Romans 3: 19 – 28 (Reformation - 2013)
“The Reformation Gives You an Identity”
Who are you? Identity has great value. We can do very little today without photo ID and a major credit card. We live in a world of home pages and trademark icons. What is your religious identity? Especially today we label ourselves Lutheran. It is good for us to know the banner of our bookmark page: By Scripture Alone; By Grace Alone; By Faith Alone. Know that banner. It is your religious PIN number. It reflects what the Bible says to all mankind about being the way to get to heaven. You are Lutheran. That means you are a student of the Bible. It means that you are a Child of Grace. It means that you are a confessor of the Truth.
Student of the Scriptures
Look at the vital point Paul makes: “But now a righteousness from God ... has been made known!” Salvation is revealed. Eternal truths are made transparently clear. The Holy Spirit has graciously chosen to write down - for all eternity - ALL that we need to know. Justification – the way God has saved us from sins slavery and death - is written down in the Words of Christ. God’s love is revealed in the Bible. Knowing that makes you an eager student to learn more.
When God speaks, mankind is silenced, and his true children listen. That is true of his Rule Book. “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 … through the Law we become conscious of sin.” The Words of Christ reveal who we truly are. David said in the Psalms: “You are proved right when you speak; you are justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:4-5). Paul, in the previous verses, strings out a list of Psalms - peeling the bell of God’s holy judgment of all: “There is no one righteous, not even one … all have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good … the is not fear of God before their eyes.”
God’s Word speaks to us. As his students we learn the truth. We are held accountable to HIS standards. We know each day that his bar for holiness is too high for us. Our conscience knows what God knows – and what he says - about our sinful hearts. The All-Knowing God knows the places we go. He knows deep-seated desires of our very hearts. He knows the greed that churns in our hearts when we arm wrestle sin to fill an offering envelope. He knows the websites we visit – and even the ones we have thought about visiting. He knows the words children speak under their breath after Mom leaves the room. He knows the guilt that awakens Dad in the middle of the night. His written code silences us. Before Holy God there is no room for “yeah, but …” God’s transparent Rule Book rightfully condemns us to Hell from the very first breath we draw as babies. “Therefore NO ONES will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law …”
But now a righteousness, FROM God, has been made know, to which the law and the prophets testify.” David - and all the prophets - spoke of condemnation. But they also spoke of acquittal. They spoke of redemption. They spoke of forgiveness. They spoke of Messiah! They spoke of the Redeemer. They testified concerning the Righteousness he would bring from God to mankind! Paul, in the very next chapter, sighted David’s Psalms this way: “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him” (4: 8 & Psalm 32). The Words of Christ make us Right-With-God. The Words of Christ free us from guilt. The Words of Christ reveal “the righteousness that is from God apart from observing the law.” In one of our hymns we sing that God’s “Strong Word bespeaks us righteous!” (CW 280: 3) His work rebukes, instructs, forgives, enables, comforts and strengthens his children in Christ. Students of the Bible, rejoice! God reveals his love and forgiveness in Jesus to you in the very book he invites us to use.
Child of Grace
Paul continues to point out what those Scriptures reveal: “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.” Through the work of Christ Jesus and the power of the God’s word, you are a Child of Grace.
Grace is a characteristic of God that is foreign to our human identity. Grace means that God is generous without needing a reason. Grace means that God gives without needing in return. Grace means that we don’t deserve a crust of bread or to have our hearts beat, but God still allows it. Grace means that we do not deserve a bed to sleep in or an occupation, but God still gives them. Grace means that we do not deserve to hear God, know God, or believe in God for anything, but God still reaches out. Grace means that we do not deserve to know about heaven, let alone go there, but God still promises it. Grace means that God took a shine to us because of Who HE Is, and not because of who WE Were.
Later in this letter Paul writes: “You see at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5: 6-8). This is more than just love as we see it on earth. This is Divine Love.
I am your pastor and love all of you. I am a husband and I love my wife. I am a father of five and I love my children. But my love for my wife and children trumps my love for you. I would not sacrifice their lives for yours, no matter how much I could possibly love you. My love is human love. God’s grace is much different. Grace means that God’s love for us is completed in his love for his Son. He loves his Son even more deeply because of what his Son was willing to do for you.
“While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” That righteousness was cemented in God’s justice when an innocent man - Christ Jesus - was nailed to a post. His death displays God’s Grace to us. Jesus shed innocent blood on Good Friday. His death spells atonement on your religious ID card. God’s grace makes you his child.
Confessor of Faith
Paul completes the circle. Your Reformation Identity is this: “this righteousness from God comes THROUGH FAITH in Jesus Christ to all who believe … THROUGH FAITH in HIS Blood.” Faith is a gift. “I believe in Jesus Christ” is your PIN#. God’s generous heart has given you the conviction to believe that what Christ has done for the world he has done for you! He has given you the power to believe it and the conviction to confess it. Paul write later: The word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart … the word of faith we proclaim … that you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead” (Romans 10: 8-11).
Our Lutheran conviction is clearly Biblical: I believe that I cannot by my own thinking or choosing, believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the one true faith (Luther’s Small Catechism). Paul reminds us that “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). Paul reminds us that “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this [faith] not from yourselves – it [faith] is the gift of God, not by works so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2: 8-9).
Noah made a confession of faith by building a boat. Daniel made a confession of faith from the den of lions. Most of the apostles lost their lives for sake of Christ. The Confessors after Luther’s death offered their heads in defense of the Scriptures. The authority and respect for God’s word is quickly diminishing around us. The time is coming and has already come for us to stand for our convictions in the face persecution. How? Faith in Christ! God-given confidence! Holy Spirit-driven conviction! Christ-founded trust! The Reformation identifies you as a Student of Scripture, a Child of Grace, and a Confessor of the Truths of Christ. John, the beloved servant of Christ, put it this way: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the Children of God – and that is what we are!” (1 John 3: 1). Who are you? Lutheran … yes! In Christ … a saved child of God … yes! That is you for all eternity! Amen.