June 18, 2017 [Pentecost 2]  Romans 3:21-25a,27-28  J.D.Roekle

21  But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22  This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

24  and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25  God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.  27  Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. 28  For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. 

 

The Things that Make You Distinctly Lutheran

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

          What does it mean to be Lutheran?  You could think of it in these terms: “You know you’re a Lutheran if…”  You know you’re a Lutheran if you fill up the church for a worship service from the back to the front.  You know you’re a Lutheran if you expect that food will be involved in virtually every activity we do at church.  You know you’re a Lutheran if you hear something funny in a church service, and you smile as loudly as you can.  You know you’re a Lutheran if you have a hard time accepting change. 

          But there’s much more to being a Lutheran than the culture that surrounds it.  Being Lutheran means that we take doctrine seriously.  It means that we are uncompromising with the teachings of the Bible.  People outside of our circles may characterize us as the people who don’t allow this or don’t allow that. 

          But rather than being characterized in those terms, we Lutherans should define ourselves by the things that truly make us distinct.  What makes us distinct is how we handle the central teaching of the Bible.  The teaching of justification.  Our catechism defines justification this way: “God’s declaration that people are not guilty because Jesus has paid for their sins.” 

          For the past week, the trial of actor and comedian Bill Cosby has been prominently in the news.  After more than 50 hours of deliberation by the jury, a mistrial was declared because of a hung jury.  Jurors disagreed on whether or not he was guilty. 

          In God’s courtroom, mistrials never happen.  The all-knowing, all-seeing Almighty God always hands down the perfect verdict.  In God’s courtroom each individual is on trial. 

How daunting that can be!  After all, you’re only fooling yourself if you think you can declare yourself innocent, as if God doesn’t know otherwise!  Paul states it very clearly: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” 

Falling short of the glory of God is not a small matter.  It has consequences which are far-reaching.  It has consequences which last forever.  Because you and I are born in sin and act out on that sin, we fall short of God’s glory.  Even now.  Even as we call ourselves Christians.  Even as we take on the name Lutheran.  We still sin.  We still fall short of the glory of God, and left to ourselves, we would spend forever apart from God in the punishment of hell. 

If any courtroom would have the evidence that God has against us, that trial would only last briefly.  The verdict would be an overwhelming declaration of guilty.  But God’s courtroom is so unlike any other courtroom.  God does something that isn’t really fair. 

In spite of the pile of indisputable evidence against you, God declares you innocent of all charges.  You are free to go.  Instead of receiving the death penalty, which would be totally deserved, you are free to live.  Forever!

          That in itself is unfair, but the reason God declares us innocent simply blows our minds.  God declares you innocent because he declares the perfectly innocent one, Jesus Christ, guilty.  God’s verdict demanded the death penalty of the cross for Jesus, so that you could be declared not guilty. 

          How does this verdict of innocent become yours?  Listen to Paul: “we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.”  It is by faith and faith alone that you stand justified before the Holy God.  That means that your innocence before God has nothing to do with you.  It has everything to do with God and his Son. 

          But that goes against our nature.  That is often times because we forget just how corrupt we are when we’re born.  We think instinctively that there must be something I must do to help along with being justified before God.  Surely I can make up for some of the wrongs I’ve done, we think.  But nothing could be further from the truth. 

          Instead, we are saved by faith alone.  And remember that faith is merely the vehicle.  It is really the object of our faith that saves.  Think of it this way.  Sin is like a poison that if we don’t have it treated, it will kill us.  But there is an antidote to this poison.  The antidote for our sin is Jesus Christ and his righteousness.  But how does that antidote become ours?  An antidote for poison needs to be injected into the body through a hypodermic needle.  Faith is like that hypodermic needle.  Faith carries the antidote of Jesus’ sufferings, death, and resurrection to us.  Faith carries Jesus’ righteousness to us.  Just as the needle isn’t the cause of our being healed, neither is faith the cause of our salvation. 

          What makes you distinctly Lutheran is knowing that you played no part in your being saved.  You did not make a decision for Christ, he chose you.  You were not required to do something along with faith in order to be saved.  It is because you believe that Christ has done everything necessary for your salvation, that you are now compelled to do things for Christ. 

          What also makes you distinctively Lutheran is knowing God’s motivation for taking such a vested interest in you.  Paul said that you “are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” 

          It wasn’t as if God saw some spark of life in you.  It wasn’t as if he saw some redeeming characteristic.  It isn’t as if God saw that you were inherently good and decided to rescue you.  God instead saw you as the enemy.  He saw you as people who have totally rebelled against his goodness. 

          In spite of that, God in his grace is moved to do something about your lost condition.  He is moved to send his one and only Son to take your place.  He is moved to buy you back through his Son’s own shed blood on the cross. 

          Grace is a word that is well known in our world.  However, much of the world gets it wrong.  Grace is something that can’t be replicated by us.  It is something that God and God alone has.  And it is the only thing which moved him to carry out his plan through which we are declared innocent in his sight. 

          Recognizing that we are save through faith alone, by grace alone, makes us distinctly Lutheran.  Another thing which makes us stand apart is the fact that these truths are alone revealed and effected in us through Scripture. 

          Paul confirms this: “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.”  The Law and Prophets is the Bible’s way of referring to the Old Testament.  What’s interesting about this, is the fact that this passage is telling us that the Old Testament and the New Testament have the same goal.  The goal is to make known to us God’s gift of righteousness to us.  The goal is make sure that we know that this is nothing that we have to work for. 

          This should emphasize to you how important it is then to be exposed to God’s Word.  It is through this Word that you come to know and understand that you are saved by grace through faith. 

          And this is the only means through which God gives us this good news.  He doesn’t plant it in his creation somewhere for you to find.  It isn’t as if he whispers in your ear a special revelation, or gives you some kind of sign.  He reveals that you are declared righteous in his sight in the Bible alone.  And it is only through this same Bible that he sends his Holy Spirit to work faith in your hearts.  Knowing and believing this truth makes you distinctly Lutheran. 

          But the devil doesn’t like it that you have these truths.  In fact, he works to deceive many people into believing something else.  And many times he succeeds.  Our Gospel lesson cautioned us about some such people.  There Jesus warns us to watch out for false prophets.  Many will come in Jesus’ name.  Many will come in sheep’s clothing.  They look good on the outside.  What they say may even sound good.  But their intent is to draw you away from the truth, and away from Christ.  And false prophets attempt to reach us through the TV; through a seemingly well-meaning Christian email, blog, or website; through Christian books; or through Christian music or radio. 

          How do we know whether what we are hearing or reading is coming from a false prophet?  Jesus warns that by their fruit you will recognize them.  Does what they say in anyway contradict anything that God reveals to us in Scripture?  And the starting point is always whether what they teach supports or contradicts what the Bible says about justification. 

          Don’t ever let anyone rob you of the distinctive truths of Scripture.  You are saved by grace alone.  Through faith alone.  And these truths are found and become our by Scripture alone.  These are things that make you distinctly Lutheran.  And it isn’t that the Lutheran church saves you.  God saves you.  But God uses the Lutheran church to teach and apply these distinctive truths to you.  God help us all to this end.  Amen.