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by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Martin Luther was the man who broke the chains of salvation by works – and showed all the world that faith in Jesus Christ alone could save us from sin and Hell! Here is the passage of Scripture God used to save Martin Luther. I am giving this passage with comments of my own inserted here and there.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God [dunamis theou estin. The Greek word dunamis means “power.” The English word “dynamite” comes from it. Paul had seen the dynamite of God at work, as we did in our church when 14 young people were converted in a few days in a God-sent revival this summer.] 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 [from its beginning to its end. God is “the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2) – from the first faith in conversion to the stronger faith as we grow in Christ]: as it is written, The just shall live by faith [in contrast to spiritual death. We pass from death to life by faith in Christ]” (Romans 1:16, 17).
The Apostle Paul was speaking here 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 there in Rome were a small, despised sect – not a recognized religion at all. But Paul said 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 His 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. Dead souls come to life through the Gospel! 14 people were saved in our recent revival!
You come here to church and the things you hear about 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! When the Gospel takes hold of 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 said, “it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” The power of the Gospel of Christ brings life and salvation to anyone who trusts Jesus. 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 Jesus Christ Himself. 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 just 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” – alien because it isn’t yours – it is Christ’s righteousness that saves you. He clothes you with His righteousness.
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 used to open Martin Luther’s eyes. This is the text that changed the world and brought about 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 was 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, Winston Churchill, or Edison, or Einstein – a man who changed the world and the course of human history. But his need for salvation was no different from yours.
Liberal modern authors call Luther a “medieval” man. They are critical of his belief in angels, demons, and Satan. They think 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! They have “a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof” (II Timothy 3:5).
I find that Luther’s comments on the Book of Romans are clear and correct. I was startled to find that he was even right about the Jews. He said, “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 some 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 and others. 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 close 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 Luther’s fear of God was wrong and “medieval.” How false! How utterly false! Luther’s fear of God was perfectly correct. The Bible speaks of unsaved men when it says, “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18). Luther said, “By nature we are unrighteous and without fear of God. [Therefore] 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 a sign of practical atheism. It means you don’t believe in the fearful God of the Bible.
Luther was very conscious of his sin. He called it the plague of his own heart. Nothing that he did could relieve him of his sense of guilt. As he studied the Bible he thought of the words of Johann Staupitz, his teacher. Staupitz 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 time on Luther’s theology has been 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! Christ on the Cross! There is no other way to come before a holy God. As that old hymn put it, “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus” (“Nothing But the Blood” by Robert Lowry, 1826-1899).
There in his study Luther saw this. He saw that the righteousness of God in our text does not only 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…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). In the words Mr. Griffith sang a moment ago, the saintly Count Zinzendorf said this,
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).
I will end with quotes from Sheila Ngann and John Cagan. Their conversions were exactly like Luther’s. Sheila said,
Finally that Sunday I felt sick, not physically, but so sick of my sins. I felt so ashamed and guilty. I was crying and I couldn’t stop. I just felt so disgusted with myself, with the life I was living.
Then Dr. Hymers showed me Jesus’ beautiful face, covered with His Blood. Thinking of it still makes me break into tears. I will never forget that face, that face who lovingly died for me. I wanted to end the agony. Then Dr. Cagan asked me, “Will you come to Christ?” I replied without hesitation, “Yes, I will come to Him, I will come to Him!” I threw myself to Jesus that day. I completely surrendered myself to Him. I walked out of that room a different person. I know I never experienced that before. Never, not even with the Catholic church. That day Jesus saved me. He accepted me no matter how much I rejected Him in the past. Jesus Christ embraced me wholly. That day Jesus washed my sins away.
Now listen to the words of John Cagan,
Jesus went to be crucified for me when I was His enemy and I would not yield to Him. This thought broke me; I had to let all of it go. I just could not hold onto myself any longer, I had to have Jesus! In that moment I yielded to Him and came to Jesus by faith. In that moment it seemed as if I had to let myself die, and then Christ gave me life! There was no action or will of my mind but with my heart, with a simple resting in Christ, He saved me! He washed my sin away in His Blood! In that single moment, I stopped resisting Christ. It was so clear that all I had to do was trust Him; I can recognize the exact instant when it ceased to be me and it was only Christ. I had to yield! In that moment there was no physical feeling or blinding light, I did not need a feeling, I had Christ! Yet in trusting Christ it felt as if my sin was lifted off my soul. I turned from my sin, and I looked to Jesus alone! Jesus saved me.
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(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Mr. Aaron Yancy: 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).