Vol. 58 — No. 43 October 22, 2017
265, 387:1-5, 380, 371:5-7
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. (ESV)
Dear fellow sinners made clean in the blood of Jesus Christ,
What does it mean to be Lutheran? For many today, “Lutheran” is like one of the many colors in the rainbow of Christianity. Many view Lutheran as being no different than Protestant, Catholic, Pentecostal—all Christian with different backgrounds or traditions. But you who are members of this Lutheran Church, do you know why we are Lutheran? Do you know what it means to be called a Lutheran? Perhaps on this 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation this is something people have asked you about or perhaps it is something you have asked yourself.
We are not Lutheran because we follow a man named Martin Luther. Rather, we hold that Lutheran doctrines as found in the Book of Concord rightly reflect the teachings found in Holy Scripture. True Lutheranism teaches and upholds nothing more and nothing less than what the Holy Spirit has given us in His Word. In fact, we could say that the Law, the Prophets, and the Apostle Paul were Lutherans, because the teachings of true Lutheranism are their teachings, as recorded in Scripture.
The central message of true Lutheranism is the central message of Scripture itself. This central message gives a definitive answer to the eternally important question, “What must I do to be saved?” Simply put, there are only two options when it comes to our salvation. Either we are saved by our own works, as the all the religions of the world teach, or we are saved by the works of another. Either we are declared righteous by what we do or by the deeds of another. Let us consider this morning that this is the most important calling we have as Lutherans, as Christians, namely, to make righteousness known. To make known that we are not righteous by the deeds of the law. To make known that our righteousness is from God, through faith in Jesus Christ. May God be praised for this most hallowed doctrine and may we make it rightly known.
“A monkey can imitate the actions of people, but he is not a man on that account,” Luther once commented. The natural inclination of man is to think that if he is to be saved, he must save himself. He must do enough good works to earn the right to go to heaven. Man even goes so far as to decide just how many, what kind, or even what quality of works he must perform to get into heaven. This makes sense to the natural mind of man. We work at our job and we get a paycheck. The better the effort we put into our work, the more likely we are to succeed. Man then takes this principle and applies it to his salvation—do works that are “good enough” and he should be able to get into heaven. But just like the monkey Luther was speaking of, just because a man is imitating good works, does not mean he is not righteous on that account.
Rather than what we think of our works, let us hear what Almighty God, the Judge of souls, thinks. After all, His verdict is the only one that really matters. What is it that God sees when He looks at our hearts? Does He find a heart teeming with love for God above all else, and love for his neighbor? In fact, does God see any love at all? Does He see that true love, that sacrificial, “agape” love, when He looks to the heart of natural man? The Prophet Isaiah tells us exactly what God sees, “We are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6) God sees an unclean thing when He looks at the works of men. What man thinks is “righteousness” is as fowl, filthy rag to God. (Literally, that “filthy rag” is a soiled menstrual cloth.) THAT is what God sees when He looks on the deeds of men.
While man wants to declare himself “not guilty” before God by his works, listen again to verse 20 of our text, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” The law—especially God’s 10 Commandments—serve a very specific purpose. The law holds before us the possibility of earning the favor of God by obeying His commandments when it says, “Do this and live.” So, have we? Have we kept those Commandments? And not just the outward acts of imitating the Commandments, like a monkey might imitate the motions of a human. But the inward keeping of the law, with our thoughts, our words, and our actions.
Take for instance the 4th Commandment— “Honor your father and your mother that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.” What is God expecting of all of us? Simple, right? “HONOR your father and mother.” But who here has done that? Who ALWAYS honored their parents by never talking back, thinking dishonorable thoughts about them, and gladly and willingly done exactly what they told us because we wanted to HONOR them?
As we compare our hearts with God’s Law, it does not reveal what good and loving people we are. The law tells us something about ourselves and it is not good. “Through the law comes the knowledge of sin.” The law shows us no love or wiggle room. The law strikes fear. “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.” To use a crude phrase, the law makes us “shut-up,” because in our heart we know God is right and we are guilty before Him. This is Lutheranism. We make known what Scripture makes plain, namely, that righteousness does not and cannot come from our keeping the law, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Thanks be to God, that neither Scripture and, thus, the teachings of Lutheranism, do not end there. Go back to the Garden of Eden. Genesis, chapter 3. After Adam and Eve sinned against God, He did not say, “Well, that does it. You made the choice to sin. Now you have to reap the consequences for your choice!” No. What is the first promise God makes to Adam and Eve after they sinned? God, who had been sinned against, promised to HIMSELF do something about their unrighteous and sinful condition. God promised to send a Serpent-crusher from the seed of the woman. From woman one would come to overcome what they had done by their sin. God promised what Lutheranism teaches. God promised a Savior who would be, “THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.” (Jeremiah 23:6) Lutheranism is making righteousness known, even righteousness from God Himself!
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it.” Righteousness for man CAN be found. It does exist. But it is not our own righteousness. Since there is no righteousness from the law, and because by the law is the knowledge of sin, God instead gives righteousness. And the righteousness of God is FAR greater than any work which we could ever hope to do. This righteousness from God, apart from the law, apart from works, apart from what we do, has “manifested,” or “revealed.” God spoke of this righteousness in the first five books of Moses and the all Prophets of the Old Testament. Paul here writes of it to the Romans. Martin Luther expounded on it. The Book of Concord teaches it. And true Lutheranism makes it known—the righteousness that sinners lack, God Himself supplies.
For Luther there had been no debate about his sinning and falling short of God’s glory. He knew very well that he was a sinner. As a young monk he asked his priests what to do about his troubled conscience. They told him to do more good works and pray to Mary. But none of these things helped. His troubled conscience found no peace until he had the opportunity to study the Scriptures. Then, upon reading that “all…are justified (declared “not guilty”) by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” Luther discovered the truth of God. Scripture revealed to him that righteousness was not dependant on his works or his prayers, but on God’s declaration. God had made a declaration of “not guilty” through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. Martin Luther wrote that when he read verse 24 of our text, “Suddenly I felt as if born anew, as if the gate to paradise had been opened.”
God, in His incomprehensible love, did something amazing for unrighteous man. While all sinners have fallen short of His glory, GOD HIMSELF justified them. God has declared us righteous. And this declaration does not come because of anything we have done. It is free. It cost us nothing, it requires no work on our part. We are “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” Paul doubles up on expressing that this redemption is free. “By His grace as a gift,” freely through His free love, God redeemed us.
As sinners, it was as though we were kidnap victims. We are held hostage for a ransom. Sin, death, and the devil held us captive. There was not enough money in the world to ransom our souls from these captors. That is why Jesus came. The ransom offered for our freedom from these enemies, was the life and death of righteous Son of God. The Son made us free, indeed! God set Him forth to be a propitiation for the sins of the whole world. The bloody sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was payment to purchase our release. In dying on the cross, Jesus took our punishment on Himself. He tasted death for us. He suffered in our place. He died in our place. It is Jesus “who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.” (Romans 4:25) You see, for us to be declared righteous, to be justified, Jesus had to suffer, die, and be raised from the dead—and He was. And because HE did, we have the righteousness of God through faith through Him!
Therefore, “we (that is, Paul, the Romans, Moses, the Prophets, Martin Luther, the Lutheran Confessions, and this Lutheran congregation)—we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” This is the Word of God. This is Christian teaching on salvation. This is Lutheran teaching. We are not righteous by our deeds but by the deeds of another. God has supplied the righteousness that we lack. He gives it to us freely by His grace through faith in Jesus Christ. This is Lutheranism —making righteousness known! May God ever help us to hold to and proclaim this soul-saving message of righteousness from God through faith in Christ Jesus! 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.
Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.