Reformation Sunday                       
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Romans 3:19-28 Sermon                                         
October 28, 2012

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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice):
TLH 473 "The Church's One Foundation"
WOV 716 "Word Of God, Come Down On Earth"
-------- "Thy Strong Word Didst Cleave The Darkness"
TLH 258 "Lord Of Our Life & God Of Our Salvation"
-------  "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God"
-------  "God's Word Is Our Great Heritage"


TEXT (vs. 20-24): "20For by works of the law no human beingwill be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.  21But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to itó 22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus."

            Some of you are aware that I spent most of this past week in St. Louis at a Pastors' Retreat.  This is a time where pastors gather together for a time of learning and fellowship. And this happens just about this time every year.

            Several guest speakers are invited to come and present some in-depth studies to the group, with the hope that what is presented will be of benefit to the pastors' ministry to his people.  One of the presenters was Pastor Dan Cloeter, whom some of you know.  He is a pastor in Osceola, and he had a very good presentation on discipleship. 

            The other key presenter was a Lutheran seminary professor from Minnesota; and for various reasons, I'm not going to identify him or the seminary where he teaches.  The man is an ordained pastor, a brilliant theologian, and he is also a published author.  He has his PhD, and he is a very good dogmatician and student of the Bible.  He did a very nice job of expounding the proper distinction between Law and Gospel, and how that applies to people today.

            During his presentation, he talked about something that I found very disturbing.  He told us about a time when he was assigned to preach for the seminary chapel service.  They were doing a series on the Ten Commandments, and he was assigned the sixth commandment, which is:  "Thou shalt not commit adultery."

            In presenting this topic, he quoted many of the passages in the Bible where God talks about marriage.  He then told his audience (and I'm paraphrasing here), "From all Biblical evidence, it is very obvious that God's will for marriage is that it can ONLY be the union of one man and one woman.  There can be no mistake about it; God does not allow for same-sex marriages."

            After he made that observation, roughly half of the students got up and walked out of the chapel in protest.  And these were seminary students, people who were being trained to become future pastors in congregations throughout the country! 

            Now in case you're thinking that this is some small insignificant seminary, think again.  This seminary has 806 students, 45 full-time faculty, and 20 adjunct faculty members.  That's a lot of people!  Even if his estimation of half of the students walking out of the chapel is high, just a third of them would still be about 269 students.

            This man is accused of being unloving, cruel, hateful, and all sorts of nasty adjectives.  And why?  It's simply because he had the nerve to stand up in front of an assembly and faithfully preach God's Word.  And he did so without any hesitation or compunction whatsoever.

            Does this make you wonder about what is going on in various churches today?  When future pastors refuse to be instructed as to what God's Word plainly says, what is left?  How can a preacher have any reliable authority apart from what God has given to us in the Bible?

            This morning on this Reformation Sunday, we are looking at the words of our Epistle Lesson, which is from Paul's letter to the Romans.  In this short section, the Apostle Paul explains the two main teachings of the Bible:  the Law, and the Gospel.  When I teach this in confirmation class, I tell the students to remember the letters SOS.  In the SOS of the Law, it stands for "Shows our Sinfulness."  And in the SOS of the Gospel, it stands for "Shows our Saviour."  For the Christian, both of these teachings must be presented clearly.  These are the terms that describe our relationship with God. 

            So the question we are going to be considering this morning is, why is all of this so important?  Why do we need to be so concerned about doctrine and what the Bible says?  Can't we just "do our own thing," and remember that God loves us, and let it be at that?  Or do we somehow try to find comfort as we wallow in a sea of self-righteousness, hoping that God will love us if we are pretty good most of the time?

            Dr. Martin Luther was a man who was driven by the law.  He looked at what God said, and he took it all very seriously.  He wasn't looking for excuses to continue to sin.  He wasn't looking for an easy way out.  Instead, he had this vision of an angry and judgmental God who punished sin.  And Luther sought every way he could imagine to placate this angry and vengeful God.  He listened to his own conscience, and even invented various acts of penance to show God how sorry he was, and to somehow pay for the various sins he committed.

            Without the words of the Gospel and the forgiveness that was offered to him through faith in Jesus Christ, all Luther could do was go into a deep despair.  Nothing ever seemed good enough.  When Luther looked deep into his soul, he was always lacking the righteousness God demanded.  He was always fighting a losing battle.

            Anytime we look at any point of Christian doctrine, the Bible is always where we go.  And it is important that we do not in any way compromise or alter what God has plainly told us in his Word, even when the law makes us squirm in our seats and become uncomfortable with what we hear.

            The Bible says, "You shall have no other gods."  And we say, "But I need to focus on my job, and money, and those things that give me pleasure."   The Bible says, "You shall not take the Lord's name in vain."  And we say, "Okay, but if I hit my thumb with a hammer, then God will let it slip by."  The Bible says, "Keep the Sabbath day holy."  And we say, "Yeah, but I like to golf, or sleep in on Sunday morning; or I don't need to go to church to worship God."  The Bible says, "Honor those God has placed in authority."  And we say, "It's only wrong if I get caught."  The Bible says, "You shall not murder; and anyone who is angry with or hates his brother is a murderer."  And we say, "Yeah, but I have a right to be angry with what that person did to me; and I absolutely hate my boss."  The Bible says, "You shall not commit adultery."  And we say, well, lots of things; you can fill in the blanks there for yourself.  The Bible says, "You shall not steal."  And we say, "There's no harm in taking a few extra tax deductions; who's going to know?"  The Bible says, "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor."  And we say, "Yeah, but I have a few juicy pieces of gossip I need to share!"  The Bible says, "You shall not covet."  And we say, "I've got to go into debt so I can get a better house or car than what that guy next door has."

            You can see it, can't you?  Those Ten Commandments stare us in the face all of the time, and we don't like what we hear!  So what happens then?  For Dr. Luther, it drove him to despair.  He knew his sinfulness.  That's the way some people handle it. 

            For others, the easiest thing is to either change or ignore the law altogether.  And when something becomes a bit too convicting or a bit too uncomfortable, then it becomes the practice to either reinterpret what God has said, or to relegate it into a "that was then, this is now, and it doesn't apply" way of thinking.

            Our text for today says, "19Now 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. 20For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin."

            One of the reasons we insist on the infallibility of Scripture is the knowledge of what sin is.  The Law tells us what is and isn't God's will.  God's Word is truth; that's what I affirm every time I step into the pulpit.  God's Word is objective truth; and that means that it stands on its own and speaks clearly.  But many people today look at God's Word as being subjective; that is, it is something that is left up to the human mind to decide.  But we know that the truth is never subjective.  Nothing is ever true or false simply because we want it to be that way.  Truth is truth, no matter what.  And God always says exactly what he means.

            When that seminary professor said what he did about God's will for marriage, he wasn't being mean, or vengeful, or spiteful, or hateful.  No, he was being faithful to what God plainly said.  And when those students got up and walked out of the chapel that day, they traded God's objective truth for their subjective version of what they wanted God to be saying, and not what he actually said. 

            In Romans chapter 1, Paul hits the proverbial nail on the head when he writes in verses 21 and 25: "21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened....25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie...."

            When people play fast and loose with Scripture, God's law gets blurred to the point that it is hardly recognizable any more.  And when that happens, the definition of sin becomes no more than what people want to make of it.

            But our text for today says in verse 23, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."  And we need a clear understanding of exactly what that means when we apply it to ourselves.

            So we hold God's Word to be infallible in order to have a clear understanding of the Law.  But just as important, we need to maintain that infallibility and inerrancy to preserve the Gospel.  The Gospel is explained in our text for today in verses 24 and 25: "...and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood."

            There it is!  There are the beautiful words of the Gospel!  We are justified freely, that is without any merit of our own.  We are justified by God's grace, which is his undeserved love for us.  Christ's sacrifice on the cross is what has paid the price for our sins.  This is something that we have through faith alone.  That is a whole lot of theology packed into those two short verses!  How could it get any easier?

            But you'll hear people give their own subjective twist to the Gospel as well.  They'll say, "The Gospel is loving your neighbor, the Gospel is doing good, the Gospel is being a nice person, etc."  That's NOT the Gospel!  Those may be actions produced by the Gospel, but it's not THE Gospel! 

            If you look at what Dr. Luther was going through, that was the understanding he had of the Gospel in his earlier years, which was no Gospel at all.  Luther's version of the Gospel was a system of works by the Law.  And as a result, he was in despair.  He never knew whether or not he had done enough to please God.  He was following the human mind, and not what God had said.

            Dr. Luther's "wake-up call" came when he read Romans chapter 1 verse 17:  "For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith.'"  Aha!  What a concept that was for him to finally realize!  The Law would never save him.  Jesus had to keep that law, and then bear the punishment for the sins of the world.  The important thing was faith, and that's what put it all together for Dr. Luther.

            The one important thing about the Reformation was that it put the focus on God's Word, where it belonged.  Luther could see that the will of sinful man had so adulterated what God said, people were living in terror.  The church had become more of a political power and concerned itself with financial gain.  Theology, and the Word of God, and the salvation of souls just didn't matter to them.  And when that was brought out in the open, their existence was threatened to the point that Luther's life was in danger.

            Today, we make no apologies for the fact that we boldly proclaim that the Bible is God's inspired, infallible, and inerrant Word.  We believe that God has told us exactly what he wants to tell us, and he hasn't omitted anything.  God didn't consult us first, and he doesn't need sinful human minds to misinterpret his words. 

            Maintaining the absolute truth of Scripture preserves both Law and Gospel intact.  We need to know and recognize our sin; and then we need to know our Saviour Jesus Christ through faith.  This is God's objective truth that he has given to us out of nothing but love for us, something we neither earn nor deserve.  Salvation is a free gift for all who accept Jesus Christ through faith alone.

            Therefore, we can pray with the hymn writer:  "God's Word is our great heritage, and shall be ours forever; to spread its light from age to age, shall be our chief endeavor.  Through life it guides our way, in death it is our stay, Lord grant while worlds endure, we keep its teachings pure, throughout all generations."