Reformation Day October 27, 2019
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. 20 Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. 21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.
In the Name of Jesus.
A day of great celebration in the Church: Reformation Day.
But, as a strange thing, the one thing we cannot hear on the Day of the Reformation of the Church is a sermon about the Reformation. Because, if we heard a sermon about the Reformation, that sermon would be a denial of the Reformation, because the Reformation was about one particular matter, and that matter concerns what is preached in the Church.
So, first, a few things the Reformation was not about.
The Reformation was not about reforming the Church to rid her of outdated worship practices. We are thankful for our brothers and sisters who have gone before us, and we worship with them. The Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene, and the Athanasian, they are not discarded or updated—they can’t be. These Creeds belong to the Church of every generation and no one generation takes it upon itself to treat them as trash. The Church continues confessing and extolling them with one voice in every generation.
The Reformation was not about tearing down crucifixes or statues of saints, or tearing out stained glass windows, or any other destruction of arts which extol the Gospel. Luther himself treasured the gifts of music and art in the Church, and himself practiced the beautiful chanting of the Liturgy and singing of hymns.
The Reformation was not about cleaning up the corruption and debauchery of the bishops and priests in Rome. There’s much corruption, much grabbing for political power, much sexual debauchery which needs cleaning up. But this is always the case in our sinful world, and this is not what the Reformation was about.
The Reformation was not about Church governance or political alignments. We can read the Lutheran Confessions and we will find nothing of how the Church must be organized for governance, nothing of whether it should be run out of a city like Rome, or a city like Wittenberg or St. Louis. How many bishops should the Church have, how many years of seminary for a pastor? We will find nothing in the Confessions of the Church to give an answer.
Nor was the Reformation about what type of government a Christian should live under. Under a King or under a democracy, in a republic or in a dictatorship—the confessions say nothing about how a Christian can expect to live under government.
Then what is the Reformation about? About one thing only. It is about what is preached in the Church. What is preached in the Church is, The justification of the sinner before God. This is the Article of Justification:
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 believe 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 (Romans 3).
That’s Article Four of the Augsburg Confession. It has been called the Article upon which the Church stands or falls. It is the Article which the Pope rejects, such that he excommunicates anyone who teaches this article, ruling that the Article of Justification is Anathema.
But this is the preaching of the Church. This is what we teach our children. This is what every sinner needs to hear:
The sinner cannot be justified before God by his own strength, merit, or work, but is freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when he has faith that he is received into God’s favor and his 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.
To the Christians in Rome, the Apostle Paul wrote:
By the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for 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, to demonstrate His righteousness,
This is Justification. Upon this Article the Church stands or falls—not only the Church in Rome to whom Paul was writing at that time, but the Church of every generation, for the Lord gave these words through Paul, in order to have them delivered in Holy Scripture to the Church of every generation and every place.
The sinner is justified, says Paul, not by any works of the Law: By the deeds of the Law, no flesh will be justified in [God’s] sight, for by the Law is the knowledge of sin.
Not by any work of the Law are we justified. By no work of love, by no effort of making ourselves worthy, by no tally sheet of accruing merit—by no work of the Law will we be justified says Paul.
Then why the Law? If the Law is not there because we can keep it and make ourselves worthy; if the Law is not there as a way for us to accrue merit; if the Law is not there for us build up self in love; then why the Law?
The Law, says Paul, gives the knowledge of sin. [Romans 3:20]
The Law shows us not how to gain merit, but how sinful we are. The Law shows us not how to be worthy, but how unworthy we are before God. The Law always accuses. The Law always exposes guilt, always covers in shame. The Law never gives comfort, never cleanses, but condemns.
Why the Law? So we will know our need of a Savior; so we will see our total inability to be worthy before God; and we will, instead, look for a Redeemer. Not being able to justify ourselves, we finally rejoice in hearing the Word of the One who is our justifier, Jesus Christ, justifying freely by his grace.
If anyone were to us, What was the Reformation about, and what is the Reformation still about, until our Lord comes again? it is about this, The preaching in the church that the sinner is justified by no work, merit, or worthiness of his own, but is justified freely before God for the sake of Christ, through faith, and that the sinner’s sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by his death, made full satisfaction for our sins. This faith in Christ, God accounts to us as righteousness.
Not about Church power or governance, not about bishops and cardinals, not about cleaning up corruption and debauchery, not about candles and vestments and statues and stained glass, not about an office building in Rome or Wittenberg or St. Louis or anywhere else, but about one thing: the justification of the sinner before God freely for Christ’s sake through faith.
Everything in the Church, said Martin Luther, is ordered toward the forgiveness of sins.
The proclamation of the sermon? Jesus forgives the sins of every sinner.
The Confession and Absolution? The forgiveness of sins by the Word of Jesus spoken by the pastor.
The Lord’s Supper? Jesus giving us his Body and Blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of our sins.
The mutual conversation of the Christians at home or in the hospital and everywhere else? The comfort of Jesus speaking the forgiveness of sins given as a gift from one Christian to another, so that we are building one another up in the Gospel.
Everything in the Church is ordered toward this: The forgiveness of sins, the justification of the sinner before God through faith in Christ Jesus. Everything in the Church is ordered toward, as Paul says,
That we are justified freely by [God’s] grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by his blood, through faith, … that God might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
In the Name of Jesus.