Week commencing 29th October 2017   With a PDF found here

Notes for next Sunday’s sermon on Romans 5:1-11 “A church in need of reform.”

This week, our reading notes will explore the passage above, but we’ll also do some history together, so that we’ll better understand what church was like at this time and the reasons which gave rise to the Reformation.

DAY 1: Read Romans 5:1-5

We saw last week that Martin Luther was moved and thrilled to discover that righteousness (being in right relationship with God), was a gift from God. Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, those who trust in Jesus, are (Romans 3:24), justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. This was a watershed moment for Luther who had been so weighed down to the point of depression at the prospect of ever winning God’s favour on his own merits. We went on to see last week that both Jew and Gentile are made righteous on precisely the same basis. The Apostle Paul, in Romans 4, makes that clear by showing how Abraham was considered righteous because he trusted God’s promises.

Here then in Ch 5, Paul recaps: Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…

In the medieval church, this whole concept of being at peace with God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, had been tragically lost. The medieval church was full of deep and dark superstitions and rituals. “When Christianity first spread across Europe during the sixth century, it came face to face with a variety of ancient pagan religions. The missionaries were often in danger, either rejected outright or asked to prove the greatness of their God in some contest against the pagan priest.” [1] Pope Gregory in 601 wrote to Abbott Mellitus in England recommending that the church is patient in regard to the pagan religions, keeping such practices as would help people make the transition to Christianity. The end result was that many pagan practices were assimilated into Christianity. Some pagan practices were adapted to look “Christian”! So the church at the time of the 1500s was confused. It was filled with ceremonies, rituals, superstitions, visions, saints, miracles, corruption, magic, the veneration of relics; the understanding that you would buy your way into heaven or pay to be released from the in-between state known as purgatory. The mass or communion was seen to have magical powers—people stealing the bread from communion to take home and make potions for the sick!

“The church was not providing what people anxious for salvation wanted. While there was no doubt many people who were quite happy with a system that merely required them to keep up ritual observances, there were also many who rejected the emptiness of a ritual show provided by a financially-driven institution.” [2]

The church was badly in need of reform. Luther’s understanding of what God had done for him through the Lord Jesus, not only had an impact for him personally, but he began to see how badly the church itself had lost its way. He now understood that the gospel was not that which he had been taught by the church and that in fact, church practices worked to undermine the beauty and simplicity of the gospel. He didn’t set out to reject the Roman church, but intended to bring his new understanding to bear on church life. The statements he nailed to the church door at Wittenburg were intended simply for debate! He had not realised that the nature of his complaints, actually challenged the very nature of the church he loved! Praise God today the clarity of the gospel and that we now, have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ!

DAY 2: Read Romans 5:6-8

Christ died for the ungodly. There is our hope. It’s not in ceremonies, rituals, superstitions, magic, pleading, moral performance, how many hours we’ve dedicated to the church, how much we think we may have bought our way out of hell or purgatory, how many times we’ve taken communion, or all that we’ve done in fund raising. Christ died for the ungodly. That’s it.

Quite a few times this year, there have been stories of a hero who has lost their life to save others. A father jumps in to the huge surf to help his kids caught in a rip. They survive; he doesn’t. It happens—someone gives their life for another—usually someone they know and love. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. While we were still rebellious, while we still had our backs turned; while we were still determined to go our own way and do our own thing, Christ the righteous one, died for the unrighteous to bring us to God.

I think if the medieval church needed to hear that long and loud, the 21st century church does too! For so many in the church, the main thing is no longer the main thing. We’ve lost this truth as the central tenant of the Christian faith. We hear more about the church and refugees, the church and the environment, the church and marriage equality, the church and social justice, then we do about Christ crucified for sinners! As worthy as some of those causes may be, they are not at the heart of our reason for being which seems to be lost amidst every other hobby horse! Friends, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Revel in that truth and don’t let anything else replace it as being absolutely central to all we exist for!

DAY 3: Read Romans 5:9-11

Both verses 9 and 10 argue from the greater to the lesser. If God justified us by the blood of his Son, he will surely spare us from his wrath (v. 9)—ie, at the final day of judgement. If God has reconciled us by his Son’s death, he will surely save us by the Son’s life—i.e., by his resurrection (v. 10).

“Justified” (v. 9) and “reconciled” (v. 10) have similar but different meanings. Justified has a courtroom ring to it. To be justified is to be declared innocent—to be vindicated. Reconciled has to do with relationships, suggesting a bringing together of those who have been estranged. Reconciliation involves a change in a relationship from bad to good—from enmity to friendship. There is a natural progression, then, from justified (v. 9) to reconciled (v. 10a) to saved (v. 10b). One could hardly be reconciled to a righteous God without first being justified, and one could hardly be saved without first being reconciled. Note that it is God who reconciled us—restored us in our relationship with God through the death of his Son. This is not something we could have done for ourselves. It required God’s initiative, because our unholiness was incompatible with God’s holiness. “Not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation” (v. 11). The fact that we are saved for sure—justified by Christ’s blood, saved from God’s wrath, reconciled to God although you once were His enemy—ought to cause our hearts to revel in God’s goodness and praise him for all that he has done for us through Jesus!!

DAY 4: Read the whole passage again (5:1-11) and we’ll do some summing up and reflection

“One of the clearest summaries of the doctrinal issues that were at stake in the Reformation is the “slogan coined by Martin Luther to describe his position: sola gratia (by grace alone), sola Christi (by Christ alone), sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone), sola fide (by faith alone).” [3] These Latin phrases were Luther’s answer to four basic questions:

  1. How can a person be right with God? By grace alone. It is God’s initiative, freely and graciously given.
  2. How does this grace come? By Christ alone—in particular, through his death and resurrection.
  3. How do we find Christ? By Scripture alone—the one true place here Christ’s voice is found
  4. What is our part? By faith alone; that is, a personal trust in God and what he has promised us in Jesus. [4]

These became the catch phrases of the Reformation, and we still benefit by reflecting thankfully on these!!

Sources: Kisten Kirkett’s book (see footnote), and some helpful websites with insight into Romans 5, available on request

[1] Excerpt From: Kirsten Birkett. “The Essence of the Reformation.” iBooks, p8

[2] Excerpt From: Kirsten Birkett. “The Essence of the Reformation.” iBooks, p31

[3] Excerpt From: Kirsten Birkett. “The Essence of the Reformation.” iBooks, p9

[4] See Birkett p 99