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This We Believe

475th Anniversary of the SMALCALD ARTICLES

“…The Word of God shall establish articles of faith and no one else, not even an angel.” (Luther, SA, Part II, Art. II)

4.Of Sin and the Law

As Dr. Martin Luther moves into the third part of his confession, he undertakes a discussion of articles “which we may discuss with learned and reasonable people, or among ourselves.”

This very basic and intensely practical discussion begins with sin and the Law of God.

Why did Luther choose to begin the Third Part with sin and the Law?

It was necessary for Luther to begin with a discussion of sin because, if sin is not recognized and understood for what it is, there is no reason to even consider the need for a Savior.

Furthermore, a discussion of sin necessitates a discussion of the Law because it is God’s Law which reveals sin for what it is.

What truths does Luther set forth?

Sin originated from one man, Adam. Ever since Adam that sinfulness has been passed from parent to child: “…through one man sin entered the world, and death
through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all have sinned” (Romans 5:12).

This inherited sinfulness is the fertile ground out of which grow all kinds of sinful thoughts, words, and deeds which reveal themselves in the sinner’s life. These “fruits” of original sin are what tear apart friendships and families. They are the sins that hurt others and reveal a lack of love to God and our neighbor by what is done and what is left undone.

In regard to the Law, Luther discusses two of its three uses: as a curb and as a mirror (the third use—the Law as a guide—is not discussed in this context).

By threatening punishment, the Law functions as a curb against the course outbreak of sin and wickedness. A certain amount of sin and wickedness is not pursued because of the fear of consequence.

However, the foremost purpose of the Law is as a mirror to reveal sin—all of it, inherited sin and its fruit. The Law does this by identifying what is pleasing and displeasing to God, thereby revealing what is contrary to God’s will in our lives and therefore under His condemnation.

The Law humbles the proud, self-reliant sinner and strikes despairing terror in his heart. Only when a sinner is brought to this realization of sin, God’s judgment upon it, and his own inability to escape it—only then will a sinner’s heart be prepared to hear and apprehend the blessed news of a Savior who rescues us from sin.

What doctrinal errors is Luther specifically addressing?

The basic error which Dr. Luther addresses is the misconception that a sinner is somehow able to keep the Law by his own powers. If the natural inherited sinful nature, its full and deep corruption, is somehow lessened or ignored, any number of other specific errors follow.

Luther calls these errors “nothing but blindness” and lists examples, including:

• People by nature have a right reason and good will.

• A person has a free will to do good and not evil, and vice-versa.

• By natural human powers a person can observe and keep all of God’s commandments.

• If a person does as much as is in him, God certainly grants him His grace.

If such teachings are true, Luther concludes, then there is truly no need for a Savior, and Christ died in vain.

How does this apply to us today?

It is hard to comprehend the damage to souls that Satan accomplishes when he is successful in weakening the presentation of God’s Law and the truth of sin in preaching, in Christian witnessing, in theological discussions, and in conversations—whether in the public-square, at work, or around kitchen table!

Our sinful human nature identified and described in Holy Scripture leaps at the opportunity to believe itself more grand and less corrupt than it really is. Our sinful human nature is ecstatic to believe that God is somehow less demanding or less holy than He
once was.

Only Scripture can reveal the full corruption of the sinful nature! If that truth is ignored, denied, or lost, the flood-gates are opened for all sorts of errors which diminish God’s will, excuse sin, and cater to whatever makes the flesh feel less-condemned, more in charge of its own destiny, and capable of doing great things in God’s eyes.

All of this is a bitter deception! No matter what a sinner believes concerning supposed goodness in himself apart from Christ, no matter what any “spiritual” leader declares, no matter what supposed “loving conclusion” misguided human reason might reach, God’s Law does not change—nor does His condemnation upon all that is contrary to His Law change!

How utterly sad that so many are being misled to “feel good” and
to “feel right with God” on the basis of such deception and shifting sand!

A proper understanding of our sinful corruption and the righteous condemnation of God’s Law upon it rightly leaves every one of us sinners trembling…and running—running to Jesus, the eternal Son of God who alone has rescued us from sin and its fruits which include eternal punishment.

Make no mistake—anything less than these truths about sin and the condemning nature of God’s Law renders the holy life and saving work of Jesus Christ irrelevant, no matter how much His name is invoked or how emotional the response!

The Book of Concord The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church [Tappert Edition]

Excerpts from THE SMALCALD ARTICLES Part III, Article I. Of Sin

Here we must confess what St. Paul says in Rom. 5:12, namely, that sin had its origin in one man, Adam, through whose disobedience all men were made sinners and became subject to death and the devil. This is called original sin, or the root sin. The fruits of this sin are all the subsequent evil deeds which are forbidden in the Ten Commandments…. (#’s 1-2a)

This hereditary sin is so deep a corruption of nature that reason cannot understand it. It must be believed because of the revelation in the Scriptures (Ps. 51:5, Rom. 5:12ff., Exod. 33:20, Gen. 3:6ff). What [certain false teachers] taught concerning this article is therefore nothing but error and stupidity, namely,

1. That after the fall of Adam the natural powers of man have remained whole and uncorrupted, and that man by nature possesses right understanding and a good will, as the philosophers teach.

2. Again, that man has a free will, either to do good and refrain from evil or to refrain from good and do evil.

3. Again, that man is able by his natural powers to observe and keep all the commandments of God.

4. Again, that man is able by his natural powers to love God above all things and his neighbor as himself…. (#’s 3-7)

If such teachings were true, Christ would have died in vain, for there would be no defect or sin in man for which he would have had to die…” (#11)

Part III, Article II. Of the Law

Here we maintain that the law was given by God first of all to restrain sins by threats and fear of punishment and by the promise and offer of grace and favor. But this purpose failed because of the wickedness which sin has worked in man. Some, who hate the law because it forbids what they desire to do and commands what they are unwilling to do, are made worse thereby. Accordingly, in so far as they are not restrained by punishment, they act against the law even more than before…. (#’s 1-2a)

The chief function or power of the law is to make original sin manifest and show man to what utter depths his nature has fallen and how corrupt it has become. So the law must tell him that he neither has nor cares for God or that he worships strange gods–something that he would not have believed before without a knowledge of the law. Thus he is terror-stricken and humbled, becomes despondent and despairing, anxiously desires help but does not know where to find it…. (#4)

Planned series on the Smalcald Articles:

#1 Of The Divine Majesty/Redemption/Salvation by Grace

#2 Of The Mass

#3 Of Cloisters/Papacy

#4 Of Sin and the Law (in this issue)

#5 Of Repentance

#6 Of The Gospel and Sacraments

#7 Of Keys and Confession

#8 Of Ordination/Traditions/Conclusion