator. What is more, not only does God give us these things, but He also guards and protects us against all evil. Like a good Father, He diverts danger and misfortune from His children. All of this He does out of Fatherly, divine goodness and mercy without any merit or worthiness within us.

This article is of one of those things that we all seem to know, and yet we don’t really consider what it means. If we did, maybe we would pride ourselves less in the lake house we just built or the new truck we have, thinking that those come as a result of our own hard work. The world works that way, and so abuses the gifts that God gives by denying Him the thanks and praise that we do owe Him. We know that we sin daily, and often use things that God gave us to sin. If that doesn’t make you shake for a second, I don’t know what will. That is why we must move on to the Second Article.


The Second Article begins, “and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.” Here we confess the work of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. After man had received all good gifts from God, the devil came and led the world into doubt, disobedience, sin and death. Because of these things the entire world, us included, was subjected to God’s wrath. But rather than destroy the world, God sent His only begotten Son into the world to be our Lord. Lord, in the sense that the Creed uses it, means to be our redeemer. God the Father is the Creator, and the Son is the Redeemer. He is the one who took on flesh to beat back Satan and rescue us from the powers of sin and death, giving us free forgiveness and eternal life.

The Second Article outlines the things He did to make that so. First, He became man. We learn that, for example, in John 1: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”[2] He was conceived without sin and born of the Virgin Mary, as we read in Luke 1, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God.”[3] Then, as we read in 1 Corinthians, “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, [that] he was buried, [and] he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”[4] Lastly, as the angels testified at the Ascension, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

These things sum up the work of Christ as our Lord and Redeemer, but now we must move to the Third Article, which confesses how the benefits of Christ’s work get to us.


“I believe in the Holy Spirit.” There are many kinds of spirits. There is the spirit of man, what Scripture calls heavenly spirits, and evil spirits; but there is only one spirit called “holy,” and that is God’s. It is the Holy Spirit who makes holy and continues to make holy. Just as the Father is the Creator and the Son is the Redeemer, we call the Holy Spirit the Sanctifier. His work is done after Christ won for us forgiveness by His life, death, and resurrection. The Spirit gives us the benefits of Christ through the Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

First, the Holy Spirit brings us into the Church, the communion of saints. Apart from the work of the Spirit, we cannot know Christ or believe in Him. The Holy Spirit calls us to Christ through the preaching of the Word. If He didn’t, then Christ’s work was in vain. Because we cannot earn God’s favor ourselves, the Holy Spirit brings us to faith in Christ. The Holy Spirit does what His name implies and makes us holy by bringing us into the Church. In church we receive the forgiveness of sins. This comes through the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, through Holy Absolution, and through the preaching of God’s Word. Because we are in the flesh and sin much, we should always continue to gather around Christ’s Word and Sacraments, which reassure us of forgiveness and actually bring it to us.

Though new life has been created in us through the work of the Holy Spirit, we can expect that some day our flesh will die and be buried. This is the result of sin in the world – that our bodies die – yet, we believe that as we are united with Christ in His death, so are we united with Him in the resurrection. What is perishable must put on the imperishable. We confess in the Creed what we learn in Scripture, that we will all be resurrected in the flesh. When we die we are immediately in Christ’s presence, and when He returns He will raise our bodies as well.

This we must always confess. Creation is done, as is our redemption, but the Holy Spirit will continue to work until the Last Day. He is always at work to call us to repentance and faith, to assure us that we have forgiveness in Christ, and to keep us in the one true faith.

This section of the Catechism has been quite different from the Commandments. They taught us what we are supposed to do and what we fail at, but the Creed tells us what God does for us and gives to us freely. The Commandments are not what make us Christians, because we are unable to keep them. Instead, the Creed tells us of God’s grace and favor in Christ. Through faith we learn to love and delight in God’s Commandments as good and wise. In the Creed we are reassured of our gracious God: the Father, who gives us all things; the Son, who gives us His righteousness; and the Holy Spirit, who bestows His grace upon us.

[1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 353.

[2] John 1:14, ESV.

[3] Lk. 1:35.

[4] 1 Cor. 15:3-4.