Monday, October 31, 2016
"Faith Alone" Sermon: Romans 1:16-17
October 30, 2016 Second Reformed Church
Today, we celebrate Reformation Sunday. Reformation day is actually tomorrow – October 31st. October 31st was chosen to be Reformation day because historians mark that day – not as the first act of reformation – but as the turning point, after which there was no going back.
The basic idea of reformation – our church is a reformed church – is the idea that we are constantly “reforming” what we believe and what we do based on the Bible. If anything we teach or do contradicts the Bible, we go back to the Bible and do what God has said.
A number of historic figures stood up in the late Medieval period to argue that the Roman Catholic Church had gone away from the teaching of the Bible and must “re-form” according to what the Bible actually teaches.
Martin Luther is usually chosen as the person who brought the issues to the turning point. Luther was born in 1483. In 1505, Luther began law school, but left due to a scare and became an Augustinian monk. As he studied and taught, he found that the Bible disagreed with some of the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.
In 1515, as the Pope sought money to build St. Peter’s Cathedral, an inventive monk named Tetzel took the idea of selling indulgences and added a jingle to boost his sales, “when the coin in the coffer rings, another soul from Purgatory springs.”
The Roman Catholic Church taught that if you weren’t bad enough for Hell or good enough for Heaven, you went to a place called Purgatory (which is not in the Bible) to earn enough merit to get to Heaven. The Roman Catholic Church taught that Jesus earned enough to merit a person part-way to Heaven, but you have to merit the rest of the way yourself; the Roman Catholic Church taught that Jesus’ works plus our works earns us Heaven, and, if you don’t earn enough merit in this life, you can earn it in Purgatory – in fact you could earn it for yourself, or the dead, or you could buy an indulgence – a document which lessened your time or your loved one’s time in Purgatory.
Luther compared this with what the Bible teaches, and he found the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church to be lacking. So, on October 31, 1517, he posted what has become known as his “95 Thesis” on the church door at Wittenberg.
We need to understand that this was not a radical act, and he was not trying to split the Roman Catholic Church. It was common for scholars to post items for debate on the church door. Luther had posted 95 items he wanted to debate with other scholars – and it was written in Latin – so must people would not have understood what it said. However, someone read the post and translated it into German, and using the new invention – the printing press – spread the thesis throughout the country – and they ignited a fire amongst the people.
Is salvation earned by receiving Jesus’ good works and adding them to our good works, as the Roman Catholic Church taught, or, as Luther would argue, is salvation received as a gift based on the good works of Jesus Alone?
And so, let us turn to our text:
And we see, Paul is not ashamed of the Gospel.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel,”
This comes out of nowhere as we pull it out of context: Paul opens his letter with greeting to the Roman Christians – Gentiles – non-Jews – who had come to believe savingly in Jesus.
Word had apparently gotten back to the Romans that they were not as important to Paul, since they were Gentiles and not Jews, but Paul argues that he loves them and prays for them and desired to be mutually encouraged by them, and – especially – he wants to opportunity to preach the Gospel to them.
It is then that he writes the text we have this morning, beginning with his not being ashamed of the Gospel. That is, the reason he so desperately wants to get to Rome to preach to the Romans is the fact that he is not ashamed of the Gospel – that is, he is of the opposite view regarding the Gospel – dismiss these ideas that he prefers to preach to Jews – no, Paul wants to preach the Gospel to all people at all times on all occasions.
So what is this Gospel?
We need to remember because so many people have wrong ideas about what the Gospel is. Paul tells us rather concisely that the Gospel is the historical facts about Jesus, the Incarnate Son. Hear Paul’s words:
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8, ESV).
That is the Gospel. This is the message Paul was not ashamed of. This is the messages we are called to believe and bring to all of Creation.
Second, we see that this Gospel is the Power of God for salvation.
“for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
“For it” – the reason Paul is not ashamed of the Gospel and wants to preach it to the Romans and all people is that it is the power of God – not of humans. The Gospel is God’s power – God’s way – it is nothing that a human can do or add to or make better. It is the power of God in this Gospel – what God did and does – that is the anyone is ever saved who believes. There is no salvation – there is no belief – unless God – by his Own Power – through the preaching of the Gospel – grants salvation to those humans He gives it to.
And it is worth noting that God did give the Gospel to the Jews first. God did choose the Jews to be a special people – to give them the Word of God and to Incarnate as the Word of God to accomplish the Gospel. God is the Gospel – Who God is – what God did – who God empowers to belief and salvation. And since the Resurrection – the Gospel is sent to all peoples – including the non-Jews.
It is not in any way or part the power of humans, because we cannot, as Paul explains: “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot” (Romans 8:7, ESV).
The non-Christian – the non-believer – cannot submit – he cannot turn to God.
Well, then, how do we believe? How does God use His Power in the Gospel to change us and cause us to become empowered to belief?
Again, Paul explains:
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:4-9, ESV).
Because God freely chose to have mercy and love a people – all those who will ever believe – the Church – even when we were spiritually dead in sin and could not and would not ever choose to believe in Jesus savingly, God chose to save us – by grace alone He saved us.
And, as we saw Jesus explain in the Gospel of John recently, Jesus has gone to prepare a place in the Father’s house for all those who will ever believe in Him – so we are secure – our place with Jesus in the Kingdom is assured, if we have been saved by God and God alone. So, in the ages to come, we will be absolutely blown away with the riches that God showers upon us as His adopted sons and daughters. God is showing Himself to be outrageously generous!
God has saved us by grace alone through faith alone, and the grace and the faith are not our doing – they are not our works – we cannot boast about them – because they are gifts of God to us.
And what is faith? Faith is the means by which we receive the gracious gifts of God – such as salvation. Faith is like the gutters and leaders on your house that catch the rain and move it somewhere. God gives us the gift of faith to be able to receive His Grace. The faith is not something we come up with – it is not a good work – it is a tool that God gives us to receive what God’s Hand gives to us.
Third, we see that the Gospel reveals the Righteousness of God.
“For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith,”
What is righteousness?
Righteousness is the perfection that God requires for a person to be made right with Him.
So, the Gospel reveals the perfection that God requires to for a person to be made right with Him “from faith for faith.”
How does the Gospel reveal this perfection? From faith for faith.
What in the world does that mean?
The Gospel reveals this perfection from faith – as we receive salvation and confess it – for faith – as we receive all that God has called us to do, and we obey.
In other words, God’s free gift of salvation to us through the work of Jesus is revealed as we confess what we have received and believe and proven as we do those things God has called us to do as people who have received His salvation.
Paul writes, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10, ESV).
Do we hear the “from faith for faith” here?
God created us to be His, made us right with Him through Jesus Christ, and we now respond by doing the good works He calls us to – those works that God planned for us to do from before the Creation.
Finally, Paul writes, “as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”
Here we have a summary of what he says:
The righteous – those who receive the perfection necessary to be made right with God through the Gospel – Jesus’ works – are resurrected from spiritual death – are enlivened – are born anew – are born again – by faith – by receiving the gift from God.
The gift of salvation is received by us by the gift of faith by which we receive it, confess our belief, and do the good works God predestined us to do.
The Gospel is God’s work. Our receiving faith is God’s work. Our becoming righteous is God’s work. We respond, but we add nothing – we add nothing to our salvation – we do not pay any part of the debt. Salvation is by Christ Alone – by grace Alone – by faith Alone – and to the Glory of God Alone.
And so, we believe that Martin Luther got it right; the Roman Catholic Church erred in saying that Jesus did part of the work of salvation and we do part of the work of salvation.
But that was 499 years ago. What’s the big deal now?
This is what the current Roman Catholic position is:
"If anyone says, that by faith alone the ungodly are justified in such a way as to mean that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to receive the grace of Justification and that it is not necessary for a man to be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema." (The Council of Trent, Canon IX).
Nothing has changed in 499 years.
The Roman Catholic view is, if anyone says they are saved by Christ Alone, by grace alone, by faith alone, to the Glory of God Alone – if any denies that Jesus does part of the work of salvation and we do part of the work of salvation – “let him be damned.”
The Reformation is not over.
Martin Luther wrote:
“The first and chief article is this: Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification (Romans 3:24–25). He alone is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), and God has laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). All have sinned and are justified freely, without their own works and merits, by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood (Romans 3:23–25). This is necessary to believe. This cannot be otherwise acquired or grasped by any work, law or merit. Therefore, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us ... Nothing of this article can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven and earth and everything else falls (Mark 13:31). (The Smalcald Articles, part 2, article 1).
Being part of a reformed church means that we turn back to the Bible – and the Bible has the final word – and whenever someone or something disagrees with the Bible, the Bible is right.
Salvation is God’s work; it is God’s gift. You and I don’t earn salvation – not even a little bit. We respond to our receiving the Gospel.
Either you have been saved by Christ Alone, through grace alone, through faith alone – or you are your savior.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, Yours is the Kingdom and the Power and the Authority forever and ever. You chose to love us and save us and do this all through Your Son. Open our eyes and minds that we would understand and not be confused. Help us to be ever thankful for Your Word that has saved us. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.