November 3, 2019
Thank God for Our Lutheran Heritage!
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. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. But now a righteousness from God, apart from 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. God presented him 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. 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. (NIV1984)
Dear fellow heirs of the Lutheran Reformation,
As you and I look around at the religious landscape of our society today it is not difficult for us to see that the prevailing wind that is sweeping through the vast majority of Christian churches today is something called “ecumenicalism.” Ecumenicalism is the teaching which emphasizes that all Christian churches should drop the denominational lines which separate them and join together into a patchwork mosaic under just one banner. On the surface, such a teaching may sound pretty good. Just imagine what such an organization could accomplish in this world! But in reality a teaching such as ecumenicalism spells disaster for God’s church and plays right into the hands of the church’s enemies. Why? Because whether we like to acknowledge it or not some churches are teaching and tolerating and promoting errors— false teachings!
Today, Reformation Sunday, is the one day out of the entire church year when we unabashedly set out our pictures of Dr. Martin Luther and hold high the banner of historic Lutheranism. And if ever there were a sermon text perfectly suited for a celebration such as this it is our text for today— Romans 3:19-28. So let’s rejoice today, my friends! On the basis of these passages from God’s holy Word let’s rejoice and: Thank God for Our Lutheran Heritage!
Now before we proceed any further I want to make it very clear that we are not going to be “bashing” other churches today. Many of you know that I have members of my own family who belong to “other” churches. I also have dear friends who belong to “other” churches. The same might hold true for you. We must never lose sight of the fact that everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ, their only Savior from sin, is a member of the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints. But at the same time we simply cannot turn a blind eye to the reality that the various churches that we see in our communities proclaim different teachings. Even the Lutheran Church runs the entire gamut from “liberal” to “conservative.” I believe that I am a Christian purely by the eternal grace of God. But at the same time, I am a Lutheran Christian and I am a member of an historic Lutheran Synod purely by choice. As I read and study my Bible I have yet to find another church body whose teachings so closely parallel what Scripture reveals as well as the Wisconsin Synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod and those who are in fellowship with us! So with that in mind let’s see how our text for this morning leads us to thank God for our Lutheran heritage!
Paul’s letter to the Romans gives us an unprecedented and an unparalleled insight into how we mortal sinful human beings become “justified,” that is, “Declared: Not Guilty!” in the eyes of the one and only true God. Paul begins by having us look at the root cause of all of our problems: sin. Paul writes, “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. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.”
If you went to your doctor for a check-up how would you feel if you found out a year later that your PSA test (the test that is used to detect prostate cancer) came back way up there in double digits or your mammogram revealed a highly suspicious growth but your doctor told you, “Everything is fine! Go home and enjoy your life! You’re in as good of health as anyone your age can expect.” Would you be upset when you finally found out the truth— especially if it was too late? Tragically, that is exactly what is being done by many “religious doctors” in many Christian churches today.
Sin is like a spiritual cancer with which each and every human being is born. Left untreated sin inevitably causes death— not just physical death but also eternal death in hell. To see just how serious the cancer of sin is all we need to do is look into the mirror of God’s holy Law. The God of heaven tells us that if we want to live with Him in His heavenly home we must be holy and we must be perfect— just as He is holy and perfect! (See Leviticus 19:2; Matthew 5:48) But when we look into the mirror of God’s holy Law we are “silenced” as Paul says here in our text. When we look into the mirror of God’s holy Law we see that we haven’t been able to keep even one of the Commandments much less all ten of them! When God’s Law is faithfully proclaimed in the way in which it is revealed in Scripture it always leads us to the powerful realization that we are sinners— sinners who will be held accountable by a holy, just, perfect and almighty Judge!
That is a message, my friends, which does not go over well— especially in our society today. And for that reason it is a message which is not being clearly proclaimed by many churches today. Like the doctor who tells his cancer-ridden patient, “Don’t worry! You’re just fine!” there are churches today who are telling people that sin isn’t really all that serious. They’ll say that deep down inside we are all basically “good” people and given the right stimuli, given the right environment, given the right encouragement, given the right opportunities our “goodness” will rise to the surface and eventually everyone— even God— will have to acknowledge that we are “worthy” or at least “worthy enough” to merit eternal life in heaven.
As much as it may hurt us, as much as it may embarrass us, as much as it may make us squirm in our chairs the historic Lutheran Church clearly proclaims God’s holy Law in all of its severity! “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). That’s the message of the Law. That’s the message which “silences” the entire human race. Martin Luther once said, “The error of neither knowing nor understanding what sin is usually brings with it another error, that of neither knowing nor understanding what grace is.” I have long taught people that unless we truly understand the seriousness of our sin we will never be able to fully appreciate the glory of God’s gracious Gospel message.
That thought leads us to yet another reason to thank God for our Lutheran heritage. Although the Gospel of Jesus Christ is indeed being proclaimed in “other” churches, in the historic Lutheran church the Gospel is allowed to shine forth in both Word and Sacrament in all of its grace and beauty— uncluttered by the traditions of men and unfettered by the shackles of work-righteousness. This pure sweet message of the Gospel is what Paul emphasizes in this text when he writes, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from 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. 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.”
There are only two types of righteousness being proclaimed in this world. There is work-righteousness and there is faith-righteousness. Paul very clearly reveals throughout this entire letter that work-righteousness does not, can not and will not work! We can work as long and as hard as we want— our works will never gain us entrance into the eternal Paradise of God! “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Faith-righteousness is what God’s written revealed Word, the “law and the Prophets” as Paul says here in our text, has proclaimed loud and clear down through the ages. By believing and trusting that Jesus is the eternally begotten Son of God who came into this world to live a perfect life for us, innocently suffer and die on the cross to pay for our sins and physically rise from the dead to guarantee our justification, through that wondrous vehicle called “faith,” we have received a robe of absolute perfect righteousness! This robe which has been dipped in the blood of the Lamb of God (Revelation 7:14) is what guarantees to us eternal life in heaven above. Your salvation then is not based upon what you do, but rather your salvation is based upon what your God has done for you. (Pointing to the cross) That is what the pure sweet message of the Gospel is all about. We are saved purely by grace through faith alone.
That, my friends, is also what the historic Lutheran church proclaims. There is no need for penance or purgatory. Christ’s death on the cross has completely paid for all your sins. There is no room for “personal decisions” or “altar calls.” God the Holy Spirit not only creates but also sustains the gift of saving faith in your hearth through the power of His holy Word and Sacraments. There is no need to legislate to people that if you want to be a “good” Christian or if you want to become a “better” Christian then you must do this and this and this and never do that or that or that. We are to live each and every day of our life in loving thanksgiving to the God who so freely saved us for all of eternity. We strive to grow and mature in our faith, we willingly serve our Lord and each other because we want to not because we have to. When you put all of that together into one neat little package you end up with the perspective on Scripture called: Lutheranism.
We are saved by grace alone, by faith alone and by Scripture alone. That is the battle-cry of our Lutheran-Christian faith. And, as Paul declares in the closing words of our text that is yet another reason why you and I can and do thank God for the heritage that we enjoy as heirs of the Lutheran Reformation. “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.”
I don’t make a big deal out of the fact that we are members of a fellowship of Christians called the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod or the Evangelical Lutheran Synod— not because I’m embarrassed, not because I’m uncomfortable, but only because I want to make sure that when it comes to your faith and when it comes to your life you look to Scripture first and foremost— over and above all other things, including what Synod we belong to. We need to study and examine what God reveals to us in His holy Word. Once we know what the Lord says, then we take what the pastor teaches and what the congregation teaches and what the Synod teaches and we lay it alongside of what Scripture teaches. If all of the teachings “line up” with God’s holy inspired Word then we have the confidence of knowing that we are in an “orthodox” fellowship of believers. But if any of those teachings contradict what God has revealed to us here in His Word, then I’m afraid that we would need to be searching for a different church.
“For we maintain that a man is justified by faith, apart from observing the law.” For many many centuries that simple central message of Scripture was all but lost to God’s people here on this earth. Then, on October 31st, 1517 a monk by the name of Martin Luther nailed 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany and the Lutheran Reformation was born. Through the work of Dr. Martin Luther and through the work of countless dedicated pastors, teachers and lay people the message of salvation by grace alone, by faith alone and by Scripture alone is still being faithfully proclaimed today. So as you and I pause to celebrate this Reformation Sunday, my friends, let’s first thank God for our Lutheran heritage. But then let’s also ask the Lord our God to graciously give us whatever is necessary so that we might take that precious heritage which has been faithfully handed down to us and in turn faithfully hand that heritage down to our children and our grandchildren.
To God be the glory!