The Reformation Restored Two Very Important, Very Personal Truths to God's Church!
Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word;
Curb those who by deceit or sword
Would wrest the kingdom from Your Son
And bring to naught all He has done.
Lord Jesus Christ, Your pow’r make known,
For You are Lord of lords alone;
Defend Your holy Church that we
May sing Your praise eternally.
O Comforter of priceless worth,
Send peace and unity on earth;
Support us in our final strife
And lead us out of death to life. Amen.
Jeremiah here speaks of the New Testament period in which God would establish a “new covenant” with the members of His Church. Through faith in Christ Jesus individual believers would embrace their relationship with God, be renewed in heart and mind, and rejoice in His Word!
The world often views God’s Word, the Bible, as being outdated and even offensive. Jesus, however, promises that if we abide in His Word—we are His disciples; we will come to know truth; and we will experience genuine freedom!
Text: Romans 3:19-28 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.
In Christ Jesus, of whose kingdom we are members by faith, dear fellow redeemed:
October 31—when most people here in the United States hear that date mentioned, I would imagine their thoughts turn to the celebration of Halloween…ghosts, witches, and children going door-to-door saying, “Trick or treat!” For Lutherans I hope that date suggests something much more significant, namely, the posting of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses and the beginning of the 16th Century Protestant Reformation. We are commemorating that event and historical movement today in our worship service, and we will do so once again this afternoon as some of us travel up to Berea Lutheran Church in Inver Grove Heights for our CLC’s Minnesota Conference Joint Reformation Service. But how should we view the Reformation of the 16th Century? Is it simply a past historical event of greater or lesser significance depending upon who you are? Is it a cause to be celebrated, the memory of which provides an opportunity to compare the relative merits or lack thereof of different church bodies? I remember as a boy in Sleepy Eye arguing about the Reformation with Catholic paperboys behind the old Skelly station on the corner of Highways 14 and 4. We had deep discussions that would go something like this. A Catholic paperboy would yell: “The only reason Martin Luther left the Catholic Church was so that he could get married!” My profound response would be to yell back: “Did not!”
Remembering, observing, and discussing the Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century can serve a variety of purposes. Today, however, as we commemorate the Reformation we simply want to review certain Biblical teachings and apply them in a personal way, for THE REFORMATION RESTORED TWO VERY IMPORTANT, VERY PERSONAL TRUTHS TO GOD’S CHURCH, that is, to every one of us believers. Those truths are clearly stated by the apostle Paul in our text, and each one of us can confess them with direct reference to ourselves. First of all, I cannot save myself and, secondly, God by grace has saved me through faith in Jesus Christ!
The theme of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, in fact of his entire ministry, is found in the first chapter: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’” (Rom. 1:16-17) This good news that Jesus Christ is our Savior from sin, death, and Satan is the heart of God’s Biblical message. The sad fact, however, is that every human being by nature cannot understand that message (cf. 1 Cor. 2:14), nor does anyone by nature recognize that he is in need of Jesus Christ or the righteousness that He provides (cf. 1 Cor. 2:9).
Consequently, Paul spends the first three chapters of this Epistle establishing as fact the truth that no human being can save himself. He speaks of the Jews, to whom God had given His written law through Moses, and declares that they have not kept the law even though they had it clearly revealed to them (cf. Rom. 2:17-24). He also speaks of the non-Jews, the Gentiles, and explains that although they by nature had an understanding that God exists and His laws were written into their hearts, they could not and did not obey them. Therefore, both Jews and Gentiles stand condemned before God’s law (cf. Rom. 3:9). Clearly, as Paul cites from the Old Testament Scriptures: “There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one.”(Rom. 3:10-12) Therefore, Paul opens our text with these words: “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”
What is Paul saying to each of us personally? He is saying, first of all, that God’s commandments apply to us. When God says: “You shall have no others gods; you shall not murder; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal,” He is talking to us! We live in a world that thinks of itself as being post-modern, which means in part that people do not recognize any absolute truth in areas of morality. They suggest that while you and I might believe that God’s commandments apply directly to us, we cannot insist that those same commandments apply to everyone. My dear friends, God’s moral law applies to everyone! He tells us that very plainly, “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20). People may deny that fact, but it stands. Every human being is subject to the law of God and will bear the responsibility for violating it. Later in this same Epistle Paul writes: “We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written: ‘As I live, says the LORD, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God'” (Rom. 14:10b-11). People can deny it, if they wish, but one day we will either bow our knees in joy before our loving Savior or in fear before our ultimate and final Judge!
Therefore, Paul reveals that the purpose of the law is to stop the boasting that proceeds from the mouth of every human being. Every human being stands condemned before God’s law, even those who in the eyes of themselves and others are seemingly most righteous. For you see, God not only sees our every action, but He hears our every word, and is aware of our every thought. No one is justified in His sight by anything he or she might do, for the law in the end is capable of doing only one thing for each of us—it reveals to us our sin!
We human beings do not like to hear that! We like to think well of ourselves. We like to assume that if there is a heaven and if there is a God, that surely He will take into account our goodness and receive us gladly into His presence. But God’s law does not say—be the best that you can be, or try your hardest and that will be good enough. God’s law says, “Be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect!” (Matt. 5:48) In response to that demand, you and I, and everyone else in this whole wide world, must confess: I cannot save myself, because I cannot be perfect, no matter how hard I try. God’s law reveals my sin and the just judgment that I deserve because of my sin. Were I, therefore, to stand before my God on the Day of Judgment with only my own attempts at righteousness, I would be condemned, as would be you and all others!
Yes, THE REFORMATION RESTORED TWO VERY IMPORTANT, VERY PERSONAL TRUTHS TO GOD’S CHURCH, that is, to every one of us believers. The second of those truths is that God by grace has saved me through faith in Jesus Christ! I cannot save myself, but Jesus can and has done so. That is the gospel message! Paul tells us, “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” That knowledge of my own inability to save myself is the preparatory understanding that I need to receive and rejoice in the work that God has now completed on my behalf.
I need righteousness to stand before God. I do not have sufficient righteousness on my own, but the very righteousness that I need, God provides—the righteousness of His own Son. Jesus lived a perfect life for you and me. He did nothing contrary to God’s will, while leaving nothing undone that was in accordance with His will. He said nothing contrary to God’s will, while saying everything necessary in accordance with that will. His thoughts were perfect at all times and in every way. This work of perfection is accredited to you and to me as we are led by the Spirit to put our faith and trust in Jesus. We have all sinned, Paul says, but we have all been justified as well—declared righteous before God. This is a gift of His grace—His undeserved love for us. This gift we receive alone by faith—that trust the Spirit of God instills within our hearts as we hear the gospel message!
How did God work out our redemption? Paul tells us: “God set forth (Jesus) as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Jesus died on the cross and shed His blood as a “propitiation”—an atoning sacrifice for us. Jesus was holy and innocent, but God laid our sins upon Him (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21), so that we might receive His righteousness. God did this because of His great love for us—a love we did not deserve, but which I pray we will receive with gladness. He did this so that we might recognize that He is the One who has justified us. To what end? So that as Luther wrote in his explanation to the 2nd Article, we might “be His very own, live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in eternal righteousness, innocence, and joy.” Dear friends, God waited 4,000 years after Adam and Eve’s initial sin to bring about our redemption, and He has proclaimed through His believing children that good news for an additional 2,000 years. He is just and the One who justifies us!
“Where is (our) boasting then?” Paul asks. He responds,“It is excluded.” There is no place for patting ourselves on the back in view of our supposed goodness. “By what law? Of works?” Paul asks again. He responds, “No, but by the law of faith.” Faith is God’s gift—that empty hand into which He pours His love and forgiveness. It is by faith that we become God’s children and His heirs (cf. Gal. 3:26-29). It is by faith that we can be confident of our present relationship with God and our future life in His presence. “Therefore we conclude,” Paul says, “that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” My dear friends—that which has been given to me by God and not secured on my own, can never be taken from me. Consequently, the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation yield within my heart and life the additional gifts of joy, peace, hope, and confidence!
THE REFORMATION RESTORED TWO VERY IMPORTANT, VERY PERSONAL TRUTHS TO GOD’S CHURCH, that is, to every one of us believers. The first is a necessary preparation: I cannot save myself, while the second is the most fundamental and necessary truth revealed in Scripture: God by grace has saved me through faith in Jesus Christ! Believe it; cherish it; rejoice in it! Amen.