Kolb, Robert. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000.
Epitome “IV Concerning Good Works” pp. 497-500.
Solid Declaration “IV. Concerning Good Works” pp. 574-581.
The Formula of Concord discusses two controversies faced by some churches. While some theologians began confessing that good works were necessary for salvation, others, in contrast, said that good works were harmful. Some of those in the “necessary” camp, recognizing that the good works they were prescribing did not contribute to salvation, modified their statement to say that Christians were “free” to do good works. At the root of the controversy was the nature of the freedom Christians had to do good works. Those who have been regenerated can be expected to do good works. Where they by compulsion of the Holy Spirit? Possibly as a necessary outcome? The Formula of Concord attempts to clarify the situation here (Kolb 2000, 498).
Good works can certainly be expected to follow regeneration. The nature of the Christian is to do good works. However, those good works do not contribute in any way to justification, which is entirely a gift of God. Yet all people are under an obligation before God to do good works. This obligation, however, is a “required obedience” not of the law, but to grace. It is not “up to the discretion of the reborn human beings to do good or not to do good as they wish” but it is expected of those who would remain in the Christian faith (Kolb 2000, 499). The imperfect nature of our good works and our lack of desire to do good works is a matter for repentance, but not for fear.
The Formula of Concord rejects the view “that good works are necessary for salvation; or that no one has ever been saved without good works; or that it is impossible to be saved without good works” (Kolb 2000, 499). The idea that good works would harm salvation is rejected as offensive. It is, rather, necessary that Christians be reminded to do good works. The article in the Epitome ends with a warning that persistent sin in rejection of good works could result in loss of salvation.
The Solid Declaration describes the controversy in a very similar way, though explaining the arguments of the different parties in more detail (Kolb 2000, 574). Much of the argument is alleged to be in reaction to opposing points of view. For instance, those who say that good works are not necessary but that Christians are free to do good works are reacting to a Roman Catholic perception that works contribute to salvation. Those who said that good works were harmful to Christianity were wishing to draw a clear distinction from those who would say that good works are necessary (Kolb 2000, 575).
The beginning of the positive statements in the Solid Declaration is particularly strong. “[T]here is no argument among our people on the following points: that it is God’s will, order, and command that believers shall walk in good works; that true good works are not those which people invent for themselves or that take their form according to human tradition but rather are those that God himself has prescribed and commanded in his Word; that true good works are not performed out of our own natural powers, but they are performed when a person is reconciled with God through faith and renewed through the Holy Spirit…” (Kolb 2000, 575). Thse good works are pleasing to God, though imperfect. The good works of the Christian spring from faith in God (Kolb 2000, 576).
The Augsburg Confession makes it clear in articles VI and XX, and in the Apology article IV, among other places, that Christians are required to do good works (Kolb 2000, 576). However, this does not indicate that the good works result in salvation. Rejecting good works is a giving of oneself over to sin. Holding a habit of sin can result in spiritual death, as we are actively disobeying the God who saved us (Kolb 2000, 577). This is unthinkable to the authors of the Solid Declaration. However, at the same time, the Scripture commands many things which are good and are not kept as a result of God’s coercive power. He requests that Christians engage in their good works willingly and cheerfully.
Again, it is important to avoid mixing the need for good works into the article on justification. The author rejects the idea “that good works are necessary for the salvation of believers or that it is impossible to be saved without good works” (Kolb 2000, 578).
Because of the firm rejection of good works leading to salvation, the Solid Declaration also takes pains to observe that the lack of good works can draw one away from Christ. In short, the lack of good works can and should be seen as a sin just like any other sin, which can divide the Christian from his savior and eventually rob him of his salvation (Kolb 2000, 579). Salvation, and the retention of salvation, are by faith alone. However, good works are a natural outcome of that faith. Faith is expressed through good works (Kolb 2000, 580).