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October 30th 2011 by Joel Schultz

In Romans 3, Paul answers the question: "What must I do to be saved?" His answer is the one Martin Luther discovered during the time of the Reformation - "NOTHING." the Good News is that we are justified by grace through faith in Jesus alone. Read more...

Reformation Sunday A - "Innocent!" - Romans 3:19-28 - October 30, 2011

This Sunday is Reformation Sunday, the day we give special praise to God for the truth of Scripture which was rediscovered by Martin Luther. Luther was a man driven by an immense concern in his life, the exact concern St. Paul talks about in our Epistle today. St. Paul and Martin Luther were both addressing the question, AWhat do I need to do to be saved - to go to heaven and keep from going to hell?

I enjoy watching courtroom dramas on television. I especially like the ones focused on defense attorneys. The question for defense attorneys is much the same as Luther's: AWhat do we need to do to keep our client from going to prison? These lawyers look for witnesses to vouch for their clients. They search through the evidence looking for something to blame on another party. They look for a loophole in the law to get their client released. They point to their client's good character. Sometimes it works so well that even a client the audience knows is guilty gets released.

In our epistle lesson today, Paul records for us a scene right out of courtroom. However, it is not like a courtroom found in our American justice system. There are only two parties present at this trial - the defendant and the Judge. It is our trial. You and I are the defendants in God's court. And we stand and ask, What must I do to be saved?

As we stand before the Judge there is always a temptation to justify ourselves. Look at me. Look what I have done in this life. I am a good person. I give generously to church. I give money to charity. I love my wife and kids. I am kind and considerate. I do good things to make up for the bad things I do. In fact, I do a lot more good things in my life. Look at me. How can I be anything but innocent?

The Barna research institute says that over half of all Christians believe that they can earn a place in heaven by being basically good in life. Even more believe that being good at least plays a part in eternal salvation. The very real temptation is that the good we do is motivated by a SO THAT mentality. I do these good things SO THAT I will justify myself before the Judge.

But in God's court, all of our pitiful defense tactics are meaningless. As we are confronted by the Law of God, there is nothing to be said in our defense. Paul writes, "every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God" (3:19). The Law of God exposes and convicts sinners of which we all are, for Aall have sinned and fall short of the glory of God@ (3:23). This is a terrible indictment. We are already known to be guilty and there is no defense we can muster - no loophole in the law out of which we can wiggle.

As much as we seek to defend ourselves through the law of good works, it never comes. You see, the law we at times put our faith in still silences us, still holds us accountable to God. Not only do we fall short of the Law's demand of being perfect, we don't even come close! There is one standard by which we are to judge our life. It alone will reveal how good or how evil we are.

This standard is not something made up by us. The circumstances in the world or our moods and whims cannot alter it. It comes from God, our Creator who says, "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). James reminds us of the reality of sin: "Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it" (James 2:10).

Guilty. This is how Martin Luther found himself in God's court - crushed by the weight of sin - unable to do enough penance and good works to make up for his sin. Martin Luther knew with certainty that he deserved nothing but a guilty verdict. He deserved nothing but hell itself. Guilty. This is how we find ourselves in God's court.

But then, at that moment when all is lost, something truly incredible happens! Another man enters the courtroom. He has bloody stripes on His back. He has nail holes in His hands and feet. He has a hole in His side from a spear. And He wears a crown of thorns. He approaches the bench and has a few quiet words with the Judge. And then something wonderfully surprising happens. Imagine this, the Righteous Judge, God Himself does something so outrageous that from our human perspective we might call His judgment into question: He pronounces us, "Not Guilty!" Actually He says we are more than not guilty, He proclaims us, "Innocent!"

God Himself has spoken. Where all mankind must fall silent before His wrath and judgment, He has spoken a great "nevertheless." In the face of man=s desperation, He has said, "nevertheless, you shall be righteous, and you shall live."

Our God knew we could not bear His just condemnation and punishment. So the Righteous Judge, God, puts forward His Son, Jesus, to stand in our place, to take upon Himself the punishment we deserve. Jesus took our sinful guilt to a lonely mount outside of Jerusalem and on the cross He provides the forgiveness to make us innocent in the Judge’s eyes. In His death and His rising from death He took our penalty under the Law, including the sin of trying to justify ourselves by being good enough.

And so Paul writes, "All ... are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (3:24). This proclamation of innocence/ righteousness comes as a free, undeserved gift from the Judge because no person has any works or merit to bring. It comes not from keeping the Law of God but "through faith in Jesus Christ" (3:22). Faith, in the sense of trust and confidence in God's promise, is the avenue through which righteousness comes to a believer. Or to use a slightly different picture, faith is the hand that receives this righteousness - this proclamation of innocence - from God.

This is indeed good news for you and me. Despite all the sins and shortcomings Satan argues should disqualify us, God assures us that His grace is for all, including you and me. Martin Luther once said, "The life of Christianity consists of possessive pronouns. It is one thing to say, 'Christ is a Savior'; it is quite another thing to say, 'He alone is my Savior and my Lord.' The devil can say the first; the true Christian alone can say the second."

Reformation Sunday is the day we remember Martin Luther's struggle to be made right before God. But even more it is a day we rejoice in the truth of Scripture as Paul writes, "For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law" (3:28). Thanks be to God that we will not be judged on the basis of our good works, for we fall short of the perfection our Heavenly Judge demands. But, in Jesus Christ, God declares us righteous, not because we do what the law says, but because we believe in a Savior who died in our place and rose to make us innocent before God. Christ, alone gives salvation, and faith alone grasps it. Amen.

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