As Confessional Lutherans Let Us Uphold the Great Teachings of the Reformation: Scripture Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone
Text: Ephesians 2:1-10
And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
In Christ Jesus, whose word reveals truth and whose truth sets us free, dear fellow redeemed:
Why did you come to this worship service today? Did you come to celebrate the 497th Anniversary of Luther’s nailing of the 95 Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg? I doubt it! Even those of us who share a delight in history are probably not here for that reason. Did you come for the pot-luck meal after the service? While such meals are indeed scrumptious, I doubt that any of us traveled several hours just to eat a meal. No, the reasons we have come together here at Redeemer this afternoon are no doubt because the Spirit of God has moved us to treasure certain teachings found in the Bible and restored to the church through the Lutheran Reformation. These teachings instill within us spiritual life and guarantee us an eternal future. The Spirit of God has also led us to understand that in every generation these vital teachings come under attack by Satan and his allies found in this world and, unfortunately, they even find opposition in the external Christian church--sadly that even includes some segments of the Lutheran Church. Those teachings, so vital for our eternal salvation and the eternal salvation of all people, need to be defended, preserved, and proclaimed, so that God’s name might be hallowed by us, so that His kingdom might come through us, and so that His will might be done among us. Consequently, my dear fellow believers, AS CONFESSIONAL LUTHERANS—LET US UPHOLD THE GREAT TEACHINGS OF THE REFORMATION: Scripture Alone, Grace Alone, and Faith Alone!
Scripture Alone! My dear friends, most of the major battles within Christendom during the last two centuries have been fought over the Bible. Is the Bible the inspired Word of God, or is it merely the words of men about God? Is the Bible inerrant, that is without error, and infallible, that is true in all its parts, or does it contain errors and falsehoods? When the principle of “Scripture alone” was restored to the church through the Reformation, it was assumed that the Bible was the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God. That is a truth we embrace and confess as confessional Lutherans, although sadly we find ourselves to be part of a decided minority among other Christians and Lutherans today.
What does that mean in practice? Consider simply how people today view human beings by nature. The apostle Paul in our text says, “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.”
The Bible teaches that human beings by nature are born in sin, under the control of Satan, living in rebellion against God, and finally subject to the wrath of God. Is that a series of truths you would hear in a lecture on a university campus today? Is that something you are likely to hear from the pulpit in many Christian churches today? The answer in both cases is, “Not likely!” Our society including most churches has given up talking about sin or identifying anyone as a “sinner.” That is thought to be too negative. In fact, that would be considered “hate speech” by many, especially if directed towards individuals or groups, for instance, who are involved in homosexual activities. As one of our CLC laymen in Minnesota has stated, “The message of most churches today can be summarized with these words: “I’m good! God’s good! Everything’s good!”
But, my dear friends, everything is not good! Look around you in our world today. What do you see? Do you not see graft and corruption, hatred and violence, selfishness and defiance of authority? Do you not have to worry about the theft of your identity, the safety of your person and home, and the loss of your rights and freedoms? Why is that? It is because of sin and mankind’s continued rebellion against God. We human beings are by nature truly “dead in trespasses and sins.” Satan continues to “work in the sons of disobedience,” and all human beings are “by nature children of wrath.” This the Scripture reveals and, therefore, it is true! Let us not listen to the world which dismisses Scripture! Let us not listen to the vast numbers of Christian denominations which deny the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture in their efforts to paint a rosy picture of human nature! AS CONFESSIONAL LUTHERANS—LET US UPHOLD THE GREAT TEACHINGS OF THE REFORMATION: Scripture Alone…
…and Grace Alone! Were the message of Scripture to end with its accurate but depressing description of human beings by nature, it would not be a message of good news. The Christian gospel proclaims God’s grace and His grace alone as the motivating force leading to our salvation. The law of God rightly condemns us in view of our sins, but the gospel of God proclaims the love of God for sinners. The apostle Paul writes: “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
The gospel is a message of God’s undeserved love for sinful human beings. God determined in eternity to rescue a created humanity, who by its own choice rebelled against God and ran away from Him. Instead of bringing down just judgment upon humanity, God determined to have His only-begotten and beloved Son enter the stream of humanity. Jesus took on our flesh being born of the virgin Mary. He walked among us, embraced our weaknesses yet without sin, and then suffered on our behalf bearing on the cross the punishment our sins deserved. Jesus lived; He died; and then He arose again in order to make us “alive” spiritually once again. Having restored to us the gift of life, we are told that God “raised us up together, and made us sit in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” What grace is that! The guilty forgiven; the rebellious reconciled; and the sinful paupers raised to positions of being spiritual princes and princesses in a heavenly kingdom! My dear friends, it is this message of grace alone, which has drawn us here and which sadly is in danger of being lost again in our day as more and more people embrace a false gospel of work righteousness. AS CONFESSIONAL LUTHERANS—LET US UPHOLD THE GREAT TEACHINGS OF THE REFORMATION: Scripture Alone, Grace Alone…
…and Faith Alone! How do the blessings of the gospel message revealed in the Scripture become our own? The answer is simple: “By faith alone!” Paul writes: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Faith is a gift of God given to men, women, and children as the Spirit of God works simple trust in their hearts. Faith is not a work of man for God, but rather the empty hand of an adopted child reaching out in confident and joyous expectation of receiving blessings from a heavenly Father. Therefore, it is the exact opposite of works. Indeed, there is no room for boasting on our part as Christians when it comes to our salvation, for it is completely the work of Jesus Christ. He said on the cross before dying, “It is finished!” (Jn. 19:30) Paul would later assure us in his Epistle to the Colossians, “You are complete in Him!” (Col. 2:10) Our salvation is, therefore, never a matter of “faith plus…,” as so many Christian churches directly teach or indirectly imply, but rather, it is always the result of “faith alone!”
Such faith, however, we might hastily add is never alone! Paul concludes our text with these words: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” We are not saved “by” good works, but we certainly are saved “for” good works. God has not saved us without purpose. He did not send His Son into the world to live, die, and arise again to leave us in spiritual bondage to Satan or to see us live meaningless and unproductive lives. Rather, we are “His workmanship”—each of us created with our own gifts and talents. But beyond our creation, notice the significance of Paul’s words. God has already prepared beforehand great works for us to do! Every day, my dear friends, we as God’s children can awake, thank God for a new day, and seek the wisdom necessary to accomplish those good things God has prepared for us to do. We, as God’s child, have been given a life filled with joyous anticipation of future accomplishments and blessings!
I would like to close this sermon, rather appropriately in my opinion, with a quotation from Martin Luther’s Preface to St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans as cited in the Formula of Concord: “Faith…is a divine work in us that changes us and makes us to be born anew of God (Jn. 1:12-13). It kills the old Adam and makes us altogether different men, in heart and spirit and mind and powers; it brings with it the Holy Spirit. Oh, it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith. It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly. It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done them, and is constantly doing them. Whoever does not do such works, however, is an unbeliever. He gropes and looks around for faith and good works, but knows neither what faith is nor what good works are. Yet he talks and talks, with many words, about faith and good works. Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that the believer would stake his life on it a thousand times. This knowledge of and confidence in God’s grace makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and all creatures. And this is the work that the Holy Spirit performs in faith. Because of it, without compulsion, a person is ready and glad to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, out of love and praise to God, who has shown him this grace. Thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light from fire.” (Luther’s Works 35:370-371)
What a blessed heritage we have received through the Lutheran Reformation—a heritage under attack by many and sadly already lost by some. AS CONFESSIONAL LUTHERANS—LET US UPHOLD THE GREAT TEACHINGS OF THE REFORMATION: Scripture Alone, Grace Alone, and Faith Alone! Amen.