Sermon Title: Silenced by the Truth! (Romans 3:19-28)
October 25, 2020
What or who would you say is mankind’s worst enemy? Disease? Famine? Man’s inhumanity to man? The evil forces of darkness? The devil?
On this 513th anniversary of the 16th century Reformation, let me suggest this: our worst enemy is our own human arrogance, the idol of self! Just think about it. It was not the devil that put the forbidden fruit into Adam and Eve’s mouths. They chose to trust their own desires and human reason more than God and His Word. They were doomed by their sinful arrogance! They wanted to be more than merely like God, knowing good and evil. They wanted to be God, dictating what is good and what is evil.
I’m afraid such arrogance did not die with Adam and Eve. What about the world after the flood when human beings were all still of one language and one location? In their collective arrogance they said, “let us make for ourselves a name…Let’s build for ourselves a city and a tower whose top will reach into heaven…”(Gen. 11:4). The LORD God rightly assessed their evil intent. He observed: “…now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them.”
I’m afraid, “science”, or should I say, scientism, is our contemporary, collective, arrogance. We make science reign supreme over God and His Word! It is even being held in many quarters of academia that science has disproved the existence of God. In fact, it is insisted, with the advances we have made in science and technology, we don’t need God. Our human intelligence and collective abilities make us masters of our own fate. Dare I say it, the bold claim made during these past many pandemic infected months has been, “We follow the science! Science will save us from this Covid Virus. Science will defeat it!” There is little, if any, mention of God. No looking to God in faith. There is only blatant human arrogance and trust in our own ingenuity and works! Nothing but plain old idolatry!
It was such arrogance that had placed the church of Luther’s day on the course to apostasy. The Pope was declared Christ on earth. His teaching was said to be infallible. It was taught that forgiveness and heaven were for only those who kept the mandates of the church and submitted to the authority of the Pope. You could even guarantee your own soul or that of a deceased relative’s release from torment in purgatory if you paid the right amount of money to the Pope and purchased what were called indulgences.
It is amazing how this human arrogance still runs amuck in the Roman church today. Many of the church’s teachings, which the reformers of Luther’s day protested, are still held and taught in the post Vatican II Roman Catholic Church. Through such practices as saying masses for the dead, doing penance, the sacrifice of the mass or many other prescribed works, people are still being led to believe that by their works they can stand justified before God. Such practices totally eliminate the need for Christ crucified.
Among some of the Protestants who are revolted by the work righteous practices of the Roman Catholic Church and have rejected many her worship forms and liturgies, ironically have even themselves set up their own method of salvation by good works. It is called decision theology. Although they preach that Christ died for your sins, they insist that you must appropriate what He did to yourself to be saved by totally surrendering yourself to the Lordship of Jesus and deliberately deciding to follow Him. Accordingly, they also teach that Baptism is something you must submit to in order to demonstrate to God that you have accepted Him.
To such arrogance and blasphemy God must say, “Wow, that’s really great of you! You mean, you don’t need me or my grace?” Holy Scripture is clear that no one can come unto Jesus Christ unless God the Father “draws” (drags) him (John 6:44). and that faith is God’s gracious work in us. The apostle of the Lord writes: “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (I Cor. 12:3).
In our text from Romans, the apostle Paul silences all our human arrogance and self-justification. He says in effect, “So you really think you can justify yourself before God! Let me share with you what God says in the face of your human arrogance!”
First of all, it is the height of utter foolishness for anyone to imagine that they can justify themselves before God by the works of the law. We read: “Now 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. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”
As the Reformers have rightly insisted: “The law always accuses.” You might, and can, employ the law to create order and boundaries for human behavior. Take for example the commandment “Thou shalt not murder.” We all agree it is a wonderful and essential law for the preservation of society. Imagine if murder was permitted. Who among us would survive? And, yet, every time you and I hear the command: “You shall not murder,” we are being convicted in conscience concerning all those times we have wanted someone dead, or even, as Holy Scripture informs us, we have killed them in our hearts by hating them (1 John 3:15). Simply staying our hand from killing another person does not in itself keep this commandment or justify us before God.
This accusatory function of the Law is not, however, a bad thing. It is, in fact, a most godly thing and a great good for us. That’s because the Law always shuts our arrogant mouths. It makes us realize that we have no justifying leg to stand on before God. It opens our eyes to see that for every good or right thing we have done or every godly inclination we have conceived in our hearts, there are twice as many that are evil in the sight of God. The Law short circuits any and all boasting. The Law makes you, me, and the whole world realize we are accountable to someone outside of ourselves. Yes, it holds us accountable to our Creator… The Eternal Judge!
The Law, then, serves as a mirror through which we are made to see ourselves as God sees us: unrighteous sinners. And, believe you me, what we see in that mirror is not a very pretty sight. In the verses preceding our text, the apostle states: “As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. "There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
And someone who looks like this actually thinks he can justify himself before God by his works or his perceived goodness or his decisions! It ain’t going to happen! Not before a holy and just God who demands that we be perfect as He is perfect! (Matt. 5:48)
Secondly, God had a plan before the creation of the world to justify sinners and that plan does not include our works of the Law in any shape or form. Rather than plan is all about the work of His grace! So we read: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…” (vs 23,24).
The Law was never designed to make anyone righteous. God gave it to mankind to tear down our sinful arrogance, shut our boastful mouths, and point out just how pitiful and utterly, unrighteous are our self-proclaimed merits and works before Him.
That same Law works to open our eyes to see that we need; no, that we are in desperate need of, another righteousness… a better righteousness to enable us to stand in the holy presence of our holy and perfect God. As Jesus said to those trying to justify themselves: “I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20)
The Law and the Prophets; that is, The Old Testament Scriptures, already spoke of this better righteousness. It is the righteousness that comes from God Himself. Jeremiah proclaimed: "Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: 'The Lord is our righteousness” (Jer. 23:5,6).
This righteousness is far superior to even the perceived righteousness of the best of the best among us. That’s because it is not the righteousness of a mere mortal. It is the righteousness of the immortal, invisible, and perfect God Himself. This is the righteousness God gives to sinners as a gift through His Son Jesus Christ.
How is this made possible? In His great love for us, our Heavenly Father appointed Jesus to be the “propitiation” (atoning sacrifice) for your sins, my sins, the sins of the whole world. In other words, God worked out our righteousness at the cross. Jesus’ blood cleanses us sinners from all guilt and all unrighteousness that clings to our bodies, souls, lives, thoughts and deeds.
God’s righteous plan is that on account of His grace toward sinners He has elected and decided to declare that all who cling in faith to His Son, Jesus Christ, are righteous before Him, not because they are inherently righteous but because in His grace He gifts Jesus’ righteousness to them. They are righteous sola fide; that is, righteous by faith alone in Jesus Christ. They alone are His “Holy Ones.” They stand perfect before Him because they stand robed in Christ’s righteousness.
At the same time, Paul also makes it clear that God does not justify us… or forgive us… or save us… on account of our faith, as if our faith in Jesus is the cause of our salvation. No, he says emphatically, we “are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, who God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith.”
Faith does not save as though it did anything. Faith is merely the mechanism by which we receive the gift. Faith is the hand that receives the gift God in His grace desires to give us. In fact, just like we cannot take credit for our hand but it is a gift from our Creator, so we cannot take credit for our faith. Faith itself or any decision to follow Jesus is a work of our gracious God in us. As God says through Paul in a later chapter of this epistle: “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the words of Christ” (Ro. 10:17).
If you or I were dangling precariously from the edge of cliff along the Grand Canyon, holding on for dear life to nothing but a root of a tree jutting out from the rocky precipice, and some rescuers lowered a rope down to us that they might pull us to safety, would we even have to decide if we were going to grab the rope? Of course, not! We would simply grab on and hold on for dear life. We would not even begin to take credit for our rescue? What sort of arrogance would not give the rescuers full credit?
Who then in his right mind would ever want to go back to that brand of justice that dishonors God and His grace by insisting that one must earn through his own merits, good works, or even his decisions, his way to heaven? Thanks be to God such human arrogance has been put to death in the cross of Jesus. In Christ’s merciful willingness to sacrifice himself in our place under the wrath of God, all boasting is totally nullified.
Once again our mouths are silenced. Only this time not by the Law’s accusations but by this good news that God in His grace on account of the works and merits of His Son Jesus Christ is the “Justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Who in their right mind would ever want to argue with this “gospel” ; that is, this good news? This is the eternal gospel we are shown the angel of God proclaiming to those who dwell on earth, in the 14th chapter of Revelation. It is this great news that saves people of every nation and tribe and language and people the world over and truly gives glory to God.
In fact, any preaching or teaching that in any way gives us, unjust, sinful, human beings, any credit whatsoever for our salvation only robs God of the glory of His grace.
This is the only truth, as we hear Jesus speak of in our Gospel reading this morning, that truly sets you, me, any other sinner, totally free. For it alone frees from fear of God’s wrath… frees us from having to try to justify ourselves before God… frees us to live our lives even in these days of pandemic and shut-downs, without panic, anxiety, or uncertainty, but in the full assurance and joy that no matter what might befall us here we are already justified before God Sola Gratia (on account of God’s grace alone)… Sola Christus (due to Christ’s atoning work in our place alone)… and Sola Fide (through faith in Jesus Christ alone not by any of our works or merits).
In our Gospel reading from John we also hear Jesus proclaim to the Jews who believed in Him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (Jn 8:31,32). Only in Jesus’ word as recorded for us in the God-breathed scriptures of the Holy Bible, are we brought this Good News of justification before God and the accompanying freedom it brings.
Again, in His grace God has seen fit to not only publish this Good News so that it can be available to this world of sinners but He has mercifully seen to it that His Word has been read, proclaimed, and taught to you personally. In this way He has graciously insured that the Holy Spirit can bring this good news of your justification before God to your heart and mind and give you faith in Jesus Christ that you might be declared righteous in His sight. God in His grace extends this righteousness to people through the proclamation of the Gospel and through Holy Baptism. Through these Means of Grace, Christ’s righteousness is freely given to be freely received by faith. As the apostle of the Lord states: “Whoever is baptized into Christ has put on Christ” (Romans 6).
Thanks be to God, Dear fellow heirs of the Reformation, you baptized believers in Jesus Christ, that you have been so silenced by the truth of His Law and His Gospel that you can rejoice loudly in the freedom of being declared righteous before God “Sola Fide!”