Text: Romans 3:19-28
23 for 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, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.
Fredrick Douglas once said, “Those who profess to favor freedom and yet [deplore] agitation are men who want rain without thunder and lightning.”
Martin Luther certainly felt the thunder and lightning that he did not expect when he nailed his 95 theses to the Wittenberg castle church door on October 31, 1517. What he intended for theological debate and discussion caused turmoil, divided the Christian church, and marked the beginning of what we know today as the Lutheran Reformation. The freedom that we who name the name of Christ received is in the Son and because of His wonderful work you are free in Christ!
Today we remember and celebrate the Reformation of the Church, began by the former Roman Catholic Priest and Augustinian Monk, Martin Luther. We also celebrate the joy that we who today benefit from this blessed freedom found in the Gospel message, will continue together with the whole church to reach the lost with this same gospel message.
19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law … 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
This was the crux of Luther’s struggle. How could a sinful man stand before a holy God? He would ask himself, “Must God condemn sin? Yes. Am I a sinner? Yes. Must God condemn me? Yes!”
This struggle and torment tore at Luther as he tried to understand the depth of the fall into sin and the rescue that was enacted on our behalf in the person and work of Jesus Christ. As one myself who came to Lutheranism as an adult, and also as one who struggled to find peace with God, I came to identify a great deal with Luther. One book that was important in my transition to Lutheranism was Heiko Oberman’s, Luther: Man between God and the Devil. It was not only a history of Luther and the reformation but it also was a perfect picture of where Luther stood … between God and the Devil. On the one hand judged and condemned as a sinner by God and on the other hand tempted and taunted by the Devil. Luther thought, “Where can peace be found in this life let alone the life to come?”
[Interestingly LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matt Harrison posted on his facebook page that 1/3 of all LCMS members are adult converts.]
For there is no distinction:23 for 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, Rom. 3:22b-24
You are free in Christ!
While verse 24 says pretty much the same thing it was Chapter 5 and verse 1 that gave Luther what he was looking for … peace.
5 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Grace was God’s gift but the means that Luther now understood was through the instrument of faith. This gift of Grace and Faith gave Luther hope and peace in a God, not of wrath but of love.
25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.
[The word propitiation carries the basic idea of appeasement or satisfaction, specifically toward God. Propitiation is a two-part act that involves appeasing the wrath of an offended person and being reconciled to him.]
So not only is God no longer angry with you, because Jesus has accepted all of God’s wrathful anger in a once and for all sacrifice at the cross, but in Christ by faith you receive what Christ received … God’s favor … on account of that same sacrifice.
Luther was free and the Roman Catholic Church wouldn’t be the same.
Not that Luther was trying to topple or rebel against the Roman Church but just to reform its errors. It’s a little like a student finding an error that the teacher wrote on the blackboard. The student points out the error not to show up the teacher but to show that he was paying so close attention that this error jumped out at him. The proper response from the teacher is to thank the student and move on. That’s what Luther thought would happen, that his propositions in his 95 theses posted on the door of the Castle Church would bring theological debate and he felt confident that he could prove that his thinking was right by the word of God.
I was born on April 18, 1955 and baptized in May of that year. My first remembrance of Church was at Holy Trinity Catholic Church, in McKeesport Pennsylvania. The services were in Latin … and I didn’t understand a word. Not much different for the Church members in Luther’s day. Remember the only thing they knew about God was what the Church told them. The Bible was in Latin and they, if they didn’t read Latin were in the dark.
One movie that I show to my confirmation students is a film called Martin Luther Heretic. The title says a lot about how the church viewed Luther … as one who taught falsehood. One scene that is especially poignant has Luther teaching his students the difference between the scripture in Latin and what he found in the ancient Greek. He points out that in the Latin it reads, do penance but in the Greek is reads, change heart. Luther saw that the Latin was a mistranslation of change heart.
The changing of our heart from being God’s enemies to being at peace with God is all God’s work.
This set Luther free to preach the freedom of the Christian who at birth is bound to sin, just like you and me, but who is freed from sin, death and the power of the Devil by God’s gift of Grace through faith and this is not of your doing, not a result of works (doing penance) so that no one can boast. Eph 2:8-9
This led Luther to the Diet of Worms, in Germany to hear the charges of heresy, in front of the Emperor Charles the V, which were brought against him and to give a defense for what he believed, taught and confessed. This happened on April 18, 1521, 436 years to the day of my own birth, so I felt a certain kinship with Luther as I wrestled with my own religious upbringing.
It is to [papal legate] Aleander that we owe the eyewitness account of Luther’s arrival in Worms:
I had already concluded my letter when I gathered from various reports as well as the hasty running of the people that the great master of heretics was making his entrance. I sent one of my people out, and he told me that about a hundred mounted soldiers, probably the Sickingens, had escorted him to the gate of the city; sitting in a coach with three comrades, he entered the city [at ten in the morning], surrounded by some eight horsemen and found lodgings near his Saxon prince. When he left the coach, a priest embraced him and touched his habit three times, and shouted with joy, as if he had a relic of the greatest saint in his hands. I suspect that he will soon be said to work miracles. This Luther, as he climbed from the coach, looked around in the circle of his demonic eyes and said:”God will be with me.” Then he stepped into an inn, where he was visited by many men, ten or twelve of which he ate with, and after the meal, all the world ran there to see him.
Oberman, Heiko A. Luther Man between God and the Devil, Yale University 1989 Pg. 198-99
To those inside and outside the church the Lutheran liturgy and Roman Catholic liturgy look similar.
We have many of the same elements, invocation, confession of sins, the creeds, and even the readings for the day are the same coming from the historic lectionary. We baptize infant, instruct our youth, have confirmation and receive the Lord’s body and blood in the sacrament of the Altar. So why was there this battle in 1521 and why does it still rage today? In a word … it’s the gospel.
Lutherans believe that we are saved by grace alone, through Faith alone, in Christ alone, and that we know this by the means of Scripture alone. No works, no penance, no merit Luther knew as those bound in sin from birth that, “the only thing we contribute to our salvation … is sin.”
In Augsburg Germany on June 25, 1530 the public reading of the Augsburg Confession first took place.
[Chancellor Christian Beyer, a member of the government of Duke John, elector of Saxony, read before Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and a gathering of princes (a “Diet”) in the city of Augsburg, Germany, a confession of faith signed by seven princes and two city councils in whose lands the teachings of Luther and the Wittenberg reformers had taken root in the previous decade. Luther’s colleague, Philip Melanchthon, is the principal author, though he used several previous documents in the preparation.]
Justification … how are men saved continues to divide the church.
Lutherans say in article IV of the Augsburg Confession:
1] Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for 2] Christ's sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ's sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. 3] This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4.
The Roman Church counters in Canon 9 of the council of Trent:
If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification, and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will, let him be anathema.
It is either all of Christ or we do something. It hasn’t changed in almost 500 years. There are many similarities and big differences still between Lutherans and Catholics but also between Lutherans and Evangelicals.
Matthew Block writes in First Things of the Evangelical Catholic tradition:
Jaroslav Pelikan in his 1964 work Obedient Rebels, attempted to situate Lutheranism’s place in the catholic tradition writing:
“Martin Luther was the first Protestant, and yet he was more Catholic than many of his Roman Catholic opponents,” Pelikan quips in the first sentence of the book. “This paradox lies at the very centre of Luther’s Reformation.” The rest of the book is devoted to exploring this [Lutheran] movement which was, at one time, both Catholic and Protestant.
Martin Luther brought the thunder and lightning but not to be a agitator - but to restore the Gospel. To give the peace of God to we who are bound in sin. To bring true freedom to those bound by the Devils lies … that we can do anything to merit forgiveness.
Let it be proclaimed!
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
You are free in Christ!
In the name of the Father, and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit!