Dear radio friends,
Today we rejoice in and praise God for the Reformation of the church. This Reformation was begun on October 31, 1517, by Martin Luther. Of that glorious Reformation we sing with Psalm 126: “When in His might the Lord arose to set us free, and Zion was restored from her captivity, in transports then of joy and mirth we praised the Lord of all the earth.”
You ask, “Why is that such an important event? Why are you filled with praise for God for a Reformation of the church? Wasn’t that division of the body of Christ?” We answer, “We rejoice in that Reformation because, at that time, the answer to the most important question of life was given back to the soul of the church.” That most important question is this: How can I be made right with God?
Slowly, after the death of the apostles, and in the following hundreds and even thousand years, the devil stole away the right answer to that question and put a false answer in its place. To the question, “How can I be made right with God?” the answer of the church was this: By works, by the merit or intercession of saints, through the virgin Mary, by the activity of a priest, by money. To the languishing soul of the child of God who was asking the question: How can I be made right with God? the church was feeding the child of God sawdust, not the Bread of Life.
What is the answer to that question? In the Reformation God brought back the biblical answer, the gospel—brought back the right answer. We can be made right with God only through the work of another, through the work of Jesus Christ, a perfect work upon the cross—when Jesus Christ actually stood in the place of all God’s elect and actually bore all their guilt and, in the place of that guilt, gave them a spotless and perfect righteousness.
The apostle Paul celebrates this glorious truth in his epistles, especially in Romans 3:21ff. There, in that passage, the apostle teaches us that God has given us a righteousnessin Jesus Christ. Through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ, He has freely imputed to us a righteousness. Now we appear before God, on the basis of the work of Christ once upon the cross, as forever pardoned of all of our sins and as perfectly righteous in His sight. We could put it in these words. The apostle is teaching in that beautiful passage that God took all that was upon my ledger, all of my guilt and all of my debt, and reckoned that to the account of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ bore that guilt and suffered for that sin upon the cross. Then God put all that was upon Christ’s record, His perfect innocence and obedience, and He reckoned that to me—so that now, in Jesus Christ, He declares me righteous. And I receive all of this by faith: God’s gift to me. I am justified, in the sight of God, by faith in Jesus Christ alone.
That was the heart of the Reformation of the church.
Now I know that if you are a student of Protestant history, you will know that there were more issues involved in the Reformation than just that of justification by faith. There was the truth of Scripture alone as the authority for faith and life. There was the truth that salvation was solely and entirely of grace. There was the glorious truth of soli Deogloria, to God alone the glory. But the heart of the Reformation was this: How can a soul be made right with God? Only, only and surely, through the perfect work of Jesus Christ once offered and finished on the cross in our behalf.
Are you a child of this Reformation? When I say “October 31” what comes to your mind? Candy? Or this treasure beyond all treasure: the gospel of salvation freely by grace through the merits of Jesus Christ alone.
We should ask ourselves this week this question as Protestants: “Are we Protestants like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day?” Jesus said of them in Matthew 23 that the Pharisees decorated the graves of the prophets. They built the tombs of the prophets and garnished the sepulchers of the righteous. They had great swelling praise for the prophets who had gone before them. But they did not their words. And they did not believe the teaching of the prophets. Are we like them as Protestants? May it be that among Protestants this glorious gospel of justification by faith lives in the heart.
If that is so, then there will be one trait in us above all others. That trait is humility. The apostle speaks of that in Romans 3, the passage to which I was referring, in the verses 27 and 28. There we read: “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” The apostle Paul, as I said, has been teaching the glorious truth of justification by faith, that God has imputed to Jesus Christ the guilt of our sin and has imputed or reckoned to us the righteousness of Christ. Then he says, “And what will be the result of that, if you truly know the wonder of God’s grace?” His answer is: humility. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? By the law of faith. Paul has taught the truth of justification by faith—how God could remain holy and just and yet be the justifier of him who believes in Jesus.
And as a good teacher, Paul immediately applies his lessons. He says to us, “If you understand this truth of justification by grace through faith, then you will be a humble person. You will be profoundly humble.” You will say with Paul in Galatians 6:14, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We will put to death all of our own pride and we will exalt in God and in God alone. We will say, “To God, and to God alone, be all the glory.”
Where is boasting, then? asked the apostle Paul. It is excluded. It is excluded from your soul if you understand how you were made right with God. If you understand that you were made right with God only by a mere grace of God, through the work of another, Jesus Christ, by that alone—if you know that, then all boasting will forever be excluded from your soul, your heart, your mouth, your mind, your entire being.
To boast is to attribute something to ourselves as the basis on which we may claim honor. It is to say, “This is mine. I did this.”
Now the apostle Paul (I should say, the Holy Spirit) is saying this: “If you have truly tasted the wonder of justification, of how a proud and arrogant sinner can be made right with God, you will expel boasting from your heart.” And, conversely, He means to say this: “If you, or I, boast, if it comes up in us as we look upon ourselves as Christians that we are better than others; or this, that our salvation is owed to us—then even if we could write a book on the truth of justification, we do not know in our heart one word of what we are saying.” You can put it this way: If salvation does not root up, stamp out, and destroy pride in your heart, then your salvation is something other than true salvation. If the knowledge of how you have been made right with God by grace alone in Christ does not destroy all boasting, then you have no saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. The slayer of pride, the killer of boasting, is the biblical, Reformed truth of justification by faith alone.
The apostle Paul is bringing up the matter of boasting in connection with the truth of justification. He asks, “Now as you have understood the truth of how a sinner is made right with God, how a sinner is justified, is there anything there of which we may boast? Is there anything there of which we may say, This is mine?” The apostle says, “It is excluded.” Where is boasting then? It is excluded. That word “excluded” is strong. It means “keep out.” It is the “no trespassing” sign. In other words, the apostle says that when you enter into the realm of justification by faith; when by grace you come to understand how it is that you have been made right with God through the work of another (Jesus Christ); when you understand that you have received the full pardon of all of your sins only in the work of Christ upon the cross and that, because of that work, God now looks upon you as spotlessly righteous—if you understand all of those things, then boasting is excluded. When you enter into that realm of justification, there is a sign posted. And that sign reads: “Boasting excluded. Boasters will be prosecuted.”
When you look today to God and to yourself and you ask, “Lord, how can I ever be restored to Thy favor? How can I, a sinner, be made right with God?”—when you know the answer to that question from the gospel, then you will say, “All boasting, Lord, is forever banished from my heart.” Supposing that, confessing that you are a Protestant, confessing that you believe the gospel of justification by faith alone, you nevertheless still say in your heart, “Lord, remember, I raised my kids. That stands for something doesn’t it? I sat in church. Through it all I lived a Christian life. Don’t all these acts count for something? I paid a lot of money for Christian education.” The answer of justification by faith is this: No, those acts count for nothing. They do not add to your salvation. They are not the basis of your salvation. You are not saved on the basis of any work that you have done, could do, or do do as a child of God. Your salvation is based solely upon Jesus Christ alone.
Where is boasting then? It is excluded. Do not run ahead and say that I just said that the entire Christian life is unnecessary—that it is unnecessary for us to raise our kids properly or to sit in church. No. That is the fruit. That will all flow out of an irresistible impulse in your heart of thankfulness to God. But get it straight. Does any of that count, does any of that form any part of the basis of your being declared righteous with God? The answer of God is: No!
Where is boasting? It is excluded. When it comes to receiving a right standing before God, keep out all boasting, all works (also the good works of the Holy Spirit performed in your heart). Our standing righteous with God must be attributed only, solely, completely to Jesus Christ—His work upon Calvary once and completed and finished. Because of what Jesus has done to save us entirely by grace, all boasting is excluded!
Are we, nevertheless, guilty of pride? We will admit all kinds of defects, indiscretions, and mistakes, but sinners will never admit their awful, stinking pride. But when grace comes to us, we see that pride. For the pride we deserve hell. How can I, who have so belittled God; how can I, who have dishonored His majesty; how can I ever be made right with Him? Here is the answer: Romans 3:24, “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
Let me read to you what Martin Luther wrote:
Thou [he is referring to Christ] art my righteousness; but I am Thy sin. Thou hast taken what belonged to me and Thou hast given me what is Thine. Thou became what Youwere not so that I might become what I was not.
Boasting is excluded.
Why is boasting excluded? Because of the way God has justified us. I am not again going to go into the explanation of justification as is given by the apostle in Romans 3:21-26, but would point out to you that all of that happened before you or I had anything to do with it. God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to suffer and die in the place of proud, ungodly sinners so that the wrath we deserved would be absorbed by Jesus. An infinitely valuable sacrifice was accomplished by Jesus Christ when He cried out, “It is finished.” God did all of this before you or I had anything to say about it. It was done for us. Of what, then, shall we boast?
Justification undercuts all boasting. It means that we cannot and did not save ourselves. We are not saved because of anything we have done but only in the work of Jesus Christ.
But there was another reason. And the apostle gives that reason. We do not boast if we know that we are justified by faith because the way we receive the consciousness or assurance of justification is a way calculated by God to exclude our boasting. Listen carefully to what the apostle says. “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law?” Now when he asks, “By what law?” he means, by what “rule,” or by what “principle”? By what rule is boasting excluded? “Of works?” asks the apostle. Is the principle of works the reason we should not boast? “Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” The apostle says, “If the rule was that we were justified by works, then we would indeed boast. Boasting would not be excluded. If we were justified by works or by the deeds of the law, boasting would be demanded.” If your standing with God were adjusted, were improved, were repaired in the slightest way by your works, you may certainly boast. And you may boast before the very face of God, if you dare.
The deeds of the law refer to the works or the deeds that the law calls for. But the apostle says that we are not justified by works. If we were justified by works, then boasting would not be excluded. Boasting, as I said, would be demanded. Boasting is not excluded by a gospel of works. If the gospel is this, that you go and you do, and because you do, you shall live—if that is the gospel, then boasting is not excluded. But if the gospel is this: Live, live because of what He did for you, and then go and do, then all of our boasting is excluded.
Boasting is excluded by the law of faith. When God gives us faith, He gives us the knowledge of what He has done. Faith is not now a work that we perform, whereby we attach ourselves to Jesus Christ. Oh no. Faith is a gift that God gives to us whereby we are attached to Jesus Christ. Through the conduit of faith, through the vehicle of faith, we receive the assurance of all that God has done for us in Jesus Christ. And because faith tells me all that Christ has done for me, I know that I have been justified entirely of grace. And, therefore, by the law of faith, boasting is excluded.
Who then is exalted in salvation? God! Jesus saves, saves alone, saves by grace.
So let us have done with it. Who saves? Jesus. Whose is all the glory? Jesus. Who did all things necessary to make me right with God? Jesus. Who made me right now innocent, free from all condemnation, so righteous that it is as if I had never sinned? Jesus. Who makes me so righteous that the devil cannot find a speck, cannot find a sin not forgiven in me, though he go over my life with a magnifying glass? Jesus. Who has made me spotless and forgiven all my sin in the sight of heaven? Jesus. All hail the power of Jesus’ name. Let him that glorieth, glory in the Lord! God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of my Lord Jesus Christ. That is the gospel—the gospel that saves. That is the true gospel. And all who, by faith, embrace it with all their heart are truly saved.
Humble yourself under His name. Turn from all of your pride and all of your self-reliance. Trust in Him and in Him alone. You see, Jesus Christ is not one among many others. He is not one mediator among other mediators. He is not one advocate with other advocates. Mary is no advocate. Mary is no mediator. No priest, no man, no work that you perform as a child of God is a mediator. Nothing, nothing can make you righteous in the sight of God save Jesus—Jesus only upon the cross of Calvary, His completed, finished work upon the cross. He brings you to God. He surely brings you to God. He only can bring you to God.
So, humble yourself.
The result of justification by faith is profound humility, unquenchable joy, and resounding praise to God. That is a child of the Reformation. That is one who knows that he is justified by faith. If you know you are justified today, if you are an heir of this glorious Reformation gospel, you will not lift up yourself above another. You will not say, “There’s no hope for that sinner over there.” But you will say this: “I am what I am by the grace of God.” You will have a zeal for missions, for justification by faith declares that salvation is not for one race or for one nationality or for one social status. It is not for those people “who’ve got it all together.” But God justifies the ungodly from all over the world.
And when you know that you are justified by faith, you will live a godly life. You will show the place of the law of God in your life. For you will say, “I am not saved on the basis of the law, but I am saved now on the basis of Christ in order that I might be to the praise of His grace, by observing and doing from the heart all of His commandments.”
And then you will rest and have peace. For you are justified in the sight of heaven. Jesus Christ, the Mediator, sent of God, your Mediator and Advocate, has performed a perfect work for you upon the cross, a spotless work to which nothing need be added, nothing can be added, a perfect work that shall stand. It will stand throughout the days of this earth. It will stand in the day of His judgment and throughout all eternity. We are righteous in what He has done for us.
And you will praise God. In God will you boast all the day. In Him you will glory. You will say, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of my Lord Jesus Christ.” When we know that we are justified by faith through grace, boasting in ourselves is excluded. And we will boast in Him.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy precious Word. Seal it to our hearts today. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.