Reformation Sunday October 30, 2022
Worship Supplement 2000 #775, 266, 262, 261
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
+ In the Name of Jesus Christ +
Prayer of the Day: O God, our refuge and our strength, You raised up Your servant Martin Luther to reform and renew Your Church in the light of Your living Word, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Defend and purify the Church in our own day, and grant that we may boldly proclaim Christ’s faithfulness unto death and His vindicating resurrection, which You made known to Your servant Martin through Jesus Christ, our Savior, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
May the fact of the Reformation, which we commemorate on this day, fill you with confidence that our heavenly Father will never abandon His Church, and that he will never abandon any one of you, his sons and daughters—members of that same beloved Church. Amen.
Dear Fellow Christians: Do you remember your birthday? The answer is, “Of course not.“ We know only what we have been told—even though we were there. Not one of us could know even the most basic information about ourselves had we not been told or had there not been some sort of written record—even though we personally attended the event. We wouldn’t even now know what we once looked like as children had pictures of us not been captured and preserved.
Understanding that this sort of thing is true in our own personal lives, we begin to get a sense of just how much of what we know today depends on words and pictures spoken, taken, written, and preserved by others. While much of this information is not all that important (lots of people get along just fine not knowing their actual birth dates) some information is absolutely critical—eternally so.
That is, in fact, how all of this relates to the event we commemorate on this day, the Reformation. It informs us as to what it was that was so important about the Reformation, together with why it is fitting, right, and crucial that we continue to celebrate this gift from our God. The three pillars of the Reformation are, as you will recall, “Scripture alone,” “Faith alone,” and “Grace alone.” This morning we will focus on one in particular—Scripture or God’s Word alone. We do so not only to gain a better, more appropriate appreciation for God’s Word, but to be reminded that without that Word, neither grace nor faith would even matter. The text that will guide our study on this Reformation Sunday is found in the Third Chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Romans:
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)
This is God’s Word. We not only thank God for giving us these words, we thank him for the gifts of comprehension and faith that he has also given us. That this same God who gave us these words would continue to bless us through their study this morning, so we pray, “Sanctify us by Your truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth.” Amen.
A big part of Christianity is not so much learning what you can one day receive as it is learning to appreciate and be thankful for what you already have. You will not one day receive saving faith; you already have it. That also therefore means that you will not one day receive forgiveness for all your sins; you already have forgiveness—full and complete—for every one of your sins. You will not one day receive eternal life; you have it even now. Jesus himself said that “everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:26) Clearly there are some things that lie in the future—like heaven and the end of all that is bad or evil—but so much is ours right now.
Another tremendous gift that you now possess is the God-given ability to understand and believe spiritual truth—and to recognize the difference between spiritual truth and error. And yet none of these gifts would hold any practical value for us had God never told us, causing them to be written down and preserved for centuries, delivering these truths to us whole and intact. That is again why, on this Reformation Sunday, we celebrate God’s Word—“Sola Scripture” (Scripture alone).
Just as not a single thing in our lives would have been possible had our mothers decided to end our lives while still in their wombs, so also neither “Grace Alone” nor “Faith Alone” would have any relevance or meaning if not for “Scripture Alone.” We first look at how and why this is true.
God’s grace is truly amazing, in every conceivable way. We define God’s grace as his “undeserved love for sinners.” The “undeserved” part is critical. The most amazing aspect of God’s grace is not so much that he loves us, it is that that love is completely unmerited. Every parent can probably think back to times when they really didn’t like a child all that much, usually when that child is being particularly disrespectful, rebellious, and difficult. Parents typically still love their children, at times they just don’t like them all that much. And yet even that love can eventually be destroyed by a child that causes nothing but heartache and pain. A child that never acts any other way eventually becomes unlovable.
Apply that to our relationship with our Father in heaven. The natural condition of every human being, from the moment even of our conception, is always and only disrespect, disobedience, and rebellion. That’s why God’s love, his grace, is always defined as undeserved. There was absolutely nothing lovable in or about any of us. Understand, God didn’t begin to love us after he brought us to faith and made us his children, he has loved us from eternity—even before we were born. He didn’t begin to love us when we started doing good, he loved us when we were nothing but evil— always, only, and continually. That’s what makes God’s grace is so amazing. It is unearned, undeserved, and often unrequited.
However, without God’s Word we would have never even know it existed. In a world broken by sin, we could neither know nor expect that God could or would have any love for any part of his rebellious, sin-riddled creation. Take away God’s Word, and we could know nothing of his love for sinners.
The third pillar of the Reformation is “Faith Alone.” All true Christians believe that we are saved by God’s grace through faith alone. The Reformation itself was about combatting the damning falsehood that we are saved in any way by our own works. By “faith” we of course mean simply that we take God at his Word. To “have faith” or to “believe in Jesus” does not mean only that we believe that Jesus once existed, or that he came to earth to provide us with an example of how we could earn God’s love and our own passage to heaven on our own. By “faith” we mean that we trust only in the goodness he himself provided as the full and complete payment for our own personal sins. This saving truth was spelled out beautifully in our text for this morning. We are saved not by what we do, but through faith alone in what Jesus has done for us.
Believing this, again we ask how we could possibly then say that “faith alone” would have no relevance or meaning for us if not for God’s Word. The answer is that faith, in and of itself, doesn’t save us. It is faith alone in Jesus Christ that saves us. True faith always has an object or promise to which it attaches itself. All else is just wishful thinking. True Christian faith is based on God’s promises, and the only way we now know those promises is through or in God’s Word.
It is silly to imagine that the godless have no faith. They do. They have faith in themselves, faith in “science,” faith in humanity. The problem is that they don’t base their faith on the certain promises of God but on their own imaginings, fears, and desires. It’s different with Christians because the object of our faith is not only in God, who never lies, but in the God who has the absolute power to keep every one of his promises. No promise made by anything fallible, anything or anyone that cannot control every circumstance in life, can ever be fully trusted.
Which is exactly why “Faith Alone” would hold no relevance or meaning for us if not for God’s Word. It is only in that Word of God that we learn of the objects of faith—the promises of God. Only the Word of God reveals those promises to which the Christian faith clings.
Therefore God’s Word must be and remain for us that which it is intended to be—our single most precious possession. It is in that Word of God that we are taught what the Bible itself refers to as the “mysteries of God” and the one path to eternal life in heaven. Although it is true that grace and faith only have value to us because of the Word, it is also true that the Word would be of no benefit without the faith alone that that Word creates in our hearts. Faith is, itself, a gift that the Holy Spirit alone gives to his children through the hearing of that Word. Though the words found in our Bibles could not be any more perfect or clear, man cannot grasp or believe them on his own. The Holy Spirit through Paul told us in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “A person who isn’t spiritual doesn’t accept the teachings of God’s Spirit. He thinks they’re nonsense. He can’t understand them because a person must be spiritual to evaluate them.” (GWN) That’s also why so many can read the magnificent words of our text for this morning and simply not get it.
Our text begins with a simple, basic, universal truth: The law does not teach us what we must do, it teaches us what we haven’t done, and could never do. In the words of our text: “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.” By demanding perfection, the law shuts every sinner’s mouth since every honest person must admit they have not kept God’s holy law. In God’s system of divine justice, a man must be unerringly perfect, or he must obtain his pardon and perfection through the righteousness of another. Our text refers to this “outsourced” perfection as “the righteousness of God” (that is, the righteousness produced or provided by God through the obedience of his Son, Jesus Christ). Here, in fact, are the Three Pillars. It is the Word alone that teaches us that it is through faith alone that this undeserved grace of God becomes our own personal possession. In the life-giving words of our text: “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 (satisfactory payment) by his blood, to be received by faith.”
These words from our God lay out for us the beating heart of the Christian faith. Marvel at the precision and clarity of God’s “this, not that” approach. Forgiveness is a gift, not something we earn. We are justified on the basis of what Jesus has done as our substitute, not by anything good we have done. God himself supplied the payment that settled our sin-debt, not the sinner. All boasting therefore is excluded, as God—and God alone—has accomplished our rescue. This is the Christian faith.
That is also why it is so fitting to thank our God on this day for returning the treasure that is his Word to his Church through the Reformation. These words, so clear, so uplifting, so compelling, were hidden from the world for centuries. Arrogant men had determined that simple folk could not be trusted to interpret and understand these words on their own. More accurately, they knew that if even the simplest individual was armed with this clear, sure Word of God, that person would possess the power to see through the damning lies that they were being told by the church of their day. On this day we celebrate the fact that God returned to us our single greatest possession—his holy, precious Word.
God grant to each of us a renewed understanding of, appreciation for, and fierce love of our Holy Bible—the very Word of God. God’s Word is truth, and life itself. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, 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.
All Scripture marked with the designation (GWN) is taken from GOD’S WORD®. © 1995, 2003, 2013, 2014, 2019, 2020 by God’s Word to the Nations Mission Society. Used by permission.