January 14, 2019- The Law of Faith, Jesus Does the Work of Salvation FOR Us- Romans 3:19-31

obey the law 

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,  whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.  Romans 3:19-31 (ESV)

The apostle Paul clears up a lot of misunderstandings regarding Christian faith in the book of Romans.

Today we still get caught up in earning brownie points, even though the “buy your way to Heaven system” was the major impetus behind the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther and other reformers protested the buying and selling of indulgences- things you could buy or do to earn special favors for yourself of your family. Just like buying saints’ bones or making pilgrimages to Jerusalem or doing various acts of penance couldn’t make Renaissance age Christians any better in God’s sight, there is still nothing we can decide to do, suffer through, or pay for that can make us “right with God.”  One of the primary pillars of the Reformation is faith alone. Faith alone, in Christ alone, by His grace alone- it all comes back to Jesus.

We are often asked, “Are you saved?” or “Have you given your heart to Jesus?” by well meaning friends in various, ironically, Protestant, Christian traditions. Decision theology is the premise that we make a decision to choose Jesus and we choose to believe in God.  It is a popular theological misconception in American Christianity.  The premise is well intentioned, and fits in well with American individualism, but no decision made by a person can create saving faith in anyone. The decision to redeem us is God’s, for Jesus’ sake. (John 1:9-13)

The honest answer to decision theology is that we are being acted upon- saved, if you will- by God. We can no more save ourselves by our own actions or volition than an infant can change its own diaper or prepare its own bottle.

The Mosaic Law, which the apostle Paul as a former Pharisee would be well acquainted, is a law of works. No one can save themselves by works of the law, and no one ever was.  Abraham was counted righteous by faith. All of the flawed and mortal saints of the Old Testament were counted righteous by faith.  The Old Testament saints’ faith pointed ahead to Jesus’ appearing, while the saints of the New Testament era until now look to the Incarnation of Jesus.  We have the good news of the life He lived and the death He endured to forgive our sins and purchase our eternal life.  We are counted righteous- made good with God- for Jesus’ sake, by His grace because the Holy Spirit gives us faith.  We can’t brag about how good we are because if we appear to be good, that goodness is the work of God in Christ through us.

The Law of Faith points us to Jesus. Jesus is the one doing the acting on us.  If we brag, we brag about Him.

This is good news for those of us who struggle with doubt. Our salvation and strength is outside of us- no matter what we think or feel, Jesus has done the work of our salvation for us.  In our baptism, through the hearing and teaching of God’s Word, the Holy Spirit gives us saving faith in the completed work of Jesus.  Because we trust Jesus, we are free to do the good works God created us to do, but our works don’t save us.

The Law of Faith is so much better than the law of works!

 

 

October 30, 2018 The Gospel of the Reformation- Jeremiah 31:31-34, Hebrews 11:8-12, Galatians 3:7-9

God provides the lamb

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Jeremiah 31:31-34 (ESV)

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise.  For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. Hebrews 11:8-12 (ESV)

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. Galatians 3:7-9 (ESV)

The message of the Reformation is the rediscovery of the Gospel. The Good News of God’s Word was finally printed in native languages so that people could read and discover what Scripture really says. The lies and deceptions that were going on in the name of God, such as the sales of relics and indulgences and other profiteering and vice throughout the church were exposed. Even with the reforms of the 16th century and beyond, the church is still a collection of sinners, and reformation is an ongoing process.

In the pages of Scripture- foretold by the prophets and made real in the person of Jesus, God’s people are no longer bound by the curse of the garden, or enslaved by the futility of law-keeping as a way to assuage the wrath of God and “earn” salvation. We learn that by faith in Jesus the Law that was handed down to Moses is fulfilled. In Christ we are brought back into the unilateral covenant God made with Abraham. Abraham was not a sinless man by any stretch but he was saved and justified by the gift of faith in God.

God gave Abraham a promise, that through Isaac, the child of promise, that he would have countless descendants. It was not a gift with a condition attached.  There was no quid pro quo.  God’s promise to Abraham was unilateral, unconditional, from the top down.  God provided Abraham’s faith, even the faith Abraham needed to sacrifice Isaac, his only son. (See Genesis 22:1-18) God also provided the lamb for the sacrifice, sparing Isaac.

God provides the Lamb for us as well. Not because we earn or deserve it, but completely by grace.

Because Jesus became the sacrifice that covers our sins, we are set free of the impossible task of earning God’s love or of buying brownie points to heaven. By faith in Jesus we become the offspring promised to Abraham.

Grace alone, Faith alone, Christ alone. It’s that easy and that complicated.  We are named and claimed in our baptism, covered and made clean in the Blood of Christ.

This is the simple Gospel of the Reformation: We who are born dead in trespasses and sins, by faith, by the grace of Christ alone have been and are being made right with God. Saved. Redeemed. Loved. Forever. Descendents of Abraham and children of God, marked with the Cross of Christ forever in our Baptism.  Nothing earned, nothing deserved.  All because of Jesus!

 

July 25, 2018-The Curse of the Law and the Faith of Abraham – Galatians 3:1-14,1 John 1:8-10

(The apostle Paul writes:) O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. Galatians 3:1-14 (ESV)

Christ alone. Faith alone. Scripture alone. These statements are the very heart of Lutheran theology. We can’t save ourselves by behaving ourselves (which is a very good thing) or by earning brownie points.

This being said, all of creation is under the curse of the Law. Apart from Jesus taking the punishment for us who were born under the curse, we might as well simply eat, drink and be merry, because all of this world’s creation is destined for death.

If we look at the 10 Commandments in light of the teaching of Luther’s Small Catechism, we can see just how impossible law-keeping is. Even if we look only at Jesus’ two Big Commandments: Love God and love our neighbors as ourselves, we fall woefully short.

We may not worship golden calves, but do we honor the sovereignty of God by putting Him first at all times? Do we consistently love our neighbors as ourselves? Even if we really try?

The bad news is that as good and right as God’s Law is, we can’t follow it perfectly, and to fail at following any part of the Law perfectly means we have broken all of the Law. (James 2:8-13)

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 1 John 1:8-10 (ESV)

Law can’t save us. It can only point us to trust the One Who already did.

Jesus broke the curse. In baptism we are made clean and brought into the family of God. In Holy Communion we are given the healing Body and Blood of Jesus, for the forgiveness of our sins.  We don’t earn forgiveness or salvation.

Jesus became the “cursed one,” Who hung on a tree and took the penalty of sinful humanity.

There is no other way to life. “It is Christ or nothing,” as C.S. Lewis so aptly described the Christian faith. The faith of Abraham was the simple act of trusting God-  and knowing God makes a way. That gift of faith extends to us as well.

This is the good news. Jesus has done it all.