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Out with the Law; In with the Gospel

Romans 3:20,27-28 (19-28)

Rev. Thomas Handrick, Sr.

*Reformation Day (Oct 31)
Immanuel Lutheran Church & School  
Perryville, MO

View Associated File

Sun, Oct 28, 2007
*Reformation Day (Oct 31)

Standard LSB C Readings:
First: Rev 14:6-7
Epistle: Rom 3:19-28
Gospel: John 8:31-36 or Matt 11:12-19


In the name of the Triune God—Father,  Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

(Rom 3:20, 27-28) "For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.  Then what becomes of our boasting?  It is excluded.  By what kind of law?  By a law of works?  No, but by the law of faith.  For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law."

INTRODUCTION: Dear fellow Reformation heritage Lutheran saints.

Out with the old; in with the new!

• We buy a new refrigerator, range, and dishwasher and the appliance store delivers them.  Out with the old; in with the new!

• We buy a new dining room table and chairs and the furniture store delivers them.  Out with the old; in with the new!

• We buy a new car, van, or truck and drive it home.  Out with the old; in with the new!

• The previous season's flowers die and we replace them with the new season's varieties.  Out with the old; in with the new!

• We buy new clothes and shoes and bring them home.  Out with the old; and … Whoa!  Wait a minute!  There's a limit to doing away with items that feel comfortable, even if they are old!

By the way, did you realize that our Reformation heritage is an out-with-the-old-in-with-the-new reality?  It's the reality that we are saved

• by God-given grace alone,

• through Spirit-given faith alone,

• in the crucified and resurrected Christ alone,

• as revealed in Spirit-inspired Scripture alone.

So it was that 490 years ago on October 31, 1517, a not-yet-widely-known priest by the name of Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the cathedral door in Wittenberg, Germany.  That action was an invitation to publicly discuss the church's teachings that Dr. Luther discovered were wrong according to what he read in God's Holy Word.

You see, the church of his day (as many of today's churches also do) taught a conditional grace.  That conditional grace admits that we are saved by God's grace … but it adds that we have to be worthy of that grace.  And, in order to be worthy of God's grace we have to obey certain laws, fulfill certain obligations, and match up to certain standards.  Luther emphatically stated in 1535, "To want to merit grace by works which precede faith is to want to appease God by sins; which is nothing but adding sins to sins, laughing at God, and provoking His wrath."

The problem, then, is that God's grace that is correctly defined as undeserved and unmerited favor is made into something that we try to deserve and merit.  When that happens, grace is no longer grace, as St. Paul referred to a few chapters later in this same epistle when he wrote,

(Rom 11:6 ESV) "But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace." 

That is, it becomes law-based works righteousness because of which Satan wins and God loses.

When Martin Luther discovered this soul-stirring reality, he began his lifelong crusade to reform the church by correcting the incorrect teachings according to Holy Scripture.  As a result, he energetically devoted his efforts to a campaign of …

Transition: OUT WITH THE LAW; IN WITH THE GOSPEL knowing full well that God's Law Declares Us Sinful and God's Gospel Declares Us Forgiven.

I. GOD'S LAW DECLARES US SINFUL. [19, 21-23: "Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.  But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.  For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, … ."] Please don't misunderstand.  Luther wasn't discarding God's Law even as Jesus Himself didn't eliminate it.  In fact, our Savior declared about this very matter,

(Matt 5:17-18 ESV) "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.  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." 

God's Law is certainly a very good and beneficial thing when we properly understand and apply it, but not when we use it to conditionalize salvation.  The healthy purpose of His Law is to make us realize that …

A. We are accountable to God.  Luther said in a sermon he preached on Matthew 22:34-36, "The first knowledge of the Law consists in this, that we see the inability of human nature to keep it.  God, then, wants to achieve no more with the Law than getting us thereby to recognize our inability, our frailty, and sickness—to recognize that, so far as we are concerned, we cannot keep one letter of the Law.  When you feel that, the Law has done its work."

Personal accountability is disappearing or already lost in much of today's society.  People blame other people, circumstances, and situations for their own mistakes, weaknesses, and shortcomings.

• "The dog ate my homework," pleads the student who didn't complete the assignment.

• "The elected leaders aren't doing things the way I think they should be done so I won't participate in or support the organization," argues the person whose participation and support are weak or non-existent.

• "This new gizmo isn't doing what the advertisement claimed it would do," accuses the person who neglects to read and follow the instructions.

Accountability and the guilt that goes along with it ultimately move out of the earthly realm and into the heavenly realm of our relationship with God Himself.  Like Adam and Eve we try to blame one another and even God Himself for our sins.  It is in such a situation that His Law intends to make us realize that …

B. We are guilty as charged.  The apostle Paul perhaps stated it best when he wrote,

(Rom 7:7 ESV) "Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin."

That's the great value and benefit of God's Law, namely, that it makes us realize our utter depravity before the one true holy and righteous God.  It makes us realize that we simply cannot justify, cleanse, or sanctify ourselves.  We stand before Judge God guilty as charged, fully exposed as sinful and unclean, and facing His righteous wrath and just anger.  Because of that, we deserve temporal punishment and eternal damnation in the fiery confines of hell, eternally separated from God.

In his sermon on Galatians 3:23-29 that he preached in 1522, Martin Luther said, "God wants to teach man to know himself through the Law.  He wants him to see how false and unjust his heart is, how far he still is from God, and how entirely impotent his nature is.  Thus man is to be humbled, to creep to the cross, to sigh for Christ, to long for His grace, to despair of himself, and to base all his confidence on Christ."

Luther knew this about himself far better than anyone else.  He agonized over his guilt and punished himself to near-death as he relentlessly tried to atone for it.  And in the face of the church's teachings of his day that tried to convince him that he needed to justify himself, he discovered that the only way to be in God's good favor was …

Transition: OUT WITH THE LAW; IN WITH THE GOSPEL knowing full well that God's Law Declares Us Sinful and God's Gospel Declares Us Forgiven.

II. GOD'S GOSPEL DECLARES US FORGIVEN. [24-26: "… and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.  This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.  It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus."] Immanuel voiced that merciful and gracious gospel-reality when He prayed,

(Luke 23:34 ESV) "Father, forgive them …"

while hanging on Calvary's cross, bearing our sins, suffering and dying, enduring the punishment we deserve.

We also hear its sweet beauty in the words He spoke to the repentant woman who was crushed under the burden of her guilt,

(Luke 7:48, 50 ESV) "Your sins are forgiven.  Your faith has saved you; go in peace."

It's the grand message that rises above everything else in each and every divine service when, after we have publicly confessed our sinful unworthiness to God, the presiding pastor joyfully declares us forgiven in the name of the Triune God, in which name we were baptized into the Christian faith.  It's the grand message that God gives us when with heartfelt repentance and sincere faith we receive Christ's real body and blood in, with, and under the sacramental elements of bread and wine in the Holy Supper.

But remember this, it's not something that we earned or even deserved.  Rather, …

A. God gives the gift to us.  That's the life-changing reality that Luther discovered and devoted his life to restoring to the church of his day.  He forcefully declared in his monumental work entitled "Bondage of the Will" that he wrote in 1525, "Grace is freely given to the most undeserving and unworthy and is not obtained by any strenuous efforts, endeavors, or works, either small or great, not even by the efforts of the best and most honorable men who have sought and followed righteousness with a burning zeal."  It's the life-changing reality that we strive to safeguard and give to all distressed sinners who are burdened with the weight of their sin.  It's the grand and glorious gospel message that St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus and is ours as well,

(Eph 2:8-9 ESV) "For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."

How, then, do we obtain this gift?

B. We receive the gift by faith in Jesus.  That's right.  The very gift of faith that God gave us in our Baptism is the outstretched hands that grab hold of and tightly embrace the gift of grace that God gives us.  Such faith is Biblically defined as

(Heb 11:1 ESV) "… the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."

In a sermon Luther preached on January 4, 1540, based on Galatians 4:1-5, he said, "Faith is the yes of the heart, a conviction on which one stakes one's life.  On what does faith rest?  On Christ, born of a woman, made under the Law, who died, etc., as the children pray.  To this confession I say yes with full conviction of my heart.  Christ came for my sake, in order to free me from the Law, not only from the guilt of sin but also from the power of the Law.  If you are able to say yes to this, you have what is called faith; and this faith does everything … .  But this faith does not grow by our own powers.  On the contrary, the Holy Spirit is present and writes it in the heart."

Jesus Himself beautifully identified that faith when He declared,

(John 3:16-18 ESV) "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only 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 in order that the world might be saved through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God."

So it is that Reformation's meaningful message is …

Transition: OUT WITH THE LAW; IN WITH THE GOSPEL knowing full well that God's Law Declares Us Sinful and God's Gospel Declares Us Forgiven.

CONCLUSION: St. John wrote in the revelation that Jesus Christ gave him that we heard in today's First Reading,

(Rev 14:6 ESV) "Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people."

That eternal gospel is the same eternal gospel that Martin Luther devoted his life and energies to proclaiming to his world then and we continue to do so to our world today.  That eternal gospel is what the Holy Spirit uses to make disciples of all nations.  That eternal gospel is the substance of God's blessed four holies—Holy Word, Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and Holy Communion.  Let's faithfully hear and read God's Holy Word.  Let's joyfully thank God for Holy Baptism by means of which He made us His own possessions.  Let's revel in Holy Absolution by which God tells us that our sins are forgiven.  And, let's regularly properly partake of Holy Communion in which God gives us absolute assurance of forgiveness of sins, salvation, and eternal life.

Jesus declared to His audience then and us as well in today's Holy Gospel Reading,

(John 8:31-32, 36 ESV) "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed."

The glorious truth of God's Holy Word is that Jesus Christ has set us free …

• free from guilt,

• free from shame,

• free from punishment,

• free to obey His will,

• free to serve Him by serving one another,

• free to celebrate the Gospel-life He gives us now, and

• free to someday bask in the eternal life awaiting us in heaven!

God's Holy Word, which tells us about the Living Word, Jesus Christ, informs and reassures us of that liberating truth as we faithfully read, mark, study, learn, and inwardly digest it.  That wonderful divine revelation that God communicates through the mouths of many preachers today—including Pastor Cole, Pastor Marks, and me—is the same sweet message that He communicated to Martin Luther 490 years ago and Martin Luther then communicated to the people of his day and time, namely, Out with the Law; In with the Gospel, knowing full well that God's Law declares us sinful and God's Gospel declares us forgiven.

God grant it all for the sake of Jesus Christ, His humble Son, our holy Savior.  Amen.

In the name of the Triune God—Father,  Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

This sermon is not copyrighted. It is God's gift to His Church for free and unrestricted use through me who am one of His many faithful servants. Please exercise the common courtesy of properly acknowledging its source should you use part or all of it for any purposes.

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