Sermon – Reformation – “Finding Peace With God” – Romans 5:1 – 10/28/12

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Anugerah dan damai kepada, dari Allah Bapa kita dan Tuhan kita dan Juruselamat Yesus Kristus. (Indonesian)
Grace and peace, from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Salam dari saudara dan saudari dalam Kristus dari Indonesia.
Greetings from your brothers and sisters in Indonesia.

The title for the Conferences that we led in Indonesia was “The Lutheran Reformation and It’s Impact.” What a smooth transition to come home to Reformation Sunday.

The official beginning of the Lutheran Reformation is pegged to October 31st 1517. That was the day that Luther presented his 95 Thesis for discussion and debate in Wittenberg, Germany.

Actually, it would be more accurate to say that the Lutheran Reformation really began four years before that with what is called “Luther’s Tower Discovery” which was most likely in the year 1513.

Luther was a monk in a monastery in Wittenberg. The monastery had a high tower in it. Luther would go up into the tower at times to study the Scriptures. It was on one such occasion while Luther was in this tower that the big breakthrough happened.

Luther had long struggled to find peace with God. The more he read the Scriptures, the more he heard God’s demand, “You shall be holy as I the Lord your God am holy.” Over and over he heard the Word declare righteous demands of God’s Law. “The righteous shall live by faith.” Luther agonized, ‘How do I attain to the righteousness of God and live by faith?’ The harder he tried, the more restless he became. No matter what he did, he always knew he could have done more. No matter how hard he tried, he knew he could have tried harder.

Luther writes, ‘every time I read in the Scriptures about the righteousness of God, it struck my conscience like lightning. It was like a thunderbolt in my heart.’ Over the course of 400 years before Luther, the Church had developed its interpretation of the ‘righteousness of God’ as an ‘active righteousness,’ which means that the righteousness of God which is required for salvation must be actively worked out in good works of love. The church said that the most effective work that a man or woman could do was to devote himself / herself to the Church as a monk or a nun. Luther did just that in the hopes that might find in the monastery the peace of God that he longed for. But he was terribly disappointed.

Luther said that he could not bring himself to love a God who made demands on people that He knew they cannot fulfill. He wrote, “I did not love God. I hated the God who punishes sinners.”

The breakthrough came as Luther learned to understand the word ‘faith.’ In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul quotes the prophet Habakkuk, “The righteous shall live by faith.” St. Paul, throughout his letters, talks about faith as something that is passive, not active. To the Romans, Paul writes, “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” (Rom.4:4-5). Faith then, does nothing. It only believes in the Word of God.

So the ‘righteousness’ that God demands is not an ‘active righteousness’ that we must achieve by our good works and merits, but a ‘passive righteousness,’ something that is credited to us, given to us, as a pure gift, solely by the grace of God, solely for the sake of Christ.

In fact, says Luther, the GREAT sin that separates us from God is not that we CANNOT achieve God’s righteous demands by our works. The GREAT sin is that we keep trying to do so. And in striving to find peace with God through our work and efforts, we rob God of His love and grace and mercy. We reject the gift. We rob Christ of the glory that He has earned through His suffering and death for us.

The sinner actually glorifies God, not by DOING but by RECEIVING the righteousness of God as an undeserved, free gift from God. “Faith” is simply the trust of the heart that believes the promise of God. Faith simply trusts that God has done everything He requires of us, for us, on our behalf, in our place, through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Now that changes everything. Now, even the harsh demands of the Law may be heard as the promise that God has done for me. “You shall be holy as I the Lord your God am holy.”

Luther writes, “All at once I felt that I had been born again and entered into paradise itself through open gates. Immediately I saw the whole of Scripture in a different light. I ran through the Scriptures from memory and found that other terms had analogous meanings. For example, the ‘work of God,’ that is, ‘the work that God works in us.’ And the ‘power of God’ by which He makes us powerful; the wisdom of God by which He makes us wise; the salvation of God by which He saves us.”

Of course, this raised some question about some of the church’s preaching and practice that focused on the need for sinful man to participate somehow in his salvation, either by offsetting his sin with penance or earning his righteousness with good works.

Either Christ has done it all on the cross or He hasn’t. God either declares a sinner to be righteous for Christ’s sake or because of man’s good works. Man either has to do penance or be penitent.

In all three of the seminars in Indonesia, it was right about at this point that everyone had about the same question. So, what is the place of ‘good works’ for Lutherans, if they are not necessary for salvation? What is the purpose of the Law, the 10 Commandments, if Christ has already kept them perfectly for us? Does this nullify God’s Law and His righteous demands on our life? And Luther’s answer was, ‘yes’ and ‘no.’

‘Yes’ this nullifies the purpose of the Law as the way that we are to be saved. Neither our good works nor the penance we may do for our sins is to be counted as anything before God. In his letter to the Galatians, St. Paul writes, “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law… by the works of the law no one will be justified.” (Gal.2:16).

But ‘no,’ the Law is not useless. The chief use of the Law is as it has always been, to destroy all of our self-righteousness before God. We use the Law like we use a mirror. Through the Law of God we see ourselves as we really look before God.

The Law says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart and soul and mind.” “You shall have no other gods besides Me.” “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.” “You shall honor the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.” How are you doing with that?

The Law says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” “You shall honor your father and mother.” “You shall not murder.” “You shall not commit adultery.” “You shall not steal.” “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” “You shall not covet.” How are you doing with that?

Without the Law, we would all imagine that we don’t look too bad to God. At least not as bad as some. “Lord I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tithe of all that I get.” (Luke 18:11-12).

But anyone who honestly looks at himself in the Law, the 10 Commandments, realizes that not only does he fall short of God’s righteous demands, but that it is utterly impossible for him to keep the law well enough to please God. The Law kills every hope we cling to of finding peace with God within ourselves.

The only hope we are left with is that God might be gracious and merciful, abounding in steadfast love. Which is just what the Scriptures say. And now the ‘eternal gospel’ is ready to be heard and received with the great relief and joy that it deserves. “I forgive you all of your sins.” “Since then we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom.5:1).

The Lutheran Reformation was not the only reformation movement in the 16th Century. But it’s unique from the others in that it was led by a man whose primary quest was to find peace with God for his own conscience. How does the sinner find peace with God?

For Luther and for Lutherans, the answer depends not simply on having faith, but on having the right faith. Everyone has faith. The question is, what is your faith based on? On what do you place the trust and confidence of your heart?

Some look inside themselves and base their trust and confidence before God on their good works or their sincere efforts. Some base their faith on their faith. ‘I know that I am right with God because I believe.’ But faith that is focused inward, on ourselves is fragile and dangerous.

Luther insisted that true faith must be directed to something that lies outside of ourselves. Something that doesn’t change even if I change, or waiver even if I waiver. Something that is objective and not subjective. And that objective something outside of ourselves is the cross of Christ and His resurrection from the dead. The cross is where God the Son did the good work that God the Father had prepared for Him to do. And when Jesus proclaimed, “it is finished,” it was all fully accomplished, nothing more to add, nothing more to do. You are righteous before God solely because God has declared you to be righteous for Jesus’ sake. And in this and this alone, we have peace with God.

The monks in Luther’s order asked him for an explanation of his 95 Thesis. In 1518, one year later, Luther met with the monks in the city of Heidelberg and presented what is called the “Heidelberg Disputation.” Thesis #26 sums up everything we have been trying to say here perfectly. “The Law says ‘do this,’ and it is never done. The gospel says, ‘believe in this,’ and everything is already done.”

Dalam nama Bapa dan Anak dan Roh Kudus.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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