Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Romans 3:19-28 Sermon
October 30, 2005
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
149 "The Church's One Foundation"
157 "Lord Of Our Life & God Of Our Salvation"
326 "I Love To Tell The Story"
150 "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God"
WONDERFUL WORDS OF LIFE
TEXT: “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather through the law we become conscious of sin. But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Where then is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.”
Have you ever had trouble understanding something, or some sort of concept? I know that I have had trouble understanding various things and concepts in my life. I would pour over something and study it, and have it make absolutely no sense to me at all.
For example, I believe that my biggest downfall when I was in school was math. To this day, I’m still not the best when it comes to the more complex mathematical formulas. Now I have no trouble understanding and doing the usual stuff, but I need help with the more advanced stuff. And I’m certainly a lot better off now that I used to be.
I remember going through textbooks, and asking questions of the teachers, but I always had trouble trying to make sense of it all.
But then something happened. When I entered into the 9th grade, I had a math teacher by the name of Ralph Lange. He was older than most of my teachers, and he obviously had been a teacher for a long time. Being in his classroom, learning from him, having him explain things to me, and having him answer my questions—somehow, something clicked. Lights came on and bells rang in my head, and I did the best in math that I’ve ever done. Consequently, I received the highest math grade from him that I had ever received—either before or after that time. I knew what he was teaching, and it made sense to me. Exactly how he did it, or what it was that he had which was different from everybody else, I haven’t a clue. But I did know that I learned from him; and to this day, many of my methods of figuring are things that I learned in his classroom.
The point is, is that we can spend hours upon hours studying and staring at something—and then something happens. Something clicks. Lights come on, bells ring, and then suddenly we understand. We get the point.
Today the subject at hand is the Reformation. The text I just read is straight forward and simple. Unfortunately for Dr. Martin Luther, the whole concept that these words declare wasn’t quite so simple for him. Then something happened. Something clicked. Lights came on and bells rang. Luther discovered that the words and concepts that had previously confused him, were the simple, beautiful, wonderful words of life. The Holy Spirit enlightened Luther’s soul, and brought those words home for him.
As we begin to explore the impact of our text today, it would do us well to look at a little of the history surrounding Luther, and how he came to reckon with it.
The year was 1511. Luther was a university professor of the Augustinian order, and had just been transferred from the University of Erfurt to the University of Wittenberg. It was there that Luther met a man by the name of Johann von Staupitz, whose influence would change Luther’s life.
Luther had been extremely disquieted over several issues. For one thing, he was concerned over his many sins. Luther felt that in order for them to be forgiven, he had to enumerate each one; and so he tried to do just that—one time, he was at it for over six hours! He was plagued with the picture of Christ as an avenger and a demanding judge. Luther went to Staupitz with the words, “Ich fehrstehe es nicht!,” which means “I don’t understand it!”
Staupitz, then the chairman of the Bible at the University, had a thought that might help the troubled Luther. He came to Luther one day, and suggested that he should undertake the study for his doctorate, undertake preaching duties, and assume the chairmanship of the Bible at the University. The proposal seemed almost absurd if not reckless. Luther vehemently objected to this. But Staupitz felt that if Luther was in the position of comforting souls, some of the comfort would rub off on himself.
Luther had, up until this time followed the natural courses of theology, and the Bible had not been the staple of his theological education. Luther had not been directed into the very source book of his religion!
So Luther accepted the position, with Staupitz retiring shortly thereafter. Luther set himself to learn and expound the Holy Scriptures to the best of his ability. In August of 1513, Luther began his Bible lectures on the book of Psalms. It was here that Luther began to see a God that he never knew before. Luther began to see the God that not only was vengeful, but also loving. Luther began to see Christ as pictured in the Old Testament.
It was then in the Autumn of 1515 that Luther began his lectures on the book of Romans. Luther was still greatly troubled and disquieted, as he writes the following:
“I greatly longed to understand Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, ‘The justice of God,’ because I took it to mean that justice whereby God is just, and deals justly in punishing the unjust. My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner, troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would satisfy him. Therefore I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against him. Yet I clung to the dear Paul and had a great yarning to know what he meant. Night and day, I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that ‘The just shall live by his faith.’ Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the ‘Justice of God’ had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate into heaven.”
Yes, what Dr. Luther had discovered were the clear words of Scripture, and the Holy Spirit working through them. Simple, beautiful, wonderful words of life.
As we examine our text from Romans 3 today, we find the Christian faith explained in the most basic of terms. In verse 20 we read: “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” There’s no escaping the law of God!
Performing works of God’s law will not make anybody righteous in the sight of God. There is no way we can get in good with God by doing good deeds. But rather one of the main reasons for the existence of God’s law is to show sinful people that they have indeed broken this law of God. Lawbreakers, every one of us! Luther was one of these sinful lawbreakers along with everybody else. And everybody deserves the penalty that such lawbreakers get—which is everlasting punishment. Doesn’t that law of God condemn each and every one of us all of the time? How difficult is it for us to look through the 10 Commandments and find the ones that we’ve broken just today, let alone in our entire lifetime? How could we stand before God and claim a righteousness according to that law, when we continually break commandment after commandment? But God says we have to be righteous! We need to be righteous in order to come into his presence, and escape eternal punishment! How do we get such a righteousness?
It is now that we look to the next section of our text. In verses 21-24 of Romans 3 we read: “But now, a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
That’s the righteousness we need, the one that’s apart from the law. That’s the concept that came up and whacked Luther on the side of his head like being hit with a shovel. Luther had been looking for a righteousness according to the law of God, rather than one that was apart from the law. Even though those words had been in front of Luther before, yet Luther still felt that he needed to be righteous according to the law in order to be saved; and when he transgressed, he needed to perform outward acts of payment for the wrong he had done. And if he dared overlook even one of those sins, then he would surely be condemned for it. We might be tempted to sit back and tell ourselves how ridiculous Luther’s tenaciousness for the law was, but that is the natural tendency of sinful man.
What about us? Don’t we tend to see Godly righteousness in terms of works of the law? Don’t we become so “law conscious” that we forget what righteousness really is? Sinners as we are, it makes us have a certain “love for the law.” We become so caught up in deeds of the law, both in ourselves and in others, that we forget the Gospel, and the only true righteousness, which is our faith in Christ Jesus.
God gives us this faith. This faith changed Luther’s life. It changes our lives as well. In our text for today, Paul writes: “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” That puts all of humanity in the same boat, regardless of age. It shows all have broken God’s law. But then we read on in the same sentence, “…but are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
This Saviour, this redemption is the key thing. This is true righteousness, and not the deeds and works of the law of God. No righteousness comes there. Our faith in Jesus Christ is something totally separate. We don’t come to faith by any personal decision or action or emotion, because that would make our faith a work or deed of the law. Rather, this righteousness is something that comes from God. God works the faith in our hearts to accept this righteousness that is ours through Christ.
Luther was caught up in this idea of a just God. And indeed, God is just. He needs to be in order to be perfect. This was dealt with as well, in verses 25-27 of our text for today: “God presented him [that is, Jesus Christ] as a sacrifice of atonement [that is, the one who would turn aside God’s wrath, taking away sin] through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies the man who has faith in Jesus.”
Yes, it is through that faith alone in Jesus Christ that we are justified before a just God. God does not see our misdeeds of the law because of that faith in Jesus Christ. The law no longer holds us prisoner. This boundless love of God provided Christ to be that atonement—that means by which the perfect justice of God could be answered, so that we would not stand before God being condemned by the law, but forgiven and justified by his grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
In the final verses of our text, Paul asks the question: “Where then is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.”
Our source of boasting is laid to rest quite soundly and surely. We’ve sinned! We’ve broken God’s law! How could we boast of doing the works of the law if we are such lawbreakers?
Rather, our boasting is obliterated because of this faith. We can’t come to Jesus holding on to the works and deeds of the law, but only by faith and faith alone. Our boast can only be of Christ whose name we bear, and who saves not only us, but the whole world, and all who would come to faith and believe in him.
So this is our text for today. Nobody can be justified by the law. All have sinned. The only way for a sinner to be saved is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, who suffered, died, and rose again for us. It’s simple, short, and to the point. The thrust of the whole message of Scripture is summed up quite nicely for us here.
This sermon hasn’t been intended to glorify Luther or to be a 25 minute eulogy of him, but rather to explain the impact this text had on him. If we were to look in Luther’s Bible, next to our text for today, we’d see the words he penned in beside these passages, “Sola Fide”—which is Latin for “Faith Alone.” For you see, what Luther experienced here was coming to know a great Scriptural truth. Nothing concerning works could save a sinner—no penance, no outward acts of contrition, no mindless recitations, no beads or relics, no saints—nothing but faith alone.
My 9th grade math teacher did something for me that I cannot explain. He explained and made plain various concepts of mathematics that had remained previously just an unclear concept to me. What Luther experienced was something that wasn’t of his own doing, or because of his own reasoning. It was something that only the Holy Spirit could accomplish. Concepts of theology that had been obscure to Luther were suddenly made plain. Those complex ideas and words suddenly became the simple, beautiful, wonderful words of life. That was Dr. Luther’s own PERSONAL reformation. And that personal reformation developed into a reformation from which protestants the world over have come to know and love.
The pure Word of God served as the reforming force then, as it still does to this very day. We preach and teach this Word, both Law and Gospel, rightly dividing the Word of Truth.
Does it sound like we’re repeating something that everybody knows and doesn’t need to hear again? Does it sound as if we’re trying to convert the converted—or as the old saying goes, “preaching to the choir?”
Well, we never know when the Holy Spirit is going to work in somebody’s heart, and clear up something that has gone by misunderstood. But most importantly, since we are all sinners, we’re constantly in need of that personal reformation in our lives. The only way to get that is through the Word of God, which is the only true reforming force. And if we should ever think of ourselves as getting tired of it, just remember the words of the old favorite hymn: “I love to tell the story, ‘tis pleasant to repeat; what seems each time I tell it, more wonderfully sweet; I love to tell the story, for some have never heard, the message of salvation from God’s own Holy Word.”
This morning, as we think of this personal reformation of Luther’s which begat something much, much bigger, let us never neglect our own personal reformation, the effects of which are spread throughout our day to day lives. To keep this personal reformation alive, we need to keep ourselves rooted in the Word of God, which is the very power of this reformation.
This morning, we can remember the words of the old Sunday School hymn as they apply to us today: “Sing them over again to me, wonderful words of life; let me more of their beauty see, wonderful words of life….beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life.”