And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
What does this mean?--Answer.
I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won [delivered] me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, in order that I may be [wholly] His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.
First. What is sin? The definition that best identifies the issues, I found in Lutheranism 101. It states that original sin is the desire that there be no God. That speaks more to the idea of our nature being inclined to sin against God due to our lack of trust in Him, and would rather there not be a god other than ourselves. The more immediate use of the word sin simply means betraying God; rejecting His will and His ways; any thought, word or deed that departs from the will of God.
The contributors to Lutheranism 101 go on to say the following:
There is a huge gap between our Creator and us, and it exceeds our ability to describe its extent. Guided by a compass that cannot point true north, we are unable to navigate toward God; our life and purposes are not aimed toward God. . . By questioning the rights God has over us, Satan challenged the goodness of God as the giver of life and enticed Eve to rely on herself for the good. By rearranging God's words, Adam and Eve aspired to assume God's place, asserting themselves as the final determiners of what is good. This root sin, original sin, is our desire and search for personal meaning and identity apart from what the Creator has bestowed. . . Sin is so deeply rooted in us that with all of our reason we cannot discern its depth; we can neither clearly see ourselves in relation to God nor rightly describe our circumstance before God. . . The Ten Commandments identify, forbid, and condemn this root sin and its bad fruit: disbelief and false belief of God, defiance of parents, neglect of neighbors, slander and selfish cravings. We have lost all our created goodness; we neither will nor can depend on God for anything. Our corruption is so deep and pervasive that the Bible declares us separated from God--dead. We cannot begin, maintain, or conclude a relationship with God.So what do we do? How can this relationship be repaired? What of salvation?
As God acted alone in His creation. He alone works out our redemption. Philip Melancthon who primarily penned the 'The Defense of the Augburg Confession" found in the Book of Concord writes in the Fourth Article:
Because, therefore, men by their own strength cannot fulfil the Law of God, and all are under sin, and subject to eternal wrath and death, on this account we cannot be freed by the Law from sin and be justified, but the promise of the remission of sins and of justification has been given us for Christ's sake, who was given for us in order that He might make satisfaction for the sins of the world, and has been appointed as the [only] Mediator and Propitiator. And this promise has not the condition of our merits [it does not read thus: Through Christ you have grace, salvation etc., if you merit it], but freely offers the remission of sins and justification as Paul says Rom. 11:6: If it be of works, then is it no more grace. And in another place, Rom. 3:21: The righteousness of God without the Law is manifested, i.e., the remission of sins is freely offered. Nor does reconciliation depend upon our merits. Because if the remission of sins were to depend upon our merits, and reconciliation were from the Law, it would be useless. For as we do not fulfil the Law, it would also follow that we would never obtain the promise of reconciliation. Thus Paul reasons, Rom. 4:14: For if they which are of the Law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect. For if the promise would require the condition of our merits and the Law, which we never fulfil, it would follow that the promise would be useless.
But since justification is obtained through the free promise it follows that we cannot justify ourselves. Otherwise wherefore would there be need to promise? [And why should Paul so highly extol and praise grace?] For since the promise cannot be received except by faith, the Gospel which is properly the promise of the remission of sins and of justification for Christ's sake, proclaims the righteousness of faith in Christ, which the Law does not teach. Nor is this the righteousness of the Law. For the Law requires of us our works and our perfection. But the Gospel freely offers, for Christ's sake, to us, who have been vanquished by sin and death, reconciliation which is received not by works, but by faith alone. This faith brings to God not confidence in one's own merits, but only confidence in the promise, or the mercy promised in Christ. This special faith, therefore, by which an individual believes that for Christ's sake his sins are remitted him, and that for Christ's sake God is reconciled and propitious, obtains remission of sins and justifies us. And because in repentance, i.e. in terrors, it comforts and encourages hearts, it regenerates us and brings the Holy Ghost that then we may be able to fulfil God's Law, namely, to love God, truly to fear God, truly to be confident that God hears prayer, and to obey God in all afflictions; it mortifies concupiscence etc. Thus, because faith, which freely receives the remission of sins, sets Christ, the Mediator and Propitiator, against God's wrath, it does not present our merits or our love [which would be tossed aside like a little feather by a hurricane]. This faith is the true knowledge of Christ, and avails itself of the benefits of Christ, and regenerates hearts, and precedes the fulfilling of the Law.
Every bit of our salvation is received. Our faith is given to us, our salvation is given to us, our righteousness is given to us. All of it. Given to us. Our entire life as children of God is a life of reception. We utterly depend on Him. As we stand in front of God and are judged, He does not see our works, the things we have done and have left undone. He sees Christ. His blood covering us. His work done on our behalf. All of this is good news. It should give us great comfort to know we have no say in our salvation and redemption back in to God's family. Left to our own devices, we only push God back and we rebel. Thanks be to God and His faithfulness.
St. Paul succinctly states in his letter to Titus:
3For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. -Titus 3: 3-7