Revivalistic experience… or… works. Any other choices? (Hint: Faith in Jesus as mediator.)
You know, it’s this kind of thing that makes me want to bang my head against a wall. Is it just me or is this answer thoroughly Roman Catholic? LUTHERANS!!!!!! WOULD YOU PLEASE HELP US OUT HERE? You seem to be the only ones left who understand this and we hardly know what you believe.
Now, as I said in response on the BHT, I’m not sure Lutherans have much to boast about when it comes to assurance and sanctification in practice. But one thing we do have to offer is the perspective set out in Articles IV to VI of the Augsburg Confession. This is the engine-room of Lutheran spirituality: the dynamic that links justification by faith to the preaching and sacramental ministry of the church and the Christian life of grateful service to others.
I’ve referred to these articles quite often on this blog and elsewhere, but they are worth quoting in full:
IV. Concerning Justification
Likewise, they teach that human beings cannot be justified before God by their own powers, merits, or works. But they are justified as a gift on account of Christ through faith when they believe that they are receiving into grace and that their sins are forgiven on account of Christ, who by his death made satisfaction for our sins. God reckons this faith as righteousness (Romans 3:21-26 and 4:5).
V. Concerning Ministry in the Church
So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the gospel and administering the sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and the sacraments as through instruments the Holy Spirit is given, who effects faith where and when it pleases God in those who hear the Gospel, that is to say, in those who believe that God, not on account of our own merits but on account of Christ, justifies those who believe that we are received into grace on account of Christ. Galatians 3:14b: “So that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”
They condemn the Anabaptists and others who think that the Holy Spirit comes to human beings without the Word through their own preparations.
VI. Concerning the New Obedience
Likewise, they teach that this faith is bound to yield good fruits and that it ought to do good works commanded by God on account of God’s will and not so that we may trust in these works to merit justification before God. For forgiveness of sins and justification are taken hold of by faith, as the saying of Christ also testifies (Luke 17:10): “When you have done all [things] … say, ‘We are worthless slaves.'”. The authors of the ancient church teach the same. For Ambrose says: “It is established by God that whoever believes in Christ shall be saved without work, by faith alone, receiving the forgiveness of sins as a gift.”
The linchpin is article V: “So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the gospel and administering the sacraments was instituted.” This is it: this is the secret heart of Lutheran spirituality. If there is one insight, one principle from Lutheran theology that I would love to see the rest of the church pick up on, it is this: that the principal means by which we receive the faith through which we are justified is through the gospel as it is proclaimed to us in the church’s preaching and the sacraments. That it is not an abstract gospel that we are called to believe, but the gospel that we hear in the church; that it is not an abstract Christ in whom we are called to believe, but Christ as he is present with us as the church declares his promises to us.
As I’ve said here before:
Faith isn’t something we are to try to work up in ourselves. It isn’t some inner state of certainty to which we somehow attain. God, in his mercy towards us, does not require us to hold within our heads at one moment the whole truth of Christianity, and to assent to it. Rather, he comes to us with concrete, audible promises: “Your sins are forgiven”; “Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ”; “This is my body, given for you … this cup is the new testament in my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins”. Faith is believing the promise we are hearing right now.
I would love to see Christians in all traditions become more conscious of the instrumental nature of preaching and the sacraments; that these are means by which God does something, namely creating and nurturing faith within us by the Holy Spirit. This isn’t necessarily about going the whole hog, embracing baptismal regeneration and the real presence or becoming Lutherans. Much the same perspective is found in other evangelical traditions (e.g. the Heidelberg Catechism). However, I do think it is articulated most clearly, and lived out most fully, in the Lutheran church (which is why I’m a Lutheran).
The “Article 4-5-6” dynamic then provides a framework for addressing the issue of assurance and sanctification. Article VI reminds us that true faith will certainly result in good works. However, those good works are not the basis of our assurance. Indeed, the parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25 shows us that most of our good works are done unconsciously, and will take us entirely by surprise when they are revealed to us.
Rather, the basis for our assurance is found in Article IV – Christ, whose death made satisfaction for our sins – and the mechanism for that assurance is found in Article V: not introspective brooding over our “Christlikeness” or good works, but a looking outward to the promises that are declared to us over and over again in the word of absolution, the preaching of the gospel, baptism and the Lord’s Supper.