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. (ESV)
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God Speaks. We Listen.
31 October 2014
The Lutheran Reformation did not spring from the heart of Martin Luther. If it had, it should be repudiated with all dispatch. The Word of God is itself the authenticating and reforming tool of the God who comes with the winnowing fork in His hand (Mt 3:12). God sends His Word and it accomplishes that for which it is sent (Is 55:10-11; Jn 3:8). To be the Word of God means that it does not come into our control; it is not our possession, but a gift from God. The Word of God does what it says when and where God sends it. The Word of God, then, does not gain its power from churches or preachers. In their zeal they may not possess it nor do they add anything to it. It is a gift from God to be used in accordance with the purposes for which it was sent.
Unfortunately, what masquerades as the Word of God is often something less than that. How easily we humans establish our own forms of worship and honor ourselves by claiming that our worship activities are established with all due sincerity and righteousness. "Sincerity" is the modern touchstone of all religious value. If there is a modern reformation principle it is certainly sincerity. The rightness or wrongness of an action is not what is important to us, but whether we are sincere in our action. By such a standard an axe murderer stands justified, if he can just plead that he was an axe murderer who sincerely meant no harm to the people he chopped up.
The one forbidden form of sincerity is the sincere adherence to the Word of God created by the Word of God. The danger in this sincerity is that it commits the person to an external authority. God sends His Word. We listen. It seems to stifle our creativity; it implies that there is an authority outside of us. The claim of external authority terrifies the modern, committed as he is to the idea, sincerely held of course, that he is his own authority. If there is a Word sent from God it says that the idol of self requires crucifixion. Self is the most difficult god to kill.
Sometimes we try to split the difference by claiming to worship God and support the proclamation of the Word of God, when all the while we are satisfying our sincere views that our own self-generated forms of worship are attractive to God. We point to our actions and display to God how sincere we are. What are called "praise services" often partakes of this kind of misguided sincerity. The claim is made that the guests, or young people, or those who would never come to church otherwise, would be attracted by these dumbed-down worship forms. But let's be honest; often we are only sincerely playing to our own itching ears. It is easy to presume that what I want must also be good for everyone else, like "praise choruses," a trap set in the chancel, or "less formal" worship. But this is only the blindness of old Adam, who loves himself so much that he can't really see the need of the other. Unfortunately, we are often only satisfying our own itching ears and seeking to be entertained rather than to hear the Word of God that was sent. When God speaks, He speaks to take us out of ourselves. He rescues us from our self-centered sincerity by setting us in Christ our Lord. We have been baptized into His death that we might be put into the Word which He has sent. God speaks. We listen.
"Now John says: 'He whom God has sent utters the words of God' (Jn 3:34). This means that God's Word is not thought of as other than being sent. Let no one suppose that God's Word comes to earth through human fervor. If it is God's Word, it must be sent. It is impossible to understand and to interpret Holy Scripture by yourself or arbitrarily (2Pt 1:20). It will not do to speak unless one is called. God's Word comes only when it is sent by God. If God had not sent it, the whole world would be ignorant about redemption from sin and comfort for the conscience. If God had not sent the Word and the ministry, we would have nothing. For this reason it is imperative that we neither speak nor hear anything but the Word of God. Avoid whatever had its origin in man's mind and fervor. The Word of God does not come unless it is sent from heaven.
"Anyone associating with the monks should inquire of them whether their system is also the Word of God. You will hear them claim that it stemmed from good intentions and that its purpose is to honor God. From this they conclude that it is a worship of God and that it is the Word of God. But for anyone to worship God aright and to atone for sin more is necessary than good intentions! All that flows from your heart is fervor and your own opinion. Tell me whether God sent it from heaven and whether He commanded it. 'But,' the monks will reply, 'it was all done to glorify God!' All the worse; it is twofold blasphemy that you call the Word of God and the worship of God that which you yourself have fabricated. That is the way the pope deceived the world as he hid under the name and title of the church. No Word of God comes to the world unless it is sent by God. If it has grown from my heart, or if I pattern myself after Chrysostom, Augustine, and Ambrose, then it is not the Word of God.
"There is an enormous difference between the Word that was sent from heaven and that which is born of my own fervor and opinion. Holy Scripture did not spring from the soil of the earth. Thus John says: 'He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way.' (Jn 3:31). Therefore we must base our salvation firmly on the power of God's Word, not on our own zeal and imagination."
Martin Luther, Sermons on John's Gospel, 3.34
Collect for Reformation Day
Almighty and gracious Lord, pour out Your Holy Spirit on Your faithful people. Keep us steadfast in Your grace and truth, protect and deliver us in times of temptation, defend us against all enemies, and grant to Your Church Your saving peace; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord. Amen.
For all those who suffer from addiction to drugs or alcohol, that the Lord would free them from their slavery and grant them the friends and family who will support them as they live under God's grace
For Janet Muth, that she might continue to sing a new song unto the Lord
For Pastor Sagar Pilli, that the Lord of the harvest would give success to his labors
For Sydney Kallus, who is suffering from Burkett's Lymphoma, that the Lord Jesus would grant her strength and healing
Art: Tom Dubois Luther (2010)
© Scott R. Murray, 2014