Luther said of justification, “Nothing in this article can be given up or compromised…On this article rests all that we teach…Therefore we must be quite certain and have no doubts about it. Otherwise all is lost.” Calvin said of justification that it “is the main hinge on which religion turns.” Jonathan Edwards said that, “the highest glory of the gospel and the delight of the Scriptures is this very doctrine of justification through the righteousness of Christ obtained by faith.” It’s hard to add anything to these remarks. The doctrine of justification is at the heart of authentic Christian theology and practice. Every generation of Christians must rise to articulate and defend it. The key truth of this sermon is that sinners are acceptable to God only because Christ bore their sin and gave them his righteousness. This Reformation Sunday, we try to understand justification by way of 3 important truths in this passage.
While the medieval church was never so ignorant to say out loud that they did not want to give glory to God alone, the facts betrayed a different reality. I do not mention the widespread immorality and sin that spread throughout the church. By holding that Christ cooperated us to make us righteous to pacify God’s wrath, that we might rest in some way on our merits before God, that we must submit to human authority on matters of faith and practice, by the practice of indulgences, the medieval church undermined the glory of God. I want us to consider soli Deo gloria, that we would be a people who give glory to God in our salvation and in our lives.
The passage I have selected for today’s message on grace is from one of the most well-known and clear attestations of the riches of Christ’s grace to us in all of holy Scripture.To help them sense the spiritual beauty of what has happened to them in Christ, he breaks open the chapter with a frank yet profound description of their condition apart from Christ.Yet we begin to feel the good news of God’s grace right away in this passage with the opening two words of v 4: But God.For there is no good news, no grace, no glorious but God, until we have come to terms with who we are apart from him. Altogether, I hope to show that no man is saved but by grace alone.
Indulgences led to confidence in a merit apart from Christ. In his classic the Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin critiqued the Catholic doctrine of penance. He said Catholics held ‘that there are many helps by which we may redeem sins: tears, fasting, offerings, and works of charity. With these we must propitiate the Lord. … With these we must merit his pardon. For although he has forgiven the guilt through the largeness of his mercy, yet by the discipline of his justice we retains punishment. … When the Scripture says, ‘by the name of Christ,’ it means that we bring nothing, we claim nothing of our own, but rely solely upon the commendation of Christ” (3.4.25). This is a crucial Reformation doctrine. We claim nothing of our own, but rely solely upon the commendation of Christ. This is the matter of today’s sermon. Our whole salvation rests on Jesus Christ and him alone.
For Luther, the authority for the church was Scripture alone. This became a very important matter in the Reformation. It is not without accident that our second catechism question is What rule has God given whereby we may glorify him? The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, is the only rule to glorify God and enjoy him. This simple answerwas not in any way self-evident in the medieval church. But medieval Christianity not only denied that Scripture was the final authority in matters of doctrine and practice, it also kept the Bible from the people. To argue for the doctrine of sola Scriptura, I want to look at three books in particular. It’s not that the teaching isn’t found elsewhere, but I trust this will nevertheless illustrate that the Scriptures do, in fact, espouse that Scripture and especially the New Testament is our ultimate authority.
One of the key questions for Martin Luther and John Calvin was, how is a man right with God? That is, how can a man be justified in the sight of God? This was central for the Reformers. Their answer, which they took from Scripture, was absolutely right: men and women are justified by faith alone. We also affirm the doctrine of justification by faith alone, not because the Reformers taught it, but because, as they rightly rediscovered, the Bible teaches it. God’s Word teaches faith alone in many different places, but I’ve selected Paul’s words in Romans 3:21-26 to draw it out for us this morning.