As you may or may not know, Lutheran’s adhere to the 3 creeds (Apostolic, Nicene, and Athenasian) and the the confessions that comprise the Book of Concord. This does not mean that Lutheran’s consider them higher than the Bible. In actuality, it is the Bible that the creeds and confessions accurately confess and teach. Some have argued against creeds and confessions and have declared the term, “Deeds not creeds.” I suppose the purpose of this statement is to argue that Christians should focus less on what they believe and more on how they live their lives. As if to say, “Let’s stop arguing about doctrine, lets stop being all about head knowledge, and lets show the world Christ by the way we act.” I completely agree that our neighbor needs our works, our charity and our love. But there are at least two very dangerous conclusions to this position. The first is that this implies that sanctification rather than justification is the essence of Christianity. But the forgiveness of sins if the essence of Christianity.
The word justify means to absolve, that is, to declare free from sins (Concordia p. 162). We as humans tend to be legalists by nature. And the most straightforward and self centered way by which men would like to justify themselves is by means of the Law. Or in other words, by doing something. By taking on the mantra of deeds not creeds, people can fall into the mistake that they are justified by a sanctification brought on by their obedience to the Law. The second fatal flaw in this position of showing the world Jesus through our deeds is, we fail miserably to live up to the life we are trying to show non-believers. I would argue that this is the easiest way to prove to the world that Christians are nothing but hypocrites. We declare, “Be holy as I am holy” and then completely fail to live up to the task. Hmm…actually that is the exact purpose of the Law. The Law shows us what God demands. It proves that we can not justify ourselves by completely obeying all of the Law, and then points us to the gospel. Jesus perfectly obeyed the Law for us. The forgiveness of sins and our justification was all achieved by Jesus. As my pastor says, “Jesus does all the verbs.” The creeds and confessions are great at teaching us the truths of the Bible. But good works and sanctification are the inevitable fruit of our justification, not the means of our justification. So be careful. Don’t mistake your opinion of creeds and confessions with a desire to justify yourself by your works. Let Jesus do the verbs. Then, you can walk in the freedom that you receive forgiveness by the shed body and blood of Christ.