Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Gospel Pride. . .

Sermon for Reformation, observed, preached on Sunday, October 28, 2018, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.

    Reformation Sunday is always a proud day for us Lutherans, and doubly so for us here at Grace as we get to witness the confession and confirmation of several of our youth.  Today we remember Martin Luther and all the reformers who worked to bring the eternal Gospel of Christ to light in the dark days of the Law oriented medieval church.  Today is a celebration, a celebration of shedding the chains of the Law and putting on the freedom of the Gospel.  We think of this freedom as a freedom from the Law, never having to look back at it again...but that’s not true.  The Reformation was never about getting rid of the Law.  It was about rightly understanding God’s Law and His Gospel. 

I.     We hear the words of Paul in our Epistle reading saying, “by works of the law no human being will be justified in [God’s] sight,” (Rom 3:20) and we think that means the Law is bad.  Then we hear him say, “the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law...through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Rom 3:21-22) and we know the Gospel is good.  But the idea that the Law is bad and the Gospel is good, is a false dichotomy.  Law and Gospel have to go together.  Without the sternness of the Law we couldn’t hear the sweet good news of the Gospel. 

    We assume the Law is bad because it can’t justify us, it can’t make us right with God.  Doing the works of the Law doesn’t earn us brownie points with God; they don’t get our feet in the door heaven.  No matter how many good works we do, no matter how many commandments we keep, it doesn’t make up for our sin.  We can’t erase our sin by following the Law.  In fact, we only know about our sin because of the Law. 

This is exactly what Paul says later on in his letter to the Romans.  “If it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin….I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died” (Rom 7:7, 9).  Paul isn’t saying that he had no sin until he heard the Law.  Paul was always a sinner, even from birth, even from the womb, just as you and I are sinners, born with that original sin passed on from our first parents.  It’s not the commandments that bring about sin within us; no, that’s already inside our heart.  But it is the commandments that shows us our sin. 
When we look at the “Thou shall’s” and “shall not’s” of the Law we see we haven’t done the “shall’s” and we’ve definitely done the “shall not’s.”  This is exactly what we said in our Confession of sins.  We live as if God didn’t matter and as if we matter the most.  We haven’t let God’s love have its way with us so our love for others fails.  We see this when we hear God’s Law, and it kills us, revealing our sin, revealing the eternal death that we deserve.  And because of that, we think it’s bad. 

In our world and society today it seems as if shame and guilt are non-existent.  We’re told to always be positive.  We’re told not to think about our failures and wrong doings, but instead think about our wants and success.  Any message that says we’ve done wrong is seen as hateful, damaging to who we are as a person.  And yet the truth is that we all have done wrong.  “There is no distinction: all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:22-23).   This is the truth, and how can truth be bad? 

This is what the Law is and does.  It’s truth, telling us we’ve sinned, but it’s truth spoken by God. 
The Law can’t be bad because it’s from God, and nothing from God is bad.  The Law is good.  It’s God’s message to us so that we might see our sin, repent of it, and receive His forgiveness in Christ. 
Your works don’t justify you, Christ justifies you.  His work of propitiation, His sacrifice, His living a perfect life according to the Law and then willingly giving that life up on the cross to pay for your sin, that is what justifies you.  His blood cleanses you and makes you holy.  By the grace of God and for the sake of Jesus Christ His Son, our Lord forgives you your sins and declares you righteous.  This is the Gospel, how you’re saved and justified.  This is the sweet good news that you wouldn’t know as good news, unless you first heard God’s good Law. 

II.    God’s Law is good because it shows us our sin and our need for our Savior.  And it’s good because it shows us how we live as God’s redeemed people, how we live out Christ’s righteousness that we’ve received in our Baptism.  And since we are God’s people, since we’ve received Christ’s righteousness, we strive to fulfill the Law. 

There’s the temptation for us to consider the Law as bad because we fear it might breed self-righteousness.  We’re afraid we might begin boasting in our works, putting them forward as things worthy to God, things we should be rewarded for.  This is a real temptation.  Maybe you’ve thought your works were worth something to God? Maybe our Confirmands have thought their works were worth something?

Over the last 2 and 1/2 years these young ladies have done a lot of good work in preparation for today.  They’ve done the work of the second table of the commandments through different service projects.  They’ve done the work of the first table as they’ve studied Scripture and the Small Catechism, as they’ve completed workbook assignments and memory work, and written their essays.  All of this is good work, but these girls won’t boast in them.  They’re not here in front today because of these works.  You’re not here today in God’s house because of your works.  You’re here because of God’s grace, because He has worked faith within you, so that you would trust in Christ, in His salvation, and confess Him as Lord. 

As Paul says in our Epistle, we boast not in our works, but in Christ.  He’s done it all, even calling you to be His own.  You didn’t do a good work deciding to be a Christian, to follow Christ and receive the Gospel.  No, God gave this to you.  He worked faith within you through the words of the Gospel.  God chose you out of the world, to be His people, and He has brought you here, uniting you in the faith.  We don’t have a Law pride, but a Gospel pride.  We boast not in the works of the Law, but in Christ who saved us from everlasting death and condemnation. 

The point of the Reformation was never to get rid of the Law.  The point of the Reformation was to rightly understand God’s Law and Gospel.  Even though the Law doesn’t justify us, it isn’t bad.  It’s good, it comes from the Lord.  It shows us our sin so that we might hear the sweet news of the Gospel.  This is what we boast in.  We do works of the Law because it’s good, and as God’s people we want to do them.  And all the while we boast in our Savior with a Gospel pride, thanking God for the salvation that is ours because of Jesus.  In His name...Amen.  

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