A Declaration of righteousness
Reformation Sunday – 2022 LSB #’s 566:1-3, 6; 563, 656
Text – Romans 3:20-22 (NIV)
Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight from works of law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.
A DECLARATION OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. The Declaration of Independence was key to the founding of our nation.
Through it, the American colonies of Britain declared that they were now independent of the rule of King George. They’d no longer submit to his will & they were free of his tyranny. But simply making that declaration was not enough to make their freedom a reality.
King George didn’t give up so easily. The American colonies had to fight for, & they had to earn, their independence. The Declaration of Independence was only a statement of belief, not a statement of fact.
The American colonies believed that certain truths were self-evident. King George did not see it that way. When Martin Luther posted his 95 theses, his opening statement said, “Out of love & zeal for truth, & the desire to bring it to light, the following theses will be publicly debated…” Yet the Pope had a huge problem with Martin Luther’s truth.
Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, & for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” Pilate said to Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:37b-38a) Apparently, Pontius Pilate wasn’t on the side of Truth because he was not listening to Jesus.
We hold these truths to be self-evident. Out of love & zeal for truth. I came into the
world to testify to the truth. What is truth? The world in which we live increasingly says that everyone has the right to decide their own truth. What is your truth? Do you believe in anything strongly enough in order to die for it?
The American colonies went to war over their truth. Martin Luther was excommunicated from, & had his very life was threatened by, the church, for his truth. Jesus Christ was not only threatened but actually murdered by the church for witnessing to God’s truth. Is truth really worth suffering & even dying for? Is there even such a thing as truth?
Jesus told the Jews, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, & the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32) That means, if you hold to His teaching, you will know the truth. Elsewhere in Scripture Jesus states that He is the Truth.
But the Jews answered Him, “We’ve never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” Do you recognize their problem? They don’t know the truth! They don’t know that they are slaves. Are you like them? Do you believe you have never been a slave?
Years ago, the infamous governor of Minnesota, Jesse Ventura, caused an uproar with his statement that religion was a crutch that weak people lean on. In effect, he was calling us slaves of religion. The Jews were slaves to religion & we can be too, if we refuse to hear the truth, the news that we ourselves are no better than Jesse Ventura.
Are you satisfied with your crutch just the way it is? Do you have any desire to be set free of your slavery? Do you feel safe here in Holt away from all the crime & moral poverty of the big cities? Are you secure in your ability to handle whatever life brings your way?
A friend of mine lived in Wyoming, a state much farther from the big city than Holt. Yet, the best friend of his 15 year old son committed suicide. Are you prepared to handle a tragedy like that? Are you hoping that you have nothing to fear in this life or the next? Like the Jews, you may not believe that you’re a slave, however, Christ’s reply to the Jews applies just as surely to us: “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” (John 8:34 ESV)
The results of sin are readily apparent in everyone’s life. Death is awaiting all of us.
Whether by suicide, illness, or some kind of accident, death is coming for you. It seems to me, that if you cannot control it, then you are a slave to it. Death will make its demand of you one day, & you will be powerless to refuse. That is slavery. You have a need for freedom.
But to gain freedom, you must 1st believe that you are a slave. In today’s Epistle reading, Paul tells us one of the purposes of the Law, “…so that every mouth may be silenced & the whole world held accountable to God.” (3:19 ESV) The whole world. No one will be excused. Through the Law we become conscious of sin, & of our need for a remedy.
Generally speaking, human beings do not like to hear the Law. It makes us feel bad, & no one wants to feel bad. But even if the truth hurts, without it we can never be set free. Like a man with chest pains who thinks it’s just the flu; it might feel bad to hear that it’s a heart attack, but unless he believes that news, he’ll die rather quickly of that “flu.”
Yet, if he believes the news, he’ll seek treatment & very probably live. Do you have the courage to believe the news that you are sick & a slave to your sinful nature? Denial of, or even refusal to hear, that truth, condemns you & will destroy you. Believing that truth opens your way to eternal life.
Fortunately, the true God has more than one truth to tell. That other truth is the Gospel. Our relationship to the Creator is not based only upon the Law or things that we must do. As children of God, we’re also related to Him through His love, through what His Son did on the cross. We’re related through the declaration of righteousness that Christ makes on our behalf.
That righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. It
does not come from living the right kind of life. It does not come from avoiding certain sins, or from buying your forgiveness. In fact, just the opposite is true. Living the right kind of life & avoiding sin, comes from the fact that God has declared us righteous.
That Good News empowers us to change. That Gospel strengthens our ability to overcome our sinful desires. In the days of Martin Luther, the Truth of the Gospel had been all but lost in the theology & the practice of the church. There was no good news. There was only the painful news of the Law. Luther sought to regain God’s declaration of righteousness.
That declaration is a statement of fact, & not simply belief. It’s a declaration made by the Being who causes all things to exist; quite unlike the Declaration of Independence, which was made by mere mortals. And Jesus Christ is the Man who backs it all up, the Man who is also God; the 2nd person of the Trinity who is, Himself, the Truth.
It is He who declares you righteous for His sake, on His own account. That declaration of righteousness 1st occurs at baptism. This morning, Lydia was named a child of God. She was named as one who inherits all the blessings of our Lord & Savior, namely, freedom from the eternal effects of sin, death & damnation. She has total freedom from the tyranny of Satan.
Every day the devil is attempting to lead each one of you astray. Every day we need the Reformation of our body & soul begun in the waters of our baptism. It is continued in our study of God’s Word & in our reception of His precious Body & Blood at the Lord’s supper.
Daily, not just weekly or monthly, the sinful man in us must be crucified, so that the new man might live. We are Christ’s disciples. He declares us so; He declares us Sons; He declares us free & sinless. That is the truth, which Pilate did not understand, that we have actually been set free, made holy & righteous in the sight of Almighty God.
Believing that - causes children of God to live differently than the children of men. We
don’t have to back up the declaration of our righteousness. Christ has already done that. He has won the victory against our oppressor.
Our life on earth is sort of like being notified that we’ve inherited ten billion dollars. We would start to live differently as soon as we heard the news, even if we had not yet received any of the money. In the Declaration of our Righteousness, you have already received some of your inheritance. At Baptism, we receive the gift of God’s Holy Spirit.
We’ve been declared to be Yahweh’s new testament people, & the Holy Spirit is at work in us, even now, renewing us. God’s New Covenant has already come, but there is even more awaiting you. Because now we are still those who break God’s covenant. The new man in you & me longs for that inner conflict & turmoil to end.
The prophet Jeremiah tells us there will be a time, after those days, when the old will have passed away & everything will be new – completely new. That will be the final Reformation, where the work begun in our baptism is completed in the resurrection of our body, as it is reunited with our soul, at the end of time. In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Lord, I believe Thy precious blood, which at the mercy seat of God pleads for the captives’ liberty, was also shed in love for me. When from the dust of death we rise, to claim our mansion in the skies, this then shall be our only plea; Christ Jesus lived & died for me. Amen. LSB 563:3 & 5.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet