Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 4, 2020 (Rev. Stan Temme)
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 11, 2020 (Rev. Stan Temme)
Loyalty Sunday – October 18, 2020 (Rev. Stan Temme)
Reformation Sunday – October 25, 2020 (Rev. Stan Temme)
Righteousness through Faith
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text is from the Epistle reading. “But now a righteousness from God, apart from the Law, has been made known, to which the Law and Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” Here ends our text.
The Epistle reading today from Romans is one of my favorite texts. It’s such a favorite of mine that for our wedding, I asked our pastor to include this text as one of the readings. We had all kinds of family and friends and folks from work attend our wedding. And I wanted them to hear in plain words from Scripture what we as Lutherans believe about our salvation. That we believe we’re saved, we’re justified by God’s grace through faith alone in Jesus Christ, apart from works of the Law.
Now I had always been taught this as a child, in grade school and confirmation class. But sometimes as I read the Bible there seemed to be some confusion. The Bible, especially in the Old Testament, often talked about the righteous and the wicked. The righteous went to heaven, and the wicked went to hell. And if you asked anyone on the street to define the words righteous and wicked, they’d probably say, “Well the righteous do right things and the wicked do wicked things.” Therefore, those who do right go to heaven and those who do wrong go to hell. And after all isn’t that why God gave us his Law, His commandments? So we’d know what to do right. So we could please him. So we could be righteous and go to heaven.
But just because someone gives you a command, doesn’t necessarily mean that you can do it. The basketball coach may tell you, “Make all your free throws.” You try. You make some. You practice harder and harder. You get better. But you can never make them all. And no one ever has. It was the same in the Old Testament when God made his first covenant or promise with the Israelites. At Mt. Sinai God thundered, “I will be your God and you will be my people, if, if you keep my commandments.” The Israelites nodded in agreement and promised, “Everything you have said, we will do.” Well, we all know how that turned out. They didn’t keep God’s commandments. They missed they’re free throws. They weren’t righteous.
And some 500 years ago, Martin Luther came to the same conclusion about himself. He knew he had to be righteous to go to heaven. The problem was that he knew he wasn’t righteous. He knew he was bound for hell. He tried all kinds of things. He separated himself from the temptations of the world and tried to please God by joining a monastery. In his vows he promised to remain poor, never marry, and obey his monastery leaders. He lived in an unheated room, about the size of our old cry room, with a chair and a straw mattress. He went to chapel seven times a day for worship. Seven times! Certainly a good environment to avoid temptation and sin. But Luther knew that he still had this wickedness inside himself. So he tried to control his flesh by whipping it and starving himself. He’d pray all night without sleep and lock himself in his room for days. But he still didn’t believe he was doing enough to be righteous. He could never be perfect.
My dad told me a story once about when he was in the Navy. They always had to prepare their barracks for inspection. They did everything they could to pass. They moved all the beds, cleaned every corner, scrubbed the floor. Even got down on their hands and knees and picked the dirt out of the cracks in the floorboard. They thought they had it perfect. But when the inspection officer came to their quarters, he didn’t even step across the threshold. With a white glove on his hand he reached up and wiped his fingers across the top of the door frame. It was covered with dust. He could always find something with those white gloves. They could never be perfect. And after failing inspection after inspection they began to hate that officer with the white gloves. And Luther began to feel the same way about God. He says, “From youth I was trained to turn pale at the very mention of Christ’s name. I was told to think of him as a severe and angry judge. We were all taught that we had to pay for our own sins.” Luther began to hate God for putting such demands of perfection upon him. Demands he couldn’t keep. The righteousness of God was something he couldn’t live up to.
And what would happen if God put on his white gloves and went to inspecting your life? What kind of dirt would he uncover? You could never pass inspection either. For God could always find one thing wrong. And close isn’t good enough. As the apostle James says, “For whoever keeps the whole Law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” We can never be righteous. And the Scriptures agree. “There is no one righteous, not even one.” “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And so what are we to do? We’re not righteous, and nothing impure or unrighteous will ever enter heaven. We’ll never get into heaven by the righteousness that comes by keeping the Law. Rather through the Law only comes the knowledge of our sin.
But here is where the words of our text give us great hope. “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.” Here God offers us a different righteousness apart from the righteousness of the Law. Here is a righteousness that God doesn’t demand of us, but God gives us. A righteousness outside of ourselves. A righteousness that was spoken about in the Law of Moses and the Prophets. “He will be called ‘the LORD our righteousness.’” Jesus Christ was righteous for us. He kept the Law for us. He came into the game as our substitute and made all our shots for us. He passed the white glove test for us. He is our righteousness. And God gives us his righteousness through faith in him, through believing in Jesus Christ and what he’s done for us. Faith is like the water pipes that carry the water to your faucet or like the conduit that carries the electricity to your outlet. Faith carries Christ’s righteousness and all his benefits to you.
This is the great truth that Martin Luther rediscovered in the Reformation when he read the first chapter of Romans. “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith” in Jesus Christ. And again from our Epistle reading, “We are justified, we are declared righteous, by God’s grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus . . . to be received by faith.” Here we see plainly in Holy Scripture the mantra of the Lutheran Reformation. We are saved by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone as declared by Scripture alone. What a relief that our salvation doesn’t depend on us and our righteousness. It’s a gift of God through faith in Jesus Christ.
Now you would think that all Christian churches would rally to this great truth which Jesus said will set you free. But unfortunately, the Roman Catholic church didn’t see it that way. In the sixteenth century at the Council of Trent the Catholic church declared, “If anyone saith that the commandments of God are impossible to keep, let him be anathema.” Let him be cursed. “If anyone saith that by faith alone we are justified (that is “declared righteous”), let him be anathema.” Let him be cursed. They’re saying that if you believe your saved by faith alone in Jesus Christ, you’re cursed. And this declaration has never been rescinded. They continue to cling to their own works of the Law for salvation. Even when our Epistle reading clearly says, “For we hold that one is justified (declared righteous) by faith apart from works of the law.” You can’t get any clearer than that. What an insult to Jesus Christ when they continue to cling to their own filthy rags of righteousness for salvation.
What an insult to Jesus Christ who suffered and gave his life on the cross for the very reason that we couldn’t be righteous by keeping the Law.
But sadly some of our brothers in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America are now in agreement with the Roman Catholic church on this doctrine. In their Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification they declare that they have a common understanding of our justification. Quote “A consensus in basic truths of the doctrine of justification exists between Lutherans and Catholics. The remaining differences of language, theological elaboration, and emphasis in the understanding of justification . . . are acceptable.” My friends this difference in the understanding of justification between Lutherans and Catholics was the reason for the Reformation. Luther was declared an outlaw for this. Men barred their necks to the sword, were burned at the stake, and died for this. And today on this Reformation Sunday we remember their sacrifice in restoring this truth to us. Don’t ask me what they’re celebrating in those other Lutheran churches or why. Apparently, they don’t think we needed the Reformation.
But today we do celebrate the Reformation. We confess that God declares us righteous through faith in Jesus Christ. We remember the truth that sets us free. Scripture alone. Grace alone. Faith alone. Christ alone. Jesus doesn’t judge us with his white gloves, but he gives us his white robe of righteousness – the same robe we’ll be wearing at the wedding feast of Christ and his bride the Church. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.