What a Difference!
Reformation Day
31 October 2017
Everything is about justification. This is what Lutheranism is about. No part of the faith or life stands untouched by it. Justification penetrates all we believe and do. Justification for Christ's sake tells us who we are in the presence of God. For example, when we talk about confession and absolution, we are talking about the application of the justifying work of Christ to the individual sinner as he or she hears the proclamation that their sins are taken away. Our teaching about holy absolution is not something different from the justifying work of Christ, but another way of talking about and applying justification to the sinner. It should not surprise us that this verdict declaring our new standing in the presence of God is so decisive and far reaching in its significance.
 
Here in Houston several men who were in state prison for sexual assaults were released when it was determined that the police crime lab botched the DNA testing used to convict them. When you read the interviews with these men about their unjust judgment, incarceration, and subsequent pardon it is apparent that they are defined by their experience of imprisonment and acquittal. While they are trying to move forward and pick up the pieces of their shattered lives, they still have been profoundly and permanently affected by judgment and acquittal. These men have seen and experienced in a small scale what all sinners ought to see by faith. Believers see and feel in their depths that their wickedness has placed them in the prison house of sin and death. By faith they will see that Christ has snapped off the bars of that prison house of sin and death. No longer are we prisoners to our own wickedness but are now freed. Who would not live differently? Who would not be profoundly affected? Who would not consider everything changed by this divine message that God has acquitted us sinners for Christ's sake?
 
This is all the more dramatic because unlike these Houston men, we are guilty. While in prison they clung to the life raft that they had not done those things of which they were found guilty. We have no such life raft to which we might cling. The law destroys every shred, every spar, every fragment of our self-generated righteousness under the lightning and thunder of storming Sinai. The shipwreck of our own righteousness is torn apart by the crashing waves of the law upon the rocky beach of our lives. There is nowhere to turn but to the safe harbor of Christ alone. When safely settled in Him, then we hear nothing but the verdict of God that our sins have been completely absorbed by Him. He has been wrecked by the power of the law in our place. How could this not change everything? How could this not change how we live? How we think? How we see God's work through everything God does and says?
 
Denying the pervasive influence of justification, would be like denying that the men released from prison after years of false imprisonment have been deeply affected by their experiences. When our consciences have been brought into safe harbor in Christ, we know that we have peace with God. The gospel message sets our consciences at rest. We do have peace with God. What a difference that makes.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Apology of the Augsburg Confession

"Paul contends that we are not justified by the law. To the law he opposes the promise of the forgiveness of sins granted for Christ's sake, and he teaches us to accept the forgiveness of sins by faith, freely for Christ's sake. Paul calls us away from the law to this promise. He asks us to look at this promise, which would certainly be useless if we were justified by the law before the promise or if we obtained the forgiveness of sins because of our own righteousness. But clearly the promise was given and Christ revealed it to us precisely because we cannot keep the law, and therefore we must be reconciled by the promise before we keep the law. Only faith accepts the promise. Therefore, it is necessary for the contrite by faith to take hold of the promise of the forgiveness of sins granted for Christ's sake, and to be sure that freely for Christ's sake it has a gracious Father. This is what Paul means when he says, 'That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed' (Rm 4:16); and 'The Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe' (Gal 3:22). That is, all people are under sin, and they cannot be freed in any other way than by taking hold through faith of the promise of the forgiveness of sins. We must therefore accept the forgiveness of sins by faith before we keep the law although, as we said before, love follows faith, for the regenerate receive the Holy Spirit and therefore begin to keep the law.

 

"We would cite more passages if they were not obvious to every pious reader of Scripture, and we want to avoid being lengthy in order to make our case more easily understood. There is no doubt that this is Paul's position that we are defending: by faith we receive the forgiveness of sins for Christ's sake, by faith we ought to set against the wrath of God not our works but Christ, the mediator. It ought not disturb devout minds if our opponents twist Paul's sentences, for nothing can be said so simply that some quibbler cannot pervert it. We know that what we have said is what Paul really and truly means; we know that this position of ours brings devout consciences a firm consolation without which no one can stand before the judgment of God."

Apology of the Augsburg Confession, 12.79-84
Romans 4:18-25
 
In hope Abraham believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, "So shall your offspring be." He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead ( since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was "counted to him as righteousness." But the words "it was counted to him" were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.
(ESV)
Prayer
Lord Christ, You have acquitted us in Your death upon the cross. Keep us from despising holy absolution. Grant that we might ever avail ourselves of the speech, which confers Your righteousness upon us. Help us to rejoice in the safe harbor in which You have placed us. Amen.

For all military personnel who are deployed, that they might be under the watchful care of the holy angels
 
For all Lutheran parishes, that they would be steadfast in their confession of the faith vouchsafed to us in the Lutheran Reformation and taught by holy Scripture
 
For the Board of Regents of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, that they would serve the truth of the gospel in their guidance of the seminary
Art: VERONESE, Paolo  St. Luke  (1555)
Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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