Texts: Romans 3:19-28; John 8:31-36
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The texts for the sermon are the readings appointed for the Festival of the Reformation, which were read earlier.
It’s a good day for you to be here, because do I have a deal for you! You can receive forgiveness of all of your sins, for now and for all eternity, for the low, low price of a few coins when you buy a sheet of paper! How does that sound for you? That was how salvation was granted, or earned, depending on how you wanted to look at it. Salvation was not something given to you by God; rather, it was earned by your works and your money; oh, and Jesus helps out as well.
There seems to be something amiss with that thinking: Jesus + my works + money = forgiveness of sins. There was a major flaw in the thinking of the Church. This thinking ran completely contrary to what is recorded for us in Scripture. For instance, we take verses from the Epistle for today. In Romans, Paul writes, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” Paul makes it rather clear that no human being will be saved by what they do or don’t do. This sounds so simple, and yet the Church neglected to hear what Scripture says. According to the doctrine of the papacy, your works made up for the short-comings of Jesus, because even though Jesus is indeed the very Son of God, He did not make full atonement of your sins and so you had to make up the difference.
This is not a comforting doctrine, but rather one that should put the very fear of God into a person. If it depends on my works to make up the difference of salvation, how many works do I need to do? The last thing that I want is to be lying on my deathbed only to find out that I am one work away from salvation.
What else does Paul say to the Romans? He continues by saying, “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.” I don’t know about you, but now I’m confused. Scripture clearly says that no works of the law will earn salvation, that salvation is achieved only by faith in Jesus Christ. Either the Church is correct and the Word of God is wrong or the Word of God is correct and the Church is wrong.
Looking again at our Epistle, Paul confirms yet again that we have no part in our salvation: “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” If the Word of God says one thing and the Church another, which one is right and which one is wrong? That was the question that a young monk named Martin Luther asked. While he was a monk in the Roman Catholic Church, he came to realize that the papacy said things that were in line with the Word of God and at other times, things that were contrary. So to clarify, Luther did what anyone in the Church should have done and turned to Scripture for the answer.
Luther found that the Church had erred in its doctrine of salvation. Salvation could not be achieved by works. Salvation could not be achieved by money or pieces of paper. Salvation could only be achieved by Jesus Christ and He alone. It is by Jesus Christ and His perfect life, His all-atoning sacrifice upon the cross, His blood shed that forgives and His resurrection that gives to an individual salvation and nothing else. Despite all that the Church was teaching, Luther could not neglect the words of Scripture: “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.”
As Jesus records in our Gospel from St. John, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” For all those early years in Luther’s life, what he thought was the truth was not. Luther needed the truth in order to be set free from sin and forgiven.
You need the truth in order to be set free from sin and forgiven. The truth is only found in Jesus Christ and what He has done. The truth is that you “have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Because you have sinned, there is no way that you could keep the Law. Because you have sinned, there is no way that you could do any good work to earn your salvation. Instead, you “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus….”
Through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we have been shown the truth. It is through that truth that God sets His people free, for it reveals Jesus and His work of salvation; through the Gospel He comes to a person and makes that person a believer in Him, Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life. When a person believes in Christ, he is freed from being a slave to spiritual falsehoods, freed from believing in all that deceives and gives false salvation.
The truth will set you free. The truth is all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We are all slaves to sin. What a comfort it is then to hear the words that end today’s Gospel. “The son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” The Son of God Himself is the truth that sets us free. To know that truth, then, is to be set free from slavery.
Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Freedom is ours as the Holy Spirit works through God’s Word, for only His Word brings freedom and life. Only through His Word does the Son set us free and if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.