Pastor’s October message, 2017
Can the Sinner Justify Himself?
The man came to Jesus to learn “how to inherit eternal life.” But Jesus didn’t give the answer he wanted.
The man was a lawyer—he knew how to use God’s Word to find rules and regulations to control himself and others, to figure out good works and design a good life. He knew what the Law required: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all you mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” [LUKE 10:27] The man had nailed it. “You have answered correctly,” said Jesus, “Do this and, and you will live.”
Has there ever been a bleaker delivery of the Law. “Do this, and you shall live!” For it follows from this that “If you don’t do this, that is, if you fall short of this, then you die.” Jesus leaves no crack for the man to wiggle through.
But the man won’t be stopped from trying: “But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor.’” The lawyer searches for an escape, for a little crack in the Law he can crawl through before he’s destroyed.
We can’t blame the lawyer for trying. The sinful flesh, under the Law’s condemnation, wants to live one more day. But the game was up already with Scripture’s description, “But he, desiring to justify himself …” [LUKE 10:29]
That’s the chief sin, to desire to justify self. This is the attempt of the sinful flesh to use the Law to find righteousness—and there is no higher blasphemy than that.
The Chief Purpose of The Law
For by the Law, the sinner is never justified. [GALATIANS 2:16] Then why the Law? The Law always accuses! That is our Lord’s chief use of the Law, to accuse the sinner, to condemn the sinful flesh, to rip from the sinner any self-importance or pretension that the sinful flesh can use the Law to improve self.
For, the sinful flesh (the “Old Adam” or the “old man”, as Paul refers to it [E.G., EPHESIANS 4:22]) can never be im-proved or made clean. The “old man of sin” can only be daily put to death in repentance.
How then will the sinner be justified?
This is the foundational question of the Reformation. When, some 500 years ago, Luther realized that sinful man could not improve or justify himself, nor make any payment for his own sins, Luther was left with no answer of how to be justified before God. Until, that is, he saw what was in front of him all along. Not in the Pope’s teaching of the sinner making satisfaction for his own sin, nor in the sinner’s daily attempts at improvement self-justification, nor in any effort or decision made by the sinner, but only and completely by the grace of God.
Only God Can Justify
The sinner cannot justify. But God can. And God does. It’s a free-gift, it’s grace. It is a righteousness freely imputed to the sinner by the voice of God. Romans 3:23:
The righteousness of God [is] through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who have faith. For there is no difference; all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith.
If someone asks, Why the Reformation?, here’s the answer: the Reformation is simply, from top to bottom, about God justifying the sinner. We teach that people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works. People are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they have faith that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. By his death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins. God counts this faith for righteousness in his sight.
[AUGUSBURG CONFESSION, ARTICLE VI]
By this gift of grace, by this word declaring the sinner righteous, God creates the heart of faith. This is the life of the New Man, the man of faith [E.G., EPHESIANS 4:24]. We live, at the same time, in our sinful flesh (the old man of sin) and in our life of faith (the new man). And while the old man of sin is daily put to death in repentance, the man of faith lives only by the Gospel.
In the Name of Jesus,
March 01, 2018
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