This is the Gospel, namely, that for Christ's sake, and not for the sake of our works, we obtain the forgiveness of sins through faith. Our adversaries work to suppress this Gospel by means of distorted passages, which contain the doctrine of the Law or of works. Christ often connects the promise of the forgiveness of sins to good works, yet not because He means that good works are an atoning sacrifice. Christ makes this connection for two reasons. One is because good fruit must necessarily follow. He reminds us that if good fruit do not follow, the repentance is hypocritical and fake. The other reason is that we have need of outward signs of so great a promise. A conscience full of fear has need of much consolation. Baptism and the Lord's Supper are signs that continually remind, cheer, and encourage despairing minds that their sins are forgiven. The same promise is portrayed in good works, in order that these works may remind us to believe more firmly. Those who produce no good works are not encourage to believe, but despise these promises. On the other hand, the godly embrace them and rejoice that they have the signs and testimonies of so great a promise. So they exercise themselves in these signs and testimonies. Therefore, just as the Lord's Supper does not justify us by the outward act without faith, so alms do not justify us by the outward act without faith. (paragraphs 153-155)
Condensed from CONCORDIA: THE LUTHERAN CONFESSIONS, copyright 2005,2006 by Concordia Publishing House. Used by permission. All rights reserved. To purchase a copy of CONCORDIA, call 800-325-3040.