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LUTHER’S TEXT

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord's Day Evening, October 26, 2014

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:16, 17).


Here the Apostle Paul is speaking to the Christians in Rome. The city of Rome was the capital of the world at that time. In that great city there were marble temples, and great statues of the Roman gods. There were no church buildings. The Christians who were there in Rome were a small, despised sect – not a recognized religion at all. But Paul says very boldly, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.”

How could he say that? How could he have the confidence to say it? “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.” The gospel of Christ speaks of Christ’s death on the Cross to pay for our sins and His resurrection from the dead to give us life. Paul said, “I am not ashamed of that at all.” Why not? “For it is the power of God unto salvation.” The Greek word translated “power” is “dunamis.” We get the English word “dynamite” from that Greek word. There is power in the Gospel! Dr. Marvin R. Vincent called it “divine energy.” The Gospel of Christ is full of power! The Gospel regenerates dead souls.

You come here to church and the things you hear about God and Christ don’t mean a thing to you. But I preach the Gospel to you. You say, “Why does he keep talking about that? He goes on and on, talking about Christ on the Cross and Christ rising from the dead. Why doesn’t he talk about something else?” Well, my friend, I know that nothing else can change you from a sinner into a real Christian! I can’t teach you to be a Christian! But I can preach the Gospel to you. If you are one of the elect, God will take the Gospel of Christ and use it like dynamite – to break down your false ideas – to open your heart to Christ – to bring your soul to life in the sight of God. When the Gospel takes a hold on you, you come to life in the Spirit – you trust Christ and you are born again! Nothing but the Gospel of Christ has the power to do that! Nobody ever said it better than Charles Wesley,

He breaks the power of canceled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean;
His blood availed for me.
   (“O For a Thousand Tongues” by Charles Wesley, 1707-1788).

Then the Apostle says, “it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” The power of the Gospel of Christ brings life and salvation to everyone who believes. The Gospel doesn’t save everyone. Many people laugh at it. Many people think they can be saved some other way. Christ only saves those who believe the Gospel and trust Him. They are the only ones who experience “the power of God unto salvation.”

Then the Apostle said, “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed.” “Therein” refers back to the Gospel. In the Gospel of Christ the righteousness of God is revealed. God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to atone for our sins on the Cross. God would not be righteous if He overlooked our sin. He sent Jesus to die on the Cross as our substitute, to pay the penalty for our sin. When you trust Jesus, you are clothed in what Luther called an “alien righteousness.” You are not clothed in your own righteousness, earned by being “good.” When you trust Jesus, you are clothed in His righteousness. It is an “alien righteousness” because it isn’t yours – it is Christ’s righteousness that saves you.

And then the Apostle said, “As it is written, The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17). “As it is written.” He is quoting from the Old Testament book of Habakkuk. There the prophet Habakkuk said, “The just shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). Paul quoted that verse from Habakkuk three times in the New Testament – Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, and Hebrews 10:38. In each case it says, “The just shall live by faith.” This is the text that God opened Martin Luther’s eyes to see. This is the text that changed the world and brought in the great revival called the “Reformation.” Here is what Dr. McGee said about those words, “The just shall live by faith,”

Justification by faith means that a sinner who trusts Christ is not only pardoned because Christ died, but he also stands before God complete in Christ. It means not only subtraction of sin, but addition of righteousness. Christ “was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification” (Romans 4:25) – that we might stand before God complete in Christ (J. Vernon McGee, Th.D., Thru the Bible, volume IV, p. 651; note on Romans 1:17).

You may say, “That’s a lot of stuff to remember!” Yes, but all that is made clear in the life of Martin Luther. He lived from 1483 until 1546. Luther is in a category very few men occupy. He is like Paul, Columbus, Magellan, or Edison, or Einstein – a man who changed the world and the course of human history.

Modern authors call Luther a “medieval” man. They are critical of his strong belief in angels, demons, and Satan. They think that his view that the human race is locked in a battle between God and the Devil is exaggerated. They especially react against his fear of God’s wrath and his deep anguish over his sin. To me, this reveals more about the modern authors themselves than it does about Luther. It shows that these “new-evangelical” authors don’t believe in angels, demons and Satan! It shows that they don’t believe what the Bible teaches about the conflict between good and evil! And, especially, it shows that these “new-evangelicals” have no fear of God and no conviction of sin! Luther comes out looking like a normal Christian! The modern new-evangelicals who criticize him come out looking like secularized lost people – not Christians at all! May God help us! I find that his comments on the Book of Romans are, almost without exception, clear and correct. I was startled to find that he was even right about the Jews. He said, “From this passage it is generally concluded that the Jews at the end of the world will be converted to faith in Christ...The Jews who are now fallen, will be converted and saved, after the heathen according to the fulness of the elect are come in. They will not remain outside forever, but in their own time they will be converted” (Luther’s Commentary on Romans, Kregel Publications, 1976 edition, pp. 161, 162; note on Romans 11:25-36). That seems pretty close to what the Bible teaches. I know he later said harsh things, when he was old and sick, but we should forgive him. His views came out of Catholic “replacement theology,” the belief that the Church replaces Israel – a false doctrine which is held even today by many Calvinists! May God have mercy on us! God still has an earthly covenant with Israel and the Jewish people, as clearly stated in Romans 11:25-27.

Luther’s father was a miner, who wanted him to become an attorney. He started to study for that purpose. But one day he was walking during a thunderstorm. Lightning struck very closely to him. He fell to the earth and cried out, “Saint Anne help me. I will become a monk!” That meant he would join a monastery and be secluded from the world. But his deep involvement in religious practice did not help him find peace with God. Modern “new-evangelical” authors tend to say his fear of God was wrong and “medieval.” How false! How utterly false! Luther’s fear of God was perfectly correct. Of unsaved men, the Bible speaks, “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18). Luther said, “By nature we are unrighteous and without fear of God. Hence, we must deeply humble ourselves and confess our depravity and ignorance before God” (Luther, ibid., p. 74; note on Romans 3:18). It is the grace of God that awakens a sinner to his lost condition. As John Newton (1725-1807) put it, “‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear” (“Amazing Grace”). The absence of fear is practical atheism.

Luther was very conscious of his sin. By this he meant the plague of his own heart. Nothing that he did could relieve him of his sense of guilt. As he studied the Bible for his lectures and sermons he thought of the words of Johann Staupitz, who told him, “Look to the wounds of the sweet Saviour.” There in his study he saw the Cross of Christ. He saw how the wrath and love of God are joined together in Christ on the Cross. Luther wrote to his mother,

Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that “the just shall live by faith.” Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith [in Christ]. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning (Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand, Mentor Books, 1977, page 49).

From that moment on Luther’s theology was called the “theology of the cross.” He said, “The cross alone is our theology.” If you are going to be saved from your sin, it must be through faith in the crucified Christ! There is no other way to come as a sinless man before a holy God.

There in his study Luther saw this. He saw that the righteousness of God in our text does not refer to an attribute of God – it is a righteousness that God gives to us, and He gives it to us through faith in Jesus. “The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17). Dr. Lloyd-Jones said, “Our faith does not justify us. It is the righteousness of Jesus Christ that justifies – and nothing else!...God preserve us from turning faith into works, and of trying to justify ourselves by our faith. It is [Christ’s] righteousness that puts me right, and it comes to me through faith. Faith is the...channel, through which this righteousness of Christ is given to me...” (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, M.D., Romans – Exposition of Chapter 1, The Gospel of God, Banner of Truth, 1985 edition, p. 307). When Luther read the words, “The just shall live by faith” he said, “This expression of Paul’s became to me in very truth a Gate to Paradise.” Dr. Lloyd-Jones said, “What a revelation! What a transformation! From a miserable, wretched, unhappy monk, counting his beads and fasting and sweating and praying, and yet more and more conscious of failure, to the herald of the Reformation! to the glorious preacher of the gospel, rejoicing in the ‘glorious liberty of the children of God’!” (Lloyd-Jones, ibid., p. 309). Count Zinzendorf said, in the words Mr. Griffith sang a moment ago,

Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness
   My beauty are, my glorious dress;
Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
   With joy shall I lift up my head.
(“Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness”
      by Count Nicolaus von Zinzendorf, 1700-1760).

Or, as Edward Mote put it,

My hope is built on nothing less
   Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness...
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
   Faultless to stand before the throne.
On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;
   All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
      (“The Solid Rock” by Edward Mote, 1797-1874).

I am asking you tonight to trust Jesus, “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The moment you trust Jesus, you are saved, justified, and safe for ever and ever. I hope you will trust Jesus tonight. Like Luther, you will be “reborn and [go] through the open doors into Paradise.” As Johann Staupitz told Luther, “Look to the wounds of the sweet Saviour.”

“The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17).

Dr. Chan, please pray that someone will trust Jesus and be saved! Amen.

(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Mr. Abel Prudhomme: Romans 1:15-17.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness”
(by Count Nicolaus von Zinzendorf, 1700-1760;
translated by John Wesley, 1703-1791).