12th Sunday of Pentecost July 31, 2016
Psalm 103 (selected)
391, 375, 373, 777 (TLH alt. 48)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ Jesus,
What would you say is the number one struggle you have in your faith-life? I would venture to guess that the biggest struggle most of us have is certainty. And by that we don’t mean uncertainty about God or what He has done. We firmly believe that God created the heavens and the earth. We firmly believe that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary, lived a life free of sin, died on the cross to take away sin, and rose from the dead on the third day. We don’t struggle with the things God has done. Scripture testifies to it, and we believe it to be true, even confessing it every Sunday in the Creed.
What we usually struggle with is the subjective part of our faith. We struggle with uncertainty about ourselves. We believe Jesus is the only Savior of the world and that whoever believes on Him as their Savior will be saved. We don’t doubt that, because that is what Jesus Himself says in John 3:16. But we do struggle with our faith in Jesus. Do we believe enough? So often we feel like our grasp on Jesus is weak and slipping away.
Or maybe it is the knowledge of our sin that bothers us. We keep finding ourselves falling into the same sins again and again. We do the sins we don’t want to do. We transgress the will of God by doing the things we know He hates and so we hate them too. We hate that we lose our temper. We hate that unloving words slip out of our mouth before we know it. We hate it that we kept silent when we should have spoken up, or spoke up when we should have kept silent. We look at someone crossing the street, and before we know it, we’re either having judgmental thoughts or lustful thoughts about him or her. It is just as the Apostle Paul said, “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. …O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:19,24).
Because of these things, we begin to doubt and wonder about our relationship with God. We feel uncertain about our relationship with Him and how He feels about us. We search for “inner peace” with God and find only sin and rebellion. We search ourselves for evidence that we are headed for heaven, but we doubt that anyone that behaves and thinks like we do is headed for heaven. We are full of so much uncertainty and doubt that it terrifies us at times.
For everyone of you who has doubts or uncertainty about where you stands with God—and who among us hasn’t—today’s sermon text is especially for you. Today we will hear about the grace in which the believer stands. It is grace that is seen in God justifying us through Christ, thus giving us peace with Him now, and the sure hope of eternal life in heaven. May God the Holy Spirit bless us and strengthen us by His holy word.
Recently, I had the opportunity to attend one of our member’s graduation from high school. Those of you who have attended a public graduation know how those things go—the caps, the gowns, the line up of valedictorian speakers, the passing out of the diplomas, and the hooting-and-hollering from family members and friends. Amidst all the speeches, there was a concept that was repeated by just about all the speakers. “Congratulations. You did it. You deserve this.” That’s what graduation is about. The student has done the work, completed the required courses, and now he receives reward for all his hard work.
When it comes to our faith, our peace with God, and our future in heaven, we often have that same way of thinking. If we want to be saved, we feel we need to have a strong enough faith and thus faith turns into an effort on our part. If we want peace with God, we have to live right to get it. If we want a future in heaven, we have to be good enough to get there.
The problem is, we haven’t done any of those things. Look to the law of God to see His holy will, and what do you find? We hope God’s law will show us something good about ourselves and we’ll get some hope of heaven. But, all we see about ourselves is that we have failed to live up to God’s holy will. This is what the law does to us. “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” (Romans 3:19-20).
That is why when we look to our own works and our effort for hope and comfort in our relationship with God, we find none. The law shuts up any hope of heaven. By the law is the knowledge of sin, and by our own works no one will be justified in God’s sight.
Where, then, can we find hope? This is where the grace of God comes in. A good definition for the Biblical concept of grace is, “undeserved love.” He sent His one and only Son, His beloved Son in whom He was well pleased. He sent Jesus. Jesus came to be our substitute. He came to live the righteous life that we failed to live. Jesus is “the LORD our righteousness.” (Jer 23:6). He also came to take our sin, our evil, our unrighteousness on Himself, and through His death on the cross, He was punished in our place. “The LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). God punished His sinless Son so that He could justify us. He condemned Jesus with the sins of the world, so that He could pronounce us “not guilty.” THIS is the grace of God. THIS is His undeserved, unearned love for you.
Now, if you are wondering whether God did this for you personally (that is, justified you, declared you “not guilty”) God in His grace took away any room for doubt. He justified the whole world (every single man, woman, and child that has ever been born or ever will be born—whether they believe on Jesus or not). Jesus died to justify them all. Paul writes of this universal justification, “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” (Romans 3:23-24). All sinned (that’s you and me); all fell short (that’s us again); but likewise, all (you and me!) are justified, declared not guilty, by almighty God, by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
Because of what Jesus did, because of His perfect life and His innocent death on the cross, we are justified. At the end of Romans 4, right before the verses of our text, Paul writes, that Jesus “was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification” (Romans 4:25). God declared us “not guilty” not because of what we did or did not do, but because of what Jesus did. THIS is the grace in which we stand, right now. So, you see, we do not need to worry about what God will say about us. He’s already said it because of what Jesus did. Because of His death and resurrection, He has declared you justified—“not guilty!”
Since we have been justified, declared “not guilty,” because of what Jesus did (because of HIS death and HIS resurrection) listen to the conclusion that Paul reaches in the first verse of our text. “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Since God has already rendered the verdict of “not guilty” for all, and faith grabs onto that promise and says, “that includes me too,” the result is that we have peace with God.
Because of Christ, we are no longer children of wrath, children of darkness, nor His enemies. Sin has been taken out of the way by Jesus’ death. God remembers our sin no more. As far as the East is from the West, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. He has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ. He is our heavenly Father, and we are His children—adopted into His family by His grace. We have peace with Him through Jesus. Peace right now. This peace is yours because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:24). THIS is the grace in which we stand right now! We have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ!
A number of years ago, I was dining with members of our congregation at a Lebanese restaurant. One of the members struck up a conversation with the waitress who was serving us. The member mentioned that I was his pastor to which she replied that she too was a Christian. My member spoke of how wonderful it is to know that we are going to heaven because of what Jesus did. To which she replied, “I HOPE I’m going to heaven!” That does not sound like a very certain hope. This woman was uncertain about heaven, probably because she was focusing on herself and her ability to get herself to heaven. Or maybe she, like we, wondered if her faith was strong enough to get her to heaven.
When universal justification is taught Scripturally, that is that all sinned and all are declared “not guilty” because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, then there is no doubt about the outcome of our faith. We find Paul testifying of this at the end of verse 2, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith…we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” Since God has already declared us to be not guilty by the death and resurrection of His Son, what is there to keep us out of heaven? Sin doesn’t keep us out, because Jesus has already removed the sin of the world by His death on the cross. Rather unbelief is the cause of condemnation. Jesus says that those who do not believe shall be condemned, but those who believe and are baptized SHALL be saved. Here there are no degrees of faith (that is, how strong or how weak we feel our faith is) only faith in Jesus. Either you believe in Jesus as your Savior, or you don’t.
Since we have been justified by faith, we can rejoice right now in the sure hope of the glory of God. This hope is not uncertain at all, because it is not dependant on us. It was wholly dependant on Jesus. He had to die to take away our sin—and He did. He had to rise to give us justification to life—and He did. Everything has been accomplished by Jesus for us to inherit eternal life. It is certain, because Jesus did it. Therefore since we have been justified by faith, we rejoice right now in the sure hope of heaven. THIS is the grace in which we stand!
So when doubts and uncertainties arise about your relationship with God, return to the cross and the tomb. Did Jesus die on the cross or didn’t He? If He has, that means your sins have all been paid for. It is finished! Done! Did Jesus rise from the dead on the third day, or didn’t He? If He did, that means you have been justified—declared not guilty by almighty God Himself because of what Jesus did. No one can undo any of that. Whether you have a strong faith or a weak faith, doesn’t make Jesus more or less crucified, or more or less risen from the dead. He “was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification” (Romans 4:25). It is finished. THIS is the grace in which we stand right now by faith. We have been justified; we are at peace with God; and we are headed for heaven—all through our Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God for His amazing grace! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.