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Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Justified by Faith Alone We Have Peace with God

[A sermon I preached at Christ Church, Longwood, Florida on October 19, 2008.]



A Sermon Outline


Justified by Faith Alone We Have Peace with God



Text: Romans 5:1-11



Lessons: (Jeremiah17:1-18; Psalm 51; Romans 5:1-11; Luke 18:9-14)

Minister Billy Graham

The Reverend Billy Graham tells of a time early in his ministry when he arrived in a small town to preach a sermon. Wanting to mail a letter, he asked a young boy where the post office was. When the boy had told him, Dr. Graham thanked him and said, "If you'll come to the Church this evening, you can hear me telling everyone how to get to Heaven." "I don't think I'll be there," the boy said. "You don't even know your way to the post office."Maybe I don't know my way to the post office either but this morning I hope to be able to tell you how to be righteous before God.

Introduction:

In understanding our text this morning it is useful to understand Paul's presentation of the Gospel to the Romans around 57-59 A.D. and who the readers of his letter are. The church established in Rome is said by most scholars to be composed of both Gentiles, who were in the majority, and Jewish Christians, who were a minority. What Paul wishes to do is to settle any disputes between Gentile and Jewish believers and to give his theological understanding of Gospel and how it is worked out in relation to the works of the law and our standing before God. The modern problem of antinomianism or lawlessness in the more liberal side of the church is probably linked to an ancient heresy known as Pelagianism. Pelagius believed that man was not really evil by nature but only became evil by doing evil acts. And even after that, man still has a free choice of whether to sin or not. Pelagius was provoked to adopt his erroneous ideas after he heard a prayer by Augustine which said, “Grant what you command and command what you will.” Because Pelagius did not believe that God would tell us to do something that we were incapable of doing, he thought Augustine's prayer was unnecessary. The ideas of Pelagius led to the doctrine that humans could merit or earn their acceptance with God. Ironically, the idea that we have an absolutely free will and that there is no corruption of the human nature by original sin leads to the idea of meritorious good works and an overly optimistic view of human potential, which in turn leads to the very lawlessness and sinfulness which Pelagianism attempts to deny!

The theology that we are not sinners by nature leads to the sort of optimism in the goodness of man which leads to antinomianism or lawlessness like that which we see today in the Reformed mainline churches and in the Episcopal Church where priests and bishops are sometimes open homosexuals or worse. The problem today is that when we do not understand the doctrine of justification by faith alone we often fall into the trap of thinking that we are justified by our own righteousness or our own efforts to merit or earn God's approval or favor. This in turn can and does lead to the idea that we can do no wrong. However, I want to demonstrate today that the Bible teaches something totally different from the idea that our good works are meritorious.

According to Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation, justification by faith alone is an essential doctrine by which the visible church stands or falls. Without justification by faith alone there is no true church. Given that all of the Protestants Reformers of the 16th century agreed that justification was by faith alone or sola fide, we too are obligated to search the Scriptures and to understand what the Bible says about our justification.

Before we come to faith, we are enemies of God.

The devotional publication Daily Bread tells this story:

During the Revolutionary War there was a faithful preacher of the gospel by the name of Peter Miller. He lived near a fellow who hated him intensely for his Christian life and testimony. In fact, this man violently opposed him and ridiculed his followers. One day the unbeliever was found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. Hearing about this, Peter Miller set out on foot to intercede for the man’s life before George Washington. The General listened to the minister’s earnest plea, but told him he didn’t feel he should pardon his friend. “My friend! He is not my friend,” answered Miller. “In fact, he’s my worst living enemy.” “What!” said Washington. “You have walked 60 miles to save the life of your enemy? That, in my judgment, puts the matter in a different light. I will grant your request.” With pardon in hand, Miller hastened to the place where his neighbor was to be executed, and arrived just as the prisoner was walking to the scaffold. When the traitor saw Miller, he exclaimed, “Old Peter Miller has come to have his revenge by watching me hang!” But he was astonished as he watched the minister step out of the crowd and produce the pardon which spared his life.

[Hughes, R. K. (1991). Romans : Righteousness from heaven. Preaching the Word (109). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.]

Friends, we too are in need of a pardon because at one point we were the enemies of God. I want to explain why by summarizing Paul's doctrine of the law and the Gospel from chapters 1 through 5. The culmination of this argument is our text this morning, Romans 5:1-11.

An Outline of Paul's arguments leading up to Chapter 5.

Paul introduces the Gospel in chapter 1 verses 16 to 17: Romans 1:16-17 (ESV) 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

The key to the book of Romans is verse 17. Another way of translating it, though it is not as accurate, is to say that the righteous by faith shall live. If you read it like this, you will get the meaning: The righteous BY FAITH... shall live.

Verse 18 and following shows that God does not tolerate the wickedness of men and that men are without excuse. Essentially, they are blinded and hardened by their own sinfulness and they refuse to be thankful or to glorify God.

In chapter 2 Paul argues that Gentiles have the law of God written in their hearts because they too have some basis for morality and civility. So when the Gentiles exhibit a moral superiority to the Jews who have the law of Moses, they bring conviction upon the Jews. Apparently, Paul is arguing against Jews who think that because they have the law of Moses that they are morally superior to the Gentiles who do not have the law.

Paul says: Romans 2:6-11 (ESV)6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.

This would appear at first sight to say that we are saved by doing good works since Paul clearly says that those who are “well-doing” receive eternal life and that God does not show partiality nor is He a respecter of persons.

But Paul is not saying that the Gentiles are any less sinful than Jews because in chapter 3 Paul tells us that all Jews and Gentiles alike are under sin. In other words, even though the Gentiles have the law of God written in their hearts, they, like the Jews are inconsistent in doing good and fall short of God's command to keep the law perfectly.

Romans 3:9-12 (ESV)9 What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, ... (Romans 3:22b-23, ESV).

Therefore, by the works of the law no one is able to be justified:

Romans 3:20 (ESV)20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Galatians 2:15-16 (ESV)15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

Finally in chapter 4 Paul argues that God does not justify the righteous at all. Instead God justifies the ungodly! How upside down is that?

Romans 4:5 (ESV)5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,

Thus, our justification is counted toward us based on faith and not based on how good we are in our hearts or how many good deeds we do. The reason Paul gives is that even though we testify to God's goodness when we do good according to the law of Moses or according to the law written in our hearts, the law reveals that we are also sinners. Since the law requires perfect obedience, then our good works cannot be the means or ground or basis of our justification before God because we fall short of the mark. Sorry but God does not grade on a curve. He requires 100% obedience if we are to be justified by our own goodness.


Jesus required perfect obedience:


Matthew 5:17-20 (ESV) 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.



Some have tried to lessen the impact of this by saying that Jesus was not actually requiring perfect obedience but only an “evangelical” obedience that is easier to keep than the Old Testament law of Moses. But this does not accept the text at face value. Essentially God is requiring us to do what He knows we are unable to do just as Augustine said.




Paul understands that Jesus is teaching that it is impossible for men to keep God's law perfectly as well. Over and over again Jesus does not lower the standards of the Old Testament but instead raises the bar even higher. See the beatitudes. Even Jesus' disciples got the message when they saw the rich young ruler walk away from Jesus: Matthew 19:25-26 (ESV)25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”



Jesus sees that the Pharisees think they are doing good works above and beyond the call of duty but over and over again Jesus challenges us to do more than even the Pharisees! Even if we do more than any other Christian on earth, we have not done more than God requires, according to Jesus, for He says: Luke 17:7-10 (ESV)7 “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? 8 Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? 9 Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’ ”



Imputed righteousness versus infused righteousness during the Protestant Reformation. The error of the Roman Catholic Church is that it teaches a twofold view of justification. According the Roman Catholic view:



At baptism the believer is regenerated and infused with righteousness so that the believer is actually and inherently righteous. After baptism, when the believer sins, the level of infused righteousness goes down and is depleted so that it is necessary for the believer to do penance in order to merit a recharge of inward or inherent righteousness of the heart. A water balloon filled with water.



The problem with the Roman Catholic view is that it takes away from the finished work of Christ on the cross. Christ effectively only pays for sins committed prior to baptism and not those committed afterwards. After the initial salvation of the believer, now the cross is ineffective and must have additional works of penance in order to restore the sinner to a fullness of righteousness. So any sin committed after baptism must be paid for by the sinner through penance. In essence, then, Christ did not fully pay for all our sins, even though Catholic teaching says He did.



This view leaves the sinner eternally insecure and there can be no real assurance of salvation. Rome confuses justification, which is a state of being declared not guilty, with sanctification, which in the Protestant view is the progressive growth in becoming more and more like Christ as we near the time of our death and our glorification. Biblical teaching always distinguishes between the doctrine of justification and the doctrine of sanctification.



The Protestant Reformers realized that the Bible teaches that justification is a legal declaration made by God. In other words, righteousness is credited to us or imputed to us by a legal decree of not guilty. It is an objective decree that is outside of us and not a righteousness inherent in us nor infused into the heart. Justification is therefore an objective fact based on what Christ did on the cross to propitiate or appease the wrath of God against His elect.



The biblical view is that righteousness is a declaration of not guilty by God as our Judge. O.J. Simpson was declared not guilty in a court of law after he was charged with murdering his wife. Even though he was most likely guilty, O.J. walked away a free man because he was legally and forensically declared “not guilty.” The wrath of society against O.J. was legally appeased and propitiated.



Likewise, we are guilty but we are declared righteous by God. The difference is that after we are converted, even though we are still sinners, the Holy Spirit begins the process of making us more like Jesus. He sanctifies us and sets us apart to do God's will.

Justification and sanctification are distinct and separate gifts.

Justification is our legal standing before God and is based on the objective work of Christ in His obedience to God and in His atoning death on the cross.

Sanctification is twofold.

Sanctification is an event in time when we by faith receive Christ and we are outwardly and objectively declared righteous. We are at that point completely sanctified in Christ and cleansed from all our sins by the blood. The basis for our initial sanctification is always the objective fact of the cross, not what our inherent condition is.

Sanctification is an inherent grace of the Holy Spirit whereby He begins the process of purifying us and making us inwardly holy in our heart and outwardly holy in our behavior. This process of being progressively sanctified is lifelong and may often face setbacks and ups and downs. We never reach perfect holiness in this life due to the effects of the remaining corruption within us. Our obedience to God is always relative and imperfect. We never arrive but we can only press on toward the mark.

While it is true that good works necessarily follow our conversion as a proof of true conversion, the Second Helvetic Confession says:

WE ARE NOT SAVED BY GOOD WORKS. Nevertheless, as was said above, we do not think that we are saved by good works, and that they are so necessary for salvation that no one was ever saved without them. For we are saved by grace and the favor of Christ alone. Works necessarily proceed from faith. And salvation is improperly attributed to them, but is most properly ascribed to grace. The apostle's sentence is well known: "If it is by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. But if it is of works, then it is no longer grace, because otherwise work is no longer work" (Rom. 11:6).

This is how a person can be saved late in life even after living a life of open debauchery or worse. We do not do good works to be saved but we do good out of gratitutde to God for saving us. He gives us mercy when what we deserved is justice.

Prior to faith we are under God's wrath and we are His enemies.

This is clearly from Paul's discussion in chapter 1:18ff and chapters 2-3 where he argues at length that both Jews and Gentiles have the law. Gentiles have a natural law in their hearts. Jews have the oracles of God from Moses.

Both Jews and Gentiles do good but they both also sin. Therefore all are condemned under the law and no one is righteous because the law of God expects perfect obedience in order to justify ourselves before God.

We are enemies of God and remain under His wrath many times over precisely because not only are we born guilty of Adam's original sin but also because we become lawbreakers from the time we are able to make conscious choices. As the famous Puritan preacher, Jonathan Edwards once said, we are literally sinners in the hands of an angry God.

There is a war between God and sinful human beings and we are His enemies. As the hippies at Haight Asbury Street in the 70's once said, “We are the people our parents warned us against.” There is nothing good enough in us to make us worthy or acceptable to God and none of our good works can please Him because we are His enemies.

We are by nature children of God's wrath: Ephesians 2:3 (ESV)3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

God's wrath is not incompatible with His love because as a heavenly Father and as a sovereign He has every right to expect that children should return and reciprocate His love. However, what God gets instead is all kinds of rebellion and even hatred returned to Him.


Even entire provinces of the church can be in open and defiant rebellion against God and His law. Because God is holy and loving He can justly expect that we should be like Him:


Matthew 5:48 (ESV) 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.



This is indeed a bleak picture. It seems like an impossible situation and you are very right. It IS an impossible situation. We know what we should do yet we do not do it. Before conversion we are slaves to sin. Yes, even after conversion we do good but it is never enough to be a basis for our justification before God. Even the 39 Articles of Religion say this:

XIII. Of Works before Justification. WORKS done before the grace of Christ and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ, neither do they make men meet to receive grace, or (as the School authors say) deserve grace of congruity: yea, rather for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin.

Even AFTER we come to believe in Jesus Christ, Good works are still not the basis, ground or foundation of our salvation/justification in Christ: XII. Of Good Works. ALBEIT that good works, which are the fruits of faith and follow after justification, cannot put away our sins and endure the severity of God's judgement, yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively faith, insomuch that by them a lively faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit.

The question now becomes the question that the rich young ruler asked of the Lord Jesus in our reading a few weeks ago in Matthew 19:16 (ESV)16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”

We, like the rich young ruler do not get it. We, like him, think we have kept the law and that we therefore deserve to be forgiven. When the young man tells Jesus that he has kept all of the law, he leaves out the part about not coveting riches. Jesus, perceiving this, tells the young man to sell everything he owns and give to the poor. Notice that Jesus never says he is to give it all to the poor. He just says, “Sell everything and give to the poor.” The question was meant to reveal that the young man had NOT kept the whole law but had broken at least one law, Thou shalt not covet.

James tells us that if we have broken one law, we are guilty of breaking them all: James 2:10 (ESV) 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.

There are even sins of omission: James 4:17 (KJV)17 Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.

Thus, we sin not only in outward actions but also in our thoughts and words. Sin resides in the heart and all evil proceeds out of the heart, which is desperately wicked and sick. (See Jeremiah 17:9).

Matthew 15:18-20 (ESV)18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”

As the Prayer Book says in the confession of sin before the Lord's Supper, we sin in thought, word and deed. We sin in things we have done and in things we have left undone.

Conclusion:

So when we reach the point when realize that the law has driven us to despair of our own righteousness, we realize that we have lost the war against God. God never changes and He will never lower the standards of the law. God cannot remain just and holy if He tolerates wickedness or evil to any degree at all. There is no hope of winning against God because He never gets tired. He never loses even one war or one battle. We have no strength in ourselves to do what God commands us to do yet He still expects us to do it if we are to save ourselves by our own righteousness. But the irony here is that we cannot save ourselves or keep God's law. This is why God has made another way for us.

John 14:6 (ESV)6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

God made a plan where He would satisfy His own justice and His own holiness. Believe me, we want a holy and just God. Can you imagine what God would be like if He were all-powerful and evil at the same time? But no, God is holy and good and His holiness demands justice, else He would not be good or benevolent.

So to satisfy His justice and His wrath against sinners, God sent His Son, Jesus Christ to live a perfect life in our place and to merit eternal life for us by never sinning even once! So, as the Prayer Book says over and over again, it is not by our own righteousness or our own merits but by the merits of Christ!!! I want you to listen carefully at the communion service and you'll hear it again. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under His table but by the merits of Christ we are credited with His worthiness. And instead of our having to suffer the penalty of God's law, which would be an eternity separated from God in hell, Jesus suffered in our place by being crucified and shedding His precious blood on the cross: 1 Peter 2:24 (ESV)24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

So at the point where we agree to surrender to God without any preconditions, at that very moment an event takes place in heaven whereby God, the eternal Judge, declares us righteous, just, and not guilty. It is a legal event in the courtroom of heaven. It is an event that precedes the resulting action in verse 1. Because we have been declared not guilty, we are justified and we have peace with God. We are no longer enemies. We have been reconciled to God and God has been reconciled to us and we are now in a right relationship. Even though we are not perfect or actually righteous inside, God looks at us and sees the blood of Christ covering us and He no longer sees us as sinners but as righteous. We now have access into the very throne room in heaven. We are clothed with the righteousness of Christ. And as Romans 8:1 says: (ESV)1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

What is even more amazing is that Jesus Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, yet ungodly, while we were still His enemies! We might dare to die for a good man but Christ died for us while we were yet lawbreakers and fighting against Him.

Just one more illustration before I close. We are often angry with God because we think He has unrealistic expectations of us. We feel that we can never measure up to His law. And we are right about that. That is why Jesus had to live a perfect life and merit eternal life for us. Martin Luther's testimony is much like our own experience:

“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 he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God, and said, "As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the decalogue (ten commandments), without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!" Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted.”

“At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, "In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, 'He who through faith is righteous shall live.'" There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, "He who through faith is righteous shall live." Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. There a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me. Thereupon I ran through the Scripture from memory. I also fount in other terms an analogy, as, the work of God, that is what God does in us, the power of God, with which he makes us wise, the strength of God, the salvation of God, the glory of God.”

“And I extolled my sweetest word with a love as great as the hatred with which I had before hated the word "righteousness of God." Thus that place in Paul was for me truly the gate to paradise. Later I read Augustine's The Spirit and the Letter, where contrary to hope I found that he, too, interpreted God's righteousness in a similar way, as the righteousness with which God clothes us when he justifies us.”

Like the man about to be hanged and like Martin Luther, we think that God hates us for no reason. We have the wrong idea that God is really out to get us when really He wants to show His elect people that He loves us and wants us to experience His love and forgiveness. Because God loved us while we were yet weak, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly. Not only that but the Father planned from before creation that Jesus would be slain for our redemption (see Rev. 13:8). We are His enemies until we believe and then we are no longer enemies but friends of God. We are then at peace with God and He is at peace with us. The war and the rebellion is over. And even better than that, when we realize that God's peace is with us, we can experience an inner peace and an assurance of salvation that brings us real joy no matter what our circumstances are in life.

Though we do not deserve mercy, we receive God's grace, His unmerited favor. By grace through faith we obtain access to a relationship with Almighty God.

If you are here today and you don't have that kind of peace with God, may I suggest that you call Pastor David and speak with him in private? I do not believe in altar calls, but I do believe that we are to be converted and to become disciples of Christ and members of a local church. Or maybe you are a Christian and a member of the church but you do not have the assurance that you are a child of God? Maybe you don't have the peace of God which passes all understanding? If so, you can have that peace and assurance today through faith in Jesus Christ, the only mediator between God and men.

Romans 5:1-2 (ESV)1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

Soli Gloria Deo!

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