Week commencing 22nd October 2017   With a PDF found here

Notes for next Sunday’s sermon on Romans 3:21-31 “A righteousness that is by faith.”

This year marks the 500th anniversary of the reformation: a period that changed the church scene across the world dramatically and permanently. There is so much to learn from this period in church history and our brief, 4-week series, can’t possibly do justice to the lessons from that time and for our time!

Nevertheless, here is our preaching program which aims to pick up four key reformation themes:

OCT 29           A righteousness that is by faith          Romans 3:21-31

NOV 05          A church in need of reform                 Romans 5:1-11

NOV 12          A communion in need of clarifying    Matthew 26:17-30

NOV 19          A Bible that deserves to be read          2 Tim 3:10-4:5

DAY 1: Read Romans 1:16-17

On October 31, 1517, compelled by intense pastoral concern for his people, Martin Luther nailed Ninety-Five Theses (or statements) to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. That same day, he dispatched a cover letter to Cardinal Albrecht, Archbishop of Mainz, outlining his pastoral motivation for this reformation ministry. Luther began the letter by expressing alarm for his flock—many of whom were journeying to the Dominican, John Tetzel, in an attempt to purchase (yes, purchase) their freedom from guilt. He wrote, “I bewail the gross misunderstanding among the people which comes from these preachers and which they spread everywhere among common men. Evidently the poor souls believe that when they have bought indulgence letters they are then assured of their salvation.”

Not long before, Luther had wrestled personally with demons of doubt about the grace and forgiveness of God. In his own words: “Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that anything that I thought or did or prayed, satisfied God.”

Three times in the New Testament, Habakkuk 2:4 is quoted: “the righteous, will live by faith”. When Martin Luther read that here in Romans 1, he asked: “What does this mean, that there’s a righteousness that is by faith, and from faith to faith? What does it mean that the righteous shall live by faith?” The lights came on for Luther as he began to understand that there was a righteousness that God in His grace was making available to those who would receive it passively, not to those who would achieve it actively! It was to be received by faith, and by so doing, a person could be reconciled to a holy and righteous God. It was a moment of awakening for Luther. He said, “Paul is talking about a righteousness that God gives freely by His grace to people who don’t have righteousness of their own.”

And so Luther said, “You mean the righteousness by which I will be saved, is not mine?” It’s what he called a justitia alienum, an alien righteousness; a righteousness that belongs properly to somebody else. It’s a righteousness that is extra nos, outside of us. Namely, the righteousness of Christ. And Luther said, “When I discovered that, I was born again of the Holy Ghost. And the doors of paradise swung open, and I walked through.” It was this wonderful understanding that freed Luther from trying to be acceptable to God through his own efforts. He began to lean entirely on and revel in, the efforts of Jesus Christ on his behalf. Do you know something of that relief and revelling today? In the Gospel, a righteousness from God is revealed.

DAY 2: Read Romans 3:21-26

This passage now expands on Paul’s introductory remarks we read yesterday. Having laid out in the intervening passages, that mankind is under God’s condemnation – Jew and Gentile alike – Paul now wants to ensure that his readers understand that just as both Jew and Gentile are equally rebellious against God, so God’s righteousness, is equally available to both Jew and Gentile.

Note that this righteousness is ‘apart from the law’. That is, it is not through law keeping. Note also that it has ‘now’ been made known – ie through what Jesus has done, but it is not something from out of the blue because the “Law and the Prophets” had testified to it. Our Old Testament pointed us forward to this righteousness which is ‘by faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe’. It was always God’s plan!

How is it possible for God to grant this righteousness to sinners? After all, ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’. The only way we can be put right with God is ‘by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus’. Then we read this staggering verse 25 – that God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement (propitiation), which is appropriated through faith (trust) in his blood (his death). The concept is that of a cover for sin which has the result of turning aside God’s wrath. God absorbs his own penalty for sin so that we can be considered without sin! So at one and the same time (v26), God remains just (fair – consistent with his character and with his righteousness) and the one who justifies (makes right with himself) those who have faith in Jesus!

This is a revolution for the continental reformer Martin Luther. It revolutionised his own relationship with God and challenged everything he knew about the way the church of the time understood – and preached – salvation. Luther saw that the church, rather than setting people free from sin, actually enslaved them to law, to ritual and to a righteousness (a way of being right with God), based entirely on their own efforts! That concept, Luther became determined to challenge and prayerfully, put right.

DAY 3: Read Romans 3:27-31

Now the apostle Paul teases out some of the implications for us of what he taught in yesterday’s passage: namely that if righteousness is something won for us by the Lord Jesus and granted to us by God’s grace, we have nothing to boast in other than the Lord Jesus. Our standing before God is not due to anything we have achieved in and of ourselves. Jew and Gentiles are made right with God (justified) on exactly the same basis – through trusting (faith in) Jesus.

This is a lesson that takes some a long time to learn. We have been ingrained from the beginning of our lives that we must perform if we want to do well and advance in life. Be good children to earn a treat from our parents. Study hard to get good marks. Work hard at our jobs to climb the ladder. The thought that there’s nothing we can do to earn our salvation; some people can’t accept. Indeed, the Roman Catholic doctrine of today is that you may show you deserve grace and then show (by your works) that you deserve to keep it! This was one of the issues which was very central to the Reformation. Praise God for his total grace and mercy to us in his Son!

DAY 4: Read Romans 4:1-12

Christians often make the mistake of setting up the God of the Old Testament as if he is somewhat different to the God of the new – or that the way a person is put right with God in the Old Testament is different to the way a person is put right with God in the New Testament. The passage you’ve just read, puts paid to that!

In the Old Testament, all is of grace! Abraham was credited with righteousness prior to the law and prior to his circumcision. He was credited with righteousness simply because he trusted God’s promises. He believed! Read again vv7-8 – quoting the wonderful Psalm 32. There is the beauty of grace and the awesome nature of God’s forgiveness. In this our first week exploring key themes of the reformation, I hope you are rejoicing that Martin Luther discovered Romans 1:17 – that in the gospel, a righteousness apart from the law is revealed!

Sources: http://www.ligonier.org/blog/justification-faith-alone-martin-luther-and-romans-117/;
https://www.9marks.org/article/martin-luther-reformer-of-pastoral-counseling/