Kolb, Robert. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000.
Epitome “III. Concerning the Righteousness of Faith before God” pp. 494-497.
Solid Declaration “III. Concerning the Righteousness of Faith before God” pp. 562-573.
The third article of the Formula of Concord deals with a difficult question. Because Jesus is considered to be the righteousness of the Christian, and because Jesus has both a human and a divine nature, “According to which nature is Christ our righteousness?” (Kolb 2000, 494). Two errors have been articulated in attempt to answer the question. Either they have affirmed that Jesus is the righteousness of the Christian according to only his divine nature or according to only his human nature.
On the affirmative, we confess that Christ, in both natures, is our righteousness. That righteousness consists in God’s forgiveness entirely by grace. It is received only through faith, which is a gift of God, receiving the complete forgiveness of sin through Jesus (Kolb 2000, 495). Although Christians are still aware of sin, and repent of it, they should not doubt that God has given them forgiveness. Thanksgiving is given to God alone for his gracious work of salvation. We also confess that, though salvation is entirely an act of God’s grace, good works are always found following faith that justifies (Kolb 2000, 496).
The concepts rejected by the Formula of Concord are, of course, that Jesus is our righteousness only according to the human or divine nature. The authors also reject the idea that justification is merely a pronouncement of freedom of sin. It is, in fact, a creation of righteousness (Kolb 2000, 497). The Formula also rejects the idea that we look to Christ’s obedience as well as his divine nature indwelling us, expecting that it is the indwelling which actually covers sins. Also rejected are the ideas that Christ’s forgiveness remains in someone who is not repentant, that only God’s gifts but not his person indwell believers, that we are saved because we have reformed our lives, that we are saved because we contribute renewal or love to God’s grace, that we are justified through both Christ’s righteousness and our obedience, through our own generation of faith, or apart from the presence of good works.
The Solid Declaration explains the argument of Christ’s divine nature being our righteousness a bit more fully. The group in question argued that Christ “dwells in the elect through faith and impesl them to do what is right and is therefore their righteousness” (Kolb 2000, 562). The Solid Declaration makes no additional argument about how Christ could be our righteousness in only his human nature. Various declarations of the Interim agreement had created disputes about justification. Those are addressed in the antitheses below (Kolb 2000, 563). The positive confession is that we are justified without any of our own merit, but solely by Jesus’ merit and obedience. This is conveyed to us by the gospel, received by faith, which comes from God. Therefore, all salvation is solely a gift of God’s grace (Kolb 2000, 564). Justification, meaning “to pronounce righteous and free from sins and to count as freed from the eternal punishment of sin because of Christ’s righteousness” (Kolb 2000, 564) is equated with salvation here. It is thus confessed as a free gift of God. A related word, “regeneration,” is sometimes used as a synonym for justification, but sometimes it is not. Sometimes it means renewal and reform of life, but in a more limited sense, it simply means justification (Kolb 2000, 565). Likewise, the word for “making alive” is sometimes used as a synonym for justification.
A very important claim in the discussion of justification is whether the sinful nature remains present in a regenerate person. The Formula of Concord is clear. “When we teach that through the activity of the Holy Spirit we are born anew and become righteous, this does not mean that after rebirth unrighteousness no longer clings to the essence and life of the justified and reborn. Instead, it means that with his perfect obedience Christ has covered all their sins, which inhere in human nature during this life” (Kolb 2000, 565). However, we do expect that repentance and forgiveness does motivate us to good works (Kolb 2000, 566). Nevertheless, those good works are not to be confused with justification. There are the fruit of justification, but not justification itself.
This requires a distinction to be made between righteousness which is given to us by grace through faith and the righteousness which we develop by obedience and good works. It is only passive righteousness, that given by Christ, which saves. However, active righteousness, the good works we do, is good for humanity (Kolb 2000, 567). Our works cannot be counted toward merit for justification in any way at all (Kolb 2000, 568). Specifically, our love or good works are no part of justification (Kolb 2000, 570). We cannot make ourselves worthy in any way. Real righteousness before God does not come from us, but from God. Even the good works we do after justification are not a part of our righteousness before God. God’s grace received by faith is entirely responsible for all of our salvation. The new obedience which follows justification does not contribute to our righteousness before God. Our faith does not make us worthy of grace. There are no works of our own which can save us (Kolb 2000, 571).
Article III of the Formula of Concord further explains that it is necessary that our righteousness come from both the divine and human natures of Christ. If Jesus had not had a fully human nature, his obedience could not be imputed to us humans. If he had not had a divine nature, he could not have satisfied God’s justice. Therefore, it is necessary that both the human and divine nature of Christ be operative in our justification (Kolb 2000, 572).