Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
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. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
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St. Simon and St. Jude, Apostles
28 October 2014
In some sense the Reformation is not ever complete and never will be. Every generation must appropriate the insights of our Lutheran faith for itself. We may not rest on our Lutheran laurels, as though our faith can be bequeathed as a birthright. No, the faith must always be specifically confessed by us today, tomorrow, and until the ages come to their close at the return of Christ. Paul celebrates the benefits of the work of Christ, who is a propitiation by His blood "to show his righteousness at the present time" (Rm 3:26). God is always making present His Word to us so that we are again and again brought to repentance and given the forgiveness of sins today and every "today" hereafter.
God's Word puts us into the ever-present "now" of God's righteousness by faith. We'll always be undergoing the reformation through the Word of God functioning in our lives. We are not Lutherans because we know who Luther is or even know what he did, but because we believe and confess what he believed and confessed. We are always being reformed by the Word of God; saying back to God what He has already said to us in the last days by His Son and repeated on the lips of our forefathers (Heb 1:1). That constant reformation demands that we critically assess the doctrinal claims of humans by subjecting them to the Word of God. The place we must start is with our own faith and confession this day and every day.
The indispensible criterion of justification must ever cut through the clutter of our legalistic patterns of thought to bring us back to the cross of Christ. Then we will see that our righteousness is not our own, but God's own given to us by the work of Christ through faith. Luther experienced his own discovery of this before nailing the Ninety-Five Theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg. Indeed, he would not have bothered writing the propositions for debate on indulgences, if justification by Christ had not driven his pen across the page.
Although sometimes the impression is given that Luther "discovered the gospel" this is not entirely true, or at least not as it is commonly understood. The gospel, though hidden in deepest darkness, had not been completely extinguished in the medieval church. No, it had lingered under the shadows there in the writings of the ancient fathers as well as on the lips of faithful preachers like Bernard of Clairvaux and even Luther's own spiritual father, John Staupitz of the Augustinian Friars.
Luther had pondered what Paul meant by the "righteousness of God" (Rm 1:17; 3:21-22; 2Co 5:21). Most medieval interpreters presumed that the righteousness of God was the rightness that was in God and that He demanded of us. Luther rebelled against this interpretation when he realized that this righteousness of God is given as a gift to those who believe. However, Luther himself was not the first to argue this way. A millennium before his time, Augustine of Hippo argued in precisely the same way. The Reformation had made a stop in Hippo, North Africa long before Luther was even born! And so the Word of God marches on, even in our day. In the great "today" of the justifying work of God the church is ever being reformed.
Augustine of Hippo
"It might be said by human presumption, which is ignorant of the righteousness of God, and wishes to establish one of its own, that the apostle Paul quite properly said, 'For by works of the law no human being will be justified' (Rm 3:20) inasmuch as the law merely shows what one ought to do, and guard against, in order that what the law thus points out may be accomplished by the will, and so man be justified, not indeed by the power of the law, but by his free determination. But I ask you to pay attention to what follows. 'But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it' (Rm 3:21). Does this sound like a light thing in deaf ears? He says, "The righteousness of God has been manifested." Now this righteousness they are ignorant of, who wish to establish one of their own. They will not submit themselves to it (Rm 10:3). His words are, 'The righteousness of God has been manifested.' He does not say, 'the righteousness of man,' or 'the righteousness of his own will,' but the 'righteousness of God.' This is not the righteousness by which He is Himself righteous, but that with which He endows man when He justifies the ungodly (Rm 4:5). This is witnessed by the law and the prophets; in other words, the law and the prophets testify to it.
"Truly, the law by issuing its commands and threats, and by justifying no man, sufficiently shows that it is by God's gift, through the help of the Spirit, that a man is justified. The prophets predicted what Christ at His coming accomplished. Accordingly Paul advances a step further, and adds, 'the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ' (Rm 3:22), that is by the faith by which one believes in Christ. Just as Paul does not mean the faith by which Christ Himself believes, so also he does not mean the righteousness by which God is Himself righteous. Both no doubt are ours, but yet they are called God's and Christ's, because it is by their generosity that these gifts are bestowed on us. The righteousness of God then is without the law, but not manifested without the law; for if it were manifested without the law, how could it be witnessed by the law? This righteousness of God, however, is without the law, which God by the Spirit of grace bestows on the believer without the help of the law.
"When, indeed, He by the law reveals to a man his weakness, it is in order that by faith he might flee for refuge to His mercy and be healed...Therefore, 'the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God' (Rm 3:22-23). This is not about human glory. For 'what do you have that you did not receive' (1Co 4:7)? Now if they received it, why do they boast as if they had not received it (1Co 4:7)? Well, then, they come short of the glory of God. Now observe what follows: They are justified by his grace as a gift (Rm 3:24). It is not, therefore, by the law, nor is it by their own will that they are justified; but they are justified freely by His grace. And it is not that this happens apart from our will; our will is by the law shown to be weak, that grace may heal its infirmity."
On the Spirit and the Letter, 15
Lord Jesus, You give Your Word to Your church every day and in it You call us to repent and to trust in the merit of Your blood. Constantly grant us the spirit of the Reformation, that we might never presume upon the faith once delivered to the saints, but appropriate it, confess it, trust it, and share it every day, through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
For Luke George and his family, that they might not become weary in well doing as they await the presence of God
For Mayor Annise Parker, that she might be upheld in every good deed and snatched from the clutches of the enemy of Christ
For faithful pastors everywhere, that they might confess Christ today and that they would be strengthened to face the intimidation of the enemies of the church
Art: Crucifixes Uppsala Cathedral (medieval)
© Scott R. Murray, 2014