Of Repentance and the Conversion of Man
The doctrine of repentance is joined with the Gospel. For so has the Lord said in the Gospel: “Repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in My name to all nations” (Luke 24:47).
WHAT IS REPENTANCE? By repentance we understand (1) the recovery of a right mind in sinful man awakened by the Word of the Gospel and the Holy Spirit, and received by true faith, by which the sinner immediately acknowledges his innate corruption and all his sins accused by the Word of God; and (2) grieves for them from his heart, and not only bewails and frankly confesses them before God with a feeling of shame, but also (3) with indignation abominates them; and (4) now zealously considers the amendment of his ways and constantly strives for innocence and virtue in which conscientiously to exercise himself all the rest of his life.
TRUE REPENTANCE IS CONVERSION TO GOD. And this is true repentance, namely, a sincere turning to God and all good, and earnest turning away from the devil and all evil.
1. REPENTANCE IS A GIFT OF GOD. Now we expressly say that this repentance is a sheer gift of God and not a work of our strength. For the apostle commands a faithful minister diligently to instruct those who oppose the truth, if “God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth” (2 Tim. 2:25).
2. LAMENTS SINS COMMITTED. Now that sinful woman who washed the feet of the Lord with her tears, and Peter who wept bitterly and bewailed his denial of the Lord (Luke 7:38; 22:62) show clearly how the mind of a penitent man ought to be seriously lamenting the sins he has committed.
3. CONFESSES SINS TO GOD. Moreover, the prodigal son and the publican in the Gospel, when compared with the Pharisee, present us with the most suitable pattern of how our sins are to be confessed to God. The former said: “Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before You; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants” (Luke 15:8ff). And the latter, not daring to raise his eyes to Heaven, beat his breast, saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13). And we do not doubt that they were accepted by God into grace. For the apostle John says: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us” (1 John 1:9ff).
Of the True Justification of the Faithful
WHAT IS JUSTIFICATION? According to the apostle in his treatment of justification, to justify means to remit sins, to absolve from guilt and punishment, to receive into favor, and to pronounce a man just. For in his epistle to the Romans the apostle says: “It is God who justifies; who is to condemn?” (Rom. 8:33). To justify and to condemn are opposed. And in the Acts of the Apostles the apostle states: “Through Christ forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by Him everyone that believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:38). For in the Law and also in the Prophets we read: “If there is a dispute between men, and they come into court…the judges decide between them, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty” (Deut. 25:1). And in Isaiah chapter 5: “Woe to those…who acquit the guilty for a bribe.”
WE ARE JUSTIFIED ON ACCOUNT OF CHRIST. Now it is most certain that all of us are by nature sinners and godless, and before God’s judgment seat are convicted of godlessness and are guilty of death, but that, solely by the grace of Christ and not from any merit of ours or consideration for us, we are justified, that is, absolved from sin and death by God the Judge. For what is clearer than what Paul said: “Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:23).
IMPUTED RIGHTEOUSNESS. For Christ took upon Himself and bore the sins of the world, and satisfied divine justice. Therefore, solely on account of Christ’s sufferings and resurrection God is propitious with respect to our sins and does not impute them to us, but imputes Christ’s righteousness to us as our own (2 Cor. 5:19; Rom. 4:25), so that now we are not only cleansed and purged from sins or are holy, but also, granted the righteousness of Christ, and so absolved from sin, death and condemnation, are at last righteous and heirs of eternal life. Properly speaking, therefore, God alone justifies us, and justifies only on account of Christ, not imputing sins to us but imputing His righteousness to us.
WE ARE JUSFIFIED BY FAITH ALONE. But because we receive this justification, not through any works, but through faith in the mercy of God and in Christ, we therefore teach and believe with the apostle that sinful man is justified by faith alone in Christ, not by the law or any works. For the apostle says: “We hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law” (Rom. 3:28). Also: “If Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness….And to one who does not work but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, His faith is reckoned as righteousness” (Rom. 4:2; Gen. 15:6). And again: “By grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God–not because of works, lest any man should boast,” etc. (Eph. 2:8). Therefore, because faith receives Christ our righteousness and attributes everything to the grace of God in Christ, on that account justification is attributed to faith, chiefly because of Christ and not therefore because it is our work. For it is the gift of God.
WE RECEIVE CHRIST BY FAITH. Moreover, the Lord abundantly shows that we receive Christ by faith, in John chapter 6, where he puts eating for believing, and believing for eating. For as we receive food by eating, so we participate in Christ by believing.
JUSTIFICATION IS NOT ATTRIBUTED PARTLY TO CHRIST OR TO FAITH, PARTLY TO US. Therefore, we do not share in the benefit of justification partly because of the grace of God or Christ, and partly because of ourselves, our love, works or merit, but we attribute it wholly to the grace of God in Christ through faith. For our love and our works could not please God in Christ through faith. For our love and our works could not please God if performed by unrighteous men. Therefore, it is necessary for us to be righteous before we may love and do good works. We are made truly righteous, as we have said, by faith in Christ purely by the grace of God, who does not impute to us our sins, but the righteousness of Christ, or rather, he imputes faith in Christ to us for righteousness. Moreover, the apostle very clearly derives love from faith when he says: “The aim of our command is love that issues from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5).
JAMES COMPARED WITH PAUL. Wherefore, in this matter we are not speaking of a fictitious, empty, lazy and dead faith, but of a living, quickening faith. It is and is called a living faith because it apprehends Christ who is life and makes alive, and shows that it is alive by living works. And so James does not contradict anything in this doctrine of ours. For he speaks of an empty, dead faith of which some boasted but who did not have Christ living in them by faith (James 2:14). James said that works justify, yet without contradicting the apostle (otherwise he would have to be rejected) but showing that Abraham proved his living and justifying faith by works. This all the pious do, but they trust in Christ alone and not in their own works. For again the apostle said: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, [The Latin reads: “by the faith of the Son of God.”] who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not reject the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose,” etc. (Gal. 2:20).
Of Faith and Good Works, and of Their Reward, and of Man’s Merit
FAITH EFFICACIOUS AND ACTIVE. The same apostle calls faith efficacious and active through love (Gal. 5:6). It also quiets the conscience and opens a free access to God, so that we may draw near to Him with confidence and may obtain from Him what is useful and necessary. The same faith keeps us in the service we owe to God and our neighbor, strengthens our patience in adversity, fashions and makes a true confession, and in a word brings forth good fruit of all kinds, and good works.
CONCERNING GOOD WORKS. For we teach that truly good works grow out of a living faith by the Holy Spirit and are done by the faithful according to the will or rule of God’s Word. Now the apostle Peter says: “Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control,” etc. (2 Peter 1:5). But we have said above that the law of God, which is His will, prescribes for us the pattern of good works. And the apostle says: “This is the will of God, your sanctification, that you abstain form immorality…that no man transgress, and wrong his brother in business” (1 Thess. 4:3).
WE TEACH TRUE, NOT FALSE AND PHILOSOPHICAL VIRTUES. And so we diligently teach true, not false and philosophical virtues, truly good works, and the genuine service of a Christian. And as much as we can we diligently and zealously press them upon all men, while censuring the sloth and hypocrisy of all those who praise and profess the Gospel with their lips and dishonor it by their disgraceful lives. In this matter we place before them God’s terrible threats and then His rich promises and generous rewards:—exhorting, consoling and rebuking.
GOD GIVES A REWARD FOR GOOD WORKS. For we teach that God gives a rich reward to those who do good works, according to that saying of the prophet: “keep your voice from weeping…for your work shall be rewarded” (Jer. 31:16; Isa. 4). The Lord also said in the Gospel: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in Heaven” (Matt. 5:12), and, “Whoever gives to one of these my little ones a cup of cold water, truly, I say to you, he shall not lose his reward” (Matt. 10:42). However, we do not ascribe this reward, which the Lord gives, to the merit of the man who receives it, but to the goodness, generosity and truthfulness of God who promises and gives it, and who, although He owes nothing to anyone, nevertheless promises that He will give a reward to His faithful worshippers; meanwhile He also gives them that they may honor Him. Moreover, in the works even of the saints there is much that is unworthy of God and very much that is imperfect. But because God receives into favor and embraces those who do works for Christ’s sake, He grants to them the promised reward. For in other respects our righteousnesses are compared to a filthy rag (Isa. 64:6). And the Lord says in the Gospel: “When you have done all that is commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’ (Luke 17:10).