In Nomine Iesu
Pastor Thomas L. Rank
Text: Romans 3:21-31
THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER, SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,
"Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will
be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin." With
those words St. Paul summarizes the first two and one half chapters
of this letter to the church at Rome. What exactly can the law do for
you? All it can do is teach you about your sin. Your knowledge of sin
comes from the law. The law teaches us sin because the law is so comprehensive
in its demands that no one is able to make the claim that he has fulfilled
it all. That is why St. Paul quoted Psalm 14: "there is none
who does good, no not one."
Why, then, do we so want to be saved by the law? Why do all religions other than the Christian religion, focus on law, works? The law is compelling because it appeals to our pride, our desire to do things on our own, and not to depend or trust on what others do. Small children teach us about ourselves very well as they insist on trying to do things themselves, even when failure is guaranteed by their lack of coordination, strength, etc. They still must try, and they can be quite insistent on that.
Man-made religions play on this desire for our own works. The focus is on our accomplishments, our doing something. And even the Christian who has heard for years and years about the grace of God, salvation and righteousness by faith alone, still is tempted to replace the grace of God with his own works, his own holiness.
Against all of this St. Paul teaches: "for all
have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely
by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." As
long as we do not believe the first part of that sentence (all have
sinned and fall short) we will remain in doubt regarding the last part
(being justified freely). That is why we must hear again and again
the complete inability of any human works in the realm of justification.
We cannot be self-justified. We need God’s work.
"Therefore we conclude that a man is justified
by faith apart from the deeds of the law...." The deeds of the
law are completely outside justification. Justification, the fact that
God declares you righteous, holy, blameless, is all about Christ, about
the shedding of His blood, about His righteousness. You enter into
this picture only by the grace of God, that undeserved, unearned, unmerited
love of God for each and everyone of you, for the whole world. And
the righteousness of God is yours by faith in Jesus Christ.
Last week we heard the Augsburg Confession, the great confession of the Lutheran Church. I want to read to you again that fourth article, the one I described as the article by which the church stands or falls.
Notice that this article depends precisely on the words of Romans we have heard today. This article is the one by which the church stands or falls because here is what distinguishes Christianity from all other religions. Martin Luther further explained the importance of this chief article in another of our Lutheran Confessions, the Smalcald Articles. There he wrote:
The law cannot give you a conscience free from doubt about your salvation. The law shows sin, that's all it can do with sinners like you and me. Therefore if you want to be certain of salvation, of the free forgiveness of all sin, look to Christ Jesus, the Savior, the Son of God. He has spilled His righteous blood for us. He has paid for our sins, completely and fully. By faith in Him you are justified, you are given His righteousness. Trust that gift of God. Do not doubt, but believe this good news for you and for all; in Jesus' name. Amen.