Reformation—Observed (Rom 3, 19–27; Jn 8, 31–36; Rev 14:6–7)

Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

Bethlehem Lutheran Church—Bremen, KS || AUDIO
Immanuel Lutheran Church—Bremen, KS || AUDIO

“WE HOLD THAT ONE IS JUSTIFIED BY FAITH APART FROM WORKS OF THE LAW.”

INI + AMEN.

That message set the world on fire five hundred and three years ago. Actually it’s a message that’s been setting the world on fire from the beginning. It warms the hearts of true Christians, and it causes false Christians and non-Christians to burn…with rage!

Our sinful flesh also hates this message. It’s the message that’s an affront to our reason, our strength. It flies in the face of how everything works in the world. It upends how we treat one another. There’s nothing quite like the true Christian faith: “WE HOLD THAT ONE IS JUSTIFIED BY FAITH APART FROM WORKS OF THE LAW.”

Our flesh hates this message because it discounts all our works when it comes to our relationship with God. When it comes to your relationship with God, there’s no place for your good works. They don’t apply. In fact, they get in the way! Your works do!—your getting better, your self-help project, your comparisons with others, the record you keep of the good you’ve done, the bad you’ve done, and especially the bad that other people have done to you.

But that’s all gone before God. The supposedly good. The bad. The ugly. None of it enters into the salvation equation. None of it applies in how the Lord works salvation. The only way that your works apply in salvation is that they’re covered up, hidden, washed away by Christ’s works, His righteousness, His blood. So that means your works don’t apply.

Even now so many “ifs”, “ands”, and “buts” are flying through your heads. How many of you are thinking, “Yes, pastor…but”? (Don’t worry I won’t ask for a show of hands.) Paul’s statement holds true no matter what sort of condition, qualification, sanctification, or good work we try and offer up before, during, or after we’re saved. Paul’s statement crushes all human works to dust, but gives us Christ’s eternal saving works for free. “WE HOLD THAT ONE IS JUSTIFIED BY FAITH APART FROM WORKS OF THE LAW.”

((I. What does this mean?))

Let’s dive into what Paul’s Spirit-inspired words mean, and then we’ll get to the consequences of what they mean.

“WE HOLD” means “we think and believe.” We use our reason to say. It’s not human reason or logic or thinking that says this. By faith, more on that in a minute, “we take every thought captive in obedience to Christ,” because “we have the mind of Christ.” “WE HOLD” means that we think using God’s logic, God’s reason, God’s wisdom. And what’s His Wisdom say? “ONE IS JUSTIFIED BY FAITH APART FROM WORKS OF THE LAW.”

“ONE IS JUSTIFIED” means made righteous, declared innocent. Or to put it even more simply: “justified” means “forgiven, saved.” Or as Jesus puts it: “The Son sets you free.” He alone does it. Not you. Not me. Not your works. Not my works. No ones works, except God’s. His works for you, in your place. Father sending the Son. The Son dying, shedding His blood, for you to set you free.

“BY FAITH” means by trusting in what Jesus has done alone. Faith is trust. Faith has an object. True faith is in one thing, one Person: Jesus alone. As Jesus Himself spoke today, “to the Jews who believed in Him.”

“APART FROM WORKS OF THE LAW” means without works of the Law! “Works of the Law” are “good works.” As Paul puts it in Romans 4, “To the one who does not work but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”

To sum it up: “WE HOLD THAT ONE IS JUSTIFIED BY FAITH APART FROM WORKS OF THE LAW” means “We think like God does, that a person is forgiven and saved only by trusting Jesus alone without any good works on their part.”

((II. What makes you righteous before men makes you unrighteous before God.))

So, what does this all mean? Well, it means, and this will enrage our old Adam, it means that what makes you righteous before men makes you unrighteous before God.

What makes you righteous before men? What you do you, your works. (“Works serve your neighbor,” after all. Even non-Christians get that.) Good workers get jobs, keep their jobs, get bonuses and promotions. It’s the way the world works 100%. For the Christian good works, which do flow from faith, are defined by the 10 Commandments. Those teach you what faith toward God looks like, what love toward neighbor looks like.

Truth is works flow from living faith. A living heart beats. A living tree produces apples. But here we get into trouble. Our human way doing things tries to smuggle in works before God. We champion faith, and then smuggle in works. We try to clothe faith with our works, rather than faith clothed with Christ’s pure righteousness alone. Works may be a proof, but faith and justification are not based on them. Oh, how we spin ourselves into knots trying to bring works back into salvation!

Righteousness before God isn’t based on your works at all, but righteousness before the world is. Your relationship with people around you has to do with what you do. Your relationship with God doesn’t. To put it another way: God’s righteousness is passive. The world’s is active. “God’s righteousness is revealed apart from the Law.” Because “by works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight.”

God’s Law tells us, “Be quiet and stop saying people have to do something to be saved.” “But if you say the Gospel like you are people will just keep sinning.” “Oh, you mean like you do?” God’s Law says, “Your sins multiply when you don’t love God with your whole self, when you don’t love your neighbor as yourself, but also when you look to works (yours or your neighbor’s) rather than Christ’s.” “By works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight.”

((III. What makes you unrighteous before men makes you righteous before God.))

“WE HOLD THAT ONE IS JUSTIFIED BY FAITH APART FROM WORKS OF THE LAW.” That means that what makes you righteous before men makes you unrighteous before God. But that also means what makes you unrighteous before men makes you righteous before God.

Faith in Christ alone makes you unrighteous before the world. Jesus lays that out in next week’s Gospel, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” Why on His account? Because He’s a good teacher? No, because He’s the only Savior. The world rejects Jesus as Savior alone. (Being good and nice has to count for something.) Something 52% of so-called Christians agree with.

But we reject it, too. We reject this truth for those who’ve sinned against us, for those who don’t live like we think they should be. We don’t treat them as people for whom Jesus died. Sure, Jesus may have died for and His Gospel, as Revelation says, may be “for every nation and tribe and language and people,” but not for that person you work with, go to church with, or even go to school association with. We expect free forgiveness for us and turn around and have our laundry lists for why they still owe us. How’s this for a good work that proves you have real faith? Actually forgiving your neighbor and moving on!

But even that work, a work that flows from “fearing, loving, and trusting in Jesus above all things,” does not justify. Faith in Jesus alone justifies you, declares you innocent. Faith in Jesus alone does this because Jesus alone, the Eternal Son of God, shed His blood for you. Faith clings to that purchase price. We are “justified by God’s favor as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice by his blood, to be received by faith.” Faith receives that blood today, along with His body, for the forgiveness of your sin, through this blood you learn to love God and your neighbor.

Boasting is excluded. No works, no boasting before God. Except in Him alone! In His Son alone! Whose blood alone atones for your your sins and whose blood atones for your works, too! “Give God glory!” The angel says in revelation. Faith does that, receiving from God—His salvation in Jesus, His Word, His Gifts—and faith boasts in God alone—praises Him alone. A God who saves you without any good works on your part.

((Conclusion.))

It’s a message that set the world on fire five hundred and three years ago. Actually it’s the message that’s been setting the world on fire from the beginning. Our sinful flesh also hates this message because it’s an affront to our reason and strength. It flies in the face of how everything works in the world.

Our flesh hates this message because it discounts all our works when it comes to our relationship with God. There’s no place in God’s sight for your good works. They don’t apply. In fact, they get in the way! They make you unrighteous before God.

The only way that your works apply in salvation is that they’re covered up, hidden, washed away by Christ’s works, His righteousness, His blood. That’s faith in Him alone. That’s what makes you righteous before God. Your sins don’t keep you out, and your works don’t get you in.

Paul’s statement holds true no matter what sort of condition, qualification, sanctification, or good work we try and offer up before, during, or after we’re saved. Paul’s statement crushes all human works to dust, but gives us Christ’s eternal saving works for free. “WE HOLD THAT ONE IS JUSTIFIED BY FAITH APART FROM WORKS OF THE LAW.”

INI + AMEN.

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