Grace, Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and His only Son, Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.
Justification. A word; but more than a word. Justification is the basis of our belief. This word is used repeatedly in St. Paul’s letter to the Jews; Gentiles and Paul’s co-workers in the seaport town of Cenchreae on the Isthmus of Corinth and to the churches in Rome, Jerusalem and Spain.
Today we observe the day of Reformation. On this day in 1517, Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses which contained his objections to certain church practices. The good Rev. Dr. Martin Luther held this letter of St. Paul, which we know as The Letter to the Romans, very precious and of this letter he said:
This epistle is really the chief part of the New Testament, and is truly the purest gospel. It is worthy not only that every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, but also that he should occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul. We can never read it or ponder over it too much; for the more we deal with it, the more precious it becomes and the better it tastes.…
In this epistle we thus find most abundantly the things that a Christian ought to know, namely, what is law, gospel, sin, punishment, grace, faith, righteousness, Christ, God, good works, love, hope, and the cross; and also how we are to conduct ourselves toward everyone, be [they] righteous or sinner, strong or weak, friend or foe—and even toward our own selves. Moreover this is all ably supported with Scripture and proved by St. Paul’s own example and that of the prophets, so that one could not wish for anything more. Therefore it appears that he wanted in this one epistle to sum up briefly the whole Christian and evangelical doctrine… For, without doubt, whoever has this epistle well in his heart, has with him the light and power of the Old Testament. Therefore let every Christian be familiar with it and exercise himself in it continually. To this end may God give his grace. Amen. (AE 35:365, 380)
Law, Judgment, Justification – these three words are used repeatedly in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. Judgment is seen through the words forbearance, which in terms of the law means – “abstention from enforcing the payment of a debt”, and through the titles “the just one”, and “the justifier”. In verse 19 we are told the whole world is held accountable to God. God is the judge of our sins and we are under His judgment, as stated in Rev. 14:7a “And [the angel] said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come”.
God does sit in the seat of judgment over us. God holds our lives in his hands and compares them against His own holy righteousness; He weighs our lives in the true balance of justice which determines what is holy and what is evil. He and only He can declare us righteous. He and only He can justify us as worthy to enter into the kingdom of heaven.
God can do this because He made those who dwell on earth, every nation and tribe and language and people, and everything else: as it is commanded in Rev 14:7 “worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water”. God is our judge because he alone is purely holy and good.
God is holy and good while we are sinful and unclean. We have sinned against God in thought, word and deed; by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” [Romans 3:20] Yes, we are truly sinners and we cannot withstand the judgment of our God.
Our Judge and Justifier, Jesus Christ, came down from heaven to live with us in our Father’s creation. The Jews to whom Jesus was speaking in our Gospel reading of John 8 were astonished by what he told to them. “How can we be slaves? We are sons of Abraham. We are righteous. We are God’s chosen people. We keep the law. How can we not be free?”
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. [John 8:34-36]
Jesus was telling them not to be fooled by false arrogance. Jesus was telling them that their ‘good works’ of keeping the law amounted to nothing. The true judge of righteousness will not accept their ‘good works’ as proof. And the truth is, He will not accept ours either. For we are slaves to sin, and by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
Then what becomes of our boasting? [Paul writes] 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. [Romans 3:27-28]
As Luther would later write in his small catechism; ‘What does this mean?’ How are we set free? For this we must rely on God’s Grace, Mercy, and Redemption. These three words are also used by St. Paul in his letter to the Romans. We are justified by his grace as a gift. This is what grace is. We cannot earn it. We cannot buy it. It is by grace alone we are saved.
By the Grace of God we have been shown mercy. The act of that mercy was the incarnation of Jesus Christ – God made flesh. We have Jesus Christ standing before God the father saying, “This one’s debt of sin has been paid by my death on the cross. Through my resurrection, I have redeemed them. They now stand before you righteous and holy; washed of their sins by my sacrificial blood.”
This is the mercy given to us by the grace of God through the redemption of His Son, our Lord and Savior. This is why we are no longer under the law of works. The Law has been set apart from our judgment to be replaced by “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” [Romans 3:22]
For us this is good news. We are saved. As liberated children of God we enjoy the Christian freedom to tell others this good news. This good news is the eternal gospel we are commanded by our savior to proclaim to all who dwell on the earth. If we abide in these words of Christ Jesus we will truly be his disciples. His word is the truth and as Christians, we speak the truth so that others may be freed from the enslavement of sin.
We need not be afraid what the devil and the people of this world do to us because the Gospel of truth cannot be touched or corrupted. The glory of God cannot be debased by the evil of men; nor can the judgment of God be altered by the works of any creature. It may seem improbable that anyone would wish to remain a slave, yet we easily see many who do.
Therefore we must proclaim to them the truth. Proclaim to them the faith in Christ. Proclaim to them the true Word, which is Christ, so that they may be free indeed. We do this so that their former sins will be passed over by God’s divine forbearance and so that they will be justified by their faith in Jesus.
Through the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Law is replaced with faith. The judgment of our works is replaced with the mercy of God through his Grace. Our justification, or our being declared righteous, is ours through the redemption of Christ’s body and blood. Jesus is the truth and the truth has set us free.
AE Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works. American Edition. General editors Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehmann. 56 vols. St. Louis: Concordia, and Philadelphia: Muhlenberg and Fortress, 1955–86.