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Reformation Day – Romans 1:16-17

by pastorjuhl ~ October 30th, 2012

A free text for Reformation…freedom of the Gospel and all….

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

            The text for today’s observation of the Reformation is from Romans chapter one, verses 16 and 17: For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; for it is a power of God that saves all who believe on it, primarily the Jews and also the Greeks. Since in it the righteousness of God is revealed that counts before God that comes from faith to faith, as it is written: “The righteous will live by his faith.”

These words were especially precious to Martin Luther. He considered them carefully and compared them to other passages of Scripture. Through careful study and meditation, Luther found that the righteousness Saint Paul proclaimed to the Romans is the only righteousness that counts before God. This righteousness is the only one revealed in the Gospel. This righteousness was not of human works, but of Christ, the God-Man, and what He earned by His life, suffering, and death. He who believes in this righteousness is justified, is reckoned righteous in the sight of God.

When Luther learned this for the first time, he wrote: “I felt immediately as though I were completely born anew and as if I had discovered the door of Paradise itself was thrown open wide for me to enter.” What made this so? These words of Paul that he quotes from the prophet Habakkuk were the clincher: The righteous will live by his faith. Luther rejoiced in these words. His soul was at rest. His conscience was clear.

It wasn’t long before Luther had to put to practice what he learned in his studies. On October 31, 1517, Luther posted a series of statements for debate among students and scholars at the University of Wittenberg. He could no longer remain silent while watching innocent souls fall under the weight of working their way out of hell to eternal life. This was the first step in the great war against human works and self-righteousness that would entangle Luther until the end of his life.

Luther learned from God’s Word and his own experience that human righteousness does not count before God. Man can only be saved and justified before God through faith. Luther could do nothing but cast down idols people have conceived in order to earn God’s grace. Luther preached Christ crucified for sinners. He could preach nothing else, even if this preaching cost him friends, fellow reformers, or even his life.

Luther learned that no one could stand before God and find grace except by coming to the Father in the name of Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son. Whenever human righteousness is held up to God, it is as if someone tries to put out a fire with hay. Luther learned that Christ is the only mediator, the only way to heaven, the only ground of salvation. Christ had reconciled the world by His own offering on the cross for the sins of the world.

What about good works? Some critics of Luther insist he downplayed good works. Luther put good works back where they belong. No work of man makes himself righteous before God. No work of man earns anything. God is not pleased with our works unless we are justified through faith in Him and have received a new heart. Only after we cling to Christ are good works truly good. The works of a Christian serve our neighbor and supply the proof that faith is a living faith.

In sure and certain faith, Luther began to preach, teach, and write nothing but the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He showed the world the Bread of Life. He proclaimed the great joy of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. He showed how poor sinners could be helped. He answered the question: “What must I do to be saved?” The answer is: Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. Luther opened the fountain of true comfort in every trial of sins, need, and death. He showed how sinners have peace with God and rest for their soul. He showed how even the most miserable human being has salvation.

The Reformation is about divine grace, God’s undeserved love poured out on sinners through Jesus’ blood and righteousness. There are no detours to Christ. Reformation preachers continue to preach the Gospel and get out of the way. They let the Holy Spirit take over and make clean hearts out of dirty ones. The preaching that changed the world remains, “Trust Christ alone as your salvation from sin and death!” Lost sheep of Jesus are spared from everlasting death when they hear this proclamation of divine grace from the Good Shepherd.

Many of those who clung to Luther’s teaching thought he did not go far enough. They believed that Luther should have rid the Christian Church of everything that resembled Roman Catholicism. If you look carefully at what these sects preach, you will find that they want to take you back to the dark days when Luther wrestled on his knees with God in the throes of despair. They add something to Gospel preaching. They proclaim Christ crucified, but add “ifs”, “buts” and “ands” to the message of grace.

God forbid you fall prey to this trap of the devil! Repent and follow Luther out of the cloister of human righteousness. Despair once again of your works and confidence in your works. Walk out of darkness into the glorious light of Christ. There is no such thing as Gospel plus something. Divine grace will have no hangers-on. [The Gospel] is a power of God that saves all who believe on it, primarily the Jews and also the Greeks. Since in it the righteousness of God is revealed that counts before God that comes from faith to faith, as it is written: “The righteous will live by his faith.” As heirs of the conservative Reformation, we remain convinced that Paul’s words inspired by the Holy Spirit remain true today. These words changed Luther’s life. They change your life too. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

(Condensed and revised from a sermon delivered in 1843 by C.F.W. Walther. Soli Deo Gloria!)


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