by Rev. Matthew C. Harrison
I thank God and Jesus Christ that someone has regarded us as human beings.” I’ve never heard anything so profound, and this from the lips of a young boy in Kenya. LCMS World Relief and Human Care had built an orphanage where he and his fellow AID S orphans were now to be cared for. Amidst the tears, his word regarded caught my attention.
Regarded is at the heart of the Lutheran confession of the faith, as confessed in the Augsburg Confession, Article IV on justification. It is the door to eternity. And it is also the most powerful, freeing, compelling force for a joyous life in God’s mercy, driving us to act mercifully to our neighbor in need. In Christ, God “regards us as human beings.”
Our churches also teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works but are freely justified for Christ’s sake through faith when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven on account of Christ, who by his death made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes [i.e. regards, reckons] for righteousness in his sight (Rom. 3–4).
Note that little word impute. In the Gospel, God imputes, reckons, regards, credits, accounts faith in Jesus as righteousness. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your doing; it is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8). Thus I am reckoned, justified, sinless, not guilty on account of Jesus. Faith merely grabs hold of Jesus. The good boasting in the Bible is about Jesus! (Gal. 6:14). In Jesus, God recognizes me as somebody. In fact, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Cor. 5:19). There is not a living soul in this world who is not worth the very blood of Jesus. God accounts each individual as just that precious.
Is this justification stuff all ethereal mumbo-jumbo, having nothing to do with real life? Not so. Oswald Bayer points out that justification is fundamental to all human existence.
There is no such thing as an autocratic individual, totally independent of the surrounding world and its recognition. . . . Striving to find approval in the eyes of others, being noticed and not being dismissed as nothing by others, demonstrates that I cannot relate to myself without relating to the world. It applies to our social birth as well as our physical birth. I constantly vacillate even to the very end of life, between the judgment others make about me and my own judgment of myself. . . . I arrive at some point of calm, and then become unsure of myself again (Living by Faith: Justification and Sanctification, Eerdmans, 2003, p. 3).
God’s solution for our sin, and for our deepest need in time and eternity, has been to regard us as valuable as “His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.” And this frees us to regard those around us in the same way—to acknowledge, to recognize, to value, to listen, to forgive, to have compassion, to speak up for, to act in mercy. Then we shall soon find them saying, “I thank God and Jesus Christ that you have regarded me as a human being.”