Walther on Justifying Faith

One month after writing my initial post on the topic of justification in Galatians as presented in the NLT and ESV, I came across this reading by C.F.W. Walther this morning.  For those who may not be familiar with Walther, he was one of the founders and first president of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (see here for more).  Specifically, Walther addresses the question of justification ‘because’ (NLT) or ‘by’ (ESV et al) faith…the initial issue that got me writing in the first place.  In this sermon, he points out a common misconception of justification–in his mind–and counters with his understanding of the biblical teaching.  He says:

Many think that a person is righteous before God through faith and nothing else, since faith is a good work and a glorious virtue.  They maintain that a person makes himself acceptable and pleasing to God by his faith, which cleanses his heart, unites him with Christ, and brings forth the fruit of good works.

It is true that faith has all of these glorious qualities, but it is false to say this makes a person righteous before God.  Scripture never says a person is righteous before God because of or on account of his faith.  Instead, he is righteous through faith.  Faith, then, is not the cause of our justification but only its instrument.  It is the means by which we receive righteousness from God.

Faith does not make us righteous before God because it is such a good work and such a beautiful virtue.  Precisely the opposite is the case.  As [Romans 4.16] informs, faith makes a person righteous before God because righteousness can be obtained solely by grace.
(from God Grant It:  Daily Devotions from C.F.W. Walther, pp. 574-5)

Walther, then, understands justification in the traditional Protestant sense, as “the means by which we receive righteousness from God” not the reason we are considered/declared to be righteous.  I’m still struggling with the NLT rendering in Galatians and reading from my ESV a bit more these days.

Has anyone given this any more thought since last time? (crickets…grin)

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3 thoughts on “Walther on Justifying Faith

  1. As a new Lutheran (shucks, a new Christian) I have what I believe is a reasonable addition to the by/through/because pot hole.

    Arrange the words in a new order and use them all to explain justification.

    We have have justified by and through faith, but how do we rate (earn) this faith? We don’t really except in an explanitory manner. But, consider… BECAUSE God made us in his image, we rate the faith by and through which we are justified.

    Get it? Because we are God’s children, we can have or receive the faith that yields justification. It isn’t any ol’ faith, it is a specific and unknown faith that is as real and inexplicable as God.

    If you can explain YOUR faith to the point that the listener can fully grasp your meaning, your faith is insufficient and man made.

    Isn’t our faith a gift of the Holy Spirit?

    In sum: Because God has given us the only faith by which we can be justified… conclusion … all good. NLT OK.

    • Good points! Thanks for jumping in and wrestling through this with me, especially as a new Christian. Quite honestly, if you as a new believer can come to the NLT rendering (our topic of discussion) and walk away with the understanding that we are justified by faith in Christ as a gift of the Holy Spirit…which it appears is precisely the case…then that, to me, is a great litmus test of the NLT reading.

      Thanks for visiting and joining the conversation! May God continue to richly bless you in Christ!

  2. Some how I know without understanding, the truth of God’s actions to get our attention by using the two ultimate 2×4 across the forehead. One, our LORD give us the ultimate no-brainer…No greater love of John 15:13. Look to the NLT, TNIV, CSB and ESV (my choices from best read to most comfortable formal version). They expess this super important relation the same…Friends save Friends even unto death. The second is the classic “Jesus died for YOU!” from my pastor in Lutheran 101 class. If these points are lost in minding the technical translation ramparts, Satan will scale the lightly defended stockade wall and contaminate your spiritual stores.

    Just got my TLSB the other day and now, after finishing the Bible front to back for the first time using mostly NLT and TNIV, I shall read it again using mostly ESV (with NLT backup) to familiarize the tone and tempo of the ESV so the message in the TLSB will be received 5×5.

    Your bio is really cool. I am in Austin. Let’s keep Texas for God.

    As we practice our faith, also practice receiving the Word in the forms God has supplied.

    Tom

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