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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

We are justified by faith alone!

Blessed Reformation Day!

Below is a sermon from The Rev. Dr. Armin Wenz. He is the pastor of Evangelical Lutheran St. John's Church in Oberursel, Germany. St. John is a church in the SELK (the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church, which is in fellowship with the LCMS). I translated this sermon last week and polished up my translation this week. I am glad I have it ready for today.

St. John's website is: http://www.selk-oberursel.de/index.htm

My Reformation sermon (text and audio) can be found here: http://www.lutheransonline.com/servlet/lo_ProcServ/dbpage=page&mode=display&gid=01280001361019533903983181



Reformation Festival - 31.10.2006 - Galatians 5,1-6 - Oberursel- Armin Wenz

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.

Dear congregation!

,,The Open Society and their Enemies,” is the title of a book by the English philosopher Charles Popper. Inside the scholar sits apart with the enemies of freedom on a political level. Since freedom is a lofty estate, it is necessary, always again to truly engage and repel what endangers freedom.

It is a hallmark of dictators, that they lull the people while they say: ,,Simply trust us with your needs; do not be concerned about the risk to your freedom.” In the Church, one also encounters this under the devout clothing, when the impression is awakened, that whoever shall warn against heresies that alter the gospel must not have any faith in God.

Paul and Martin Luther proceeded differently. For they heard the mission-task of the Lord Christ to His Church to faithfully teach only the gospel. And furthermore Paul and Luther were uncompromising in their quarrels against the enemies of the freedom of the gospel in the Church.

The Reformation thereby came about when Luther, charging through the holy Scriptures, calls out to the Church of his time, about the same sorrowful temptations he had experienced: You have lost Christ. Like Paul, Luther was not arbitrary with his unrelenting criticism, but reminded them about the reason of salvation for the lost: For freedom we have been released by Christ!

Reformation, therefore, means: Discovering again the freedom that we have from Christ as a gift. Reformation means: Discovering again Jesus Christ and His salvation. If the Son now sets you free, then you really are free; so says Jesus in John’s Gospel (8,36).

There rings with that freedom that Christ gives it as a present or gift, and it must not be added to. Freedom is lost to us if we attempt to obtain it through our own mighty works instead of receiving the gift. Whoever the Son has made free, he is really free.

Luther has summarized it with the famous solus Christus - Christ alone. He alone is the reason of our salvation and our freedom. However, adversaries surely then arise who endanger this freedom, in that they want to add to the work of Christ.

Against these enemies of freedom, Paul holds firm about a certain salvation, that we can only have salvation in Christ, if He alone comes to us by grace. And secondly he remains firm against the enemies of freedom, that we can receive the salvation in Christ alone by faith. With the Latin phrases it says: The solus Christus is inseparable from the sola gratia, that is: by grace alone, and likewise it is inseparable from the sola fide, that is: faith alone.

We come to the first argument of Paul against the enemies of freedom: Solus Christus stands only if sola gratia stands. That is: The salvation of Jesus Christ for us is grace and nothing but grace. Paul cries out to these same Galatians: You have Christ lost; you have fallen from grace.

What brings the apostle to speak these piercing words? It is the piety of the Galatians that has brought them to this serious danger. The Galatians had not all of a sudden reversed and become atheists. In the end, one must take ,,by faith” seriously.

Christ has released us from the yoke of sin and death. They believed that also. However they experienced just as we do that sin and death are still a painful reality. This is the temptation.

Was the sin really forgiven if you must still ask for forgiveness? Was one now really a child of God with eternal life when you still had to suffer painful sickness and death?

What could be more appropriate than the visible signs of faith which help his own deeds? Jesus, however, had been a Jew. And Christians should nevertheless model their lives after Him. If it was so difficult to live as righteous and holy as He could, then at least one could let himself be circumcised.

Such regulations like the law of the circumcision can at least clearly redeem someone. If one is circumcised, then one has, so to speak, a mark of certainty on his body. What’s the objection? Paul doesn’t exaggerate here, when he exclaims: If you allow yourselves to be circumcised, then Christ will be of no use to you? For Paul, freedom is at stake here. You have lost Christ, if you want to be justified through the law, and you have fallen from grace.

He says that you cannot secure freedom by your own power and discretion. You may not help Christ. Whomever Christ has made free, is completely free; no additional mark of this freedom is needed, for Christ is the proof of this freedom.

Do not put on again the yoke of slavery! What does this mean for us? What does this mean for us, when we waver, become uncertain, and before long we are unsure whether we really belong to God? The question is then: Where do we look for help?

The answer to these questions is clear when Paul says, either you are looking for your salvation in Christ alone, or you have lost Christ. In medicine, many diseases simultaneously need different medications and treatment methods. Not so with freedom.

The answer to the question: ,,Who will I call on to help me when my faith wavers?” is: Christ alone. As soon as we join Christ ,,and” fill-in-the-blank, then we have lost our freedom and will become enslaved. Such examples of this enslavement are: Christ and circumcision or Christ and Buddha, Christ and the Anthroposophy, Christ and my holiness, Christ and my good works, Christ and my sacrificial life to family and career.

The whole system of relics and the countless works of penance in the Middle Ages go back to this desire of the Christian to reassure himself by imagining that God approves of me, and He does so rightly. Anyone can see it, because I have obtained it.

Luther’s Reformation turned itself against this mania beginning with his 95 Theses against indulgences. Whoever grounds his freedom and Christianity on own performances or on the performances of others, builds on sand. Why must Christ die, if we can achieve freedom with our works? Christ wants to give away His freedom, but if we want to even partially obtain this freedom by our own works, then aren’t we guilty of making Christ a liar?

Grace is not a measurable thing, that we can supplement or multiply. The grace of God in Christ is rather our recent acquittal in the court by virtue of the power of Baptism, because Christ bears eternal death for us and we have been reconciled with God. And that works itself also out of the question, how we properly receive the grace of Christ.

Again, the solus Christus, that is ,,Christ alone” shall not be encroached upon. Therefore, the second argument of the apostle against the enemies of freedom is: Solus Christus stands only if grace alone is received by faith.

For what applies for grace also applies for faith: it is not a work of the people, by which we complete or supplement God’s work or make it valid for us, but faith is entirely and truly a gift of Jesus Christ through the proclamation. In the third chapter Paul asks the Galatians: I just want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by the preaching of faith? (3,2) As the acquittal stands by grace alone, so also faith as a gift of the Spirit is contrary to any notion that we are justified by the law.

This justification, which you still miss and cannot see, says Paul, is not fabricated through your chosen works, but by trusting on it, that God will accomplish what He has begun in you, as He has planted the seed of the word God into your hearts. Therefore he says: We wait in a spirit of faith for the justification on which we must hope.

We are completely justified for Christ’s sake, because He has acquitted us from our sin. At the same time, our justification is still hidden, it still waxes, because we repeatedly fall into sin. But in such situations our works don’t compensate, but our only help is that we take refuge in Jesus, receive His Absolution, and strengthen our faith through His holy meal.

The life from the Sacraments and from the proclamation is the only right answer for all temptations and doubts. It is no wonder that when the works of man and the pride in them become important, then one gives little respect to the work of God in preaching and the Sacraments. But this was exactly the situation that Luther interrupts at the end of the Middle Ages. Only in the intense life from God’s Word and Christ’s Sacraments do we remain in freedom, because we only receive Christ’s grace. The freedom must always be received anew and strengthened by the rescuer.

The tension is over now, so that only the right fulfillment of the law in the form of love becomes possible in us. Because if I am exempt from the necessity to achieve my salvation, then Christ makes me free to love the neighbor. I must now no longer devote my life’s strength to the purchase of my salvation. Circumcision is not necessary; an indulgence is not necessary. I must no longer be like a humming-top that is only spinning around for myself. So I find time and freedom in the works of life, that I don’t do so I will be saved, but I do them because I am saved and I want my neighbors to also find and experience this freedom.

Just as by faith, we put our hope in God alone and our relationship to God is repaired, so also faith that is active in love repairs the damage of our relationship to our neighbors.

The soul breathes because it is free from the coercion that it must continually prove something before God and the world, just what it always means, that we believe that we are obedient to God and man. With Christ’s forgiveness and grace, a person therefore also gladly and freely gives to the neighbor so that he can also breathe, in that he grants forgiveness and love to him, he also gladly gives everything as a gift, just as what he has received from God.

Luther had uniquely described this life of Christian freedom as: ,,The Christian lives in Christ by faith, and lives in the neighbor by love. By faith he runs to God, and from God he runs again by love and remains always in God and divine love. This Christian freedom, which makes the heart free, surpasses all other freedoms, just as heaven surpasses the earth.” Amen.

Monday, October 22, 2007

God: The Just Judge

One Biblical image of God is that of the just judge. People stand before a judge to get justice. God metes out justice, too. The problem is that His justice brings with it His wrath and punishment upon sin and sinners. His law hunts us down like a bounty hunter and drags us before the judge for sentencing. The law reveals our sins. The law reveals our ulterior motives. The law shames us. We have approached God seeking justice and reimbursement for what has been done against us, and instead we have received justice and reimbursement upon ourselves for our many sins.

The law reveals to us a heavenly Father, a divine Judge, who is angry and stern. His holiness cannot bear to be in the presence of sin or sinners. His justice demands that sinners be punished and put to death. His verdict upon us is “guilty” and we are subsequently given the death sentence. There is no way to appeal this decision. The gavel has rapped down. The court has been adjourned. God will quickly bring His justice against us.

The law always shows us the wrathful nature of God. But where is God’s mercy? Surely, God must love us.

God the Father does indeed love us. He loves us more than anything in all the universe, but we could never come to recognize the Father’s favor and grace were it not for Christ, who is the mirror of His Father’s heart (BKS 660.64 [38-42]; Large Catechism). Apart from Christ, we see nothing but an angry and terrible judge (BKS 660.64 [42-44]). But neither could we know anything of Christ, had it not been revealed by the Holy Spirit (BKS 660.65 [44-47]).

Christ is the mediator between God’s wrathful justice and us. Christ stands in the middle, between the fury of God’s punishment on sin and us who are about to bear that terrifying fury. Our heavenly Father’s wrath strikes down Christ, on the cross, and unleashes upon Him the full destructive nature of God’s anger over sin. Here we see God’s great mercy, for He desires to punish Christ so that we will be spared His tremendous fury. Christ paid the price for our forgiveness, and so on account of Him we are justified in the sight of God.

BKS: Die Bekenntnisschriften der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche, 12th Edition © 1998 by Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The alien and proper works of God

Martin Luther wrote about the two works of God. One he labled God's alien work, and the other God's proper work.

The proper work of God is that He turns sinners into righteous Christians (Luther 19). God creates righteous, peaceful, patient, merciful, truthful, kind, joyful, wise, healthy people; we are His new creation (Luther 19). God, however, cannot come to this His proper work unless He undertakes a work that is alien and contrary to Himself (Luther 19). God’s alien work is to make men sinners, unrighteous, liars, miserable, foolish, lost (Luther 19).

God’s alien work is performed by His law. God sees us as filthy sinners, and therefore He gave us the law so that we could see ourselves the way God sees us. The law reveals an angry and wrathful God who punishes unrepentant sinners. The Bible shows this angry God in such instances as the Flood, Israel’s forty years of desert wandering, and the rich man who walked away from Jesus because He had been revealed to be a sinner; holy Scripture is replete with many other examples of God’s anger. God’s alien work then leads to the crucifixion and the mortification of our sinful flesh (Luther 19).

The culmination of God’s alien work is the sending of Jesus to suffer on the cross on our behalf (Luther 19). Thus, Paul tells the Corinthian Christians: I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him having been crucified (1 Corinthians 2.2). The Apostle Paul’s verb choice here is rather interesting. We normally think of the crucifixion of Christ as strictly a past event. Paul however uses the Perfect Passive Participle of the verb “to crucify” which means that Jesus’ crucifixion happened in the past, but the event is still influencing the present. The crucifixion of Jesus happened a long time ago, but the forgiveness and redemption that Jesus purchased on the cross is still effective, powerful, and influencing our lives to this very day.

God’s proper work, then, is the resurrection of Christ, justification in the Spirit, and giving life to the new man (Luther 19). The Apostle Paul says: Christ was handed over for our sins and was raised for our justification (Romans 4.25), and remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead (2 Timothy 2.8). “The proper work is to proclaim the gospel, which is God’s grace, through which He freely gives to all men and women peace, righteousness and truth, mitigating all His wrath (Luther 20). This work is called a sweet, friendly gospel, and the one who hears it finds it impossible not to rejoice (Luther 20). This happens whenever the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to our grieving consciences (Luther 20).

Our salvation is always linked to Christ suffering on the cross. St. Paul tells us: For if we died with Christ, we will also live with Him (2 Timothy 2.11). We gain the victory through Christ when we believe, when our hearts become uplifted and hold to the grace promised on account of Christ (Apology 4.80 [16-20]; BKS 176). Christ is grasped as the one who reconciles God’s differences with us (mediator) when we believe the word, which preaches Him as the mediator (Apology 4.81 [28-32]; BKS 176). By faith alone, therefore, we receive the forgiveness of sins when we are comforted and uplifted by the grace promised on account of Christ (Apology 4.81 [32-36]; BKS 176). Therefore we are reconciled to the Father and we receive the forgiveness of sins when we are comforted, holding on to the promise that grace and mercy are promised to us on account of Christ (Apology 4.81 [39-44]; BKS 176).

Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works, Vol. 51: Sermons I. “Sermon on St. Thomas’ Day, Ps. 19:1, December 21, 1516” (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, and H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Copyright © 1959 by Fortress Press.

Die Bekenntnisschriften der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche, 12th Edition © 1998 by Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

Monday, October 08, 2007

The righteous will live by his faith

Oktoberfest has concluded, and the Festival of the Reformation is fast approaching.

The Prophet Habakkuk writes, "The righteous person will live by his or her faith" (Habakkuk 2.4). This is Article 4 in the Augsburg Confession, and it is the chief article of the Church.

A righteous person is someone whom God has forgiven and has given the promise of eternal life. A person is not righteous on account of the law. Grace will not be given on account of our good works (Apology 4.29 [36-38]; BKS 165). Believing that righteousness before God is based on the law and our good works is the false doctrine of works-righteousness (the belief that we must do something to be made righteous before God’s eyes).

The Apostle Paul sweeps all ideas of works-righteousness away when he declares that the law brings wrath, for the law always accuses and terrifies our consciences (Apology 4.39 [41-42, 44-45]; BKS 167). We cannot be set free from sin and be justified through the law (Apology 4.40 [1-3]; BKS 168). Instead, we have been given the promise of the forgiveness of sins and justification on account of Christ (Apology 4.40 [3-5]; BKS 168) which is the true and comforting declaration that we are liberated from our sins and are now justified through grace.

Justification is a synonymn of righteousness. Justification is the forensic (pertaining to the law) declaration that God forgives our sins. Christ, therefore, is the one who justifies us. He was given for us in order to make satisfaction for the sins of the world, and He has been appointed as the one who reconciles God’s differences with us (mediator) and the one who atones for our sins by sacrificing Himself (propitiator) (Apology 4.40 [5-7]; BKS 168). Jesus atones for us by taking all of our sins upon Himself, and thereby suffers the wrath of God for those sins, dies, and rises again.

Justification has three elements: the promise that God forgives our sins; this promise is free (i.e. by grace); and Christ’s blood and merit is the treasure by which our sins are paid (Apology 4.53 [53-55, 1-3]; BKS 171-2). Therefore we are not justified by our own merits, but we are justified by faith alone, justification being understood as the making of a righteous person out of an unrighteous one, i.e. regeneration (Apology 4.78 [39-43]; BKS 175).

Faith is that we trust in the mercy promised in Christ (Apology 4.45 [2-3]; BKS 169). Faith doesn’t justify or save because it is a worthy work in and of itself (i.e. something that we do), but only because faith receives the promised mercy as a gift which is given from the rich treasure (Apology 4.56 [21-23]; BKS 171). Faith consoles hearts in the midst of the fear of God’s wrath, receives the forgiveness of sins, justifies us, and makes alive (Apology 4.63 [53-56]; BKS 172). We obtain the forgiveness of sins only by faith in Christ, not through love, nor on account of love or works, although love follows faith (Apology 4.76-78 [31-38]; BKS 175).

We have been saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2.8)!

Note: BKS (Bekenntnisschriften: the Lutheran Confessions in German)