2017-10-29 By Faith

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          October 29, 2017

“By Faith”
Text: Romans 1:16-17

500 years ago, on Tuesday coming, Dr. Martin Luther (1483-1546) nailed his 95 theses, or assertions for debate, to the church door at Wittenberg.  Thus began that recovery of orthodox Christian doctrine and renewal of ardent Christian faith known as the Protestant Reformation, and thus began a new era in Western cultural history.  Our text, as we’ll note more fully later, was crucial for Luther’s understanding of the Gospel.  It remains crucial for our faith and discipleship today.  Let us hear it read once again in this place on this Reformation Sunday morning.

(HERE READ THE TEXT)

Paul, led by the Holy Spirit, writes to the Roman Christian households, and to us, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel….”  As we noted last week, so we recall today that the Gospel is the good news about Jesus Christ for our needy souls.  Paul, and we, by the Spirit, are not ashamed of it.  We are not embarrassed by the Gospel—but, rather, we glory in it.  We are not disgraced by it either.  On the contrary, the Gospel ennobles us.  The world may try to inflict shame, disgrace, and the like upon us concerning the Gospel.  Yet Paul is not ashamed of God’s glorious news, and neither are we.

This Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.  Let’s delve into this glorious truth more deeply.  When Paul writes of the Gospel as the power of God, he uses the Greek dunamis (dunamiV), which is the root of our English word dynamite.  We tend to think of power as explosive strength, and this is correct.  God’s power is infinite; that is, He is omnipotent.  There is no limit to His strength.  Nor is there limit, either short or long, to the time in which He exerts His great strength.  Moreover, God is omnipotent over all things—and He is omnipotent especially over the things that pertain to our salvation.  The Gospel indeed is the power of God—to a blessed end, as we now see.

The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation.  When we think of salvation in the Biblical sense, we think along two line.  First, we think of rescue from perilous state.  For us who are in Christ, we recall our former lost condition, being dead in sins and trespasses (Ephesians 2:1), and we recall even today the just sentence for those in that estate—a miserable conscious eternity in hell, both away from the presence and gifts of the Lord and in the presence of the one hating our souls evermore with unfathomable hatred.  Now that is a perilous state.  Happily, as we now note, we in Christ no longer remain in said state.

Second, we think of rescue as placement in secure state.  Unshakable, abundant, eternal life with the Lord—enjoyed by the redeemed of God in Christ now in part and to the full in Glory—is a secure state.  This, along with many other blessings, is our new-birthright in Christ.  Would that all welcome this good news and be saved.  Let’s now look a bit more at welcoming God’s good news in Christ.

The Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.  As we recall from last week’s sermon, Biblical faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord unto salvation involves two components.  First, we give our cognitive assent to Gospel facts.  We declare our conviction that what God says in His Word is true.  Second, we place of volitional (that is, willful) trust in the Person and work of Jesus Christ.  God sovereignly grants such faith to elect saints from every people group—to the Jew first, as Scripture narrates, but also to the Greek, or Gentile.  Hence, God elects His redeemed from every people group—and thus shall the heavenly vision granted to the Apostle John come to pass, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:9-10).

In this glorious Gospel, conveyed to us on Scripture’s pages, we see a true righteousness revealed—one not of man’s invention or doing, but wholly of God.  This righteousness of God is completely and exclusively by faith (best translation of Romans 1:17a, in my view, contra ESV, et al.).  It comes not by good works that we perform (Ephesians ii.8-9).  Neither comes it by interposing merits of anyone else save Jesus.  It comes by faith in Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior—nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.  This revelation of true righteousness, to judge from Scripture, was God’s plan all the time.

Abraham, the human exemplar of faith par excellence, believed, and it was credited to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6).  Habakkuk, led by the Spirit, declared that the just shall live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4)—and Paul, by the Spirit, quotes it in Romans 1:17b.  This righteousness, like the dawn, shone forth dimly at first, but with increasing brightness over providential time until, in the Gospel, this righteousness by faith shines brilliantly as the full light of day (cf. Proverbs 4:18).  The Gospel reveals righteousness with God, by faith, completely and exclusively.

This changes everything for God’s elect folk.  Consider two examples from Church history.  Martin Luther, prior to understanding today’s text aright—likely after his thirtieth birthday, had no assurance of salvation.  He did every sort of good work and subjected himself to extreme deprivations in order to please God.  Yet, he felt not God’s pleasure.  Luther, in God’s good time, came to understand from today’s text that our merciful God justifies us by faith.  He wrote later of this understanding, “Here I felt I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.  There a totally new face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me.[1]  Afterward, to say the least, God used Luther mightily: in refutation of error within the Roman Church, in promulgation of orthodox Christian faith and practice, and in translation of the Bible from its original languages into German—a landmark work in modern German akin to The King James Bible in modern English.

Two hundred years later God sanctified this text to the use of John Wesley (1703-91), a high-church Anglican to his dying day who many consider the principal founder of the Methodist movement.  Prior to grasping this text, Wesley both lacked power in ministry (his missionary service to the infant Georgia colony was a failure) and fortitude in trial (he trembled at a fierce sea storm, while his brother Moravians were calm throughout).  The breakthrough came for him on the evening of May 24, 1738.  Hear Wesley’s own testimony:

“In the evening I went unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate-Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans.  About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed.  I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation: And an assurance was given me, that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”[2]

 

Afterward, God used John Wesley greatly.  He sent this high-church Anglican to preach in the streets of English towns in order that the common people may hear the glad tidings of God in Christ.  God used Wesley to organize new believers into smaller groups with oversight and accountability—a modified Episcopalian governance to be sure, but distinctive in the way that only can now be called Methodist.

Let us now know what Luther, and Wesley, and many others knew and have known.  Remember, the work of God is to believe on Jesus, Whom He has sent (John 6:29).  The very faith whereby we believe is itself a gift.  The works pleasing to God flow from our saving relationship with Jesus.  They are not the currency we use to obtain salvation.  Righteousness with God is completely and exclusively by faith in Jesus.  Therefore, believe on Him, and thou shalt be saved: thou, and thine house (Acts 16:31).

AMEN.

[1] Martin Luther, Preface to the Latin Writings, vol. 34, p. 337, quoted in Justo L. Gonzalez, A History of Christian Thought, Revised Edition, Volume Three: From the Protestant Reformation to the Twentieth Century (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1986), 33.

[2] John Wesley, Works, vol. 1, p. 103, quoted in Gonzalez, ibid, 309.

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