IN NOMINE JESU
This text spells out the chief article of Christian doctrine of justification: We are saved solely by God's grace and not by our works. God declares us righteous exclusively for the sake of His Son, Jesus Christ, who bled and died for us sinners. On the basis of Holy Scripture, the Augsburg Confession states: "Our churches 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" (AC IV). Justification by grace through faith is the article on which the Christian church stands or falls, for without God's declaratory act of forgiving the sinner, we would be forever doomed. While this is great news for us, it is sad to know that most sects of Christendom do not hold to this central teaching of Scripture. Sadly, this truth is found only in this the Evangelical-Lutheran Church. While it is sad that many others who claim to be Christians do not have this joy, we rejoice that we do have it. We have the joy of knowing that God loves you, and there's nothing you can do about it!
Yes, fellow redeemed, there is nothing you can do about the fact that God loves you. You cannot reject this reality and substitute it with one of your own. To deny this reality is to deny the reality that God exists. It is impossible to deny, on the basis of Scripture, that God the Father has created you, that God the Son has redeemed you, and that God the Holy Spirit has sanctified you. Scripture tells us, especially in our text, that God has made you alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, you who conducted yourselves in the lusts of your flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, who were by nature children of wrath—the wrath of God. Yes, God loves you, and there's nothing—absolutely nothing—you can do about it. There is no need to say "Hail, Mary" or the Lord's Prayer countless times on end to earn forgiveness; God tells us in His Word that we are saved freely by His grace, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" (vv. 8-9).
But boasting is so appealing to us that we cannot help ourselves. We like to think that we have a part in earning our way into heaven; it makes us "feel" good. This is why we find false teachings appealing. This is why we like to hear those so-called Gospel songs that espouse false teaching. We do not—and cannot—"decide" to follow Jesus. Martin Luther teaches us, on the clear basis of Scripture, that we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to Him. Yet we are to fear, love, and trust in Him above all things. But we do not for we cannot. The human heart is filled with sin, and sin is borne of hatred for God. This is why we like to "feel" like we are contributing to our salvation by doing or saying this or that. Such beliefs and attitudes are insulting to Christ. It is as if we are telling Him, "It's OK, Jesus; I know that You meant well by going to the cross to die. I know You had good intentions, thinking You could bring about our forgiveness. I know You felt like You were doing the right thing. But I feel like I need to do something about this. I feel like I need to complete the deal for You." According to the Lutheran Confessions, we believe, teach, and confess, in accordance with the Word of God, "Truly, we insult Christ and abrogate the Gospel if we believe that we obtain the forgiveness of sins because of the law or in any other way except by faith in Christ…. Even supposing that love and works are present, neither love nor works can be a propitiation for sin. We cannot set them against the wrath and judgment of God, according to the passage (Ps. 143:2), 'Enter not into judgment with Thy servant; for no man living is righteous before Thee.' Nor should the honor of Christ be transferred to our works" (Ap XII 77, 78). And again, "If somebody believes that he obtains the forgiveness of sins because he loves, he insults Christ and in God's judgment he will discover that this trust in his own righteousness was wicked and empty. Therefore it must be faith that reconciles and justifies" (Ap IV 150). Let it suffice to say that we sinners cannot love God, and there's nothing we can do about it.
"But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus" (vv. 4-7). God made us alive by sending His Son to die for us. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved" (Jn. 3:16-17). To make this more personal for you, hear these words again in another light. God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which he loved YOU, even when YOU were dead in trespasses, made YOU alive with Christ and raised YOU up, for God so loved YOU that He gave His only-begotten Son, that by believing in Him YOU would not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son to YOU to condemn YOU, but that YOU through Him would be saved. God has given you the promise of eternal life, for He has declared you righteous—not guilty—on account of the saving work of His Son, your Lord Jesus Christ, on the cross, who gave His body and shed His blood for you and has seated you in the heavenly places here on earth…here in His house, where He comes to you and makes you alive with His life-giving, life-saving, and life-changing Word, sending into you His Holy Spirit, who calls you by the Gospel, enlightens you with His gifts, sanctifies, and keeps you in the one true faith, for you "are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (v. 10). This means, fellow redeemed and justified children of God, that we get to do good works resulting from our faith, as evidence of the faith our Triune God has given us. As sinner-saints, we love, for God has first loved us. Yes, God loves you, and there's nothing you can do about it, thanks be to God!
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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