Skip to comments."How Do We Get God's Grace?" (Sermon for Reformation Day, on Romans 3:19-28)
Posted on 10/27/2018 9:30:52 PM PDT by Charles Henrickson
How Do We Get Gods Grace? (Romans 3:19-28)
On the last Sunday in October every year, we celebrate Reformation Day. For on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed Ninety-five Theses to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany, thus starting the great Reformation of the Christian church. Last year, 2017, was the 500th anniversary of that momentous event, and there were huge celebrations around the world. This year, 2018, is the 501st anniversary, so the occasion is toned down accordingly. But we still have something to celebrate. Indeed, 1517 was just the beginning of the Reformation. Every year now we will have the 500th anniversary of some significant event during that time period.
The biggest Reformation event that occurred in 1518, which we celebrate the 500th anniversary of this year, is the Heidelberg Disputation. Let me explain. After Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses in October 1517, the publication and spread of these theses caused a worldwide sensation. Luther was upsetting the applecart! He was challenging the practice of indulgences, and thus he was challenging the authority of the Pope and the Roman Church! This caught everyones attention. People wanted to know more. What was this little monk, a professor at a little university in Germany--what was this Luther fellow saying? Brother Martin was a member of the Augustinian order, and so his teaching would be the topic for discussion at the conference of the Augustinians, to be held in Heidelberg, Germany, in the spring of 1518.
Now why is this important for us today? Because the theses that Luther put forward at Heidelberg exposed the errors of the medieval Roman Catholic Church--even more so than did the Ninety-five Theses of six months earlier. In the Heidelberg Disputation, Luther powerfully takes apart the errors that were being taught, and he brings to light the truth of the gospel. And it is this gospel, this good news of Gods grace in Christ--the message of justification by faith apart from works of the lawthat stands ever firm and trustworthy for us today. And it revolves around this question: How Do We Get Gods Grace?
I have said many times that the worst mistake the Roman Catholic Church ever made was to assign Martin Luther to teach the Bible. But thats what they did. And Luther took to the task like a duck takes to water. The more he read and studied and learned and taught, the more Luther came to realize that the theology he had been taught in the Roman Church did not line up square with what the Scriptures taught.
Let me give you a prime example. The theology that was current in Luthers day, in which he himself had been trained, was what we call medieval Scholasticism. The Scholastics were prominent theologians of the several centuries leading up to Luthers time. And one of their main teachings was on how people get Gods grace. What makes a person a good candidate to receive Gods grace? And their answer--the answer of the Scholastics--was encapsulated in this Latin saying: Facienti quod in se est, Deus non denegat gratiam. Facienti quod in se est, To the one who does that which is within him; Deus non denegat gratiam, God does not deny grace. To the one who does that which is within him, God does not deny grace.
Do you see what that was saying? Its saying that if you just do the best you can, the best thats within you, God will recognize that and reward you with some of his grace. So try hard, do the best you can, and maybe, just maybe, it will be good enough for you to earn Gods grace. You do your part, and God will do his. And this will boost you on your way to doing enough to merit even more grace, and so on and so on.
Now on the surface, this may sound reasonable to mans way of thinking. God will reward good people. Do your best, try hard, and you can earn your way into Gods favor. This is how human beings naturally think. And naturally, I want to think Im doing well enough for God to be pleased with me. Im certainly better than that bad guy down the street or in the news.
But the more Luther thought about this idea of the Scholastics, To the one who does that which is within him, God does not deny grace, the more he saw it didnt line up with Scripture. And that is what he puts forward in the Heidelberg Disputation. Well take a look at a few of these theses now, and well see how the truth of Gods Word sets our thinking straight.
Thesis 1: The law of God, the most salutary doctrine of life, cannot advance man on his way to righteousness, but rather hinders him. Here Luther is taking up the paradox that while the law of God is the very best way for us humans to liveto love God with our whole heart and to love our neighbors as ourselves; thats greatif we rely on our keeping of the law to advance us to a righteous standing before God, were barking up the wrong tree. Because we dont keep the law well enough to earn anything from God. The law will only condemn us.
We heard that in the Epistle from Romans 3: 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 the Scholastics were teaching that man could earn Gods grace by doing works of the law. So Luther takes that notion head on. Thesis 16: The person who believes that he can obtain grace by doing what is in him adds sin to sin so that he becomes doubly guilty. By doing what is in him: Here Luther quotes that Scholastic formula, and he says its a bunch of hooey!
Luther continues: While a person is doing what is in him, he sins and seeks himself in everything. Here Luther is saying the same as what St. Paul says in Romans 7: For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. In other words, if you do that which is within you, what is in you is sin. And that wont get you anywhere but to hell. Whats more, if you then rely on your doing what is in you, if you pride yourself on that to gain points with God, you are even more lost in your condition. What then shall we do? Luther asks. Having heard this, fall down and pray for grace and place your hope in Christ in whom is our salvation, life, and resurrection. You wont find salvation in your works. You will find it in Christ.
Thesis 18: It is certain that man must utterly despair of his own ability before he is prepared to receive the grace of Christ. God brings us low, he shows us our sin, not simply in order to humiliate us, but so that we would recognize our need for a righteousness outside of ourselves. Our righteousness, our keeping of the law, our good works, are not good enough. A few years later, Luther would put this truth in the form of a stanza from the hymn we just sang:
My own good works all came to naught,
No grace or merit gaining;
Free will against Gods judgment fought,
Dead to all good remaining.
My fears increased till sheer despair
Left only death to be my share;
The pangs of hell I suffered.
So if not in our good works, if not in our keeping of the law, where then do we find the righteousness, grace, and merit that we need? Luther tells us in Thesis 25: He is not righteous who does much, but he who, without work, believes much in Christ. Its not your doing. Its what Christ has done! Put your faith in that! Put your faith in him!
Its like we heard in Romans 3: The righteousness of God comes 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. Its what Jesus did on the cross that will save you! His works, not yours! Jesus, the sinless Son of God, did keep the law perfectly, in your stead and on your behalf. And then he took your sins upon himself and suffered the punishment the law demands--again, in your stead, on your behalf. His holy blood cleanses you from all your sins. You are forgiven! You are free! Receive this gift through faith, through trust in the saving work of Christ for you. There is your righteousness. There is your salvation. There is your eternal life. In Christ.
Luther goes on. Thesis 26: The law says, do this, and it is never done. Grace says, believe in this, and everything is already done. You see, if you rely on your keeping of the law, you will never know you have done enough. Because you havent. And that is a terrible place to be--in uncertainty, in despair. But grace says, believe this, and everything is already done. Its a done deal. Jesus completed the work when he cried out from the cross, It is finished! Mission accomplished! Salvation won! Its a sure thing. Its a free gift. And its yours.
Luther sums up the whole Heidelberg Disputation in this one beautiful paragraph: Therefore, it is the sweetest righteousness of God the Father that he does not save imaginary, but rather, real sinners, sustaining us in spite of our sins and accepting our works and our lives which are all deserving of rejection until he perfects and saves us. Meanwhile we live under the protection and the shadow of his wings and escape his judgment through his mercy, not through our righteousness.
How wonderful that is! What good news this is! Dear friend, are you willing to be a real sinner before God? Yes? Good! Now youre in the right place to receive his grace. For God loves real sinners, and he gives them his grace. Romans 5 says, God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Dear friends, you dont earn Gods love and his grace by doing that which is within you. Luther tried that as a monk, and it didnt work. Rather, what Luther discovered from Gods Word is that you receive Gods grace as a free gift, through faith in Jesus Christ. Thats what this Reformation Day is all about. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of 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 Gods 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.
Thanks for posting this. I need to read this about twenty more times for it to sink in. Good stuff.
Wonderful - thank you!
19 Now we know that whatever the Law [of Moses] says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that [the excuses of] every mouth may be silenced [from protesting] and that all the world may be held accountable to God [and subject to His judgment].
20 For no person will be justified [freed of guilt and declared righteous] in His sight by [trying to do] the works of the Law. For through the Law we become conscious of sin [and the recognition of sin directs us toward repentance, but provides no remedy for sin].
Justification by Faith
21 But now the righteousness of God has been clearly revealed [independently and completely] apart from the Law, though it is [actually] confirmed by the Law and the [words and writings of the] Prophets.
22 This righteousness of God comes through faith in Jesus Christ for all those [Jew or Gentile] who believe [and trust in Him and acknowledge Him as Gods Son]. There is no distinction,
23 since all have sinned and continually fall short of the glory of God,
24 and are being justified [declared free of the guilt of sin, made acceptable to God, and granted eternal life] as a gift by His [precious, undeserved] grace, through the redemption [the payment for our sin] which is [provided] in Christ Jesus,
25 whom God displayed publicly [before the eyes of the world] as a [life-giving] sacrifice of atonement and reconciliation (propitiation) by His blood [to be received] through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness [which demands punishment for sin], because in His forbearance [His deliberate restraint] He passed over the sins previously committed [before Jesus crucifixion].
26 It was to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the One who justifies those who have faith in Jesus [and rely confidently on Him as Savior].
27 Then what becomes of [our] boasting? It is excluded [entirely ruled out, banished]. On what principle? On [the principle of good] works? No, but on the principle of faith.
28 For we maintain that an individual is justified by faith distinctly apart from works of the Law [the observance of which has nothing to do with justification, that is, being declared free of the guilt of sin and made acceptable to God].
14 Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the house (temple) of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord.
15 Hezekiah prayed before the Lord and said, O Lord, the God of Israel, who is enthroned above the cherubim [of the ark in the temple], You are the God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made the heavens and the earth.
16 O Lord, bend down Your ear and hear; Lord, open Your eyes and see; hear the [taunting] words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to taunt and defy the living God.
17 It is true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have devastated the nations and their lands
18 and have thrown their gods into the fire, for they were not [real] gods but [only] the work of mens hands, wood and stone. So they [could destroy them and] have destroyed them.
19 Now, O Lord our God, please, save us from his hand so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know [without any doubt] that You alone, O Lord, are God.
prv 4 20 - 27
20 My son, pay attention to my words and be willing to learn;
Open your ears to my sayings.
21 Do not let them escape from your sight;
Keep them in the center of your heart.
22 For they are life to those who find them,
And healing and health to all their flesh.
23 Watch over your heart with all diligence,
For from it flow the springs of life.
24 Put away from you a deceitful (lying, misleading) mouth,
And put devious lips far from you.
25 Let your eyes look directly ahead [toward the path of moral courage]
And let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you [toward the path of integrity].
26 Consider well and watch carefully the path of your feet,
And all your ways will be steadfast and sure.
27 Do not turn away to the right nor to the left [where evil may lurk];
Turn your foot from [the path of] evil.
John 6:44-45 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, And they will all be taught by God. Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me
Thank you for posting this.
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 usfor 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.
To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, And to offsprings, referring to many, but referring to one, And to your offspring, who is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.
Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.
Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.
Thank you for this EXCELLENT post. It really explains it all!
NOW we’re getting down to the heart of the matter!
Perhaps we should beat the snot out of those who keep the law, hmmm?
"One indeed is the universal Church of the faithful, outside which no one at all is saved, in which the priest himself is the sacrifice, Jesus Christ, whose body and blood are truly contained in the sacrament of the altar under the species of bread and wine; the bread (changed) into His body by the divine power of transubstantiation, and the wine into the blood, so that to accomplish the mystery of unity we ourselves receive from His (nature) what He Himself received from ours."
--Pope Innocent III and Lateran Council IV (A.D. 1215)
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