Reformation 500 Sermon 1 Resting in the Righteousness of Christ Alone
The great philosopher, Joe Walsh, said in the “History of the Eagles” documentary:
“You know, there’s a philosopher who says, “As you live your life, it appears to be anarchy and chaos, and random events, non-related events, smashing into each other and causing this situation or that situation, and then, this happens, and it’s overwhelming, and it just looks like what in the world is going on. And later, when you look back at it, it looks like a finely crafted novel. But at the time, it don’t.”
This is just as true in your life and my life as it was during the Reformation, 500 years ago this month, and it has been true every year since the Fall of Man in the Garden and the curse of sin and chaos God laid on this earth so he could show his redeeming, forgiving love to us.
Martin Luther, who stood on the shoulders of giants like John Huss and John Wycliff, wanted to be normal. He wanted his world, internal and external, to be normal. But he was haunted. Haunted by a rather cruel father that wanted his son to be a lawyer, but wasted his money by being a priest, disappointing him deeply. Haunted by a holy God, who condemned him for his sin that he could not, as hard as he tried, be appeased by human effort. He was haunted by the cathedral, whose spires reached to the sky, but his own spiritual life was in the grave. He went to confession, and wore out his priests with endless confession of endless sins, and then confessions that he hadn’t confessed enough, or had confessed too much, which led to more confession. Then he would beat himself, starve himself, and hope that God saw his personal piety and would somehow release him from the constant guilt and shame of his past.
If we freeze the story of the Protestant Reformation right there, with Luther curled up in a fetal position on a cold stone floor, weeping and moaning over his sin, both real and imagined, that doesn’t look like how great movements begin. He looks depressed and worthless.
But that’s the perfect place to be to start a movement of God. Humbled, broken, not sure of what to do next.
What was it that set his heart right? What was it that changed his perspective, picked him up off the floor and gave him the will not just to live, but to confront sin in his life and the church?
In the midst of his misery, in the midst of his worst guilt and self-loathing and God-hating anger, Luther threw himself into study, hoping to distract himself by preparing a series of lectures on the Psalms and Romans. And there, in the Word, he found the answer.
“I greatly longed to understand Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression in Romans, “The righteousness/justice of God”… Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that “the just shall live by faith.” Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.”
That was the missing piece, the reason sinful humans could love God—the doctrine of justification by faith alone, through Christ alone. This rediscovery led to a wildfire of revival across Europe called “The Reformation.” It changed the world forever, and we celebrate this every week at Dayspring when we approach God through Jesus Christ and his merits.
There is really only one other option—rely on law. Rely on rules. Rely on tradition. Rely on your own righteousness, your own plan for justice being accomplished, by in some way, paying for your own sin.
This is what happened in the Galatian church. Paul wrote a church that had people in it whose message was that Jesus was good, Jesus was helpful, but without personal righteousness through the laws and traditions they upheld, you still would not please God and experience real salvation.
What was the result? Tell me if this sounds like your life sometimes, this is how Jack Miller described the Galatian church situation:
Characteristics of the Galatian Church
1. Relying on Law ….fallen from Grace
Galatians 5:2-4 2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.
2. A return to slavery
Galatians 4:8-11 8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. 9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years! 11 I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.
3. A loss of joy
Galatians 4:15 15 Where is that joyful and grateful spirit you felt then?
4. A sense of confusion
5:7-10 7 You were running the race so well. Who has held you back from following the truth? 8 It certainly isn’t God, for he is the one who called you to freedom. 9 This false teaching is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough! 10 I am trusting the Lord to keep you from believing false teachings. God will judge that person, whoever he is, who has been confusing you.
5. A critical/gossiping spirit
5:13-15 13 For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. 14 For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”15 But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.
6. A powerlessness over the flesh
5:16-18 16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
7. An empty boasting in outward appearances
6:12-14 12 It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. 14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
This is what the gospel has always been fighting against—man-centered religion. Rules-based plans for getting on the good side of God’s justice. It immediately rose up and the Catholic church was just one of many victims of this guilt-laden false solution for salvation that takes away joy and replaces it with the smug satisfaction we feel when we pass a policeman going 65 RIGHT ON THE NOSE and the speed limit is 65. That is as good as it gets for rule keepers, right?
But there’s something more. More satisfying than not living in fear of the Cosmic Cop. More hopeful than thinking you might get away with it because he might not care. More loving because a loving God has left us a solution in his Son, demonstrated clearly at this Table, as we rejoice in his atoning work for twice damned humanity. I say “twice” because not only does God condemn us, but our own consciences condemn our sin. That’s why a double solution, double imputation, is needed. Not only does Jesus impute to me his righteousness, his right standing before God’s law and his own sonship, but I impute to him my sin, and in that moment, in that great exchange, I need no saint or treasury of merit or purgatory or holy water. There is no room for that superstition there. Only room for Christ to reach out and grab us and draw us to the Father and fill us with his Spirit, so we will be united forever. That’s the only hope for mankind that is available here today for all who will repent of their sin, give their sinful, twisted life to Jesus and receive his new life, his right standing before his Father, transferred to us.
Let us pray.