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MARTIN LUTHER ON JUSTIFICATION
by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
A sermon preached on Lord's Day Evening, July 17, 2005
"As it is written, The just shall live by faith" (Romans 1:17).
Some may question why I quote Martin Luther. At the outset, let it be clear and plain that I am a Baptist, not a Lutheran. Regarding the nature of the church, I am a Baptist. Regarding baptism, I am a Baptist. Regarding the Lord's Supper, I am a Baptist. Regarding the nation of Israel and the Jewish people, I am a Baptist. These are important points - and on every one of them I disagree with Luther, and take sides with the Baptists against him.
Luther was a rough old customer. He stands out in history as a very human figure, a creature of his time, sometimes crude and obstinate. He did not see all things clearly, and he never developed a comprehensive systematic theology. But this very human figure had extraordinary gifts. Many times he saw to the heart of theological questions and expressed his thoughts with great originality and force, though often in harsh and vitriolic language.
And yet, on the most critical of all points, I stand squarely behind the Reformer. I stand with Luther on justification by faith in Christ Jesus alone! That was Luther's main theme - and I agree with him completely on it!
My first encounter with Luther was in a Baptist church, long ago, in the 1950's. One Sunday night they showed a black-and-white movie about him. He seemed like a strange figure from the past, who had nothing to say of interest to me. The movie seemed boring and long, and I wondered why the pastor, a man named Dr. Pegg, even bothered to show it. I should add that I now have a different view of the film.
My second encounter with Luther came later, after I had become a Christian. I read about John Wesley's conversion experience, in which Wesley said,
In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldergate 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 that I did trust Christ, Christ above for salvation; and an assurance was given me, that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and had saved me from the law of sin and death (John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley, third edition, Baker Book House, 1979 reprint, volume I, p. 103) .
This made an impression on me, because I knew that Wesley went on to be a powerful preacher during the First Great Awakening.
Still later, I learned that John Bunyan read Luther during the time when he was so remarkably converted, "Expanding his study of the Scripture with writings of Martin Luther" (Pilgrim's Progress, Thomas Nelson, 1999 reprint, publisher's introduction, p. xii). Bunyan went on to become the most widely read Baptist author of all time!
John Wesley, the Methodist, was greatly blessed by Luther. John Bunyan, the Baptist, was helped by reading what he wrote. I thought that there must be some good in reading him after all.
I found that the Book of Romans was at the heart of Luther's message, for he said,
This Epistle is really the chief part of the New Testament and the very purest Gospel, and it is worthy not only that every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, but occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul. It can never be read or pondered too much, and the more it is dealt with the more precious it becomes, and the better it tastes (Martin Luther, "Preface to the Epistle to the Romans," Works of Martin Luther, Baker Book House, 1982 reprint, volume VI, page 447).
Why do I think Luther is important today? Simply because he takes us back to the Book of Romans, and shows us so very clearly that Romans "is really the chief part of the New Testament and the very purest Gospel." That is what we must hear again today! More than anything else, we need to return to the a faith that is rooted and grounded in the Book of Romans! The Catholics of Luther's day had forgotten the core message of Romans. The decisionists of our day have done the same. But it is in the Book of Romans that the pure light of the Gospel of Christ penetrates the darkness.
"As it is written, The just shall live by faith" (Romans 1:17).
Please stand and read Romans 3:20-26 aloud.
"Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" (Romans 3:20-26).
You may be seated.
What is that but a pure, wholehearted proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? It is as plain as the nose on your face, in this passage, which I think is the heart of Romans, the clearest part of the clearest Epistle! It would do anyone great good to memorize all seven of these verses. I am far too old, my mind is no longer nimble enough, to memorize the whole Epistle, as Luther did. But I am going to try my best over the next several weeks to memorize these seven verses, Romans 3:20-26. And I will give a crisp new $10.00 bill to any young person here tonight who does the same thing. This will be our memory work at camp. And I will ask you to recite these seven verses. If you can, I will gladly give you a $10.00 bill from my own pocket. Get the words into your mind. Think about them. May they do you as much good as they did Dr. Luther, and John Wesley, and John Bunyan! I'm giving you a head start. Begin at home tonight to memorize Romans 3:20-26. I may have to give several hundred dollars out - but I will gladly do it, for the words of these verses could well change your entire life! (This offer is only for those going to our church camp).
Take note of several of these verses now. Verse 20 is critical. It says,
"Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20).
Luther said that you must not think the law teaches what to do or not to do. That's the way human laws work. Human laws are fulfilled by good works, even though your heart disagrees with them. But God judges by what is in the bottom of your heart, and for this reason, His law gives its demands to the inmost human heart and cannot be satisfied with good works, but rather condemns works that are done otherwise than from the bottom of the heart, as mere hypocrisies and lies. That is why all men are called liars, in Psalm 116:11, because no one keeps or can keep God's law from the bottom of his heart, for every person dislikes that which is good and has pleasure in what is bad. If, then, there is no willing pleasure in what is good, then your inmost heart does not want to do good. It dislikes the law of God and rebels against it. Then there is surely sin and God's wrath and punishment are deserved, even though, on the outside, you seem to have many good works. You are actually condemned by God's law, because your inner heart rebels against it with all your might.
But the laws of God were not given to justify you, or save you in any way. Read Romans 3:20 again, out loud.
"[For] by the deeds of the law [or works] there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20).
You can try to be as good as possible. But God doesn't look at you outwardly. He looks on your heart. And there He sees rattlesnakes and poison spiders, and much rebellion and sin.
"Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his..." (Romans 3:20).
The more you try to obey the law to be saved, the worse off you will be. This was true in Luther's conversion experience, and also in Wesley and Bunyan's life, as they tried desperately to become justified by being good. But the law goes much farther than that. It probes your heart to see the dreadful reality that you have sinned in heart and mind against a Holy God. Notice the last words of Romans 3:20,
"for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20).
The gracious Spirit of God must come and burden you with the load of your guilty sin, which is ready to drag you down into Hell fire.
"For by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20).
But God has given a cure for souls that are trying to escape the terror of this guilt. The more they struggle to overcome their sin, the deeper they are dragged into sin. Hasn't that been your situation? The harder you try not to be a sinner, the worse sinner you inwardly become - pushing away God's wonderful cure for sin, and trying to establish your own goodness by coming to church, saying your prayers, obeying your parents, and many other works of the law.
But nothing that you say or do can give you either peace within, or peace with God, who knows how sinful your heart really is.
Drop down to verse 24. Here is the place that your guilty, sinful soul must come for healing, justification, and propitiation. Read again, out loud, verses 24-25, ending in verse 25 with the words, "through faith in his blood."
"Being justified [made just and clean in God's] freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation [a place of pardon from sin and escape from God's wrath] through faith in his blood" (Romans 3:24-25).
What the law could not do for you, grace, through "faith in" Christ's Blood can do for you. Only in the Blood of Christ can you find redemption from your sins and the propitiation of God's wrath.
Now read the last half of verse 26 aloud, starting with the words, "that he might be the justifier." God in Christ is the one who justifies you and makes you fully clean in His eyes.
"that he might be just [because he required payment for sin in Christ's agony and death], and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" (Romans 3:26).
In the vicarious death of Christ on the Cross, your sins are paid and your record is clean from sin, because
"Christ died for our sins" (I Corinthians 15:3).
Christ Jesus paid the full price for every one of your sins on the Cross.
Then what is left for you to do? The answer is given in the second half of verse 26,
"That he [God] might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" (Romans 3:26).
Believing in Jesus. That is the whole answer to a lost person struggling, trying to live a better life by keeping the "law." Throw out your good works, and throw out your boasting over being better than some others in the church. You simply cannot be saved that way.
"[God is] the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" (Romans 3:26).
Have faith in His blood, shed for you once on the Cross, now translated into Heaven, where it is ever-fresh blood to cleanse your sin. Have faith in that blood, even the Blood of Christ.
"Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." (John 1:29).
Then believe on Jesus Christ Himself. See Him hanging on the Cross, paying for your sin. See Him rising to Heaven to present His holy Blood before God. Have "faith in his blood." [God] is the justifier and Saviour of every person "which believeth in Jesus." (Romans 3:26). Have faith in Jesus' Blood! "Believe in Jesus." That is the only way to be justified for sin and cleansed from sin. It is the everlasting Gospel of Christ! Come to Christ! Trust His Blood! Believe on Him! You will be saved in an instant.
"Ah," you may say, "I have tried to do this so long." Would you say that about learning to drive a car? Would you say, "I've tried to learn to drive for so long and I'm still no good at it!" I hope you would not say that. I hope you would get back in the car and drive it until you mastered it completely, and could drive as good as anyone else. And so it is with justification, salvation from sin in Christ Jesus. Go back to it again until you master it, or, better, until it masters you, and Christ's Blood cleanses you, and Christ thoroughly justifies you from all sin.
That is the central message of Luther - and it is a very good message. Hear what Luther and the Book of Romans say on justification by Christ's Blood. Believe on Christ. Throw yourself on Christ. He will save you as He did Luther, and Wesley and Bunyan. And may, by the grace of God, this salvation come to you and fill you with joy and peace by believing on Christ Jesus.
Luther was a human being. He was no perfect man. He would be the first to tell you that. He saw some things very unclearly. Forgive him, for he preached in a very dark and evil time. But, though you must not believe all that he said, believe him on this, the crown jewel of Reformation - have faith in Christ's Blood. Believe in Jesus. Then you will be cleared of all your sin. Then you will be justified in God's sight. Then you will be a true Christian - and the Blood of Christ and faith in Christ will last you your whole life long - until you enter the Celestial City (from Pilgrim's Progress), see Jesus, and grasp friend Luther by the hand in joy.
Be washed clean by the Blood of Christ. Have full faith in Christ's Blood and you will be cleansed from your sins. Believe on the Saviour Jesus wholeheartedly. He will never forsake you or let you perish.
(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Romans 5:6-9.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
"For All My Sin" (by Norman Clayton, 1943).
THE OUTLINE OF
MARTIN LUTHER ON JUSTIFICATION
by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
"As it is written, The just shall live by
faith" (Romans 1:17).