Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1)This is October 30, 2016. 499 years ago tomorrow, a man called Martin Luther posted an article made up of 95 points, arguing with a then-current fundraising practice. Martin Luther was a Pastor and University Professor in Wittenberg, Germany. He posted his article on the church door, which was a little like a community bulletin board. Luther’s article proved to be very controversial and very popular.
The history is more involved than we really need to get into here, but in effect, the Roman Catholic Church at the time was selling the right for people or their dead family members to be free from purgatory. The sheer crassness of the fact that they were selling salvation for cash bothered Luther so much that he started asking what the Bible had to say about it. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Later on, Luther had a practice of inviting guests, often ministerial students and other pastors, to share a meal with him at home. While there they would engage in what they called “tabletalk.” It was basically an open Q & A with the famous Martin Luther. One time, he was asked about how he and his colleagues pulled off the Protestant Reformation, Luther answered by saying “I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And then, while I slept … the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it. I did nothing. The Word did it all.”
In time, it became clear that the central issue for the Reformation was this: the doctrine of justification. How are we made right with God? Does God reckon us as holy or does he help us become holy? To put it another way, am I saved by believing God’s promise by faith or am I saved by cooperating with God’s grace through good works?
Now you may be thinking, Chuck we have to be holy. God calls us to be holy. Are you saying we don’t have to be holy? No. Holiness is an essential part of the Christian life. It’s just not the basis by which we are made right with God. The Roman Catholic Church at the time, and still to this day reads these two ideas together as one. They see justification – or being made right with God – as including sanctification, or becoming progressively holy. Martin Luther would go on to say that justification is the article – the doctrine – on which the church stands or falls.
My point today, though, is not to argue with the Roman Catholic Church. My point is to get very practical: what does this doctrine mean to you – today? I believe it makes all the practical difference in the world to know that you are made right with God simply by receiving his free gift – simply by believing his promise.
Before Greg asked me to preach today, he also asked me what my favorite doctrine was. I liked the question – I hadn’t really thought of it like that before. I thought for a second and answered, “Justification.” My reason that this is my favorite doctrine is personal and connected to my testimony.
I professed faith in Christ very early, so it was very hard to see a clear before-and-after in my life. And because of that, doubt and lack of assurance were a real struggle. But that changed one day when a teacher gave me a Bible verse. Philippians 1:6, which says, “I am confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work and you will carry it on to completion in the day of Christ Jesus.” This verse helped me to see that my faith was a gift from God and when he starts it, he promises to finish it. So do you see, the verse took my eyes off of my heart, which is unreliable, and put my eyes on Christ, who always keeps his promise.
Justification is not only the standing and falling article for the church, it’s also the ground and source of peace and assurance in this life. Today, then, we’re going to look at Romans chapter 5, verse one. Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
And those are also our divisions for this sermon.