The grace of Christ alone provides true satisfaction for sin and peace to the conscience.
Christ has provided full satisfaction. But such is their perversity, they say that both forgiveness of sins and reconciliation take place once for all when in Baptism we are received through Christ into the grace of God; that after Baptism we must rise up again through satisfactions; that the blood of Christ is of no avail, except in so far as it is dispensed through the keys of the church. And I am not speaking of a doubtful matter, since not one or another, but all the Schoolmen, have, in very clear writings, betrayed their own taint. For their master, after he confessed that Christ on the tree paid the penalty of our sins, according to Peter’s teaching [1 Peter 2:24], corrected that statement by adding the exception that in Baptism all temporal penalties of sins are relaxed, but after Baptism they are lessened by the help of penance, so that the cross of Christ and our penance may work together. But John speaks far differently: “If anyone has sinned, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ …; and he is the propitiation for our sins” [1 John 2:1–2]. “I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven in his name.” [1 John 2:12] Surely he is addressing believers, to whom, while he sets forth Christ as the propitiation of sins, he shows that there is no other satisfaction whereby offended God can be propitiated or appeased. He does not say: “God was once for all reconciled to you through Christ; now seek for yourselves another means.” But he makes him a perpetual advocate in order that by his intercession he may always restore us to the Father’s favor; an everlasting propitiation by which sins may be expiated. For what the other John said is ever true: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” [John 1:29; cf. John 1:36]. He, I say, not another, takes them away; that is, since he alone is the Lamb of God, he also is the sole offering for sins, the sole expiation, the sole satisfaction. For while the right and power of forgiving sins properly belong to the Father, in which respect he is distinguished from the Son, as we have already seen, Christ is here placed on another level because, taking upon himself the penalty that we owe, he has wiped out our guilt before God’s judgment. From this it follows that we shall share in the expiation made by Christ only if that honor rest with him which those who try to appease God by their own recompense seize for themselves.
We must place our trust solely on Him as our only Savior, and on no other, not on ourselves or our own opinions, however good they may be. Do not trust yourself to your own opinions, but take them to Christ and see whether they are in conformity with the faith (Romans 12:2) and the Word of the holy Gospel. I, too, occasionally have beautiful and splendid thoughts, and I believe that the Holy Spirit inspired them. But when I judge them in the light of faith, I realize that they are sheer filth, sinful and impure. Therefore it is essential for the heart of a Christian to be firmly convinced that Christ’s innocent life, His holy blood, and precious death are our salvation, that we, together with all the saints, must cling to Christ alone, and that no saint in heaven ever relied on himself and his own righteousness.
“Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4” in Works, 22:272.
For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
for how should my name be profaned?
My glory I will not give to another.
Here you see that a self-righteous person is a thief of the divine glory and also an idolater, because he lays claim to God’s glory for himself. He does not pray, “Hallowed be Thy name.” Aspiring to the glory of divinity is a most grievous monstrosity. Here you see the battle between God and the self-righteous concerning glory. The outward glory of this world is nothing compared with it. The self-righteous want to rob God of His glory. And God will not permit this.
The self-righteous man thinks that God will give him rewards for fasting and labor. He thinks that without these God will give him nothing. He thinks precisely that God is someone who will save him through his works, not for the sake of free grace. To this fiction, “God will save me through my works,” he attributes salvation.
This is the most persistent struggle and battle of the world against God. No one wants to rely on God’s glory alone and repudiate all his own merits. For that reason there are so many examples in Scripture which invite us to look to grace alone, whether we eat or whether we drink. So there are endless examples of sins, such as of the robber, that draw us to God’s grace alone.
He wants to make our heart … neither despair because of sins nor be presumptuous because of blessings. … Let the one who has fallen into sin say, “I shall not be condemned because of it.” Let the one who has done well say, “I am not saved thereby.” This teaching applies to the godly only, but for the rest of the crowd it opens the window of carnal liberty. The godly simply cling to God and trust in His grace. They see that the apostles and robbers were saved by the same grace, not by works and merits. This is a thunderbolt against every kind of righteousness.
“Lectures on Isaiah: Chapters 40-66” in Works, 17:162–163.
We have heard how the Spirit admonishes the unbelievers who strive to save themselves. This evil is inborn in us, that in times of need we run to all gods except the one God. Therefore God meets us with Scripture, where the contention is that all our toil and merits are cut out by the promises alone apart from the works of the Law, as Paul treats of it so richly in Galatians 3:15ff. There he says that God’s covenant was in force out of pure mercy and promise a long time, 400 years in fact, before the Law. These arguments are unfailing: By grace alone all things come to us who merit nothing. Yet the flesh cannot keep silent in afflictions but always runs back to its own resources, and people look for help to their own prayers and merits. Thus the sophists debated whether the blessed Virgin deserved to become a mother. I say that she was made a mother according to promise before she was born, before she gave any thought to the matter. So here Israel should be plucked out of the Babylonian captivity gratis, at no cost, absolutely free. Therefore the prophet meets this evil especially, since all of us, immersed in trials, forget the promises of God and have recourse to our own resources.
“Lectures on Isaiah: Chapters 40-66” in Works, 17:141–142.
To prove that we have attained the hope of salvation by his grace alone, not by works [cf. Eph. 2:8–9], he states that “we are his creatures, since we have been reborn in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” [Eph. 2:10, cf. Vg.]. It is as if he said: Who of us can boast that he has appealed to God by his own righteousness when our first capacity for well-doing flows from regeneration? For, as we have by nature been created, oil will sooner be pressed from a stone than any good work from us. It is truly wonderful that man, condemned to such disgrace, dares still assume that he has anything left. Let us therefore admit, with this very great instrument of God, that the Lord “called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his purpose and … grace” [2 Tim. 1:9 p.], and that “the generosity and love of God our Savior was manifested toward us, for he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but on account of his own mercy, … that we might be justified by his grace and be made heirs of eternal life” [Titus 3:4–5, 7 p.]. By this confession we deprive man of all righteousness, even to the slightest particle, until, by mercy alone, he is reborn into the hope of eternal life, since if the righteousness of works brings anything to justify us, we are falsely said to be justified by grace. Obviously, the apostle was not forgetful when he declared justification free, since he proves in another passage that grace would no longer be grace if works availed [Rom. 11:6]. And what else does the Lord mean when he says that he “came not to call the righteous but sinners” [Matt. 9:13]? If only sinners are admitted, why do we seek entry through feigned righteousness?