Justified By Faith
Justified by Faith
Text: Romans 3:19-28
Go ahead. Go ahead and try to please God. Isn’t that what we all want? We are simple, small, frail creatures, but we all want the same thing. We want a right standing in God’s presence. We want a mighty, holy God to be happy. We want God to be pleased with us. We don’t want a God who fills the universe to look on us like a colony of ants and squash us with his divine boot. No. We want to be in a right relationship with God and we want him to be pleased. So go ahead. Try and please God. See what happens.
Martin Luther tried. He tried really hard. When Martin Luther was living in a monastery he would beat himself and starve himself, punishing himself almost any way he could think of. Why would a person ever do that, you might wonder? Well Martin Luther took God seriously. He took his relationship with God seriously too.
So when Martin Luther read the Scriptures he found that God says things like, “Be holy, because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” He knew of the descriptions of heaven in the Bible, where God is seated on his throne and surrounded by angels who are singing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
As he found these things about God in Scripture, Luther became terrified. God is holy, mighty, and fills the earth with his glory. So how could Luther possibly please God? His life was filled with sin. Yes, he lived in a monastery. Yes, he was studying to be a priest. Yes, he studied Scripture daily. But he still wasn’t even close to holy. The more he learned about God, the more he learned how terribly he was falling short. In desperation, he resorted to attempts to literally beat the sin out of himself. But he couldn’t do it.
How do you feel about your relationship with God? How do you think God feels about you? Generally speaking, most people in the world think they have a decent relationship with God. If asked whether they will go to heaven, most people will say, “Yes, of course I will.” And if asked why they will go to heaven, most people will say, “Because I’m a pretty good person. Because I live a decent life. Because I’m not that bad.”
But whenever those thoughts creep into our minds, we need a cold dose of reality. Most people in this world need a reality check too. Let’s remember with Martin Luther who and what God is. He’s God. He’s holy. He fills the whole earth with his glory.
Do you have any idea what it is like to be holy? If you do, tell me, because I sure don’t know. Every bad thought, every bad word, every bad choice—it’s all sin. Every curse, every craving, every selfish desire—it’s all sin. Every impurity, every imperfection—it’s all sin. Go through your life with a fine-toothed comb. You will quickly realize what Martin Luther did. Yes, we may be Christians. Yes, we might read our Bibles. Yes, we might go to church fairly regularly. But we aren’t even close to holy.
This is what Luther realized, and what we must realize, when we read the second lesson today from Romans chapter three. Look at that first paragraph again: “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.” Everything God demands of us—whatever he says in the law—it says to every one of us. And when we see the perfection that God demands in every aspect of life, quickly our mouths are silenced as we are held accountable to God for what we have done.
And when we are held accountable to God, when our imperfection is compared to his perfection, the result is in verse 20: “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” Go ahead. Go ahead and try to please God. It’s impossible. No one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law. No one will make God happy by what they do. No one will earn God’s favor or eternal life. It’s impossible. Rather, “through the law we become conscious of sin.” Like Luther, when we read God’s Word, the cold, harsh reality sets in that we all are sinners and have fallen short of God’s glory. And like Luther, that leaves us in a world of trouble and a world of sadness. Martin Luther even said once that the concept of the righteousness of God “repulsed” him because he was so terrified of his holy God and his demands.
It’s amazing how the Lord works in our lives with the power of his Word though. All the while, as Martin Luther was daily studying and searching the Scriptures in the monastery, God shed some light on his heart. Luther says that he was reading these very words of Romans and he stumbled upon something. You can find it in verse 21. He stumbled upon a “righteousness from God, apart from the law.”
Here’s exactly what Luther once wrote, “After days and nights of wrestling with the problem, God finally took pity on me, so that I was finally able to comprehend the inner connection between the two expressions, ‘the righteousness of God’ . . .” and “the just shall live by faith.”
Just imagine. Martin Luther lived in a time when one church dominated the entire globe. That one church taught everyone that they must earn their way to heaven by their prayers, by their good works, by their offerings. This church even told people that they could literally pay money and buy their way into heaven. Imagine the pressure. You know you are sinner. You know you don’t match up to God. But every day you have to figure out if you’ve done enough to please him so you don’t end up in hell.
That is what terrified Martin Luther, until God had pity on him as he stumbled upon these words. Look at verses 21-23: “But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
The light bulb went on. “Wait a second!” he thought. “These words don’t say anything about having to please God or earn heaven! These verses tell us that righteousness comes not from us, but from God. Righteousness doesn’t come by doing anything, it comes through faith in Jesus. Yes we all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory, but all are also justified (declared innocent) for free by God’s grace!”
Martin Luther wrote about his reaction: “As violently as I had formerly hated the expression ‘the righteousness of God, so I was now as violently compelled to embrace the new conception of grace and, thus, for me, the expression of the apostle really opened the gates of paradise.” When the light bulb went on, Luther realized that the gates of heaven were wide open— for him and for free.
How could this be? How could such a sinner go to heaven? How could someone so unholy be with a God who is so holy? And how could it be that this would be completely free? The answer is in verses 25-26. “God presented [Jesus] as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”
It’s not that God took it easy or didn’t follow through with his words. God is holy and God is just. God does hate sin and God does punish sin. But Luther realized God took out his hatred and punishment for sin on Jesus. Jesus was the sacrifice that died to pay for all of our sins. He was the perfect Lamb that was righteous that was sacrificed to pay for all of us who are unrighteous. So God did demonstrate his justice by punishing Jesus, and he demonstrated his love by declaring us innocent through faith in Jesus.
Do you want to please God? Do you want to make God happy? Do you want to be in a right standing with him so that you can spend eternity with him? Well good news! You already do please God. He is happy with you. You do have a right standing with him and you will spend eternity with him. Why? Because Jesus makes you right with God. His perfection is credited to you. His death pays for you. It’s all yours. Not by works. By God’s grace through faith in Jesus.
This was more than a light bulb flicking on for Martin Luther. This was the beginning of a life of faith and a right relationship with God. But for the rest of the world, this was more than one person coming to faith. This was the beginning of a reformation.
Luther was so passionately compelled by the good news of being saved by grace alone through faith in Christ alone, he had to share that news. More importantly, he had to bring change and reform to the church at large that was teaching salvation by works alone. So on October 31, 1517 he nailed 95 Theses to the church doors of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. He wasn’t trying to start a new religion. He wasn’t trying to create a following. He was trying to bring the truth of salvation by grace alone back to the forefront.
But the church wasn’t listening. Four years later they summoned Martin Luther to a special meeting in the German city of Worms. They demanded that he recant, or take back, everything he said and taught—“or else.” Luther thought about it and prayed about it overnight. Psalm 46, which we sang earlier, was of particular comfort to him. Boldly he came back the next day and said, “Unless I shall be convinced by the testimonies of the Scriptures or by clear reason … I neither can nor will make any retraction, since it is neither safe nor honorable to act against conscience . . . Hier stehe ich. Ich kann nicht anders. Gott helfe mir. Amen.” (“Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”) The rest is history, you could say. The church split in half. All those who protested with Luther forevermore became known as Protestant Christians.
This Reformation of the Church was one of the most important events in world history, and Martin Luther was one of the most important men in world history. As Lutherans, we don’t worship Martin Luther. We don’t unequivocally do everything Martin Luther did or say everything he said. But rather, we give thanks to God for Martin Luther, that God used him to bring the truth to light. And we relish that still today we can say with Martin Luther: “We are saved by grace alone, by faith alone, by Scripture alone.” That’s what Luther stood for. That’s what we stand for.
October 31st is technically Reformation Day, but today is the day we are celebrating it. It’s a special day for all Christians. Not because Martin Luther is at the center of it. On Reformation Day we put Jesus at the center of our celebration.
Without Christ, we would be lost sinners. We would have no hope. We would have no chance at heaven. So today, we simply rejoice and praise God for the truth of verses 27-28: “Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.”
In this great Bible book of Romans, the apostle Paul heralded the greatest news of all: We are justified by faith in Jesus, not by our own works. The early Christian church flourished as they too cherished this message. After hundreds of years of darkness clouding this truth, Martin Luther rediscovered this truth and helped proclaim and preserve this truth.
Now, all these years later, it’s our turn. There is no greater message, no greater joy in all the world than to know that we have righteousness from God through Jesus Christ. It is our privilege and our duty to continue to proclaim this message. It is our privilege and our duty to continue to preserve this message.
On this Reformation Day, give thanks to God for Jesus who reformed our hearts by his sacrifice. Then give thanks to God for Martin Luther who helped reform the church. Then give thanks to God that now we get to bring reform to this world by the power of his Word. God give us the strength through Jesus to join Luther and say, “Here I stand. God help me.”
Posted on November 6, 2013, in Church, Sermons and tagged 95 Theses, By Faith Alone, By Grace Alone, By Scripture Alone, Catholic, Catholics, Church, Diet of Worms, Here I Stand, Justification, Justified, Luther, Lutheran, Martin Luther, Reformation, Reformation Day, Roman Catholic, Romans, Romans 3, Sermons, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scripture, Wittenberg, Work Righteousness. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.